The Howard County Sun (County Forum, "Jobless don't pity social services workers," by Sept. 29) carried a response from a citizen who indicated a less than satisfactory experience with the Howard County Department of Social Services.
The writer was responding to an article in the Howard County Sun ("Social services workers straining under caseload," Sept. 22) regarding the increased workload of the department.
The article was a follow-up to a report of a meeting we requestedwith the County Council to discuss complaints they were receiving. We at the Howard County Department of Social Services are acutely aware of the problems that con
front individuals and families that have been adversely impacted by the current economic conditions.
While we may have the responsibility to provide services to a segment of the population in need, providing services as timely as we and the citizens would like is sometimes hampered by the increase in demand anddiminishing resources.
The staff quoted in the Howard County Sun were not defending a system as much as they were trying to put into perspective the degree to which the system is struggling to meet the increased demands.
Over the last three years, Howard County has hada 73 percent increase in the AFDC (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) caseload. This is the highest increase in the state of Maryland. Noticeable increases have also occurred in food stamps and GPA (General Public Assistance).
At the same time, there has been no increase in staff. A quick review of the sign-in sheet at the receptionist area reveals that in recent months, more than 1,000 people per month are signing up for some form of assistance. No attempt was made togarner sympathy, only to explain why the system was not always functioning as well as we and the citizens of Howard County would like it to.
It is not difficult to imagine that people might not be at ease (comfortable) applying for assistance, especially since numerous forms of verifications and documentation (state/federal requirements) are required before benefits are given. Most people are not prepared for the forms and other supportive information that is needed to make a determination regarding eligibility.
The Department of Social Services has a walk-in system for applications. Some clients have to wait for a period of time. Unless there are some extraordinary circumstances, everyone is generally seen and out of the agency by 11:30 a.m.or noon. Our previous process was an appointment system. Applicants were given a date, time and worker, sometimes several weeks into the future.
The walk-in system is more effective in getting people seen more quickly. We are seeing more people each day than we have ever seen in the past. The reception area is usually full by 8 a.m., with numbers sometimes in excess of those who can be seen in a given day. Those who are turned away are offered and given an interview the following day.
Of the thousands of individuals and families having contact with the Howard County Department of Social Services, the majority, we believe, receive appropriate responses to their needs by a staff that is, in the majority, respectful and courteous.
Samuel W. Marshall is the director of the Howard County Department of Social Services.