SARANAC LAKE - While social service departments in Essex, Warren and Clinton counties are accepting applications for assistance at an increasing rate in 2009, Franklin County has seen its caseload remain fairly steady.
Franklin County Social Services commissioner Lesley Lyon says her department has been fielding more requests for assistance in 2009, but those requests aren't necessarily resulting in new case openings.
"I am told applications are up a little," Lyon said. "But we are not seeing an increase in the number of people receiving public assistance."
Despite the relatively steady activity at Franklin County Social Services, Lyon did note requests for heating assistance, or HEAP, increased substantially this winter. To handle the spike, Lyon's office has employed several temporary workers that will remain on-board until the end of the winter season.
"Our HEAP office has been very busy, and is seeing some extra business this year," added Lyon. "We have a couple of temporary employees and along with a little overtime we are managing to handle the increase."
Food stamp applications were up by 350 in 2008, but Lyon said the increase has little to do with the economic recession. The numbers are attributed to an outreach program funded by a state grant, the goal of which was to increase the support systems available to people who qualify for public assistance.
"The outreach program had very successful results," Lyon added. "We wanted to increase the supports for people receiving foods stamps, government sponsored health insurance and heating assistance."
Some social service administrators have been concerned about Gov. David Paterson's plan to eliminate the state's contribution to county food stamp administration - money that is used to pay staff members at social services.
"There will still be funding for the food stamp benefits," Lyon said, "but I don't know how we will pay staff to determine eligibility and open cases if this funding is removed. It is my sincere hope that this will not happen."
Although the atmosphere in Franklin County is calmer than it is in Warren and Essex counties, Lyon expects that if the economy doesn't turn around, her office will have more people coming through its doors in the coming months. Recently laid-off workers are still on unemployment and will not need to file for welfare assistance until the end of 2009.
"It is my expectation that if things do not improve by the end of the year, we will see a significant increase in public assistance case loads from people who have exhausted their unemployment," Lyon said.