The number of Maryland families who need government help to make ends meet has reached record levels.
More than 700,000 people receive food assistance, the most in state history. A record 70,000 people depend on emergency cash assistance. And the demand for the state’s child care subsidy program has caused officials to impose an indefinite freeze on new applicants.
Yet state and federal officials are budgeting less money for the safety net in the coming fiscal year. The move reflects the government’s confidence in the economic recovery, based in part on the fact that demand has plateaued for most state-administered assistance programs.
Others question whether it is overly optimistic to cut back at a time when state assistance programs are still swollen with unprecedented numbers.
Those scary figures came via a report from the Capital News Service and were published this morning on MarylandReporter.com. CNS sifted through piles of data to paint a gloomy picture for many Marylanders, even though the state’s unemployment rate remains relatively low at 6.6 percent.
Agencies and organizations providing aid to those in emergency situations are seeing off-the-charts need.
“Demand has been so high that the Department of Human Resources, which helps Maryland families with child care, cash and food assistance and medical services, was forced to request an additional $30 million in state funding in fiscal 2012,” the news service reported. “The shortfall occurred even though federal funding for the department has doubled to nearly $2 billion since the recession began.”
Who is coming forward for aid?
People like Ryan and Amanda Velivlis of Parkville. They had a baby 18 months ago and are expecting another in July.
They thought they had planned wisely by paying off debts and cutting up credit cards before starting their family.
“I didn’t want to drown in debt,” Amanda Velivlis said. “I just didn’t want to get into a trap, fall into a hole. I think with a lot of other families, that is where a lot of people get in trouble.”
Yet they’ve found that they still can’t stretch Ryan Velivlis’s $34,000 paycheck as a restaurant manager to cover their basic monthly costs.
So, the family has had to apply for a number of assistance programs to get by.
Ryan Velivlis receives health insurance for himself through his employer but can’t afford the cost of covering his family. Amanda Velivlis and their daughter, Evelyn, are enrolled in the state medical assistance program. Amanda attends the Community College of Baltimore County, where she hopes to get a degree in radiology or respiratory care, with the help of a $3,000 Pell Grant. The family also receives about $130 each month through a special food assistance program for women caring for infants.
Perhaps the scariest part of the report is this:
“A lot of our agencies are telling us that people who a couple of years ago were writing checks and supported the local food pantry are now coming to get food,” said Deborah Flateman, CEO of the Maryland Food Bank.
My takeaway: The macro statistics about life in Maryland — low unemployment vs. the rest of the country, high-paying jobs, a relatively stable housing market compared to places like Nevada or Florida — conceal a hidden truth about our state.
And the truth is this: Many people are hurting.