By Kelsi Loos, Capital News Service special report
3:14 PM EST, February 23, 2012
COLLEGE PARK —
Costs for Carroll County families have risen more quickly than wages over the past decade, making self-sufficiency harder to achieve, according to a new study.
A Carroll County family of one adult, a preschooler and a school-aged child needs $58,463 a year to cover basic costs, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and taxes, the study, titled the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Maryland, found. The standard was created by researchers at the University of Washington School of Social Work, in cooperation with the Maryland Community Action Partnership.
Costs in these categories have risen across all of Maryland over the past 10 years, and in Carroll County, those costs have gone up about 65 percent, according to the study.
Meanwhile, the median income of a Carroll County family increased only 41 percent, according to census data.
The more difficult it has become to meet costs, the more people have had to rely on public assistance. Frank Valenti, director of the Carroll County Department of Social Services, said the recession "has had an impact on everybody, on those that are giving services and those receiving services."
For example, the temporary cash assistance program uses a mix of federal funds, dispersed as a grant to the state, and state general funds to aid families unable to meet their expenses.
To qualify, recipients must be residents of the state, support a dependent child and be on the program for no more than 60 months.
Since 2000, the number of people in Carroll receiving temporary cash assistance has jumped 52 percent. An average of 620 Carroll County residents received temporary cash assistance each month of the last fiscal year.
In 2000 and 2010, the average amount paid monthly per recipient has remained steady at about $180.
In 2011, the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees the Carroll County Department of Social Services, reported in its 2012 budget that federal funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are drying up after a temporary influx from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Maryland receives a base of about $229 million in federal funds for the temporary assistance program. States have been receiving additional funds since 2009 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — also known as the federal stimulus package. The state has also received federal contingency funds set aside for states with a high rate of increase in food stamp cases.
Over the past decade, the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees and funds the Carroll County Department of Social Services, saw its budget grow only 20 percent.
Paula Tolson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said that the bright side of the recession is the opportunity to forge closer alliances with community agencies.
"As we faced the growing economic challenge, Maryland, like many other states, has strengthened our relationship with community partners," she said.
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 23,650 people, or about 15 percent of the population, in Carroll County live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the census poverty threshold. (For a family of four, twice the poverty level 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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