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More Maryland Families Than Ever Require Government Aid to Stay Afloat

More than 700,000 people receive food assistance, the most in state history, while a record 70,000 people depend on emergency cash assistance.

By Caitlin Johnston, Carl Straumsheim, and Kate McGonigle
Special to Capital News Service

The number of Maryland families who need government help to make ends meet has reached record levels.

More than 700,000 people receive food assistance, the most in state history. A record 70,000 people depend on emergency cash assistance. And the demand for the state's child care subsidy program has caused officials to impose an indefinite freeze on new applicants.

Yet state and federal officials are budgeting less money for the safety net in the coming fiscal year. The move reflects the government's confidence in the economic recovery, based in part on the fact that demand appears to have plateaued for most state-administered assistance programs.

Others question whether it is overly optimistic to cut back at a time when the state's assistance programs are still swollen with unprecedented numbers.

"It took from January 2008 to February 2012 to double the number of people enrolled in the Food Supplement Program," said Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute, a nonpartisan budget analysis organization. "It's not going to go down all that way in one year."

Bergsman questioned whether the department is projecting positive estimates to balance the state budget--a constitutional requirement in Maryland. The state faces a $1.1 billion deficit that legislators hope to eliminate over the next two years.

Pat Hines, the director of communication for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said the budget is "our best projection of what the citizens of Maryland need in the next fiscal year."

"We think that our budget is accurate," Hines said. "And we're optimistic about the direction of the economy and of our numbers."

However, a report by the Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis suggested that services to families could be affected, since funding meant for struggling families would have to be spent on paying down the shortfall. If not, "the negative balance will just move from year to year," the report said.

Demand has been so high that the Department of Human Resources, which helps Maryland families with child care, cash and food assistance and medical services, was forced to request an additional $30 million in state funding in fiscal 2012. The shortfall occurred even though federal funding for the department has doubled from about $1 billion to nearly $2 billion each year since before the recession. An emergency fund created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to help states with rising demand also ran out by December 2010.

Should need rise again and exceed the budget, Hine said, the Department of Human Resources will again seek supplemental funds from the legislature.

While the numbers of needy families are higher than at any other point in history, the figures do not include the thousands of households who depend on food banks and charities because their income is too high for public assistance. To qualify, a family usually has to make no more than twice the Federal Poverty Level, or $40,000 for a family of three.

Saul Parker May 25, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Vote the bums out.
Reiflame May 25, 2012 at 03:13 PM
With the exception of Baltimore, the highest concentrations of Marylanders needing assistance is in the parts of the state that consistently vote Republican. When will they learn not to vote against their best interests?
B Allen May 29, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Maryland can start with getting rid of the illegals. We (yeah and I am including all the dems) are footing the bil for illegals to the tune of Billions of dollars a year. Even if it was $1B (which it is not) that would go a LONG way for the REAL citizens of MD. Why do you think OWEmalley had Gustavo Torres of CAsa of MD on his transition team and the scumbag Tom Perez (who was on the board of directors of Casa whem he was on MoCo council, as is others on the council) working as head of Labor in MD, until the nobama admin got him to the DOJ...they (the dems) are ALL wanting to make MD a socialist utopia, NOT ON MY WATCH THEY WON'T. Torres says there is a revolution going on and this article proves it, where he was part of the socialist coooommmm byeee ahhhh meeting in Venezuala http://themilitant.com/2007/7145/714503.html
Brian June 01, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Let's keep encouraging illegals to come to MD by doing things like offering them in-state tuition rates. It makes the Dems feel good about themselves, taxpayer be damned.
Sharon June 01, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Right on, Pachacutec!

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