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Food support jumped 39 percent in three years

January 2009 household use of food support in Wadena County increased 39 percent from the same month in 2006, according to a new statistical report from Wadena County Social Services. The agency created the new monthly report this year to monitor the recession's impact on some of its key programs.

"We want to track the programs we operate to give us a better sense of how the recession is affecting Wadena County," Paul Sailer, the county's human services director, told the social services board at its February meeting.

According to the report, 399 households used food support in January 2006 compared to 554 households in January 2009. The number of children on food support increased from 261 in January 2006 to 418 in January 2009. There were 493 adults on food support in January 2006 and 708 in January 2009.

Another interesting statistic involves the number of non-custodial parents in child support cases who are receiving unemployment benefits, Sailer said.

In September 2008, there were 12 non-custodial parents out of 853 cases who received unemployment benefits. That number jumped to 68 non-custodial parents out of 864 cases in January 2009.

"This means ... these obligors who've been making child support payments are going to have a more difficult time making their payments because they are now unemployed," Sailer said.

The cases can consist of one child or many children, said Amie Spartz, collections and accounting supervisor.

The county is also tracking numbers for medical assistance and General Assistance Medical Care, family emergency assistance and the Minnesota Family Investment Program and Diversionary Work Program.

Social services is combining the MFIP and Diversionary Work Program numbers because those who apply for assistance, typically a mother and children, are diverted to the Rural Minnesota CEP program in the WorkForce Center for up to four months, Sailer said. If CEP doesn't find them a job after four months, then clients can be on MFIP for a period not to exceed sixty months.

"So it makes sense to combine those numbers," Sailer said.

So far this year the number of households in the programs is lower than 2006.

There were 126 total households with 128 adults and 219 children in the programs in January 2006. There were 118 total households with 118 adults and 216 children in January 2009.

Numbers are up in the county's MA and GAMC count from 1,462 households in January 2006 to 1,599 households in January 2009.

The county distributed a total of $25,437 in family emergency assistance in 2006. It has distributed $1,917 so far this year.

The January 2009 unemployment numbers weren't out when Sailer gave the report in February, but he gave the social services board a printout of local employment numbers from the Department of Employment and Economic Development Web site dating from 1992 to 2008.

Sailer pointed out that Wadena County had a labor force of 5,685 people and an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent in January 1992. Those numbers changed to a labor force of 7,539 people and an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent by November 1999. The numbers have since changed to a labor force of 6,275 and an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent in December 2008.

"It's really interesting I think because that first figure is from the recession of the early 1990s," Sailer said. "By 1999 my guess is that Homecrest was doing just fine and so was everybody else around here. You see a pretty substantial jump in the labor force in that seven-year period. Now that labor force has been dropping."

January is consistently the county's worst month for unemployment, Sailer said. The January 2009 numbers will be even worse than the December 2008 ones, he predicted.

Jean Stokes, financial assistance supervisor, also pointed out that the numbers were not seasonally adjusted to allow for jobs such as construction work.

In January 2000, the labor force had already decreased from the November 1999 numbers of 7,539 to 6,447. Unemployment rose from 4.8 percent in November 1999 to 5.8 percent in December and 7.9 percent in January 2000.