Md. Lawmakers Weigh Integrating Services To Break Poverty Cycle

To end multi-generational poverty, state and local agencies should integrate services such as early childhood development, temporary cash assistance and mental health programming, a governor-mandated commission told Maryland lawmakers Tuesday.

Two state legislative committees met Tuesday in Annapolis to evaluate the benefits of the two-generational approach, which looks at the needs of a family as a whole, rather than viewing children and parents separately.

Proponents of this approach consider early childhood development, economic assets, postsecondary and employment pathways and the importance of health and well-being in evaluating the needs of a family.

“This is a process for working toward benefitting whole families,” Sarah Haight, the associate director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a think tank that studies and advocates for a multi-generational approach to ending poverty, said Tuesday.

With a two-generation approach, for families with young children who have an annual income of $25,000 or less, a $3,000 annual increase throughout the years of early childhood yields a 17% increase in adult earnings for those children, according to data from Ascend.

The institute said it has helped 3.5 million families annually in several states by pushing to integrate programs among agencies, including departments of human services and labor.

In 2016, Connecticut approved $3 million in funding to establish pilot programs in six communities across the state, according to Ascend. Colorado and Tennessee are among other states that have coordinated their resources through leadership and rehabilitation programs to benefit low-income families.

“Recent census data shows that the number of Maryland children living in poverty would fill 2,434 school busses,” said Nicholette Smith-Bligen, executive director of family investment within the Maryland Department of Human Services. “That’s saying to us that this program (the two-generation approach) is critical.”

Change in Allegany County

Allegany County, in rural Western Maryland, where 20% of the population lives in poverty, has already begun viewing their local systems with a two-generation approach. In the last six months, many agencies and departments in the county have worked together to establish a Head Start center, GED classes and financial education programs.

“It’s not a new program, it’s a change in the way we deliver services,” Courtney Thomas-Winterberg, the director of Allegany County Department of Social Services, told the committee members.

Thomas-Winterberg read out loud letters from several families within the county who have benefited from integrating services in Allegany County.

“No one was telling me what to do for the first time,” Thomas-Winterberg said one parent wrote. “They were actually asking me what I wanted to do.”

The county is creating a needs-based intake assessment that will connect a low-income family with the specific agency or agencies required for their circumstances. This opportunity allows families to have one set plan moving forward with intentionally linked services, which the commission hopes to replicate statewide.

“I think it’s absolutely a step forward,” Smith-Bligen said in an interview. “I think that the committee seemed very interested in our work and what it could look like in the future and how they can help, so I think this is just the beginning.”

The commission is scheduled to release an interim report on or before Dec. 31, as required by Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order, signed in March.

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