Social services experiences three-fold crunch

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Because of a reduction of state and federal allocations, as well as no increase in the mill levy this past year, Rio Blanco County Social Services has experienced a "triple whammy," according to Bonnie Ruckman, director of Social Services.

Ruckman said a significant loss was Employment First, a program designed to provide services for food stamp recipients to find and keep employment. The program assisted individuals in applying for jobs, writing resumes, and the interviewing process.

The agency also lost a half-time position when Employment First ended in April.

Since that time, Ruckman said she has seen a significant increase in the food stamp caseload for Rio Blanco County.

Another elimination is the Medicaid transportation program. Ruckman said this is particularly challenging to those who need to travel to see a medical specialist outside of the area. Before, individuals would find a friend or relative to drive them, and the department would then reimburse them for mileage.

Now, only people who use wheelchairs can access a non-emergency ambulance for necessary medical travel.

Ruckman said there are more than 300 Medicaid recipients in Rio Blanco County, and she anticipates more cuts in the future, limiting recipients' access to doctors and mental health care.

Expedited Permanency Planning, a program designed to get children out of placement and into homes, also has been eliminated. This program specifically targeted children under the age of six. Ruckman said she has seen an increase in the number of children in placement.

Ruckman said she has seen a reduction in state allocation for every program except for the Colorado Works Program, which replaced Aid For Dependent Children when it ended in 1996.

The agency works hard to budget to the state allocations, Ruckman said, and Rio Blanco is less impacted than some other Colorado counties.

"We'll just watch it and see,"

she said.

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