ANNAPOLIS — Carroll's Youth Services Bureau would be permitted to charge fees for counseling services under a bill that passed the Senate Friday.
The House must concur with Senate amendments before the bill -- whichapplies to the 22 youth service bureaus statewide -- is sent to the governor.
The bill is designated as an "emergency measure" because state cuts have left the bureaus struggling to meet the needs of youths experiencing behavioral, emotional, substance abuse and family related problems.
The law would take effect once the governor signs it. Most new laws don't take effect until July 1.
The Carroll bureau, a private, non-profit agency that counsels troubled families and youths, has been operating short-staffed, said Director George W. Giese, who testified in support of the legislation.
The agency is unable to provide counselors to three county elementary schools. Unpaid interns working toward master's degrees have been assigned to several other schools, but they conclude their stints in May.
Giese said charging fees could enable the agency to hire enough counselors to cover all county schools.
"You can't put salaries on the table with probablies," said Giese, referring to the uncertain state and county budget situations.
The bureau, which strives to foster better family relations and prevent problems for at-risk youths, receives money from the state and county. The state cut its allocation to the bureau from $140,000 to about $82,500 during the current fiscal year.
The bureau,which handles 200 or more cases monthly, has requested $284,130 for fiscal 1993 from the county, the same amount it received this year. Fees would cover agency needs not met by government money.
Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he approved of the concept.
"It will makeup for these severe cuts going on every place," he said. "In view ofthe state's shortfalls, we welcome the chance to provide a service to the needy, but it will have a price tag on it."
The fee would vary depending on a family's income. If a family couldn't afford an established rate, a contract would be negotiated, Giese said. He emphasized that families would not be denied counseling if they couldn't afford a fee or refused to pay for other reasons.
The fee schedule would be approved by the bureau's seven-member board of directors. Giese said the board has not decided upon a set rate per hour for providing services. Most clients haven't been told they may soon be paying for counseling and referral services they now receive for free, said Giese.
"I think people have a knowledge of what's going on in society," he said. "I think it will be looked upon as a user fee."
The agency also would be authorized to collect fees from the government if a client is enrolled in the state's Medical Assistance Program for the poor, and possibly from insurance companies. The agency has applied to Blue Cross & Blue Shield to be designated as a health-care provider, and is exploring collecting fees from clients' insurance companies.
Giese said the bureau's spending above the amount allocated in its budget must be approved by its board of directors and the county. If the bureau generated a budget surplus through charging fees, itlikely would carry the money into the subsequent year and request less from the county, he said.
"We can't spend it indiscriminately,"he said.
The financially strapped bureau has collected about $4,000 since November in donations requested from clients.
The Senate amended the bill so that youths referred to counseling by the courts will not be subject to fees, and to ensure legally that the money raised through fees will be used exclusively by youth services bureaus.