The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 18, 2009

Welfare applications mushroom

28 applications in a single day in Blue Earth County

By Dan Linehan

MANKATO — Blue Earth County recently saw what may be its biggest one-day total ever for welfare benefit applications and has seen large case load increases in recent months.

There were 28 applications for welfare-type programs such as food support on June 2.

And while the county doesn’t keep records for daily requests, Human Services Director Bob Meyer said his staff believes that was their busiest day for applications.

But caseloads are perhaps a better measure of long-term growth.

And there has been an increase of 5 percent in new welfare-type programs — including food support, cash and medical assistance — in the first five months of 2009 compared to the same time last year.

In food support, for example, there were 43 cases in May alone, an increase of about 3 percent.

There have been heavy layoffs locally, including 114 at Carlson Craft and 94 at Kato Engineering. In addition, 350 workers at MTU Onsite Energy, formerly known as Katolight, will be out of work during a plant shutdown in August.

Meyer said there has been speculation that the newly laid off are applying for benefits.

But those people would probably be taking unemployment benefits from the state, which would probably provide them with enough income to make them ineligible for other benefits, he said.

Le Sueur County is also seeing an unusual spike in case loads, said Deb Serich, financial supervisor for the county’s human services department.

Since February, their case loads in social services programs have risen by about 134, to a total of 1,682. Of that total, 34 cases are for migrants who take canning jobs at a Montgomery plant this time of year.

So, excluding the traditional June uptick for the migrant workers, cases have risen by about 6.5 percent since February, an unusual increase. Individual cases may receive benefits from multiple programs, she said.

But because of county cutbacks, they aren’t hiring more workers.

They’re being more flexible with hours by working late some days and taking the time off later in the week, Serich said.