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More local families relying on food stamps

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

More Plumas County residents rely on food stamps than ever before.

In a continued sign of the depressed economic times, 622 households received food stamp assistance in May. The average household is comprised of roughly three people.

“The numbers are unprecedented,” County Social Services Director Elliott Smart said. “It’s a reflection of the need that’s out there in the community.”

Smart revealed several eye-opening statistics during a recent presentation for the Plumas County Board of Supervisors.

Food-stamp households have increased nearly 300 percent in just four years, according to those statistics.

Smart said many people are asking for government assistance for the first time in their lives.

“I want to emphasize that, more and more, we are seeing folks who have not ever had to come to us for help or assistance,” Smart said. “These are not people who have had long-term connection with our services, but people who have been displaced from jobs and from self-support.

“Probably the last place they want to be is in our office asking for support. And my staff knows that.”

The dramatic increase in assistance requests has put a strain on social service workers.

Smart praised his staff for absorbing the heavy workload, while treating applicants with respect and dignity at the same time.

“The compassion and understanding they show is significant to me,” Smart said of his staff. “We continue to see application counts that have been in the average range above 250 per month. That has been the case now for close to over 30 months.”

The food-stamp surge does have a positive impact on the local economy. Smart said 67 percent of the CalFresh (food stamp) money is spent in the county.

An average eligible household receives about $320 monthly. In June, that added up to $204,216.

“Those are dollars that go back into the community,” Smart said. “They support jobs for grocery clerks and folks who are associated with that trade.”


Foster care numbers decline

Smart said the number of children in foster homes has started to go down.

“I still think it is a little too high, but our goal here is to protect children,” Smart said. “And if they can’t go back to a safe home, they are going to stay in foster care for a while.”

He said the majority of the cases involve parents abusing alcohol and drugs.

“We have increasing use of methamphetamine in the community,” Smart said. “Even though we tell them that unless you (stop), there is little likelihood that your children are going to be returned to you.

“Even under those circumstances, we have some people where it is just very difficult for them to break that cycle.”


In-home supportive services

“We are continuing to see a decline in cases of our in-home supportive services program,” Smart said. “We are running in a range of about 245 to 265 cases per month. That is about a 23 percent reduction from our high count in June of 2005.”


Other statistics

—The average number of referrals for adult protective services is about 25 per quarter (three months). However, the numbers for the last two quarters were 14 and 12, respectively.

—There were eight emergency responses for child protective services in June, down from an average of 16.

—The county medical services program (CMSP) tends to rise proportionately with an increase in food stamp cases, because many food stamp recipients are also eligible for CMSP. The average monthly CMSP caseload for 2010-11 was 191, up from 131 the prior year.

—The number of people applying for cash assistance (CalWORKs) has begun to fall slightly. However, the 195 cases in June were still about 25 percent above average.

—Applications for all assistance programs were 250 in June. That number was higher than May. But it was below the average of 263, and well below the 362 applications in January.

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