Md. social services chief vows progress

McCabe promises changes in city personnel, programs

February 23, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Faced with questions about the deaths of children under his agency's watch and cutbacks in aid for disabled people, the head of the state's social services department is promising to improve the attitudes and training of caseworkers.

"For years, the status quo was accepted at the Baltimore Department of Social Services. But the status quo is unacceptable to me and to the governor, so we are going to make thoughtful, deliberative changes in personnel, practices and programs," said Christopher J. McCabe, secretary of the state Department of Human Resources.

Officials in the department also suggested that an announcement might be made this week on possible additional funding and revisions to a state program that provides cash assistance to poor and disabled people.

Advocates for the homeless are planning a rally for 10 a.m. Thursday at the lawyers mall across from the State House to protest the state's decision Jan. 12 to create a six-month freeze on approving new applications to the Temporary Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance program.

But during a meeting with city legislators Friday, state officials suggested they might make an announcement early this week about granting funding to continue the program, but restricting eligibility for people with short-term disabilities. Kevin M. McGuire, executive director of welfare programs for the state Department of Human Resources, said that the administration is studying ways to reform the program.

"The people with long-term disabilities are the ones who are truly disabled and truly needy," McGuire said.

During the meeting, senators discussed several recent news stories about proposed closings of nine of the city's 20 social service offices, and the recent deaths of three children after warnings were given to social services.

McCabe said he inherited a neglected, understaffed and poorly run department when he took over a year ago. But he and his employees said they plan to hire 50 additional caseworkers, increase training and possibly reorganize the offices in the city, closing a few but improving their efficiency.

Two state lawmakers have also introduced legislation that they hope will end the recent legal battles between the city and state over the leadership of the city's Department of Social Services.

Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel J. McFadden and Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, both Baltimore Democrats, introduced bills Thursday and Friday that would grant local governments, including Baltimore, more power in selecting candidates to run their social service offices. The legislation is likely to be opposed by the governor, who is against reducing state authority, according to Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman.

Mayor Martin O'Malley sued Ehrlich on Nov. 24, claiming that the governor's selection of lawyer Floyd Blair as interim director of the city's Department of Social Services broke the law because Blair lacks the required five years of management experience, and that the governor didn't obtain the mayor's approval, as required by law.

"The problem is we have an appointment process that has broken down," said Rosenberg. "You didn't have the collaborative consultation that is appropriate and that has taken place in the past in the appointment of directors."

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