Commissioners cite unfair funding formula, zip code discrimination from state

(Nov. 29, 2019) The Worcester County Commissioners turned down state funding for the Maryland Summer Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, last week, opting instead, to take the $100,000 already set aside for the program and donate it to select organizations in the county.

Department of Social Services Director Roberta Baldwin said the program originated in the 2019 legislative session to help families experiencing food insecurity during months when children are not in school. 

Ellen Payne, assistant director for family investment, represented Baldwin at the commissioner’s meeting and said that families with children would receive an extra $30 for June, July and August, and then an extra $10 for December on their electronic benefit transfer cards. 

Each participating county is to follow the school construction funding formula for the required county minimum, with Worcester County being a required 50 percent match. In her report, Baldwin proposed applying for $100,000 in state funding, though the state only has $200,000 for all 24 counties. Payne said although not all counties were applying, she didn’t know which ones were. 

According to Katherine Morris, communications director for the Maryland Department of Social Services, the department will allocate state funds based on the number of program participants, the certified maximum amount of local share funds available and how close recipients are located to other summer food resources. 

County Commissioner Chip Bertino, however, pointed out that the funding formula is unfair to Worcester County. 

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Chip Bertino

“We are being required to pay 50 percent of this grant matching funds while Wicomico only has to pay five percent and Somerset only has to pay four percent,” Bertino said. 

Another concern he voiced was that there was no way to ensure that the funding would go to the “right people.” 

“One would assume the children would get the food, but there would be no way to guarantee what the parent is actually doing with their EBT card,” Payne said. 

She added that 1,734 children in Worcester County are eligible for the summer food stamp program. A total of 1,454 children received free lunches in Worcester County Public Schools last year. County Commissioner Jim Bunting pointed out that $200,000 is not sufficient for the whole state. 

“I would rather see our county commissioners, at budget time, designate $20,000 or $40,000 to who we think it should go to and not through some ill-conceived program like this is,” Bunting said. 

Diana Purnell, president of Worcester County Commissioners, argued that even though she agreed the state funding formula is unfair, the county should take whatever funding it can get from the state, since the county cannot regulate how people spend that money. 

“You cannot tell a parent or guardian, ‘I’m going to give you this EBT card and this is what you need to use it for,’” Purnell said. “We cannot get in every household. We cannot do that. But kids are hungry in this county.”

County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic disagreed and said the state expects each county to select program recipients based on zip codes. 

“I know that Ocean City will be left out,” Mitrecic said. “Now with that said, in the wintertime in Ocean City, we have tremendous amount of lower income families because they come into town for the winter rental rates. Some of the people that need this program would be cut out.”

Bertino suggested taking the $100,000 set aside for the summer program, and instead donating it to various organizations, such as the food bank. Purnell countered that if they decide to reject state funding, then they need to step up their own funding, as the county only donated $5,000 to the Maryland Food Bank-Eastern Shore Branch last year. 

County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom countered with a combination of ideas to avoid leaving state money on the table. 

“My suggestion would be to try to get as much money as we can from the state of Maryland, which is following along this proposal here, and then take the whatever is leftover and allocate it in the way Commissioner Bertino has suggested,” Nordstrom said. 

Bertino continued to lobby for his motion. 

“Worcester County can take care of Worcester County,” Bertino said. “For the state to come down here and tell us how we’re supposed to allocate and discriminate against one zip code over another zip code, I just have a real problem. I’d rather us handle it by ourselves.” 

The commissioners unanimously agreed to not apply for state funding and use the $100,000 set aside for the summer program to donate to a list of organizations created with the help of social services.

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