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Montgomery May Bail Out Rental Program

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page B01

Montgomery County's Rental Assistance Program, one of 21 county social programs burdened by high demand, could receive an immediate infusion of money under a proposal approved yesterday by a County Council committee.

The decision by the Health and Human Services Committee went against the advice of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who did not want the council to hastily earmark additional money. After the committee's vote, however, Duncan voiced his support.

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The $150,000 supplemental appropriation, if approved by the full council, could help an additional 125 low-income families pay their rent.

The program, which aids about 1,500 families each month, provides qualified applicants with between $50 and $200 toward housing costs. A family of four must have an annual household income of less than $43,500 to qualify.

The waiting list has grown from 146 families in May to 371 this month. County officials said the list grew rapidly this summer once they began clearing a backlog of applications.

"It is an attempt to make a stab at a vast and growing problem," said Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), chairman of the committee, which unanimously approved the additional money.

Leventhal was referring to a report this month that described the county's social service network as overwhelmed by growing need and cuts in state and federal aid. The result has been thousands of residents being placed on waiting lists.

The report said that $16 million in state and county funds is needed to eliminate waiting lists for programs for the working poor, elderly, children and developmentally disabled people. The funding gap means some residents are being turned away from free health clinics, mental facilities and drug counseling centers.

The county's state lawmakers say they face a fight to keep funding at current levels, much less obtain an increase.

"We expect it to get worse with the governor's budget," said state Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Montgomery), a member of the Budget Committee.

Programs funded solely by the county, such as the Rental Assistance Program, also have lengthy waiting lists. County officials estimate that nearly $5 million is needed annually to eliminate waiting lists in county-funded social service programs.

Committee members said yesterday that they could not address most of the problems until they begin to consider the 2006 budget in the spring.

But Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), who requested the immediate aid for the Rental Assistance Program, said that program's waiting list needed to be addressed this year because of its size.

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