Working to end welfare in Anne Arundel

March 31, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

While lawmakers grapple with welfare reform and how to reshape the rules, Anne Arundel County Social Services Director Edward R. Bloom has a more radical idea -- throw the rules out.

And while state legislators talk about limiting welfare to two years, Mr. Bloom says he can get people off welfare in six months.

"They won't get into the system at all," he said, referring to 50 families to be selected for a project scheduled to start May 16. "What we want to do is motivate, to completely change the way of thinking" about public assistance.

Mr. Bloom's welfare reform experiment is like no other in the state. One key difference is that community sponsors will play the lead role in helping families gain independence.

The program, which is still being developed, will work like this: A family must first qualify for Aid To Families with Dependent Children, then be selected based on predetermined criteria, such as a desire to become self-reliant. Participation is voluntary. Families who do not take part in the program will still receive their regular welfare benefits.

If they opt for the experiment, social services will match them with a sponsor, most likely a business, church or nonprofit organization. The sponsor will support the family much the same way church groups have sponsored refugee families in the past, Mr. Bloom said.

The sponsor will provide intensive financial and emotional support over a six-month period and help the family's adults find jobs. After six months, sponsors will gradually reduce their involvement.

Social services will provide a one-time grant to sponsor groups, about $4,400 for a family of three, to help with expenses, such as job-training, day care, transportation or paying bills. The grant amount for each family is the equivalent of 12 months of welfare payments. Most families will still qualify for food stamps.

Each family will have an "action plan" and be evaluated monthly, said Remy Whaley, the county's special programs manager. Although social services will offer guidance, sponsors and their families will do most of the planning, she said.

"We're basically giving the resources to these community-based groups to let them help the families," she said.

"We're looking at life changes here, to help (the families) take responsibility for themselves."

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