By Tim Yovich
Public assistance to those living in the suburbs is increasing dramatically.
WARREN — The head of Trumbull County’s public assistance agency is warning county commissioners that a third of the county population is on some sort of assistance, and funds for some programs have been exhausted.
Thomas Mahoney, director of Trumbull County Job and Family Services, calls the situation “alarming,” brought about by the high number of foreclosures, increased loss of jobs and higher cost of gasoline.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” Mahoney said, noting that more people living in suburbs are seeking assistance.
The commissioners indicated they will have to prioritize where the federal funds are spent. Commissioner Daniel Polivka said he wants to make sure there is enough funding to support the food stamp program and child health care.
“We have no shortage of customers,” said Kim Barrell, Job and Family Services coordinator, noting that the number of new applicants for cash, medical cards and food stamps was 7,704 in 2006, compared with 10,122 in 2007. There have been 3,409 applicants this year through May.
“The statistics really speak volumes,” Barrell said.
The agency has exhausted its funds for gasoline cards for those of low incomes who work an average of 30 hours a week and have a minor child in the home or pay child support, Mahoney explained.
Mahoney has said that those who lose their jobs because they can’t get to work are likely to become more dependant on public assistance.
From April 1 through June 23, the agency approved 2,376 applicants for gasoline cards at a cost of $477,000 and 329 applicants for heating assistance to those receiving disconnect notices or those on the verge of being disconnected.
Mahoney said funds for emergency assistance have been exhausted. Those who can no longer pay their heating bills will be referred to other agencies for help in making payments. This puts added pressure on other agencies such as food banks, missioners, Salvation Army and others.
Emergency funds also help clients with car repairs, clothing, shelter expenses and utility shutoffs. About $4.5 million has been spent on such assistance in the past six months, Mahoney pointed out.
Mahoney said it’s not fair to county commissioners to come up with additional money to fund public assistance. Part of the problem, Mahoney explained, is that the state has reduced the amount of federal funds the counties receive.
The assistance rolls are not only increasing in the cities, but also the suburbs, Mahoney explained.
The numbers in Cortland have increased by 63 percent from May 2002 to April of this year; Girard, 93.8 percent; Kinsman, 79 percent; McDonald, 92 percent; Vienna Township, 91 percent.
In Warren alone, food stamp and emergency assistance has risen by 55 percent, 7,865 to 12,202.