This morning, JFAC wrapped up three days of hearings on Health & Welfare budgets, with more troubling news about soaring caseloads, crimped funds and Idahoans being pushed onto public assistance by the economic downturn. Russ Barron, administrator of the Welfare Division, said, "The number of individuals needing help has sharply increased over the past two years. ... Every day we see hundreds of Idahoans walking into a welfare office for the first time in their life, because they have no place else to turn."
A particularly startling figure: The number of Idahoans receiving food stamps has grown by 106 percent in the past two years. One in eight people nationwide are on food stamps, and one in four children. "It's no secret that our caseloads have been climbing every month to record high levels," Barron told lawmakers. "We are seeing people needing our services who have never needed it before - these people are our neighbors, friends and relatives. Many of these people have held good jobs for 15, 17 years, and now find themselves suddenly out of work."
About a third of Idahoans receiving food stamps over the past two years are first-timers on the program, he said. The crush has meant that welfare offices sometimes have to shut down their phones by 2 or 3 in the afternoon, Barron said, "because we have so many calls in queue that it takes until 6 or 7 in the evening to get through all the callbacks. Some of our staff work 9- to 10-hour days on a regular basis, because there are so many people needing our help."