Even as the number of Maryland residents seeking public assistance continues to increase, state budget officials are scrutinizing social service programs for possible budget cuts in response to the state's fiscal crisis.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources estimated yesterday that by October more than 242,000 people will be on the welfare rolls, including 216,200 receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children and another 26,000 on General Public Assistance.
But the same recession and weak economy that increased the
welfare roles by 56 percent in fiscal 1991, which ended in June, have put a huge dent in the state's ability to pay for its programs.
While the DHR figures were being released, the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services told the House Appropriations Committee that the Schaefer administration could cut social programs as much as $178 million.
The department's report, presented to the committee yesterday in Annapolis, looked at ways to balance a budget with a projected deficit that could climb as high as $450 million this year.
On Monday, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget aides are expected to tell legislators his final decision on cuts.
While lawmakers were talking about cutbacks, Human Resources Secretary Carolyn W. Colvin called the increases in the welfare rolls "dramatic." She blamed the national recession and the weakened state economy.
"Until the economy gets better, the number of people applying for public assistance will continue to increase," Colvin said. "Our local departments of social services offices have been flooded with people needing our help. The situation is becoming desperate. We have provided excellent service despite the recent budget difficulties. However, the worse the economy gets, the larger our rolls become."
In August alone, the department noted, there were more than 1,300 new applicants for public assistance.
Since 1988, applications for public assistance have increased 70 percent, while the department's staff has been cut by 17 percent.