County requests authority to run welfare program Move comes in response to congressional plans

November 08, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Officials from the Howard County Department of Social Services yesterday asked state lawmakers for authority to tailor the county's welfare program to local needs -- and control over the money they need to do it.

The proposal -- portrayed as a model for other counties -- is a response to the expected congressional changes to the nation's welfare programs. State officials are encouraging local jurisdictions to develop innovative ways to deal with those changes.

"If the federal government doesn't give us strings attached, then we hope the state doesn't give us strings attached," Robert McCaw, chairman of the Howard department's board of directors, told the Senate welfare reform subcommittee. "We want welfare reform to start in Howard County."

Howard's proposal calls for the state to give the county a block grant that would replace the state's annual allocation to the local Department of the Social Services. The county also would receive the autonomy to determine how the funds would be distributed among its programs.

Currently, the local department -- an arm of the state agency -- administers welfare benefits under a framework and guidelines set by the state. The department's client base includes about 3,000 recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and about 4,500 food stamp recipients.

The proposal that Howard be given greater control over its program is in tune with the greater administrative flexibility the federal government is expected to offer each state in the welfare reform package now in Congress.

Welfare officials in Howard are hoping to see action on their proposal as early as the next legislative session, Mr. McCaw said.

If the plan is approved, Mr. McCaw said, the department might begin a "work-first" program that is being piloted in Anne Arundel County. Work-first programs encourage would-be welfare recipients to apply for jobs instead of benefits.

Howard county also might offer performance bonuses for social service workers who get their clients to take jobs rather than a welfare check. Mr. McCaw said other social service programs could be developed based on local needs.

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