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Food Support cases up dramatically


Fri, Feb 6th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Gail Bunge, Financial Assistance Supervisor at Fillmore County Social Services, has seen the number of applicants for services increase dramatically over the last four months.

PRESTON - On January 20, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, the Fillmore County Social Services front desk logged 200 contacts - phone calls and walk-ins from residents in need.

Gail Bunge, Financial Assistance Supervisor for income maintenance programs at the county, said that the lobby was full of people throughout that day.

"Mondays and days after holidays have been particularly busy," Bunge said.

The recession has hit Fillmore County in many ways: single adults and heads of households have lost jobs and seniors on fixed incomes are finding it difficult to meet their health care costs.

Unemployment in Fillmore County stood at 5.9-percent in December 2007. A year later, 805 people out of a labor force of 11,159, or 7.2-percent were out of work.

Over the past year, the county has seen a 24-percent increase in the number of food stamp cases, from 322 in January 2008 to 399 in December 2008. And the first month of 2009 has seen an additional increase of 32 cases, an increase of 8-percent.

"We are seeing people we wouldn't normally see applying for assistance," Bunge said. "The volume of applicants we are seeing have increased dramatically."

Over the past four months, social services has provided expedited service to 56 cases - where people are in critical need of services and benefits are provided immediately. This has corresponded with a 20-percent increase in food stamp cases over the same period (see chart).

In addition to income and food benefits, social services is seeing an increase in applications for health care benefits. In some cases, it is for families that need help with deductibles or who have lost health insurance totally; in other cases, it is for elderly who cannot afford their supplemental insurance.

Bunge, who has worked at Fillmore County Social Services for 28 years, believes that there has been a significant increase in the number of applications associated with this recession compared to previous downturns in the economy in 1991 and 2001.

The increased case load has had an impact on staffing at social services. Bunge said that she has recently noticed that her nine financial workers are tied to their desks more so than before. In addition to the spike in new cases, she said that staff have ongoing cases to maintain.

Who is eligible for

Food Support?

Bunge encourages those who are in need to apply for services.

Generally speaking, a family may be eligible for Food Support benefits if their household liquid assets (cash on hand, money in bank accounts) is less than $7,000 and they meet monthly income guidelines.

Expedited Food Support is available to households with less than $150 in monthly gross income and $100 or less in liquid assets; or where the combined monthly gross income and liquid assets are less than monthly housing and utility costs.

Also, able bodied adults without children, may qualify for extended Food Support benefits due to a waiver for 2009.

Bunge notes that there are several support programs for those who are in need, each with their own eligibility requirements.

"We [social services] are a resource for people who are in need," Bunge said.

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