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Demand for social services hits 12-year high

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer
3/3/2010


    Plumas County Social Services Director Elliott Smart told the Plumas County Board of Supervisors his department received 300 applications for assistance in November, the largest number since 1997. 

   Smart presented his quarterly trends report for winter 2009 to the board at a Tuesday, Feb. 9, meeting.

    The background material for the presentation read, “While there has been some speculation that recovery from a very deep recession has begun, the applications being received by the department indicate that for many, there has not yet been recovery.”

 

    Smart explained the department has received more than 200 applications per month for 18 months and the current average of 231 applications per month was higher than it had been for 10 years.

    “An application in my department typically requires three hours to process, even with the automated tools that we have in place,” he added.

    “I do publicly want to acknowledge the terrific work my staff has done to process these applications.”

    Board chairwoman Sherrie Thrall asked Smart if each of those applications was from a person who had never received services before.

    “Some of those may be a re-application from somebody who’s had a break, but typically those are a new application that requires loading the information into the system, processing it, conducting an in-person interview and then generating an authorization or a denial,” the director responded.

    Doing some math in her head to get an idea of the applications turned in over the last year, around 3,000, she said, “Seems like that’s a significant percentage of our county population.”

    The back-up document indicated the average monthly case count of 159 for cash assistance programs like Cal Works through the first six months of the fiscal year was at an eight-year high.

    The document showed the food stamp case count flattening out to around 340 for the last two quarters after hitting an 11-year high of 376 last May.

    It also indicated those 340 cases represented around 1,000 county residents receiving food stamp benefits, with more than half of them children.

    Later in the meeting, Ole Olsen asked if the new credit card type system of food stamps made it easier to ensure people weren’t getting aid from multiple counties at once.

    Smart said that was true and explained his department monitored that tracking section of the system often, “because we’re interested in where people spend their money and I think it’s good news that two-thirds of that money stays in the community, is spent at local food distribution sites.”

    He continued, “The place where they are likely to spend it out of the county is typically in Reno, Nev., and it’s typically at Winco.

    “That’s where we see those expenses going—big shops at Winco once a month—and to me that’s smart management of your grocery money.”

    The report indicated the county MediCal caseload “has grown by 22 percent in a span of 30 months” with a 12-year high of 959 cases in December.

    It also mentioned those numbers don’t include people who receive MediCal benefits for being blind, disabled or over 65.

    The MediCal caseload chart accompanying this article shows some landmark months in the last 12 years that indicate the overall trend over that span.

    The Child Welfare Services section of the report indicated referral numbers exceeded the 36-monthaverage in 13 of the past 18 months, meaning there have been more bad months in the last half of the three-year period than the first.   

The report commented, “We have continued to experience significant numbers of cases where the precipitating factors leading to abuse and neglect are associated with drug or alcohol use, in particular methamphetamine but also alcohol abuse.

    “We have also had an unusual number of older children (children over the age of 10) referred during this period.”

    It added that despite that fact, the department has continued its trend of getting children back intotheir homes with less than 70 children in the system for three of the last four months, which hasn’t happened in more than a year.   

Smart told the board, “I’m aware that some counties now have begun to question their practiceseturning kids to homes too soon.

    “There have been some incidents in Los Angeles County and Sacramento County that have raised concerns about that. We’ve talked to our staff a little bit about that. Our number-one concern always is for child safety.

    “We want to make sure (that) if we’re returning a child home that we’re returning that child to a safeenvironment. 

“We can’t be 100 percent assured of that, we can be 99.9 percent assured of that and that’s what I asmy staff to do.”

    At this point, County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad asked the director about whether the county would have to fill the pay gap for In Home Health Services workers if the state decided to only reimburse the department for minimum wage.

    Smart responded, “The good news is that we, our contract with United Domestic Workers and California United Healthcare Workers has a provision in it that says that if the state reduces down to the minimum wage then we have the authority to make that reduction.”

    “Oh, good,” Ingstad responded with a visible mix of surprise and relief.

    Supervisor Lori Simpson asked Smart how Plumas compared to other counties in terms of people needing help because of the recession.

    Smart said his department compared its trends to the other 20 small counties in the state and thought Plumas was about average right now.

    At the end of the discussion, Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center Director Dennis Thibeault addressed the board about his agency’s work with the county’s public health, mental health and social services departments.

    “I want you to know that on the statewide level when I speak to my colleagues I am the envy of many of my colleagues because of the tremendously wonderful working relationship that we have, our agency has, with our county departments, and it’s rarer than one would think because there’s so much territorialism out there on the parts of so many agencies that they forget what they’re there for.”

    “Not in this county. Human services concern is alive and well so I just wanted the board to recognize that.”


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