Ken Caldwell, director of the Fulton County Department of Job and Family Services, sees a glimmer of hope in the midst of depressing statistics.
While the numbers of people applying for public assistance of one form or another (Medicaid, food assistance, cash assistance) are at all-time high levels, the percentage of increase each month is down.
“At one time, we were seeing big jumps every month. Now I think things are changing,” he said.
After the near-meltdown of American and world financial markets in Sept. 2008, Fulton County unemployment crossed into double digits (10% or higher) in December that year.
Based on Ohio Department of Job and Family Services estimates, unemployment stayed above 10% throughout 2009 and most of 2010. Unemployment hit a peak of 16% in January 2010.
Then in August, unemployment dropped back to 9.7%.
But at least two officials– Lisa Arend, Fulton County economic development director, and Jim Wyse, Archbold mayor– said they believe the drop in unemployment was not caused by more people going back to work.
They believe the drop to 9.7% was the result of more people falling off the unemployment roles.
In order to be counted as unemployed, a person must be receiving unemployment insurance payments. Once they exhaust their unemployment benefits, they are no longer counted as “unemployed.”
Caldwell said the county Department of Job and Family Services basically administers three types of programs.
Those programs are Medicaid, which covers medical bills; food assistance; and cash assistance.
Figures provided by Caldwell showed that in the first quarter of 2007, there were 4,177 people receiving Medicaid.
Three years later, in the first quarter of 2010, 5,788 persons were receiving Medicaid benefits, an increase of 1,611, or about 38.6%.
In the first quarter of 2007, 2,062 people were receiving food assistance.
By the first quarter of 2010, that number had jumped about 82.2% to 3,824, an increase of 1,737.
The economic crisis hit in September 2008, in the third quarter. That quarter, 2,374 persons were receiving food assistance.
In the fourth quarter of 2008, the number receiving food assistance was up to 2,592.
In the first quarter of 2009, the number receiving food assistance jumped to 3,057, and increased by 296 in the second quarter of 2009.
Another 171 signed up during the third quarter of 2009, then another 129 in the fourth quarter.
The number of Medicaid recipients climbed continually between 2007 and 2010, but like food assistance, the biggest increases came in first and second quarters of 2009.
In the third quarter of 2008, there were 4,729 persons on Medicaid. In the fourth quarter, 179 more persons signed up.
In the first quarter of 2009, an additional 268 persons signed up, followed by 206 more in the second quarter of 2009. There were another 180 by the third quarter of 2009.
Not Just Numbers
But it’s not just the numbers that tell the story.
Caldwell said he and the other workers at the county Department of Job and Family Services are “seeing people that traditionally, we have never seen before.”
These are people who had been working, but who had lost their jobs and no longer could make ends meet.
In June, when the U.S. Congress discussed not extending unemployment compensation, there was an influx of applications for assistance. Once unemployment was extended, the influx abated.
Who Can Get What
As people fall off the unemployment roles and still can’t find work, what are their options?
For able-bodied workers with children, there is food assistance, Medicaid, and cash assistance available.
But for single adults and childless couples, the only option available to them is food assistance.
What is an able-bodied person or couple who is (are) out of work, and have no children, to do?
“We don’t have an answer,” Caldwell said.
It’s not that county DJFS workers don’t care.
Caldwell said many times, DJFS caseworkers have reached into their own pockets to buy a meal for someone who hasn’t eaten in a day or two.
Once, he said, an assistance recipient found a job, but it was miles away. The person was walking back and forth to work.
One of the caseworkers purchased a bicycle at a garage sale for that person.