A legislative analyst recommended deep cuts today in two key programs submitted by Gov. Harry Hughes this year as part of his legislative proposals to aid children, signaling the start of what promises to be a major debate on these programs by the legislature.
The analyst, Ann Marie Zalewski, appeared before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, recommending a cut of one-third of the 81 additional foster-care workers requested as part of the governor's so-called "Youth Initiative," a $12.5 million package of programs that Hughes has described as one of his top priorities.
She also suggested reducing by half the 56 additional counselors requested by Hughes for a new program of intensive family services designed to prevent the need for foster care. Zalewski also recommended abolishing 34 vacant positions throughout the agency that have gone unfilled for several months.
She estimated savings from these three moves would cut about $1.7 million from the Department of Human Resources' proposed budget. Her report indicated, however, that they were recommended not just to provide cost savings but because she believed that the department could meet its objectives with fewer new positions. She also questioned the need for additional positions when the department continuously has vacancies.
Although her recommendations are only the first step in the legislature's process of analyzing the budget, several lawmakers said the report stated many of their concerns about the new programs: whether they merely duplicate existing programs, whether current programs are well run, and whether the additional money will actually solve some of the problems.
"I don't think it's anyone's intention to butcher a program if it has any real merit," said state Sen. Bernard Fowler (D-Calvert), a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "At the same time, it seems to some of us that the departments had to go scurrying to put in the personnel and the requests to meet the initiatives. It seems sort of after the fact, really."
Hughes' legislative director, Benjamin Bialek, criticized the proposed cut, saying, "The governor totally disagrees with the recommendations of the fiscal analyst."
Social Services Administration official Frank Farrow said the department has increased its number of child abuse investigations by 42 percent between 1981 and 1984, while the staff to do the work has increased only 10 percent in that period.
In an effort to point up the need for more staff members, social workers described their work with a 7-year-old girl who had been sexually abused by her father. Committee members shifted uncomfortably in their seats as the counselors detailed the sexual acts the girl was required to perform. Though sympathetic to the counselors' efforts, some committee members were more impressed by the fact that the child was sent to a foster home and the father was not jailed for his assaults.
Catherine Riley (D-Harford) said, "Eventually I think we're going to have to find a way to figure out what's wrong with the system as opposed to hiring additional people to bail out a system that's in trouble."