County welfare workers stressed as claims rise 40%

QUEENSBURY - Due to a reeling national economy that is shedding jobs at a historic rate, Warren County social services workers are facing startling increases of traffic into their offices, officials said this week. With a county-wide hiring freeze, a short-staffed county Dept. of Social Services is dealing with skyrocketing claims for heating assistance, food stamps and temporary assistance.

"We are down two temporary assistance staffers and struggling," county Department of Social Services Commissioner Sheila Weaver said Thursday. "Our case loads are up across the board and the amount of people we are denying for assistance continues to rise."

According to Weaver, her food stamp caseworkers have an average load of 525 cases each, a 25 percent increase over last year. Also, requests for temporary assistance are up a staggering 40 percent and requests for heating fuel assistance, or HEAP, are up 12 percent over last year, she said.

"Every person who comes through the door must be assessed by our staff regardless if they end up getting assistance or not," Weaver said. "The whole process takes time and I don't expect to see it get any better soon."

Weaver said that each month 80 requests are denied for the $342 a month temporary assistance program due to a funding shortage.

"People are coming in our door who have never applied for assistance before," Weaver said. "I don't know of many people who can live on $350 a month."

The county Social Services Committee voted Thursday to allow Weaver to fill two recently vacated positions. The positions are temporary and are 75 percent funded through state grants, Weaver told the committee.

"Sheila has done an extraordinary job cutting departmental costs," county Administrator Hal Payne said. "We have to do our part to make sure she can handle all of the demand in this economy."

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