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Recession numbers still troubling locally

The number of Wadena County households on food support continues to rise, according to the May recession report from Wadena County Social Services.

In April there were 610 households receiving food support, which reflects a steady increase from the January number of 554. Both numbers are a significant increase from April 2006 when 386 households received food support.

Social services' count of unduplicated cases rose 55 from 1,656 cases in January to 1,711 cases in April. However, applications for income maintenance are slowing down, said Paul Sailer, the county's human services director. There were 93 applications in January and 83 applications in April.

"Typically this is what happens in the spring," Sailer said about the slowdown in applications. "But this spring has been a little bit unusual."

Unemployment numbers have been high. This is the first year for many years where the unemployment rate did not drop in February and March, Sailer said. Unemployment in March was 13.6 percent compared to 9.4 percent a year earlier.

Unfortunately, April 2009 unemployment numbers won't be available until May 26, Sailer said. The county will have to wait to see if those numbers go up or down. He doesn't believe they will be anywhere close to 2008 numbers, he said. Unemployment in April 2008 was 8.3 percent.

The number of non-custodial parents receiving unemployment benefits did drop slightly from 78 in March to 73 in April.

"Again, we'll have to see what that trend looks like," Sailer said. "Some turnaround should show up soon."

Some programs are seeing a reduction such as the Minnesota Family Investment Program and Diversionary Work Program. Numbers declined from 118 total clients in January to 111 in April.

In the big programs of Medical Assistance and General Assistance Medical Care case numbers went up by 33 since January.

Commissioner Ralph Miller said there has been a steady increase in program numbers for many years. He asked what is different about those increases compared to what's happened in the last 10 months.

The increases from the past several years have almost all been attributed to changes in eligibility that have been made by the Legislature and Congress, Sailer said. Medical assistance is a program where the state continues to seek waivers to federal medicaid. This allows Minnesota to have the lowest uninsured rate of any state in the country, he said.

"We see some growth in a program caused by these eligibility changes," he said. "But they don't escalate at the percent that you're seeing here. The recession certainly has escalated the increase."

Commissioner Lane Waldahl said for the past five, six years Wadena County has been one of the top five poorest counties in the state.

Sailer said the reason Wadena County shows up as such as a high poverty county is because it has such a high percentage of elderly people. There aren't a lot of jobs so the area loses a lot of younger people, he said. Older people are more likely to be eligible for food stamps and those types of programs.