Commissioners question poverty program’s effectiveness
Vision 2020 program may be retooled
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.