Archive » September 20, 2012
Social Services garners support
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
In the past five years, the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services has seen its positions at the department remain at or below 686, while caseloads have doubled.
When department chief Kathy Gallagher told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday about the need for 39 new positions to help meet state and federal mandates, she stressed that her department is “taxed beyond our limits.”
“We’re not only stretched thin, we’re actually teetering at the edge of a cliff,” she said.
Board members did not need their arms twisted to support the new positions – especially because federal and state revenues will make up the 98% of the $1.5 million cost, which also covers retirement costs for the new positions. This leaves the county on the hook for $31,144, an amount that can be taken from department reserves, Gallagher said.
The department helps some 95,000 people through administering the county Welfare assistance programs such as Calfresh, or food stamps, Welfare-to-work, and general relief, and it determines eligibility for the Medi-Cal program. Eligibility is determined for most of the department’s programs through a vetting of the applicant for income, identity and citizenship, property and assets, and household composition. The department works with the county District Attorney’s Welfare Fraud Unit to help ensure that no one is cheating the system.
The reasons for the department’s increased caseloads are multi-fold.
They include a budget trailer bill in the 2012-13 state budget that eliminates the Healthy Families program, which provides inexpensive medical insurance to 11,000 children in the county, and shifts the caseloads from the state to county governments via the Medi-Cal program. This transition will take place in four phases, the first starting in January 2013. The same June bill also requires the income eligibility threshold for children to be increased to 250% of the federal poverty level.
Gallagher said that because 25% of the children are already known to the department, its staffing estimate is based on a new workload of 8,750 children. New applications are expected to increase by at least 250 per month, she added.
Caseloads will also increase because of new mandates from Child Welfare. This year, the Extended Foster Care bill will allow foster youth to apply for extended assistance up to the age of 21, up from 18. This year the caseload is expected to reach 40 youth, with another 35 becoming eligible for the program in 2013.
Calfresh has grown more than 80% since 2007, reaching a current caseload of 13,992 families. Local non-profit organizations have been absorbing more and more of the demand from low-income families but have been forced to redirect clients to CalFresh. This increase is expected to add 1,000 new cases to the department annually. “We are talking about people who are truly destitute,” Gallagher said.
In the wake of the 2007 economic recession, the department has seen middle class families who have “sunk into poverty and are now entering our system,” she added. The average monthly aid grant for a family of four is $470, she noted.
“That’s a whopping 25% of the federal poverty level for a family of four,” she said. “This underscores that we are talking about people who are truly destitute and are in serious need of our assistance.”
“I never fail to be so astounded, and it’s so sobering to see these federal poverty levels,” 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said. “Santa Barbara County is one of the most expensive places to live. When I look at these numbers, I’m not sure how anybody lives on this in any part of the country, especially our county. It just really exacerbates the issue of poverty here.”
Gallagher noted that if the department could have added staff members based on the growing workload, it would have had 921 positions instead of the 724 it will now have.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal asked why she was not asking for more positions, given the need and the relatively small cost the county will pay.
Gallagher said the requested positions are related to specific new mandates for which state and federal revenue has been earmarked. “These positions are primarily the result of the elimination of the Healthy Families program and the requirement that those children be picked up by the Medi-Cal program,” she explained. “Medi-Cal is funded 100% by federal and state funding with no county share.” email@example.com