Agencies feel hard times

December 08, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Baltimore County Department of Social ServicesStaff Writer

To Camille Wheeler, head of Baltimore County's Department of Social Services, the statistics she reeled off yesterday painted a picture as bleak as the December sky outside the lodge at Oregon Ridge.

The number of county families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children grew by 1,000 in the last year, to 6,484. The number of people getting food stamps is up by 28 percent, to 27,526. Some 879 people were placed in county homeless shelters while 3,213 were turned away. Child-abuse investigations were up 7 percent, to 2,866.

"Bush didn't lose the election for nothing," Ms. Wheeler told the annual meeting of the her department. "Judging by our statistics, Baltimore County citizens really took an economic beating.

"No program that we administer, whether in social services or income maintenance, experienced a decline in demand. Every statistic we collect shows an increase in demand for our services."

Also addressing the gathering of about 300 of the department's 500 employees at Oregon Ridge, County Executive Roger B. Hayden echoed Ms. Wheeler as he sounded a favorite theme.

"People I know are always telling me how terrible their business is," he said. "They say that their sales are down 50 percent, and they've laid off 40 percent of their workers and wonder why I can't do the same thing in the government.

"Well, in government, our business is the delivery of services, and that business is booming. We have a tremendous demand for our services," he said.

These increases in caseloads come as governments face financial pressures to shrink their size and expenditures.

"How did we cope with all this new work?" Ms. Wheeler asked her staff. "We did increase our staff and we increased our hours worked. We ended the year with 540 positions, an increase of 7.9 percent despite the loss of 10 and a half positions through abolishment."

She said most of the staff growth came from a reallocation of state-funded positions from Baltimore City and the outlying counties, where "the caseloads are either flat or declining."

Most of the department's budget comes from state funds.

She noted that the state's increase in the work week from 37.5 to 40 hours added the equivalent of 57 positions, while the equivalent of four were lost by unpaid furloughs, which, "while bad for staff morale, were better than layoffs."

"And we also increased our efficiency," she said. "For every dollar of administrative costs . . . we were able to generate $34.3 of financial benefit to our citizens.

"Five years ago, every dollar of administrative costs only generated about $21 in benefits. So, although administrative costs have held steady, the amount of income going into the local economy has gone up considerably."

Ms. Wheeler projected at least one more year of tough financial times, perhaps two. "Inevitably, this will affect our programs. But, as employees, though we face furloughs and increased hours, we are really less affected than our clients."

She predicted that financial and political pressures will result in a re-evaluation of the welfare system. "The current system is despised by the recipients, by the public and by we who administer it," she said. "But it is very difficult to change because it represents the country's safety net for its most vulnerable citizens."

"Though politicians have been running against the welfare system for 15 years, there has been very little change because that is so difficult and so expensive. What the country has now is a cheap way to help the poor. Anything that we do differently will cost more money and that's why it is so difficult to do."


The following table shows increases in Baltimore County social service caseloads and expenditures from last year to this year, largely the result of the recession.

OC Social Services...... ...... 1991-92 ... 1992-93 ... Pct. chg.

Welfare Families (AFDC)......... 5,537 ..... 6,484 ...... 17.1

Food stamp recipients..... .... 21,536 .... 27,526 ...... 27.8

Food stamp costs........ ...... $18.5M .... $21.5M ...... 16.2

Medicaid costs ......... ......$136.9M ... $183.6M ...... 34.1

Other public assistance........ $29.5M .... $33.8M ...... 14.5

Children in foster care.... ...... 240 ....... 277 ...... 15.4

Spouse/family abuse complaints ....481 ....... 649 ...... 34.9

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