Moffat County Department of Social Services not returning status calls | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County Department of Social Services not returning status calls

Janelle O'Dea

Moffat County’s Department of Social Services’ heavy caseload has required it to stop returning status update phone calls.

On Wednesday, area agencies received an email from Social Services Self-Sufficiency Manager Laura Willems regarding a temporary change in operations. Below is an excerpt from the office's outgoing phone message:

"If you are calling to check on the status of an application or case change, please check the PEAK website. Calls regarding status updates will not be returned. Moffat County is currently experiencing a high volume of program applications resulting in benefit delays impacting all recipients."

Willems said the department's load of applications for benefits doubled in August and July, with 280 and 252 applications, respectively, compared to June and May, 111 and 122, respectively.

September's caseload number is unknown, but Willems said it is close to the July and August numbers.

Typically the department has six employees that handle eligibility processing and returning phone calls; currently there are five. Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said Social Services is over its budget, so he does not expect it to fill positions anytime soon.

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According to Willems, the application increase could stem from several causes, but department staff cannot nail down one as the definite catalyst for this particular increase.

"There’s been a lot of federal program changes: increased eligibility, the Affordable Care Act for example, and a lot of changes in food stamp and cash program rules and regulations," Willems said. As well as "expanding program benefits, and there’s been some issues with the computer system that the cases are processed through and our state agency is working to fix that."

The computer system that processes cases is an internal system that functions at the state level, and applicants do not directly interact with it.

It is separate from the PEAK website, or the website that Moffat County's Department of Social Services refers clients to for status updates.

For clients who do not have Internet access at home, Willems said the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries offers access and computers free of charge.

She hopes elderly clients have a network that can help them check the status of their applications.

"Hopefully, they have someone, a friend or someone who helps them in some way," Willems said. "Generally, if they don’t get around well they have someone who goes to the grocery store and takes them different places, so hopefully that’s an option for them."

Willems also said more people may be moving into the area, and the economy hasn't helped.

Grobe agrees, and he fears the economic situation won't get better without outside help.

"We don’t have any money, so it’s just going to be what it is," Grobe said. "We just don’t have the funds. It’s up to the state, I believe, if they want a better response up here, to give us more of their funds."

Keith Kramer, of Yampa Valley Data Partners, said Craig and Moffat County’s population has remained stable in the past few years.

"Maybe from a data standpoint it's more related to economic stress on folks who already live here, as opposed to new folks moving here," Kramer said.

Willems said the department has had increases in applications before, but the increase was not as large and did not come in as short of a timespan as the most recent influx.

The decision to stop returning status update calls is in the best interest of all social services clients.

"The whole purpose of this is to devote more time to processing applications," Willems said.

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday