Summit social services scrambles amid soaring caseload
Summit County correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – Sharp increases in the demand for assistance programs in recent years have the Summit County Department of Social Services in overdrive and bringing on new staff to keep up.
The average number of food stamp cases, one of the hardest-hit programs, has increased 338 percent since 2007 and by an average of 163 cases per month in 2010 alone. The caseload increase costs an average of $128,000 per month, $35,000 more than last year’s average monthly cost.
Need for Medicaid coverage has increased by 42 percent since 2007, and demand for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) has nearly doubled from last year.
Joanne Sprouse, manager of the social services self-sufficiency unit, said the recession is largely to blame for increased demand on her office’s services, but that caseloads on many programs peaked this year. Her office is now fielding requests from a different set of people and seeing more out-of-state applicants.
“We’ll always have some of that, shoulder-season people and people moving here for the ski season,” Sprouse said. “But now we’ve had a much bigger increase of people coming from other parts of the country who are looking for jobs, and we’ve even had people come in saying they’d lost their jobs because of the oil spill.”
She said the new applicants might have been drawn to Summit County by a common perception that there are more jobs available near the ski resorts.
“In the past there always have been jobs available here,” she said. “I think that that impression is still out there, that [if] you go to Summit County you can get a job, because that’s really how it used to be.”
Unable to find the jobs they expected, many of those people are now turning to social services for help.
To manage the additional cases, the self-sufficiency unit has had to change its business model and restructure the way individual cases are handled. In August, the county gave the OK for a new staff member to help the unit keep up.
“That was pretty unusual,” Sprouse said. “We’ve never had to go to them and say, ‘We’re at the point where we need additional staff.'”
She said she expects the beginning of the ski season to decrease her unit’s caseload to a certain extent, as some of the people on social service programs find jobs and those who can’t leave the area due to the cost of living.
The demand increases have been limited to the self-sufficiency unit, according to Social Services Director Susan Gruber. Caseloads for child welfare have remained fairly constant.
However, the department has taken a $28,000 budget cut and may face additional midyear cuts.
“The state could always cut our allocation midyear, which would be unfortunate, but they certainly reserve that right. Depending on how things go with the election and whether 60, 61 and 101 pass,” Gruber said referring to three tax-cutting measures on the November ballot. “If they don’t pass I think we’ll be OK. If they do, that’ll be a whole other story.”
Eighty percent of the department’s funding is provided by the state. The remainder comes from the county.
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