By EVELYN RABIL
CNS Special Report
COLLEGE PARK – A parent with two young children in Frederick County needs at least $61,000 a year to make ends meet, a new study shows, as local government agencies and charities report a sharp rise in families needing financial help for the first time.
The Maryland Self-Sufficiency Standard, prepared by researchers at the University of Washington School of Social Work, calculates families’ basic costs, including housing, health care, child care, food and transportation. One parent with a preschooler in Frederick County must make $54,667 a year, or an hourly wage of $25.88, to cover basic costs without assistance, the report says — an increase of more than 40 percent in the past decade. Two adults with a preschooler and a school-age child must make $73,706.
The calculation does not include provisions for savings, emergencies, debt or student loan repayment, education or training, broadband or Internet, pets, recreation or entertainment.
While the 2010 census shows only 3.4 percent of families in Frederick County live below the federal poverty level, 20.1 percent earned incomes less than $50,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a 6.6 percent unemployment rate in the county in 2010, more than double 2007 figures. Cases doubled for the Frederick County Department of Social Services since the start of the recession, according to state data, yet state and county funding was cut by 30.8 percent in fiscal year 2011.
The agency had to freeze its child-care subsidy program, close several outreach programs and discontinue housing assistance in February 2011. Before the cut-off date, the agency helped prevent eviction or locate housing for 1,128 families in fiscal 2011.
“It was a very, very difficult year last year for all of us, but [the county commissioners] knew when they came into office in December of 2010, they were already faced with a considerable budget deficit and they had to make some very difficult decisions,” said Robin Santangelo, public information officer for the Frederick County government.
At the state level, federal grant reserves from the “good years” have worn thin after years of recession-related case loads, said Vince Kilduff, deputy executive director of the Office of Programs at the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
“We’ve seen in a five-year time period, almost all of our case loads pretty close to doubling,” said Deborah Lundahl, public information officer for the Frederick County social services agency.
“We’re seeing more people come in and apply for benefits who haven’t applied in the past … it’s to the point where they have exhausted all their other resources and now they are turning to us,” Lundahl said.
The agency refers people with housing needs to The Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, a nonprofit organization that assists families with shelter, food and health care, funded primarily through donations.
“About 50 percent of our clients were new clients last year,” said the Rev. Brian Scott, executive director for the coalition. “We saw over 3,000 people who came to The Religious Coalition office either for prevention of homelessness or health care.”
The government budget cuts mean the coalition needs to raise $100,000 more to keep families off the streets because it is now the primary source of emergency funds for people in need of housing, Scott said.
“If that support is not there, the problem is, where do people go?” Scott said. “We’re trying to make the public more aware that we are at a place where we need help and without that kind of assistance, we’ll see more people who are homeless.”
In contrast, in the last 10 years, the proportion of the Frederick County population that is more affluent grew.
According to census data, families making $75,000 or more a year made up 42.5 percent of the Frederick County population in 2000. In 2010, that slice was 64.2 percent.
The University of Washington study did not determine how many working families have incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Census Bureau data show that roughly 32,526 people — about 14.4 percent of the population — in Frederick County live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the census poverty threshold. (For a family of four, twice the poverty line would be about $44,000.) The census data count the elderly and other categories that were not included in the self-sufficiency calculations for working families.