Social services eager to fund local actions

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Laura Willems

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Marie Peer

Moffat County Social Services has about $242,420 it has to spend before June 30, 2009, or the county loses that money to the state's long-term reserves.

Social Services Director Marie Peer wants all of that money - which comes from Colorado Works allocations - spent in Moffat County.

"These really are Moffat County funds," Peer said. "If there are ways people can use this, then it should be available to them."

Making it available is what Peer wants to do.

Starting about a week ago, any resident, group, organization or company who can use the money for one or more of four purposes can apply to the Social Services office for funding.

By federal law, the funds must be used in the following ways: assist needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes; reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and/or encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Other eligibility restrictions may apply.

The money has been freed up for two reasons, Peer said. The Legislature has made Colorado Works funds easier to spend and has put new limits on how much counties are allowed to rollover money from year to year in their own reserves.

Moffat County has about $500,000 in reserves, which is not uncommon.

Documents submitted to the Moffat County Commission show the 64 Colorado counties have a combined $99.2 million in Colorado Works reserves, which have built up since 1997.

There are several reasons for the lack of spending, Peer said.

As the state's welfare program, Colorado Works is designed to give residents a temporary lift, not for people to live off of, Colorado Works Director Kevin Richards said.

That mission, to help people help themselves, is part of the reason Moffat County has so much in reserve, Peer said.

Each year, there are fewer people in the program. The monthly average of Moffat County Colorado Works recipients has decreased from about 120 residents to 20 residents since welfare reform passed the state Legislature in 1997, Peer said.

"Because people have really gone to work," she said.

Counties also planned to use the money when it was necessary, Peer added. The reserves were meant for "rainy days."

After welfare reform, Social Services offices across the country were given block grants instead of supplemental funding, Peer said. Once one year's is spent, there is no more money.

"When there's an economic downturn, the people who lose their jobs first usually are those with no other means to help themselves," Peer said. "We kept thinking, if there's an economic downturn in this area, we need to be able to give those people cash assistance when they need it."

In effect, Peer's office was very conservative with Colorado Works funds, she said, which was encouraged by the state. Now that the money may leave Moffat County and be spent in other parts of the state, she said she wants to make sure residents make full use of what is theirs.

Any resident or group interested in learning more about the program and possible funds can call Social Services at 824-8282 or stop by its 595 Breeze St. office and ask for Peer or Self-Sufficiency Manager Laura Willems.

Applications are available at the Social Services office.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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