Social Services sees rising caseload, falling budget

America's ongoing national recession presents two competing problems for Moffat County Social Services: As the economy gets worse, more people need services, but the state has less money to provide them.

Marie Peer, Moffat County Social Services director, said she is grateful, however, that her agency's budget woes are not insurmountable.

"I was really expecting there to be more bad news," she told the Moffat County Commission during a monthly report Tuesday.

There will be cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year beginning July 1, but Moffat County should not have to cut services, Peer said.

The Colorado Department of Health and Human Services will take some money out of Colorado Works, the state's welfare program, to make sure there is full funding for CORE Services.

CORE is a child welfare program that provides programs for mental health, substance abuse, sex abuse and other issues, Peer said.

The Moffat County office usually doesn't spend its full allocation of Colorado Works dollars, though, so there shouldn't be any problems with that program's local funding, she added.

The state also cut local funding for child welfare as a whole by $10,000, though again, Peer said the local office usually does not spend its full allocation and should be fine.

At the same time as budgets are being reduced, department records show more and more people are seeking help through Social Services.

In May, the local food stamp program recorded its highest caseload level in the past two years for the ninth straight month, going back to September 2008, shortly before investment firms on Wall Street began declaring bankruptcy.

The caseloads of other programs also are around their record highs of the past two years.

Peer warned the commission that food stamps often are the first sign that people are hurting in an economy, and there could be more increases in other services if the recession gets worse, or continues for several more months.

"Food stamps here are increasing faster than other counties," she said. "That's the one program the state always talks about, because that's the indicator. Everything pretty much follows it."

With caseloads on the rise, the biggest financial challenge to Social Services may be personnel costs for handling the additional work.

Self-Sufficiency Manager Laura Willems said the Moffat County office won't start cutting programs or turning away clients if administrative costs become an obstacle. Instead, the office likely will sacrifice some of its clerical functions, such as reporting requirements to the state and federal governments.

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

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