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March 5, 2012

It ainít rosy, but certainly efficient

Cindy A. Rose

Frederick County’s January 2012 unemployment numbers won't be ready until mid-March, but the national unemployment numbers are lower than last week. The stock market is up, but so is gasoline. None of this is indicating all is right in our little corner of the world.


I have in front of me the June 2010-June2011 Annual Report of the Frederick County Department of Social Services. The picture painted in this document – when compared to the previous years – is not one that instills confidence in our economic future. Frederick County’s citizens, despite the rhetoric, are still struggling.


Anyone employed by the Frederick County government and hoping to get a raise in 2012 should not hold their breaths. But if they do, they should praise the heavens for being so blessed.


The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation records may show unemployment filings are down, but what it will not show is the level of employment. Yes, Mr. Smith may have a job, but when he once was making $60,000, he is now making considerably less.


Evidence of this is reflected in the amount of families filing for assistance with Frederick County’s Department of Social Services.


Here are some numbers which are an “expansion” of the filers, not the total number of recipients.


Frederick County had 1,132 more individuals in need of temporary cash assistance; 16,383 more in need of the Food Supplement Program; 205 more in need of temporary disability assistance; and 17,685 more in need of medical assistance.


Frederick County Department of Social Services assisted 48,125 walk-ins during Fiscal Year 2011 (slightly more than 20% of Frederick County's residents). This number, although large, does not reflect the entire picture. Though some of these people may not have qualified for assistance, that isn’t to say they weren’t truly in need. It also does not reflect the individuals and families who would not ask for help. I know they exist because I know some personally. Frederick County spends over $20 million a year helping its citizens make it through the rough patches. This number does not take into account those helped by non-profit agencies outside of the government.


To qualify for food stamps in Maryland, a family of three must be earning $34,281 or less. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the average Frederick County citizen was making slightly over $30,000, with a household average of over $80,000 (2.68 persons per household).


The Census numbers – compared with the eligibility requirement and Department of Social Services numbers – would seem to indicate Frederick  citizens income are no longer meeting the county average, with the inference being the possibility that many are now under-employed.


I would hope then, when citizens of Frederick County hear that the county has a surplus of around $30 million that is not an indication of a blossoming economy or robust economic turn-around. It is more reflective of the serious nature in which our new Board of County Commissioners has taken seriously its responsibility to save taxpayers money. The commissioners have made hard choices to cut the size of government to protect the taxpayers.


The goal of every county government agency should be to do the same efficient and professional jobs with the least amount of money available. This sometimes means cutting staff and shifting programs.


Every time an extra dollar shows up on the radar we shouldn’t have gaggles of representatives sticking their hands out while reciting their most heart-wrenching sob stories of need.


Citizens of Frederick County need to stop viewing the county government as an “employer.” Employment is a by-product of providing government services, not the function.


Money flows “through” the Board of County Commissioners, not “from” them.



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