Social workers could lose jobs Cuts may hurt families who get day care funds

February 19, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

For 14 years, social worker Margaret Brown helped low-income families in Carroll pay for child care, steering them through a complex state bureaucracy. In July, Mrs. Brown and 82 other social workers statewide who admin actual subsidies for day care is included in the governor's budget, Mrs. Brown and welfare advocates are worried that without workers to oversee the program, some low-income families would be lost in the system.

Social services officials say the work performed by the "purchase of care" staff probably would be assigned to employees who handle applications for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, medical assistance and food stamps.

Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities in Baltimore, said she wonders how these employees would handle the extra work.

"When you transfer the responsibility to other people who are doing 100 things and now ask them to do 101, the question becomes how overwhelming is all of this," Ms. Meade said. "And child care is critical in moms being able to find and accept employment."

The purchase of care program provides vouchers or subsidies to low-income families to help them pay for child care. The day care providers submit the vouchers to the state for reimbursement.

As the case manager for Carroll's purchase of care program, Mrs. Brown is responsible for screening program applicants for income eligibility, determining the subsidy amount, issuing the vouchers and helping to reimburse the day care providers. She estimates her caseload to be about 250 open cases at any one time.

Although Mrs. Brown is concerned about the loss of her job, she acknowledged the program is "ripe for reform."

"Something needed to be done and the governor is doing it," said Mrs. Brown, wife of Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "We don't know how, but hopefully in a way to make it more streamlined and efficient to serve the clients and the day care providers."

J. C. Shea, a spokesman with the state Department of Human Resources, said the proposed elimination of 83 full-time purchase of care positions would save the state $3.2 million. "It's all part of working in an environment where there are fiscal constraints and retaining as much of the full range of services as possible," Mr. Shea said of the expected job cuts.

"We feel they're going to be able to take on this responsibility; it's just a refocusing of what the staff is going to be expected to do."

For Carroll County, the loss of day care subsidy workers would mean the loss of two jobs, Mrs. Brown and her assistant.

Other jurisdictions that handle much larger caseloads would lose more employees. For instance, anticipated program cuts in Baltimore's Department of Social Services would mean the loss of 34 full-time positions and 20 contractual positions. They handle a combined caseload of 7,000.

Anne Arundel County's department may lose four full-time and four contractual purchase of care workers, who handle about 1,200 clients.

Dorothy Boyle, a deputy director with Anne Arundel's Department of Social Services, said the elimination of purchase of care staff may cause delays in paying participating day care providers.

But the consolidation of different public assistance programs ultimately may mean less duplication of work, said Sue Fitzsimmons, a spokeswoman with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

For example, Ms. Fitzsimmons said the purchase of care workers and income maintenance staff ask the same questions to determine eligibility of clients.

"As part of welfare reform we're moving to do one-stop shopping in the income maintenance center," Ms. Fitzsimmons said. "We hope to have jobs information right there and quick access to day care."

Ms. Meade said she wonders whether the income maintenance workers, who are accustomed to handling welfare applications, have the appropriate job skills to handle day care subsidy clients.

Income maintenance workers may be asked to work with applicants on a more detailed level -- finding out about their job skills, suggesting employment opportunities and helping mothers determine the most suitable child care arrangement. "It's asking a tremendous amount of staff who have had to do very routine tasks up until now," Ms. Meade said. "These people are going to be asked to use all kinds of interpersonal skills to work with moms."

A learning curve would have to be overcome if income maintenance staff absorb the purchase of care program, said Ms. Boyle. But she doesn't foresee it as the most difficult problem.

"It's the workload," she said. "I don't know if they can do that and everything else too."

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