Nonprofit social agencies ask council for aid to survive


The director of the Howard County Community Action Council said last night that "things have gotten so tough" she doesn't know how long her nonprofit agency can continue providing services to the poor.

"I don't come with a bag" seeking a handout, she told the County Council at a public hearing on County Executive Charles I. Ecker's $289 million proposed operating budget. "But it's tough out there [in affluent Howard County] for some who, through no fault of their own, are in desperate need of assistance."

Ms. Moore was one of 21 speakers who asked the council for full funding of the amount Mr. Ecker set aside for the nonprofits in his proposed budget for fiscal 1994, which begins July 1. With the exception of the education portion of the budget, the council can only accept or cut what the executive proposes. It cannot add money to the budget.

Last night's hearing was scheduled for nonprofit social welfare agencies like Ms. Moore's to tell the council about their work. The representatives of the agencies also talked about how the small amount of county aid proposed for them may be the difference between survival and collapse.

Ms. Moore told the council her agency cannot continue paying staffers meager salaries much longer. She said a food bank operator's request for a 37-cent-an-hour pay increase was denied.

"I'm committed to serving low-income people," Ms. Moore said. "But I don't know how long we can do it with the salaries we are paying."

Carol Spansler, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network, told a similar story.

"We are embarrassed at how low we pay our staff," she told the council. "They are the lowest paid of all human service organizations in the county."

Ms. Spansler asked the council to support a $32,000 increase that would enable the organization to pay the salaries of "two crucial staff members" -- an employment counselor and an employee who coordinates volunteers.

Patricia Hatch, executive director of the network, told the council that the population of foreign-born people in Howard is growing at a rate three to four times greater than the rest of the county population and shows no sign of abating. Already, 8.2 percent of county households speak a language other than English at home, she said.

A group of nearly 25 people stood to support the network's request for increased aid. "These people represent about every continent except Antarctica and perhaps Australia," Ms. Hatch told the council.

The requests for grants-in-aid came not only from social service agencies. The Baltimore Museum of Art, the Baltimore Symphony and the National Aquarium also sought grants, as did the Howard County Arts Council and the Columbia Pro Cantare.

The council will discuss the requests at a May 10 work session. It will set the property tax rate and vote on the capital and operating budgets May 20.

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