By Kate McGonigle, Capital News Service Special Report
3:44 PM EST, February 23, 2012
COLLEGE PARK —
A family of three — one adult, one preschooler and one school-age child — in Anne Arundel County needs an annual income of $67,865 just to meet its basic needs, a new report shows.
That income requires a salary of $32.13 an hour when the adult works full time — more than four times the Maryland minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and nearly $5 more than the $27.32-an-hour wage required for the same family in 2007.
These rising costs, combined with the effects of the recession, have resulted in a flood of new applications in Anne Arundel County for assistance programs, such as temporary cash assistance, which provides cash to needy families with dependent children, and the food supplement program, formerly known as food stamps — both federal programs administered by the state.
In the temporary cash assistance program, the number of paid recipients in Anne Arundel County has steadily increased each fiscal year, from an average of 2,556 recipients in 2007 to an average of 3,642 recipients in 2011.
For the food supplement program, the average number of participants more than doubled in the past five years, from 13,816 in 2007 to 33,491 in 2011.
Housing programs paid for by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are also strained.
The new report on basic household costs, called "The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Maryland 2012," was written by Dr. Diana M. Pearce, the director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
Pearce prepared the report for the Maryland Community Action Partnership, a non-profit organization that advocates for low-income families, to demonstrate how much income families need for basic costs: housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, taxes and miscellaneous items.
In the past 15 years, the self-sufficiency standard has been calculated for 37 other states, as well as Washington and New York City. The 2012 reports show that the $32.13 hourly wage required to make ends meet in Anne Arundel County is almost identical to the borough of Queens, N.Y.
Since the economic recession began around 2007, many families have lost jobs or taken salary cuts — which has left them struggling to pay the bills with less money. But the household costs have continued to grow.
"We've all seen our caseloads going up," said Marcia Kennai, director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, which determines the eligibility of county residents to participate in state programs such as the temporary cash assistance and food supplement programs. "There is a greater need out there."
The money people receive from the cash assistance and food supplement programs comes from the federal government. But since the start of the recession, Maryland has had to contribute money to the cash assistance program to keep up with the demand. The state also pays 50 percent of the cost to run the food program.
The situation is perhaps more difficult for the Housing Commission of Anne Arundel County, the county's HUD agent, which receives limited federal funding, resulting in long waiting lists for affordable housing for low-income families.
Pam Walton, the commission's housing program manager, said the wait for the public housing program, which provides rental housing for income-eligible families, is at least one year. For the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which helps families pay about 60 percent of their rent in private rental properties, the waiting list has grown by an estimated 1,000 clients each year, with the wait now about five years.
How quickly people receive a voucher, Walton said, depends how much money the Arundel housing commission receives from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The commission does not have any funds for vouchers now, and it cannot predict when funding will be available.
Walton also said the recession has caused an increase in former homeowners applying for assistance because of foreclosures. She has noticed an increase in the number of applications from people living in other Maryland counties as well, which may mean waiting lists in other counties are closed.
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health's REACH program, or Residents Access to a Coalition of Health, offers low-cost doctor visits, prescriptions, lab work and dental services to uninsured adults ages 19 to 64, many of whom are employed, for a small, income-based fee.
Elin Jones, the department's public information officer, said the department has seen an increase in the number of calls for REACH applications, inquiries about health programs for the uninsured and hits on the REACH website since the recession's start.
The county also has a Homeless Resource Day, held annually by its social services department, which hosts service providers such as Veterans Affairs, Social Security, the Motor Vehicle Administration, doctors and barbers, for homeless individuals and families. Transportation is provided to the event, which will be held this year at Glen Burnie High School on Saturday, March 31.
"This event has grown substantially over the past four years since its inception," Mark Millspaugh, deputy director of family investment at the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, said. "We have definitely seen an increase in people seeking assistance with homelessness over the past few years."
The University of Washington study did not determine how many working families have incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Census Bureau data show that roughly 77,000 people in Anne Arundel County — about 15 percent of the population — live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the official federal poverty line. (For a family of four, twice the poverty line would be about $44,000.) The census data count the elderly and other categories that were not included in the self-sufficiency calculations for working families.
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