Job program slices into welfare rolls Number of recipients in county down 8% since service began

'It's a new way'

Drop in caseload outstrips decreases elsewhere in state

March 17, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's welfare rolls have shrunk at more than twice the pace of those in the rest of Maryland since the county Department of Social Services started a job-search program in September, welfare officials say.

Over the past five months, the number of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) recipients fell 8 percent, to 8,304 from 9,023 in Arundel, while those in Maryland's other counties and Baltimore dropped 3.6 percent.

The Up Front Jobs Search program, the only one of its kind in the state, steers people away from public assistance and toward jobs. It requires welfare applicants to apply for jobs before applying for welfare and to go to at least 10 job interviews a week.

Caseworkers are given the flexibility to provide day care vouchers for applicants who need baby sitters while searching for work, bus fare, money for minor car repairs or clothes for interviews and work.

"It's a new way of doing business. We're giving people an opportunity to become self-sufficient and to regain some of that self-esteem they're long overdue for," said Joyce Lynch, a co-manager of the job-search program.

The program allows social workers to try to remove barriers to the job search, said Janice Hicks, an income maintenance specialist at the center.

In the past, if a client had problems with child care or transportation, "it was their problem," she said.

"Our hands were tied. Our procedure was to evaluate applications, and that was it," Ms. Hicks said.

Getting people off welfare benefits everyone, social services officials said.

The county typically spends about $140 million a year on such programs as AFDC, food stamps and medical assistance. For every 144 people removed from the welfare rolls, the county can save about $1.5 million, officials said.

New center

Anne Arundel's program, which moved into its own center at 80 West St. in Annapolis last month, is operating on a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The department chose Anne Arundel as one of eight sites for welfare reform demonstrations across the country. The others are in Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, South Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Welfare directors from those states, federal welfare officials from Washington, nationally known child-welfare experts and others toured the center last week.

"The center is nice. It's like the icing on the cake," Ms. Hicks said. "But it's the concept of helping people find work instead of relying on public assistance that works for us, because we know they're better off going out and getting their own paycheck than waiting for a monthly subsistence check."

In a back room at the center are three computers applicants can use to write resumes, and six phones they can use to call about job leads.

Newspapers and a book of job listings are provided in an open, airy room. An answering machine records messages from potential employers so that applicants don't miss job opportunities.

Building confidence

Caseworkers conduct mock interviews with job-seekers to help them build their confidence.

Josherlin Bond, the mother of two girls, ages 1 and 3, was looking for a job recently.

Ms. Bond, 20, a cosmetologist who receives food stamps and medical assistance for her children, said she lost her job after difficulties with her second pregnancy and found herself on welfare. She said she is determined to get off welfare to make a good life for her family.

"I'm trying to find a job so I can make my own money," the Annapolis woman said.

Miriam Stanicic, a program manager at the center, described two telephone jobs that were available and gave Ms. Bond the names of the people to contact about the jobs.

Then, to test her client's telephone skills, Ms. Stanicic asked her to describe herself in five words. Ms. Bond smiled shyly and mumbled a few responses.

'Free up their minds'

"When you call her, the pitch has to be really up there," said Ms. Stanicic, poking her finger in the air. "The pitch has to be up there, and the motivation has to be there."

Ms. Bond promised to work on overcoming her shyness and being more aggressive before calling the potential employers.

Workers at the center agree that few people want to be on welfare. But lives can take unfortunate and unexpected turns, they say.

The workers suggest solutions to problems but also try to "free up their minds and help them think of their own resourcefulness," said Sherry Spangler, a co-manager of the program.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No appointment is necessary. Information: (410) 974-8592.

Pub Date: 3/16/96

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