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Federal crisis funds will continue to decrease in Kandiyohi County

WILLMAR -- The money available to help families in crisis situations in Kandiyohi County is shrinking while the number of people seeking assistance is increasing.

WILLMAR -- The money available to help families in crisis situations in Kandiyohi County is shrinking while the number of people seeking assistance is increasing.

The federal money the county received in 2007 was $61,256.

For the next two years that allocation is scheduled to decrease by $10,000. By 2009, the county will receive a capped fund of $51,397.

Barb Kavanaugh, who supervises the Family Services financial department, told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the majority of requests for crisis funds come from people who are working.

Many of the requests are for assistance with basic living needs such as utilities, the first month's rent or a damage deposit to rent a home. The county does not provide financial assistance for home foreclosures.

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The county approves between eight and 25 allocations each month. There are "many more" requests than that for funds, Kavanaugh said.

Those who are eligible for crisis funding are allowed to receive one payment during an 18-month period.

To qualify, a recipient must meet income guidelines, meet the definition of a "family" that includes at least one child or a pregnant woman, and must be a resident of the county for at least 30 days. An individual must also have a face-to-face interview with a Family Services worker.

Commissioner Richard Falk asked if the county prosecutes people who receive crisis money for a damage deposit but don't get the deposit returned.

Because damage issues can sometimes be subjective, Kavanaugh said that issue would be between the renter and the landlord.

Falk said without a penalty, there is no incentive for a people to take "greater responsibility" for their actions.

Kavanaugh said when damage deposits are funded with crisis money, there is at least the possibility the county will get the money back to be used again for damage deposits.

Chairman Harlan Madsen said there "might be better ways" to help people with crisis housing needs than to pay for damage deposits. He said he would prefer the money be used for rent or utilities.

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Kavanaugh said the department does not want to deny legitimate requests for emergency money. With the cost of gas, food and utilities increasing, she said people are looking for assistance.

Someone seeking emergency aid is not eligible if they "created their own crisis" by, for example, quitting a job without good cause, she said.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to formalize talks with 12 other southwestern Minnesota counties to consider joining a county-based purchasing organization to manage the Minnesota health care plans for clients.

The commissioners agreed to pay $5,000 to help fund a consultant who will help the group of counties explore options, which could include forming its own county-based health management organization or joining an existing one, such as PrimeWest or South County Health Alliance.

When counties were given the choice in 1996 to create their own organization -- which was a risky, untried system -- or work with the state program, Kandiyohi County chose to stick with the state.

Since then, Kandiyohi County residents who receive publicly funded health care, like those on Medical Assistance, are insured through the state-sponsored, pre-paid program that includes Blue Cross/Blue Shield and UCare.

That's worked out well, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl, but there's concern about potential future changes that could make it challenging for counties to continue working with the state program.

That's why steps are being taken to explore a county-based purchasing program, which has proven to be successful in other counties.

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Jay Kieft, family services director, said the discussion is in the very beginning stages and Kandiyohi County will advance "cautiously" with the exploration process.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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