Rising supply and demand keeps benefits agency busy

The working poor and the unemployed of Mesa County are increasingly lining up for benefits.

Not only are more people holding their hand out, but the benefits they receive are increasing because of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. The economic slowdown is making the Mesa County Department of Human Services, the county’s distributor of welfare services, a busy place.

The state’s Medicaid allocation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is an extra $140.9 million on top of what the state already receives for Medicaid.

The Mesa County Human Services Department had just over 13,000 Medicaid clients last year.

As of March 9, it had 14,136, said Karen Martsolf, spokeswoman for the department.

“That’s up over a thousand just in a year’s time,” she said. “It shows how many people are struggling with the economy.”

There are plenty of other signs at the department that indicate many are struggling.

Welfare recipients will get a raise in April. A typical welfare family of four will receive $80 a month more as part of the stimulus package.

The ranks of the hungry are growing in Mesa County. Human Services provides food assistance to nearly 4,000 families, Martsolf said.

When comparing the month of December 2007 to the month of December 2008, the number of new food-assistance applications increased 72 percent, from 300 to 517, she said. The number of people seeking help continues to climb, she said.

“In January of this year we received 650 applications for food assistance,” Martsolf said. “What we are seeing more and more is first-time applicants. People who have never had to rely on public assistance before are now struggling to make ends meet.”

Welfare recipient Bridgit Corbin, a 25-year-old single mother of a 4-year-old, said she had to swallow her pride and apply for welfare last year after a medical condition left her unable to work. She is receiving food assistance and cash assistance, and she said she works four jobs in addition to volunteering at Human Services.

“With the way people are losing their jobs, I am keeping all mine,” Corbin said.

In July she said she will no longer accept welfare.

“I don’t need it anymore,” she said.

The assistance she received helped her when she needed it, and the assistance coming from Washington will help the many who are now falling on to hard times, she said.

“Hopefully it does help,” she said. “There are a lot of people who need it.”


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