Use of assistance programs hits record highThe dismal economy is forcing a record number of Goodhue County families to use two popular government assistance programs.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
The dismal economy is forcing a record number of Goodhue County families to use two popular government assistance programs.
Almost 760 families applied for and received food stamps in June, an 18 percent increase since the beginning of the year. Nearly 4,200 individuals used some sort of government health care assistance in June, a 7 percent increase since January, said Greg Schoener, Goodhue County Human Services director.
"All these numbers are just pointing to the economy," Schoener said. "These families are finding themselves under-insured or uninsured, under-employed or unemployed.
"Until this economy gets better ... this trend line will continue upward."
Schoener said the number of families seeking assistance has been going up for two years "with no end in sight."
While more families are using what Schoener calls "safety net" programs, the number of families using the Minnesota Family Investment Program has remained steady.
That program combines a cash grant, food stamps and medical assistance into a package.
Eighty-one families qualified and used that program in June, down from 90 in January, Schoener said.
Almost 350 families used that program when Schoener started with the county in the 1980s. He said welfare reform efforts have forced people to use the program as it's intended.
Schoener said there are more "no-nonsense rules" governing the program and a 60-month time limit participants must adhere to.
"People are much more in tune with how the system works," Schoener said. "They participate in it in a correct and proper fashion.
Schoener said he hopes the number of people using MFIP remains steady.
His staff, he said, is already overwhelmed by the large number of people applying for food stamps and medical assistance.
No county tax dollars are used to fund those programs, Schoener said. The county does pay half the salary of staff members who perform eligibility reviews for food stamps and medical assistance.
Schoener's and his department will already be stretched thin in 2010 and 2011.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotments earlier this year helped drive more than $1 million in cuts to local human services programs.
Schoener told commissioners last month areas like mental health services and non-secure placements for juveniles would have to see cuts.
Public assistance programs fall into a core category Schoener said will remain untouched as far as funding.
"We are protecting those people and helping to insure low-income people get access," Schoener said.
@Sub Heads:Food shelf remains busy
@Normal: In addition to government assistance programs, more people continue using the Red Wing Area Food Shelf, volunteer Mary Felmlee said.
The number of families visiting the food shelf this summer is up about 5 percent over last summer, with 59 new families utilizing the service in August, Felmlee said.
"We're seeing more and more people without jobs and who just lost their jobs," said Felmlee, who is in charge of ordering supplies for the food shelf. "People don't visit us because they want to visit us, it's because they have to."