WASHINGTON – The number of Maryland residents receiving temporary welfare assistance continued to decline, according to statistics released this week, but experts say the downward trend appears to be leveling off.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fell 3.7 percent in Maryland, from 71,146 people to 68,489 between September 2000 and March 2001. Nationally, welfare rolls fell by 4.4 percent.
During the same period, the number of Maryland families getting TANF dropped 3.6 percent, slightly more than the national drop of 3 percent.
Welfare rolls have fallen by 64.7 percent in Maryland since 1996, when the federal welfare reform bill was passed. But some experts say the downward trend is beginning to slow.
“The trend is continuing, but leveling off because those left have more barriers to independence,” said Richard Larson, a policy and research director at Maryland’s Department of Human Resources.
He said the slowing national and regional economies may be a factor, but that more important are a whole host of personal and family barriers that make leaving welfare more difficult for many of those who remain.
Education level, number of children, transportation and childcare problems, and issues of substance abuse are just a few of the variables that could make it harder for the remaining welfare recipients to get off the rolls.
But there have been successes. Larson said that about half of the people who left welfare in Maryland found work in the quarter in which their case was closed. For those with prior work experience, the same number jumped to 62 percent.
“The fear that people were going to come back just did not happen,” he said.
But some welfare advocates are hesitant to declare a complete success. Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities, said that many former recipients are working inconsistently and often at jobs with very low salaries.
Welfare Advocates, a 500-member statewide coalition, has reported that most people leaving welfare do not work full-time and that, on average, they earn $6.50 per hour.
A recent survey of 100 current and former TANF recipients by the Center for Poverty Solutions reported that most that most former recipients were not making enough to cover their basic needs, and relied on some form of emergency food source assistance.
Of those surveyed, about 57 percent were at or below the federal poverty level for a mother and two children, if they were working full time.
“Anybody who is out there living should have enough to live in decency,” said Meade. “People who work at low-income jobs should have easy access to benefits that will help them.”