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Social Services continues feeling unemployment strain

Two years of back to back job losses in the nation are being felt locally with ever increasing requests for public assistance.

Monthly income maintenance caseloads jumped from 2,245 in May to 2,296 in June.

Summer is usually the time Hubbard County Social Services gets a reprieve in requests for assistance, director Daryl Bessler told the Hubbard County board Wednesday.

Although monthly intakes declined from May to June, from 245 to 193, the caseload trend continues upward.

In June 2000, the department's eight case workers had an average case load of 146 files.

In June 2010, 10 workers are averaging 230 cases.

"That's not acceptable," said board chair Lyle Robinson.

"We're hopeful it'll slow down but we're getting inquiries for crisis funds," Bessler said. "The picture is not looking good at all when June is higher than January or February," winter months when more requests for help come in.

Bessler said it's strictly due to unemployment. Many people have been unemployed for 18-24 months and he doesn't foresee the local economy rebounding for at least another year.

Presenting his department's mid-year financial picture, Bessler said out of home placements for kids are down, but that's to be expected in the summer when they're not in school.

"But in September look out," he warned county commissioners.

And the county continues to grapple with transporting mental health patients.

Thus far the Sheriff's Department, family members or ambulances are transporting persons placed on mental health holds or during an initial trip seeking treatment, but Bessler feels there should be statewide reform and funds to deal with the issue other counties are also struggling with.

Using a county deputy either costs overtime or takes law enforcement off the roads, he said. Using ambulances strains scarce state resources since many patients are on state medical plans or indigent.

"Ambulances aren't cheap, folks," Bessler warned. And taking an ambulance out of service means there's one less in an emergency, he said.

"The critical time is the initial transport," said commissioner Cal Johannsen, a former deputy.

The board agreed law enforcement may have to deal with people reluctant to make the first trip to a mental health facility, because officers are trained to deal with potentially combative people.

Johannsen relayed a story about transporting a man to Brainerd years ago who thanked God he hadn't harmed any persons as he entered the hospital.

"We shouldn't be using the sheriff for cab service," board chair Lyle Robinson said.

But commissioners agreed that because of the public safety aspect involved in transporting mentally unstable individuals, it may fall to law enforcement regardless.

"If someone goes off the deep end in an ambulance there's a lot of expensive equipment to wreck," Johannsen noted.

As of June 30, Social Services had collected 44.9 percent of its revenues, while spending 41.3 percent of its annual budget.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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