Toward self-sufficiency Welfare reform: Senate Bill 778 would give caseworkers needed flexibility.

April 08, 1996

SINCE SEPTEMBER, Anne Arundel County has been pioneering welfare reform in Maryland. Its Department of Social Services has been working within the existing set of complicated, rigid federal guidelines to make cash benefits a last resort, available only after every possible effort has been made to help applicants become self-sufficient. To continue this movement away from welfare as we have known it, DSS needs more freedom from the rules governing how federal welfare dollars can be doled out.

Senate Bill 778 in the General Assembly would provide that flexibility.

It is even better legislation than a welfare reform law passed last year, which limited state reform measures to three pilot counties (including Anne Arundel) and a mere 3,000 families. It wrongly assumed that welfare needs in suburban and rural counties mirror Baltimore's and mandated expensive assessments by social workers even in cases where poor families do not require social assistance. The legislation eliminates these provisions while preserving the useful parts of the 1995 law.

It would allow local welfare offices to use federal money for "welfare avoidance grants," short-term cash aid designed to help families get through an emergency without having to go on public assistance. (Anne Arundel has been using county money to provide such assistance and no longer would have to.)

The bill would get rid of the current prohibition against cash aid to two-parent households, a rule that forces some families who get in financial trouble to split up. It would stop requiring families with an automobile worth more than $1,500 to sell it to receive aid, recognizing that it is virtually impossible to get off welfare without a car to get to work. It would require welfare applicants to file for child support and start a job search and allow local DSS workers to cut off welfare benefits if they refuse.

The cancellation of the pilot program, which was to start this summer, costs Anne Arundel nothing because DSS' attempts at welfare reform already have moved way beyond the level of the proposed pilot. SB 778 would give Anne Arundel caseworkers the tools to build upon that success and require other jurisdictions to mimic it. The General Assembly should pass it without reservation.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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