Numbers of Hubbard County poor on the rise
One of every nine people in Hubbard County is in need of public assistance, according to the steadily rising figures released by Social Services personnel.
Of the county's official population of 18,861 people, by last month, 2,213 residents had active case files seeking income maintenance benefits of cash, food stamps and medical assistance.
But that actually may be lower than the nation's poverty measure, which hovers between 13 and 17 percent of the population, using income and welfare statistics to base those figures on.
It is, however, a source of concern to Social Services Director Daryl Bessler.
Every month he comes before the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners with rising case loads, cuts to state funding and no end in sight to the joblessness and wonders publicly how the country and the county will take care of their poor.
"People are reaching out more so," he said. "It doesn't look like it's heading in the right direction. We anticipated winter would be tough."
But with tourism and agriculture-related industries taking on summer help, Bessler hopes it makes a dent in the number of people unemployed or underemployed.
"If these numbers don't improve I hate to see what next fall will look like," he said.
What prompted Bessler's concerns was the February 2010 numbers. Thirty-four more people were receiving income maintenance benefits than in January. And while those may seem like small numbers, Hubbard County is up to 10 social workers now, two more than a decade ago, but caseloads per worker have not quite doubled in that time. Social workers have an average of 221 cases now; it was 140 in 2000.
Bessler said he also worries about processing the requests for help in a timely manner.
He admitted he gets calls from stressed residents worried about qualifying for benefits.
Although the number of intakes, formal applications for public assistance, actually dropped in February, down 11, the rising number of income maintenance cases indicates more people are meeting the eligibility thresholds for help.
"The processing is taking longer," Bessler admitted. In part that's because several new personnel have been hired and some staff are in St. Paul training to make eligibility determinations on those benefits.
Complicating the overall picture is that the Minnesota Legislature has not yet determined what it will do with General Assistance Medical Care for the poor, now set to expire April 1.
Hearings are scheduled for the coming weeks on that issue.
(Sarah Smith writes for the Park Rapids Enterprise, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper)