Social services needs grow in Warren County

FRONT ROYAL — Medical aid for the poor continues to drive spending by Warren County’s Department of Social Services.

But the department has seen spending on other programs decrease in recent years, according to a recent report on the agency’s activities. Director Beth Reavis provided information from the report to the Board of Supervisors this week.

Approximately 12 percent of county residents live below the poverty index and children make up 17 percent of that number. The number of people living in poverty continues to increase — 3,858 in 2012; 4,085 in 2013 and 4,538 in 2014.

The report shows that 9,464 or 1 in 4 county residents received some form of assistance from the department in the state fiscal year from June 2013 through May 2014. That represents a slight decrease from 9,633 in fiscal 2013, but an increase over 9,278 in 2012.

“I think that we’re kinda somewhere in the middle,” Reavis said Wednesday. “We’re not as bad as a lot of parts of the state.

“We’re not doing as well as Northern Virginia — the Fairfax County folks and that group toward D.C.,” Reavis added. “But generally our numbers are better than state averages in some cases … I feel like things are getting better from when I first started [as director] four years ago.”

Reavis pointed out the lower unemployment rate and the growing number of businesses coming into the county as signs of improvement.

Many of the department’s clients are getting jobs that pay minimum wage or slightly higher that don’t offer benefits nor can they work full-time hours, Reavis said. These people are considered “underemployed.”

“One of the things I notice is that we’re serving a lot of working poor,” Reavis said.

The department spent $51 million from June 2013 to May 2014, compared to $45 million the previous period and $42 million prior to that. Of the $51 million, $1.64 million, or 3 percent, came from local funding. Most of the local funds support the department’s administrative costs that constitute 5.1 percent of its total spending.

The department spent $36.8 million on Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security in the state fiscal year ending in May 2014, compared to $30.3 million in 2013 and $28 million in 2012. Children make up at least half the county’s recipients of Medicaid, according to Reavis’ report.

Households at 200 percent of the poverty level can qualify for Medicaid and FAMIS — benefit programs that aim to help pregnant women and children, Reavis said. The threshold to qualify for the supplemental nutrition assistance program is 130 percent of the poverty level. Programs with higher thresholds cover a larger group of people who qualify.

Reavis also connected the increase in Medicaid and FAMIS cases and spending to the media coverage of the Affordable Care Act. People who call the federal hotline and find they do not qualify for subsidies are referred to the Department of Social Services to see if they are eligible for the agency’s programs, Reavis said.

By comparison, the agency spent $7.5 million on SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps, in fiscal 2014. That represents a decrease from the $8.8 million spent in fiscal 2013 and $7.8 million in 2012. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF, has decreased to $413,000 from $467,000 in 2013 and $479,000 in 2012. The county has 626 recipients of TANF benefits and 7,500 on SNAP.

“The numbers are just really low for people getting cash assistance, but the perception in the public is that everyone is getting a welfare check and that’s just not true anymore,” Reavis said. “That hasn’t been true for years.”

In order for a single adult without a disability to receive SNAP benefits, that person must be employed and prove he or she worked at least 40 hours in the previous month, Reavis said.

“So there’s work components built into the TANF program, into the SNAP program that encourage people not to just stay home, collect benefits, do the best they can, make ends meet but really to stay part of the economy,” Reavis said.

As food-stamp cases decline the economy appears to improve, the director said.

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