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Requests for public assistance increased in 2008

WILLMAR -- Signs of a rough economy can be seen in the number of requests being made for public assistance.

From 2007 to 2008 requests for public assistance -- including the Minnesota Family Investment Program, diversionary work program, general assistance, food support and medical assistance -- increased in Kandiyohi County, according to Barb Kavanagh, family services supervisor.

"What we saw was a definite increase in all areas," she said.

Participation in all medical assistance programs increased slightly, said Kavanagh, with enrollment in MinnesotaCare, Minnesota's health insurance program, going up 19 percent.

"That's huge," said Kavanagh.

That program is available to individuals within a certain income bracket who do not have employer-subsidized health insurance.

Enrollment in the general assistance program increased 13 percent during the last year in Kandi-yohi County

That was surprising, said Kavanagh, because general assistance has a narrow window of eligibility which usually keeps the numbers low. The safety-net program provides cash grants to vulnerable adults and is open, for example, to single adults or couples without children who meet strict income guidelines.

The request for food support increased 6 percent in the last year in Kandiyohi County. The increase is due, in part, because, "People are working but it's just not enough to put food on the table," Kavanagh said.

People living close to the financial edge can easily be pushed off the edge when life situations are complicated by a car breakdown or an illness without insurance.

The food program is "such a benefit to the community," she said. Not only do participants have access to nutritional foods, but it brings revenue to local grocery stores. Because Willmar is a regional hub, people from other counties often spend their food support allocations here.

There was high demand for the county's crisis fund in July, August and September. That wasn't surprising, said Kavanagh, because that's when people start receiving letters from utility companies warning that past-due bills must be paid before winter comes.

"Until the economy turns around, which we're all hoping for, I anticipate we'll be serving more people here in the county," she said.

That will mean extra cases for employees to handle, said Kavanagh. County staff has "always handled what's been given to them" and will be able to handle an additional workload. "They have a purpose to their work," she said. "They know that what they do is important work, and they do whatever they can to keep up with it."


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750