Welfare demand in Baltimore County

December 10, 1992

As if more evidence were needed to show that Baltimor County is no longer the milk-and-honey haven it had been for decades, along comes the county's Department of Social Services with another batch of depressing statistics.

Department Director Camille Wheeler reported in a recent speech that the demand for social services continues upward in the county, just as government funding for such services keeps dropping.

In the past year, the number of county households receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children increased 17 percent over the previous year.

The number of food stamp recipients was up 28 percent.

Food stamp costs for the county rose 16 percent.

Medicaid costs shot up 34 percent.

These increases reflect not only the harsh economy of the past 2 1/2 years but also the county's shifting demographics.

During the 1980s, nearly 38,000 county residents moved to other suburban and exurban jurisdictions, while 45,000 former residents of Baltimore City came to live in Baltimore County. Many were people who had incomes below the county average and thus were more likely to seek help from social service programs.

Not coincidentally, the demand for social services in the county began a steady climb in the latter part of the 1980s, when the number of city-to-county migrants nearly doubled that of the decade's first half.

Nor does the growth in demand show any sign of ending soon. Ms. Wheeler predicts another year or two of fiscal restraints.

That won't thrill her overworked staff. Indeed, if there's one positive side to all the gloomy news, it's how the department has provided heightened levels of service despite severe cuts in state funding. Efficiency in the department has been improved to the point that it now squeezes about $34 worth of citizen benefit from every dollar of administrative costs, $13 more than five years ago.

Ms. Wheeler's speech included her description of the welfare system as an arrangement "despised by the recipients, by the public and by we who administer it."

Yet, she added, any chance of constructive reform of the system appears nil so long as elected officials believe it's less costly in the short run -- politically and economically -- to maintain the current "cheap way to help the poor."

In the long run, though, they might be forced to alter this stance if the demand for social services in places like Baltimore County continues its troubling climb.

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