MOUNT VERNON — Reports continue to file in about the iceberg the Knox County economy hit in 2009 as recession swept the globe. The latest comes from Matthew Kurtz, interim director of the Knox County Department of Job & Family Services, who said public assistance was up sharply in 2009, following a rough year in 2008. He presented his report Monday morning to the Knox County Board of Commissioners.
“We’ve had a bad couple of years against us,” Kurtz said.
One of the most dramatic increases, he said, was seen in food assistance, formerly known as the food stamp program, which soared 61 percent last year from an annual cost of $6.5 million to $10.5 million. The DJFS also saw the number of families helped increase by 29 percent last year.
Particularly hard hit, Kurtz said, were families with children where both parents are present but falling below the federal poverty guideline. The amount of assistance to these families more than doubled, increasing 108 percent from 2008 to 2009. Single-parent household support funds went up by 32 percent. Families where both parents are in the home, but one is disabled, went up 56 percent.
Kurtz said that in the Medicaid area, figures were similarly extreme. The number of Knox County families receiving Medicaid medical assistance cards went from 1,186 in January 2009 to 1,630 in December, an increase of 37 percent. The county’s total Medicaid expenditure for 2009 was $97.7 million, a large portion of which Kurtz said is related to the activities of the Mount Vernon Developmental Center.
Case worker caseloads have increased by 20 percent over the last two years, Kurtz said. He said the most difficult problem is that when the department’s services are most needed, is when the economy is down and budget cuts restrict accessible funds.
“With 10 case workers, we are struggling to keep up good customer service,” Kurtz said.