Getting mothers off welfare Accelerated timetable: Howard County wants women to look for a job sooner after giving birth.


A POLICY proposed by the Howard County Department of Social Services would make mothers on welfare begin looking for a job within six months after giving birth. It may seem harsh, but DSS isn't asking women on welfare to do more than many other women. In today's America of the two-earner family, women routinely find child-care for their babies at 6 months or younger so they can return to work.

Samuel Marshall, director of the county DSS office, says too many mothers on welfare in Howard wait to get into the job market until the one-year deadline to seek work is near. The longer a person is without a job, the harder it is to get one, he said. He pointed out that new federal guidelines give most welfare recipients a maximum of five years to find a job. DSS expects mothers to benefit from starting their job searches earlier.

Howard County has applied to the Maryland Department of Human Resources for a waiver to existing welfare rules so it can impose the new policy.

A decision could come within the next several weeks. Mr. Marshall stressed that the new six-month rule would not be ironclad.

Each mother's case would be reviewed. If there are mitigating circumstances -- illness of the mother or child or lack of appropriate child care -- the timetable to begin searching for a job would be changed accordingly, he said.

There have been dramatic changes in the welfare system since Mr. Marshall took over the county DSS office 20 years ago. He saw a staff of 18 grow to 140 when the local welfare caseload was at its peak. He has seen the number of county residents on welfare drop from 2,843 to 834 in the past three years. DSS has changed from an office that processes welfare applications to an agency that helps people find jobs.

The six-month rule, applied judiciously, should make more families self-sufficient. That's what everyone should want.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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