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Md. fund for needy families may have $34M shortfall

If Congress does not approve additional funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the Maryland Department of Human Resources will be scrambling to offset a $34 million shortfall.

The TANF program, funded by the federal government and administered here by Human Resources, helps families with short-term financial needs. Every year, Maryland receives a base grant of $229 million, according to interim Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas. The program has also received money from the federal stimulus program, as well as TANF contingency funds set aside for states with large caseload increases.

Dallas told a Senate budget subcommittee last week that the department drafted its budget in September, when there was a reasonable expectation of receiving $46 million in contingency funds for TANF. Some of the money flowed into Maryland through the end of 2010. Last month, Congress rescinded the contingency funds, abruptly stopping payments.

President Barack Obama is expected to reinstate those contingency funds in his fiscal 2012 budget, but it is unknown whether Congress will approve them.

“That’s a lot of money to make up,” said Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chairman James Robey, a Howard County Democrat.

Deputy Secretary for Programs Stacy Rodgers agreed. The funds are used for several different programs to help needy families, including work programs and child care assistance. Dallas said that cuts in funding will result in “very difficult decisions.”

“Any change we have will have an impact on our customer base,” Rodgers said. “Employment is important. So is child care.”

The 2012 budget request for Human Resources represents an increase over the current fiscal year, mostly because the department is serving more people because of the recession.

Rodgers said that from 1997 to 2001, Maryland did not use its entire annual TANF grant, and the leftover funds built up. The last decade, however, has increased participation in the program.

For seven out of the last 10 years, the program has cost more than what the federal government provided. Now, there is no balance from prior years in the account, and a Legislative Services analysis of the budget projects that the fund will be out of money if there are no additional contingency funds.

Rodgers said there is nothing more that the department can do but wait for Congress.

With the new Republican majority in Congress, Baltimore City Democrat Sen. Nathaniel McFadden was not hopeful.

“It looks precarious for any kind of funding,” he said.