In an effort to ensure that low-cost day care is available to families that need it most, the Maryland Department of Human Resources will cut the income ceiling under which Title XX day-care subsidies are granted.

The new restrictions, which take effect Oct. 1, mean that a family of four will be eligible for day-care subsidies only if its annual income is below $18,770. Currently, a four-member family can earn up to $24,634 and be eligible.

"What we're trying to do is to tie child day-care services more to lower income families," said Ruth Massinga, director of the department's Social Services Administration.

At present, many lower-income families are on the waiting list for Title XX day care, Massinga said, while higher-income families are getting day-care subsidies.

In order to open more spaces for children from lower-income families, Massinga said, the subsidies for higher-income families will be eliminated.

Since Title XX day-care fees for higher-income families will increase, Massinga said, she expects these families will drop out of the program and instead use private day-care programs, thus making more spaces available for children of lower-income families.

The same number of children -- an estimated 1,545 in Montgomery County and 1,091 in Prince George's County -- will be served before and after Oct. 1, Massinga said.

Fees for Title XX day care paid by lower-income families generally will remain the same. For example, a family of four with an income of $14,000 now pays $20 weekly per child in a Title XX day-care center, the same amount it would pay after Oct. 1.

The department also announced cutbacks in who is eligible for free legal service under the Title XX.

Before July 1, those families with incomes of $12,000 or less, regardless of family size, had been eligible for free legal service. On July 1, free legal services were restricted to families with incomes of $8,400 or less. f

Massinga said the restrictions were made for budget reasons.

About 2,600 people in Montgomery County and 3,900 people in Prince George's County are expected to use Title XX legal services within the next year.

Title XX, an amendment to the 1975 Social Security Act, provides federal money to states to set up social service programs.