ECONOMY: Across Maryland, bare-bones household budgets soar above salaries

Maryland government tries to fill the gap

“Since the Great Recession, we have seen an incredible jump in people becoming eligible for and accessing food stamps and other programs,” Pearce said. “We need to not have people be demonized when they have to turn to those programs to support their families.”

State-run federal programs such as temporary cash assistance and the food supplement program are facing a growing demand.

While the state is broadening the application pool for some programs, it’s also encouraging independence from the safety net, said Pat Hines, the communication director for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

“Welfare is a last resort. We’re here to help people with difficult times,” Hines said. “No one wants it to be a way of life. We don’t want to be in the poverty maintenance program.”

The recession has a whole new demographic trying to decipher how to apply for programs such as food stamps. And for people who find themselves in this category for the first time, public assistance is a complex beast.

“A basic part of human nature is to avoid anything that seems daunting,” Hines said, “And people are embarrassed. The last thing in their comfort zone is going to their neighbor and asking ‘How do you get public assistance?’ ”

Maryland has families of all kinds facing challenges, said Williams, at the Maryland Community Action Partnership.

“You have husbands and wives both working jobs, but it costs a tremendous amount of money to live in some of these counties,” Williams said.

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