With sponsors, perhaps an end to welfare

April 06, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

Behind the brick walls of the First Baptist Church in Annapolis, a radical experiment aimed at ending welfare dependency was about to begin.

Six people gathered around a long conference table in a basement meeting room yesterday, plotting to throw out the rules and start over. Families would be matched with community sponsors, who would help them resolve problems, find employment and become self-sufficient. All within six months.

But the would-be radicals were skeptical, fretting over a part of the plan that would reduce Anne Arundel County's Department of Social Services to providing only "technical assistance" after the first six months rather than money.

"After six months, it seems to me, you're just dropping them like a hot potato," said Samuel Hawkins, treasurer of Second Chance Ministry, a Christian community service organization.

"What if, after six months, they seem to be doing OK, then everything falls apart two months later?" queried Edie Segree, outreach coordinator for the Healthy Teens and Young Adults Program.

The experiment, a brainchild of Edward R. Bloom, director of Anne Arundel's Social Services Department, is scheduled to start in mid-May. It is unique in the state in that it provides money to community organizations to work with one family.

The goal for the families, according to Mr. Bloom, is to achieve independence within six months. Current state and federal reform efforts have discussed ending welfare assistance in 18 months to 24 months.

Remy Whaley, a special program manager with Social Services, called yesterday's meeting to begin recruiting sponsors for the Community-directed Assistance Program.

And she soon calmed the prospective sponsors' fears.

"You can't expect people to get off welfare without giving them a way," she said. "We want to show them there really is a way to get out and get up. . . . We're hoping to give them the skills so they don't fall apart after six months."

By the end of the hourlong briefing, the Rev. Hulan Marshall, director of Second Chance Ministry, was ready to sign up. "We'll do it," he exclaimed. "It'll be a great challenge for us."

"It sounds very good," said Mr. Hawkins. "You know, a lot of people on welfare don't want to be there. They just need somebody to give them a little help."

During the next six weeks, Social Services must find 10 sponsors, most likely businesses, churches or nonprofit organizations, to "adopt" 10 families for the first phase of the program. For fiscal year 1995, which begins July 1, another 50 sponsors are needed.

Community sponsors will develop plans for their families and decide how to spend the Social Services grant, about $4,400 for a family of three.

The stipend is the equivalent of 12 months of welfare payments. It can be used for job training, day care, transportation, food, clothing or to pay bills. Sponsors must file monthly reports outlining how the money is spent, as well as the family's progress.

Sponsor organizations must help the adults in each family locate jobs paying $8 to $12 an hour, with medical benefits, and to find affordable day care.

"Our research has showed they need to make at least that much and have medical benefits," said Ms. Whaley. "Welfare reform doesn't work much without jobs, transportation and child care."

The pilot welfare program, which will cost about $400,000, is being supported by county and state funds. County Executive Robert R. Neall agreed to cover 50 percent of the cost, the amount normally covered by the federal government, so that Mr. Bloom would not be bound by the federal regulations.

"There was no other way to get around all the rules and red tape," said Mr. Bloom. If the pilot program proves successful, he said he hopes he will be able to expand it in the future.

Business, community and church groups interested in acting as sponsors should contact Remy Whaley at (410) 974-8567, or Miriam Stanicic at (410) 974-5337.

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