Social services demand climbs since mid-1990 Baltimore County residents seeking more assistance

February 28, 1992|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Staff Writer

The number of Baltimore County residents receiving social service benefits has risen dramatically since the middle of 1990, according to new reports by the county's Department of Social Services and the Community Assistance Network.

Both reports make for gloomy reading.

CAN, a private, non-profit organization that provides a range of services from emergency help with food and energy to housing assistance, reported a 30 percent rise in the number of families it served this year over last -- an increase of more than 3,000 households.

A report by the county Department of Social Services, expected to be published next week, shows a 22.6 percent increase in benefits over a year -- which translates into $36.5 million.

The report says benefits totaled $161.5 million in fiscal year 1990, and rose $198 million in fiscal 1991. Moreover, money allocated in five of eight "assistance categories" increased anywhere from nearly 20 percent to 54 percent.

Energy assistance payouts rose 54 percent, due in part to an influx of federal funds last year. Food stamp allocations jumped 32 percent; medical assistance went up 22.5 percent; day-care subsidies increased 20.1 percent, and public assistance rose 19.9 percent.

Public assistance includes aid to people unable to work because of physical or mental problems and aid to families with dependent children.

Adult foster care, child foster care and in-home care saw single-digit increases in fiscal 1991.

County Social Services Director Camille Wheeler said the three most significant local increases were in medical assistance, which rose from $111.7 million in 1990 to $136.9 million in 1991; public assistance, which increased from $25.8 million to $30.9 million, and food stamp allocations, which jumped from $13.7 million to $18.1 million.

NB AFDC cases jumped 22 percent -- from 5,035 in 1990 to 5,923 in

1991. Sixty-five percent of county residents receiving AFDC in 1991 were children, according to the report.

"We're definitely seeing a continued increase in the number of county beneficiaries" in most assistance categories, said Ms. Wheeler. And, she added, the recession has hit women disproportionately. "More women work these days, and often they're the last hired and first fired. Many are single mothers, so when they lose their jobs, they turn to social services. That's a big reason you see the public welfare caseloads increasing."

CAN, formerly known as the Human Resources Development Agency of Baltimore County Inc., reported similarly dramatic increases.

From September 1991 to January 1992, CAN provided assistance to 15,828 families. During those same months a year earlier, it served 12,208 households. The fastest-growing areas of need were housing and emergency assistance, according to Robert Gajdys, the organization's executive director.

Emergency assistance includes payments for food, energy and miscellaneous needs such as emergency medical prescriptions. Mr. Gajdys said 3,947 people received emergency assistance from September 1991 to January 1992, compared to 3,319 a year earlier.

The number of people receiving housing assistance, which includes money to help prevent eviction from apartments and mortgage foreclosures, actually dropped -- from 837 to 752. But Mr. Gajdys said the figure is misleading because CAN could have served more clients if it had not lost one of its two housing counselors in the latter part of 1991.

"You could double that 752 figure to get the rough number of people we would have served if we'd had our regular housing staff," he said.

"We're seeing a pattern," Mr. Gajdys added. "More and more people need help than in the past. This is all the result of a bad recession and of cuts to existing social programs."

Late last year, for the first time in its 26-year existence, CAN began requiring appointments for people visiting any of its five county offices.

"We used to just take people as they walked in off the street, but we can't do that anymore," he said. "There are just too many needy people and not enough money to go around."

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