Welfare reform weighs on area support groups But meeting elicits optimism from officials

August 28, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

The welfare reform bill signed last week by President Clinton places a heavy load on local support groups that help the needy get groceries and prescriptions, and that stave off evictions and utility shut-offs, according to a Glen Burnie priest.

"The safety net we provide continues to get weightier and weightier," the Rev. Ray Martin, assistant pastor of Holy Trinity Church, said yesterday at a luncheon meeting of service providers. He and others said they don't want to be put in the position of having to turn the needy because of government cutbacks.

"My fear is government is quickly deciding it no longer wants to be part of the village, and that's going to leave the rest of us as faith and nonprofit-based organizations taking the brunt," said the Rev. Alan Traher, pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Glen Burnie.

"To me, that's unconscionable. We just don't have the resources to pick up what the government feels it no longer wants to do."

About 100 clergymen, volunteers, politicians and social service representatives attended the luncheon at Holy Trinity, sponsored the North County Emergency Outreach Network (NCEON).

With the bill Clinton has recently signed, states will have a greater hand in welfare legislation. All is not lost, social services officials said yesterday. Anne Arundel is on the cutting edge in the care of its poorest citizens.

A measure to change state welfare programs, adopted by the General Assembly last winter, mirrors changes the county already has adopted in its programs, said Vesta Kimble, deputy director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.

That measure called for such things as cash assistance and the recipients' involvement in activities that would help them secure jobs. The bill is "not a major change at the county level," she said. It "codifies what we are doing in the county."

Anne Arundel's program, requires all applicants and recipients to go through a one-stop shop, a combination of a job center and social services center. The center offers child-care vouchers, transportation vouchers, telephones and counseling, all aimed at helping people get jobs.

About 630 people out of 3000 have found jobs paying an average of $6.07 an hour through the program, which began last September, Kimble said. At the same time, Anne Arundel's welfare rolls have shrunk at more than twice the pace of others in Maryland, officials said.

"The changes [in the state welfare program] are based on a belief that the system we were operating in was not working well and did not serve the families we were serving very well," said Beth Boyd, program manager for policy and regulation for the state Department of Human Resources.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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