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Hubbard County Social Service caseloads climbing

PARK RAPIDS - Hubbard County Social Services director Daryl Bessler painted a bleak picture of the winter ahead in addressing Hubbard County commissioners this week.

Caseloads, he said, numbered 208 in July; this compares with 177 a year ago.

"We're not going in a good direction. Normally, caseloads and intakes are down this time of year," Bessler said. But caseloads were up 17 from the previous month in July; intakes increased 13.

"I don't know what will happen when employers feel the pinch," Bessler said, and begin laying off or reducing hours of employees.

He predicted fuel assistance will be in high demand this winter. Fuel oil was in the $4 per gallon range earlier this summer. (It's now at $3.70, but the price is likely to increase with demand.) Costs for other heating energy sources are also up significantly from a year ago. Propane, for example, has increased 64 cents a gallon from last year's price.

Higher costs for food and other basic necessities are also hitting area residents in the pocketbook.

Mahube Community Council, administrator of fuel assistance for Mahnomen, Hubbard and Becker counties, will begin taking applications for aid in early September. Money is not available until mid-November, however.

The Energy Assistance Program helps low-income households pay home heating bills, with payments made directly to the fuel dealer.

Last year, 1,250 households in Hubbard County received assistance.

But the amount of the fuel assistance grant funding won't be known until October or November, Bessler told the board.

"We will have people who won't be able to put fuel in their tank," Bessler said.

"And people who are looking at paying last year's bill," commissioner Lyle Robinson added.

"Concern rises when the temperature drops," said Nancy Cummings, energy assistance coordinator for Mahube Community Council.

Despite a rise in fuel prices, she is not anticipating an increase in energy assistance funds. Last year, funds ran out in February, supplemental funding augmenting the program.

Households receive funding on a graduated scale, she explained. Lower income families and individuals receive more assistance. But funding is also based on the cost of fuel used.

Forty percent of households served by Mahube were seniors, 50 percent working poor and 10 percent were those already receiving assistance.

The average payment was about $640.

The impending strain on pocketbooks will likely cause a "surge in child protection issues," Bessler told commissioners.

People who are not able to provide for their children are asking relatives and others for assistance, moving in with family in some instances, Bessler said.

"But it's not like it used to be, people living in one home for generations," he said.

He also expressed concern for landlords. "People who are not able to pay the fuel bill may be leaving landlords high and dry," he said.

Bessler expressed frustration Wednesday with the public's perception of fuel assistance. "The government has created an addiction," he said. "People who are on assistance, feel it's our responsibility. It's not.

"There are some tough times coming up and we don't have the funds. The funding is not beginning to keep up" with projected demand," he said.