Hard times at the United Way

November 24, 1992

If the trend can be sustained, the nation may be poised for long-awaited recovery. That's the good news. The bad news is that even if that happens, recovery is a long way off. In the meantime, millions of Americans -- including tens of thousands of Marylanders -- are still trying to cope with the consequences of hard times in their families' lives.

There is more bad news. United Way of Central Maryland reports that it has raised only a little over $12 million in pledges so far. If this pattern cannot be corrected by Jan. 20, when this year's campaign ends, thousands of needy Marylanders may find even the safety net of social services financed by the United Way more difficult to obtain.

United Way supports more than 300 human care services in this region. They address such issues as illiteracy, homelessness, child day care, domestic violence, child abuse, hunger, care for the disabled and elderly, AIDS and substance abuse. Nearly one in three families in Central Maryland uses United Way services annually.

There is no mystery about why contributions to the United Way have been decreasing. Some of the reasons have been reported in the media every day for the past year and more. As the recession has worsed, many areas of the economy have been downsized. Huge locally important conglomerates -- such as Westinghouse -- have terminated employees. So have many law firms as well as state and local governments. That's part of the reason.

The other part is a scandal earlier this year involving the United Way movement national trade association's long-time president.

Although the trade association was thoroughly reorganized in the wake of the scandal and the fund's 2,100 independently administered local organizations were not tainted by allegations of wrongdoing, the movement's various parts often shared the same name and reputation in public perception. As a result, officials of the United Way nationwide say they fear that 1992 will bring the sharpest decline in donations in more than 40 years. "We'd feel very happy, if we came out even with last year," said one official.

Not everything is gloomy, however. A number of local businesses have exceeded previous goals in pledging support to the United Way. They include Alex. Brown & Sons, which has raised more than $540,000 -- or 103 percent more than last year; AAI Corp., Roadnet Technologies, Provident Bank & Trust and State Street Bank.

In the United Way, every dollar counts. A $3 weekly gift, for example, will give a family three weeks of quality child care for an extended working day or ensure that a decent meal is available for 75 people who are hungry and living on the streets.

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