Too many dollars, too few children

Howard summer camps to use 10 percent of funds

Needy youths didn't enroll

August 19, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Maryland's fiscal dilemma over the past three years has been too few dollars and too many needy children, but Howard County's problem this summer has been the reverse.

County social services officials expect to spend only 10 percent of the $100,000 in combined state and county money they had for summer camp programs. Only 15 children participated.

"That seems to be really poor. You mean there was money available for summer camp that wasn't used? Oh, my God!" said Gerald M. Richman, a social services board member, when he learned of the unused funds at a board meeting this week.

The revelation hurts efforts by county advocates for the poor to persuade the public that there are needy people in one of Maryland's wealthiest counties.

In July last year, in addition to $350,000 in state budget cuts for general child care in Howard, the county's Head Start lost $500,000 in state funding, forcing an end to before- and after-school care, and elimination of programs for older siblings of Head Start students. Cuts from United Way also hurt, officials said.

Responding to that, the County Council took $57,000 from its administrative budget to help out, while the state provided $43,000 for summer care.

Larry C. Pinkett, Howard's assistant social services director for family services, told the local social services board this week that summer camp expenses over the 10-week period are projected to be $10,200. A total of 15 children were sent to summer camps run by the YMCA, the Columbia Association and the county recreation and parks department, said interim county social services director Doris Mason, who took over Aug. 1.

Pinkett, who began his job last month, said many parents already had child care providers and didn't want to risk losing school-year arrangements for a short summer program. Social services worked from a waiting list of families, he said, but did not expand the search - to Head Start families, for example. Two families in the county's homeless shelter sent children to live with relatives, and another mother was not interested, shelter supervisor Kathie DiNoto said.

Kathi Heslin, who held Pinkett's assistant director's job until her sudden June 30 firing by state Secretary of Human Resources Christopher J. McCabe, said there were more than 30 children lined up for the summer programs when she left. "We thought we would be inundated," she said.

County citizen services director Susan Rosenbaum said she will help devise plans to use the remaining money for before- and after-school child care.

Dismay over funds

County officials said they are surprised and upset at the news, which emerged at a social services board meeting Monday.

"I'm none too pleased," said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat. "The money should have been used. If, in fact, there was no way to reach out to those families, then somebody should have turned around very quickly and determined another avenue to spend that money.

"We took it out of the council's own budget because we wanted to indicate our commitment to work with everyone to help the most needy," said Guzzone, who claimed credit for the cut in May last year.

The county's two Republican councilmen expressed dismay at the unused funds.

"It concerns me that they have money they asked for that they didn't apparently need," said Allan H. Kittleman, who represents the western county.

"It just seems kind of strange. Either the program is not needed, or it's poor advertising," said Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City.

`I'm disappointed'

Social service board members also were unhappy, as was Dorothy L. Moore, director of the county's Community Action Council, which supervises the county's Head Start program.

"I didn't know anything about that money. No one contacted me," Moore said. "I'm disappointed and appalled." Board members expressed similar feelings.

"I bet you there were kids home alone this summer," said board Chairwoman Melody Higgins. "Maybe next year, [social services] could get creative about finding children."

"We'll have to branch out a little bit and re-create the program," Mason said. "There are clearly enough children out there who need a summer camp experience, or before- and after-school care."

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