County seeks grant to help poor be independent Aim is to move families off public assistance

June 05, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials are seeking a $1.2 million federal grant to provide a wide range of new services -- transportation, housing, child care and job training -- designed to get low-income families off public assistance.

"All the programs emphasize one thing -- a move to independence and self-sufficiency," said Leonard S. Vaughan, the county's Housing and Community Development administrator. "If you're not interested in that, don't apply."

Vaughan expects the grant to come through in three or four months.

Some of the programs it will cover are:

$55,000 for a car donation program in which the county would repair unwanted cars to give to low-income people, those with AIDS and homeless people.

$100,000 for adult education to help people get and keep jobs.

$200,000 for low-interest loans to help companies buy new equipment, train new workers and expand.

$40,000 in initial funding for a child-care center and Head Start support center along Route 1.

$107,000 for costs related to implementing the grant. That amount would include money to hire one new staff person.

In all, the federal grant money would help pay for 19 programs, seven of them new. The grant would likely be renewed annually, Vaughan said, and he does not plan to ask for an increase in county spending to match the grant.

Howard County is eligible for the money because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently certified it as an "urban county."

With that designation, routinely given to counties with 200,000 residents, Howard officials can apply directly to the department for Community Development Block Grants.

In the past, Howard had to compete with several other small Maryland counties for funds funneled through the state.

To apply for the grant, the county had to write a Consolidated Plan analyzing the problems of the county's low- and moderate-income people, and recommending solutions. The plan concludes that Howard County has relatively few low-income people, noting that the median family income in Howard last year was $61,088 -- the highest in Maryland.

Public transportation and low-cost child care are not widely available. Also, housing costs are high, about $200,000 for the average single-family home and more than $500 a month for a standard one-bedroom apartment.

As a result, when companies look to hire staff for low- and moderate-paying jobs, there are few people to chose from.

"Adequate low- and moderate-income housing does not exist to support the needs for individuals to fill entry-level and service-industry jobs," the report says. "As the number of service and retail jobs grow during the next 10 years, this problem will continue to grow if not addressed."

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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