Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall is known as a technocrat and is often assumed to be indifferent to social issues. The image is not entirely accurate. Mr. Neall has thrown his support behind several innovative social programs, the most recent being a radical alternative to welfare.
C-DAP (Community-Directed Assistance Program) is the first program of its kind in Maryland and an experiment we'd like to see tried in other places. Granted, C-DAP's success has yet to be tested. The first participants signed up just last week, and social services officials concede the program is proving much harder to get off the ground than they had hoped. But the concept -- requiring people to work quickly toward self-sufficiency and transferring responsibility for helping them do that from a government agency to the community -- is sound.
As designed by county Director of Social Services Ed Bloom, C-DAP works like this: Instead of getting a monthly stipend from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, needy families get one county check equaling 12 months of welfare payments. Unlike AFDC, C-DAP involves no federal money, but contributions from the state and the county. A community sponsor -- perhaps a church, a charity, a civic group -- works with the family to set up a budget, doles out the county check and helps find jobs, housing and child care.
After six months, social services officials want families to be off the public dole. One unanswered question is what happens to clients who are not ready after six months and who do not want to go on welfare. Though sponsors are not required to stay involved after six months, one would hope the social services agency would not simply drop families that are making a serious effort to get on their feet.
If there's one thing the C-DAP experience has shown so far, it's how hard it is to make welfare alternatives work. No one likes welfare, but finding sponsors to teach people the skills needed to function on their own is difficult. Only one family is signed up with C-DAP at this point, instead of the 10 that social services workers had hoped, largely because they can't find sponsors.
We hope that changes. If a program such as C-DAP can't get off the ground at the local level, the odds of reforming the welfare system on a much greater scale could be bleak.