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Welfare-reform report presented Neall wants families kept intact


Anne Arundel County officials may challenge federal programs that provide aid to families with dependent children but often exclude the fathers.

County Executive Robert R. Neall yesterday said he would be willing to write a letter to the governor or other state officials to "get the ball rolling" and remove some of the barriers that discourage two-parent families.

Mr. Neall was motivated by a report yesterday issued by the Welfare Reform Task Force, a 13-member group charged with finding ways to promote self-sufficiency and provide children with employed, productive fathers. The task force was established by Mr. Neall last December.

"I think there's some real opportunity to make some improvements," Mr. Neall said.

The task force submitted six recommendations to the county executive, one of which was implemented in February and is already being heralded as a success. That recommendation called for the creation of a pilot Child Support Initiative Program to provide education and job training to parents, mostly fathers, delinquent in their child support.

"I don't think there is a member of this task force that didn't grow during this process," said Edward Ladd, manager of Marley Station Mall and the chairman of the group of business people.

Committee members said they believed the pilot program was too important to be delayed until the final report was issued. "Let's make him employed and let him pay the child support he is supposed to pay," Mr. Ladd said of the delinquent parents.

The child-support program, which has enrolled 35 fathers so far and employed 12 of them, has collected $18,000 in back support payments since February.

Another recommendation included removing eligibility barriers to the Aid to Families With Dependent Children-Unemployed Parent Program. Currently, the program is set up so that a parent can only receive aid if the other parent is dead, disabled or out of the house.

Edward R. Bloom, director of the county's Department of Social Services, said he has had cases of men leaving their home, or pretending to leave their homes, to allow the mother to receive aid.

"This is incredible what we're doing to men, especially African-American men," Mr. Bloom said. "We're telling them, 'It's better if you're not in the home.' "

Public defender for Anne Arundel County and committee member Alan R. Friedman said fathers told committee members they wanted to be involved in the parenting of their children, but believed the system was out to beat them.

"It had become a completely self-defeating process," Mr. Friedman said. "There are a number of people who, if given a chance, can become productive."

Other recommendations included:

* Encouraging private sector employment of AFDC recipients who have completed job training programs but who may not have substantial work histories.

* Continuing to strengthen the Department of Employment and Economic Development Job Service and Automated Labor Informantion Exchange system, to provide easy access to job openings.

* Reducing the amount of back child support owed in AFDC-related cases for those who successfully complete the child support initiative program. Mr. Neall said it was unlikely that any back money would be collected without the initiative program.

* Marketing already existing programs to strengthen, support and assist families to achieve independence from public assistance.

Mr. Neall said he was pleased with the report because it had already provided some positive outcomes.

"I'm interested in results," Mr. Neall said. "Money is too scarce and people are too cynical to try something pie in the sky."

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