Garfield County human services caseload on a steady incline
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“There’s a million dollars a month going out for assistance to people,” remarked Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky recently, after looking at the county’s human services spending.
And, true to his philosophy of fiscal conservatism, he asked if it would be tapering off any time soon.
The answer, according to Mary Baydarian, the new director of the county Department of Human Services, was a definite “no.”
The county’s share of the monthly tab is relatively small, however, as most of the funds come from the federal government or the state, Baydarian said.
At a recent meeting, Baydarian told the county commissioners that the department serves more than 500 households every month through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), both of which are funded by the federal government. The TANF program is basically cash to help families that aren’t earning a regular paycheck, while the LEAP funds help low-income families with home heating bills.
For January, Baydarian said, the TANF outlay was slightly more than $57,300, while the LEAP program, according to the DHS report, came in at just over $31,200.
But food assistance, which Baydarian said is the biggest part of the agency’s monthly mission, came in at nearly $623,600 for January.
In addition, the agency delivers an array of services aimed at child care, child welfare and enforcement of court-ordered child support requirements.
Baydarian, who previously worked in Park County as director of that county’s human services agency, recently took over the Garfield County Department of Human Services following the retirement of longtime department head Lynn Renick.
Baydarian currently has charge of 84 employees serving the hundreds of households needing help, which she said is larger than the staff she oversaw at Park County.
Garfield County human services staff works in three divisions: a Glenwood Springs office with a quarter of the staff; a Rifle office with about half the staff; and “out of office” workers who conduct home visits, primarily for elderly or disabled clients.
The salaries and overhead costs of the department primarily are covered by state and federal social services agencies, Baydarian said. The county taxpayer’s share of the department’s budget comes to a maximum of about 20 percent of the county agency’s expenses, she explained.
According to Baydarian’s monthly report, DHS disbursements held steady at an average of $775,000 per month for most of 2010, with slight variations in certain months and a rise in dollar amounts toward the end of the year.
The financial tally for the month of January 2011, she reported, was approximately $812,500, which may be a sign of higher caseloads to come.
County manager Ed Green said he heard a financial expert at a recent conference predict that any improvement in the regional economy is not expected to reach rural counties until 2012.
Turning to her annual report for 2010, Baydarian said that in 2010 the department’s nutrition and senior programs served more than 22,000 noon meals and provided more than 35,000 rides in the Traveler transportation vans.
The Traveler vans are operated under a joint program of Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to provide transportation, primarily to county residents aged 60 years or above. The county is to pay approximately $365,000 to RFTA for the service in 2011, according to an intergovernmental agreement approved by the commissioners.
“It really shows how deep the recession is for our county,” said Jankovsky at a recent commissioners meeting, a sentiment echoed by Commissioner John Martin and by Baydarian.
“There are many, many folks in Garfield County who are suffering,” Baydarian said. “We’re pretty much right on track with the rest of the country.”
In an interview with the Post Independent, Baydarian said the number of households served by DHS has been creeping upward since 2007.
Currently, Baydarian said, the caseload for DHS stands at 5,886 households, which translates to a total of nearly 12,000 clients.
Will the department’s caseload keep climbing?
“We’re watching that closely,” Baydarian said. “It seemed to settle down the first couple of weeks in February, and then we were slammed.”
She was uncertain whether the sudden rise in cases could be attributed entirely to the freezing cold weather that settled on the area in early February, or to greater economic malaise.
“If the economy improves,” she said, “we should see these [numbers] start to drop.”
On a national and state level, though, the forecast is that the economy will not see clear improvement until late 2012 or perhaps 2013.
“That’s what I’m seeing, as well,” Baydarian concurred.
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