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Posted December 12, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Social services sees needs leveling but still high

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- The economy continues to pressure Shenandoah County's Department of Social Services, its director reported this week.

The agency's annual report that Carla Taylor presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday shows the needs for the department's services on the rise. Taylor linked the increase to the economy, not just for the agency's financial aid but also in the department's efforts to help protect children.

"It is sad news that people have to ask for our help," Taylor said. "You know when our business increases it isn't necessarily good news as it might be for other departments."

Taylor reported on the agency's funding of support and other data for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The social services agency expects to see the number of aid requests continue to increase though not as sharply as in recent years, Taylor explained.

At the same time, the state and federal government continue to increase administrative requirements imposed on local agencies, Taylor added.

More than 60 percent of the local department's operating costs are reimbursed through state and federal funds. More than 90 percent of the program costs come from the same sources.

Taylor told the board she would try to limit the amount of local funds the department requires.

Supervisor David Ferguson asked Taylor how much control her department has over what aid amount the agency can provide to recipients.

"I have no control," Taylor said. "I must provide the amount that they [the state] require me to provide, based on the formula that we're given, and I must serve everyone who comes through my doors."

The department, regardless of staffing or funding, cannot set up a waiting list for its services, with the exception of one of its child care programs.

More than $40 million in state and federal funds contributed to the local economy, according to Taylor, who cited a recent report by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee. The money went to cover doctor and hospital bills, rent, day care, groceries, utilities, vehicle repairs and other expenses.

"In other words, if that were to go away there would be a void in the local economy of almost $40 million," Taylor said. "So the Department of Social Services is an economic partner of sorts. Not our preferred one certainly."

Specifically, the department has seen a steady increase in the amount spent locally through its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. The amount has increased from approximately $2 million in fiscal 2006 to more than $8 million in fiscal 2012.

Medicaid contributions to the local economy decreased slightly between fiscal 2011 and 2012, from more than $30 million to just under $30 million.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families provides approximately $200-$400 to qualifying adults in families with children who have lost their jobs or become divorced and no longer can afford certain financial situations. Recipients can receive the aid for no more than 60 months in their lifetime anywhere in the country, Taylor explained.

"It's very much intended to be temporary help, and in this economy it was very helpful with the layoffs and things like that," Taylor said.

Financial hardship can affect other areas often addressed by the department. The agency continues to handle more cases through child protective services. As Taylor explained, the poor economy and lack of work might lead to greater alcohol use, which then can spur more incidents of domestic violence that also affect children in the household.

The department saw its child protective services cases increase 22 percent, from 107 cases in fiscal year 2011 to 131 in fiscal year 2012. The number of cases that led to investigations increased from 33 to 39 in the same periods; family assessments rose from 74 to 92. The number of ongoing cases fell from 24 to 17.

Child protective services cases can lead to the department putting the juvenile in foster care, Taylor explained. But while the financial needs picture in the county looks bleak, Taylor expressed optimism with the department's ability to find homes for foster children.

"I'm very proud of my staff for achieving seven adoptions last year," Taylor said. "Those cases where the parents just absolutely aren't able to care for their children we can assist couples from around the community to adopt these children and make a family for them."

The department celebrated the achievement in November.

The agency also handles adults in need of services. In fiscal year 2012 the department opened 74 adult protective services cases and served 120 cases. The department also helps older residents with services to keep them at home rather than move into nursing or assisted living centers. The agency handled 107 such cases.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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