Colorado counties see growing demand for aid as jobless rate rises
March 29, 2010
DENVER (AP) – As Colorado continues losing jobs, county human services workers are coping with growing caseloads but little to no resources to handle them.
Food stamp cases statewide rose from almost 165,000 in November to 173,361 in February, and those on Medicaid increased to about 501,000 from about 487,000 between October and February.
Jefferson County caseworkers each are handling about 700 ongoing food and medical assistance cases.
“People exhaust everything they can, and their crisis becomes our crisis,” said Brenda Bouchard, a program coordinator and caseworker in Jefferson County. “You try to learn to detach yourself a little. You can’t take it home with you.”
Several counties are not processing food stamps quickly enough to meet federal guidelines as workers use a lethargic $243 million computer system that state officials have spent the last year refurbishing.
In February, 33 percent of new food stamp applications in Adams County and 29 percent in Jefferson County were late.
The state unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in February, up from 7.4 percent in January. That doesn’t include people who have stopped looking for work or who are underemployed.
County directors said they have moved people from other departments to do intake and furiously trained them on the complicated computer system so they can fill in the gap.
“We take each day as a challenge, we are mindful of the numbers, we are mindful of the stacks of files and new applications,” said Chuck Lemoine, director of Delta County Human Services, where there were 600 cases a year ago and 1,081 now.
“It’s a visual reminder every day that there is more work to do. How do we deal with this? Every day we have to deal with this,” Lemoine said.
Cindy Flores, 34, visited recently with Adams County Human Services worker Alicia Mascarenas. Her sister had been helping her buy food. She had an eviction notice in her purse. Child care would help her as she looks for work.
Flores, of Commerce City, gets about $462 a month in unemployment benefits after being laid off from Hollywood Video. She learned she made about $40 too much in unemployment benefits to qualify for cash assistance.
Mascarenas encouraged her to apply for child support and warned that it could take 45 days for rent assistance to come through.
Flores nodded, folded up her eviction notice, said thank you, and left the office.
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com