Com­mis­sion­ers ques­tion poverty pro­gram’s ef­fec­tive­ness

Vi­sion 2020 pro­gram may be re­tooled

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

The Charles County Vi­sion 2020 pro­gram was de­signed in 2012 to re­duce poverty rates in the county by the year 2020, but now there could be huge changes in sight for the pro­gram.

Af­ter ini­tially en­rolling 24 ap­pli- cants in the pro­gram over the last two years, the re­main­ing num­ber of par­tic­i­pants is down to just seven and the pro­gram has a va­cancy at its most im­por­tant po­si­tion.

Vi­sion 2020 re­quires em­ploy­ment of a so­cial worker, but since the pre­vi­ous worker re­signed,

it has not been able to ac- quire a re­place­ment, said Eileen Min­nick, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Ser­vices.

Dur­ing Tues­day’s meet- ing, the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers set out to find an­swers for the pro­gram but only came away with more ques­tions as to how it is be­ing run and how many peo­ple it has helped.

The com­mis­sion­ers voted 3-2 to re­visit the pro­gram af­ter more con­crete data was gath­ered by var­i­ous de­part­ments. County Com- mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) and Com- mis­sioner Bobby Rucci (D) were the dis­sent­ing votes.

Davis said the pro­gram

has is­sues that need to be worked out, but the prob­lems can­not be solved overnight. How­ever, she said, the pro­gram is too im- por­tant to cease op­er­a­tions com­pletely.

“There were gen­er­a­tions and cy­cles of poverty in the county. We needed to stop them,” Davis said.

The pro­gram spe­cial­izes in spread­ing re­sources to help ap­pli­cants and their fam­i­lies find and sus­tain work, find a means of trans- por­ta­tion for ap­pli­cants and fa­cil­i­tate any ed­u­ca­tional needs as well. It con­nects those who are in poverty with the re­sources needed to make it out.

The so­cial worker po­si­tion takes up more than $103,000 in the county’s bud­get annu- ally, Min­nick said. The so­cial worker ac­counts for just over $50,000 of that in salary and ben­e­fits.

Without the so­cial worker there, Min­nick said, a part­time worker who has been as­sist­ing with the pro­gram has picked up some of the bur­den. How­ever, she said, “she can’t work more than 18 to 24 hours per week” be­cause of county reg­ula- tions.

Out of the $103,000 go­ing into the pro­gram, only $500 goes to client sup­port for the pro­gram. That in­cludes fees like pur­chas­ing bus passes, Min­nick ex­plained. Com­mis­sioner Amanda Ste­wart (D) said a ma­jor­ity of the fund­ing goes to the so­cial worker, in­clud­ing fringe ben­e­fits.

Ste­wart said she had two non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions ap­proach her say­ing the county can spend the money in a bet­ter way to help those in need.

“My con­cern is if we have seven ap­pli­cants and we’re spend­ing over $100,000 per year and we’re a county of 150,000, are we best us­ing our money ap­pro­pri­ately to help these folks?” Ste­wart said.

But Davis said there are more than seven ap­pli­cants be­ing helped by the pro­gram. The ap­pli­cants’ fam-

ilies re­ceive help as well, she said, and they have to count in the process as well.

But Ste­wart said, in or­der to come to a more con­crete con­clu­sion, see­ing data on how peo­ple are af­fected would help “jus­tify” how the county is spend­ing its money.

“We re­ally need some data to sup­port that it’s work­ing. If a pro­gram is not work­ing, I un­der­stand that we need to change it or im­prove on it. But without that in­for­ma­tion, any deci- sion made to go for­ward is a de­ci­sion made in the blind,” she said.

Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres- ident Peter Mur­phy (D) agreed and said see­ing more data on how peo­ple are ben­e­fit­ting from the pro­gram would help the com­mis­sion­ers make a bet­ter de­ci­sion.

Min­nick said the county does have data on how the pro­gram worked for indi- vid­u­als. They have in­forma- tion on whether they were able to ob­tain and re­tain a job and whether they are still em­ployed, along with other specifics, she said.

“Some have found new strug­gles. Some are main- tain­ing. Each case is so in- di­vid­ual,” Min­nick said.

The pro­gram, orig­i­nal- ly pro­posed by Davis in 2012, started as a pilot. The com­mis­sion­ers have been spend­ing at least $100,000 on it over the last four years.

Ste­wart said that kind of money can be used, po­ten­tially, to reach more than just 10 or 12 fam­i­lies. Some­times, she said, gov- ern­ment can get in the way of it­self.

Davis made a mo­tion to con­tinue the work be­ing done with the cur­rent co­hort of peo­ple en­rolled in the pro­gram through a con­tracted so­cial worker, but Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said he was not com­fort­able with the un­knowns be­hind find­ing a con­trac­tor on such short no­tice.

The mo­tion failed 2-3 with Davis and Rucci vot­ing to move for­ward on the idea. Though the mo­tion failed, Davis said, she hopes the county still con­tin­ues to work to­ward find­ing so­lu­tions for the peo­ple cur­rently en­rolled.

“This is an an­swer and un­til we have an­other an­swer, I trust that we will con­tinue to sup­port our most needy cit­i­zens,” Davis said.

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