Montgomery County, regarded as having one of the strongest social service systems in Maryland, is overwhelmed by residents seeking assistance, resulting in hundreds of people being placed on waiting lists, according to a new report by county officials.
The combination of increased need and cuts in federal and state aid has opened large funding gaps in programs for the working poor, elderly, children and developmentally disabled, officials said. And without an infusion of several million dollars, they said, they may have to reevaluate which services and programs they can afford to continue.
"I think clearly the county today is not the same county as five years ago," said Carolyn W. Colvin, director of the Department of Health and Human Services. "We are just challenged because I think people have been living on the edge. If they have a medical emergency or one member of a household loses a job, it then pushes them over the edge."
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) compiled the inventory of waiting lists at the County Council's request. The council's Health and Human Services Committee has scheduled a hearing on the report for today.
As of early this month, 140 people were on waiting lists for inpatient treatment for mental illness. The county couldn't provide emergency shelter to 25 families, and 371 people who requested help paying their rent also had to wait, three times as many as were on the list in April.
Demand for health care programs is so great that on any given day, 15 people are turned away from the county's sexually transmitted disease/HIV program. Each month, according to the report, more than 150 people have to wait to get an appointment for latent tuberculosis treatment.
The need for child-care assistance through two programs is even more acute, with more than 3,000 people waiting for help.
Programs for foreign-born residents are also overburdened by an influx of immigrants. Each month, about a dozen newly arrived immigrants can't be accommodated in a program that offers free health care. And a half-dozen French-speaking victims of sexual assault are on the waiting list for counseling because only one counselor speaks French.
In all, 21 county human service programs have waiting lists, most of which are far longer then they were two years ago, and officials estimate that $16 million in state and local funds is needed to correct the problem.
Other counties in the region are facing similar challenges, although in most cases they could not offer a full report on the extent of the problem.
In Prince George's County, the health department has a three-week wait for expectant mothers in need of prenatal care. Howard County's Office on Aging reports that more than 60 residents are on a waiting list for a state-funded, county-administered Senior Assisted Group Home subsidy program.
Fairfax County officials say that they don't have waiting lists for senior programs but that there are up to 60 families at any time waiting for space in a homeless shelter.
Montgomery's largest funding gaps come from state programs or those heavily subsidized by the state, leading officials to lay most of the blame with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and President Bush.
"It is a further indicator of federal and state abdication in a lot of these areas," said County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring).