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April welfare stats surprise county official

Despite a lagging economy, the number of Goodhue County residents who used food stamps, welfare and government health care in April was down slightly.

At least one of the programs has seen record-high numbers in previous months, said Greg Schoener, Goodhue County Human Services director.

Schoener said he was pleasantly surprised, not so much by the decrease, but because the numbers are staying steady.

"They're not continuing to go up and up and up," he said. "Some how or another people seem to be hanging in there through this apparent economic crisis we're having.

"I would have expected our numbers to drift upward," he added.

The reason behind the slight decrease is unclear, Schoener said.

But he told Goodhue County commissioners last week that people who utilize government assistance are using programs the way they were intended.

"They use it go get themselves out of a pickle they are in and then they go back off," Schoener said. "Then they're not coming back."

Schoener also said welfare and food stamp recipients are expected to seek out and maintain steady employment.

"The new clients who are coming on, they have different expectations of how the programs will work," he said.

The Red Wing Area Food Shelf may be the other part of the picture.

Officials there say more and more families are using the safety net this year than in 2007.

In January, 65 more families were using the food shelf than in January 2007.

So far this year, April has seen the biggest spike, with 276 families -- 88 more than this time last year.

"Every week or month there's new people," said Don Felmlee, who volunteers at the food shelf with his wife, Mary Felmlee.

"Then the next month they'll drop off and someone else will replace them."

Mary Felmlee said food shelf volunteers often hear from families who have a hard time making ends meet. In need of help, people turn to the food shelf when they first come to town or are no longer allowed to use government assistance programs.

"We're trying to help them as best we can," she said. "But a lot of aid has been cut to the poor so we just take each month as it comes.

"If the economy changes, fewer people will come. But until that time, it's going to be more."