Moffat County welfare cases rising

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After steadily declining since Colorado's welfare system was reformed in 1997, the client caseload of those in need of assistance at Moffat County Social Services has begun to slightly rise again.

Social Services Director Marie Peer accounts for the increase in caseloads by citing the recent slump in the economy.

In 1997, an annual average of 110 households in Moffat County received welfare. That number fell to 75 the following year, and reached its lowest point in 2001, with an average of 28 households receiving assistance.

So far this year, some 42 households are receiving assistance. That number tends to fluctuate by about five households monthly.

The fluctuation is because the current welfare system, Colorado Works, is so vital to family's who just need a few weeks or one month to get back on their feet.

"People are sometimes on it for part of a month or a whole month," Peer said. "But without it they, couldn't get out of the hole they are in."

Colorado Works requires its recipients to seek, obtain and then attend jobs. The program pays its participants a maximum of $280 a month, with additional funds provided for work clothes, reliable transportation, gas, child care, and other necessities one may require for work.

"Clients are given tools they didn't have before," Laura Willems, self-sufficiency supervisor at Moffat County Social Services, said.

Willems' title reflects the main goal of Colorado Works: To help people become self-sufficient.

After 24 months in Colorado Works, participants are required to be involved in a work activity. Because people are only eligible to receive a lifetime amount of 60 months of welfare, it's important they become self-sufficient as soon as possible, so that if it's needed again in the future, it will still be there, Willems said.

From 1997 to 2001, the welfare rate dropped thanks to a healthy economy, smaller client caseloads per caseworker, and work incentives. But it's when the numbers start going up again that the importance of such programs is enlightened.

All Colorado Works households share one common trait: low income. Many are also single-parent homes.

The first thing Colorado Works does for eligible participants is to assess in their education, housing, transportation and day care. Then a caseworker works with a client to identify their goals and the barriers obstructing the path to those goals.

These barriers can be mental or physical health issues, a lack of job skills, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or maybe just a lack of transportation to work.

"Sometimes people's belief systems are a barrier," Peer said. Many individuals don't want to admit that they need help, or that they can't conquer obstacles on their own.

Once the client has identified their goals and barriers, they need to define what it means to them to be self-sufficient.

"They need to become more responsible for their own life," Willems said. "They need to be fiscally self-sufficient, and take personal responsibility for their own life and what they are doing."

One way Colorado has been helping families achieve self-sufficiency is by decreasing the number of out of wedlock child births. Peer said that children born into single parent households run a greater risk of living in poverty and not realizing their own self-sufficiency when they are adults.

Colorado ranks third in the nation in reducing out of wedlock child births. Figures for Moffat County were unavailable.

The federal government has awarded the state $19.8 million for decreasing the reduction. This money will be distributed among Colorado's counties.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031, or by e-mail at rgebhard@craigdailypress.com.

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