An emergency task force is meeting daily in Baltimore to prevent a beleaguered state feeding program from returning up to $940,000 to the federal government this fall.
The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program in Maryland already has returned $240,000 this year to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, and sent back nearly $1 million in 1982. Program officials blamed their problems on a faulty computer and a lack of employes to process claims.
The actions came at a time when Maryland was serving less than half the women and children eligible for the program and had dropped 3,600 people because of lack of money.
State officials received nearly $1 million from a federal jobs bill for 1983, earmarked for the nutrition program. They have eliminated the waiting list, restored recipients who were dropped from the program and now are trying to devise ways to spend the money properly before it must be returned Oct. 1, said Richard Hegner, an assistant to the director of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "We don't want to add a lot of people we won't be able to support next year when the one-time federal jobs bill money is gone," he added.
After news reports of the program's problems surfaced, Gov. Harry Hughes ordered the health department to find ways to use the money.
Hegner said the task force, which includes department members and officials from the Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning, is considering hiring more enrollment clerks and starting special sign-ups to attract more Marylanders eligible for the dairy products, juice and cereal.
In a related matter, some 2,500 WIC recipients in the city of Baltimore were inadvertently dropped from the program at the beginning of this month because of continuing problems with the computer program that handles the statewide program.
Dr. Rupla Eshai, director of pre-school programs for the Baltimore City Health Department, said her staff of 16 has been hand-tallying individual tickets for the food packets after a new computer list was found to be in error. Many recipients have gone without infant formula and dairy products supplied by the program for two weeks as the office tries to sort out the problem, she said.
The director of the state WIC program, Steve Trageser, minimized the problem in Baltimore, saying through Hegner that "We've resolved the bulk of the problem."
But Eshai said the chaos still is far from solved, noting her staff has worked overtime for two weeks and plans to work Saturday in an attempt to get deliveries on track on Monday.