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Claremont Welfare Needs Boost

Claremont — For the fifth year in a row, the City Council will be asked to approve an additional appropriation for the welfare budget.

Welfare Director Sue Carr is planning to ask the council for $35,000 to cover direct assistance through the end of the year.

“What is happening is we are helping people for longer periods of time,” Carr said in a recent interview.

Carr said that the reality of who gets assistance and why is far different for the perception that whoever asks for help automatically receives it without conditions.

“We have a lot of people coming through the door but just because they ask for help doesn’t mean we give it to them,” she said. “There is perception we are paying people to live the high life. That is not the case.”

While the additional funding Carr is seeking this year is far less than the more than $100,000 supplemental appropriation approved last year, one city councilor has said its further evidence the city has become a magnet for those seeking welfare assistance.

At last month’s final hearing on the proposed city budget, councilor Vic Bergeron moved to cut $40,000 from next year’s welfare budget, along with other reductions, but the motion failed. Other councilors said that by law the city is obligated to provide assistance to those who qualify so they have no choice but to approve the additional spending.

Later in the same meeting, Bergeron said the city is moving in the wrong direction because it is becoming a “social services center.”

Bergeron’s pointed to the direct assistance budget, which includes such things as fuel, utilities, food and rent payments, going from about $210.000 in 2008 to nearly $340,000 last year.

So far this year, nearly $256,000 has been spent from a $257,000 budget, and the money Carr will seek at Wednesday’s council meeting would the total to about $290,000, a 55 percent increase since 2008.

Carr, however, said that the residents coming to her office for help aren’t new arrivals.

“Most of the new people we see have lived here more than five years,” Carr said. “They are not just rolling in.”

Carr said that while the budget is increasing, the caseload is not. Through Nov. 12 this year, there were 320 individual cases of assistance. That compares to 382 last year, 363 in 2009 and 323 in 2008.

Carr cited a couple of reasons for the budget overruns, such as longer waiting periods for Social Security Disability income cases to be decided.

“It is four or five months. It used to be one month. I’ve seen it go 18 months,” Carr said.

She also said changes in state law now mean Social Security income for a child is counted in when determining TANF (temporary assistance for needy families) cases.

“That means a family can lose income from the state,” she said.

Residency is a requirement for assistance and those who apply must demonstrate they have income, Carr said.

“A lot of those we see are working poor. They are not making enough to make ends meet. About 40 percent are underemployed,” Carr said. “The job base isn’t here and $8 an hour won’t pay the rent.”

Carr said that the city does not automatically pay for rent for anyone who asks. They must have a place and an income, otherwise they are referred to a shelter.

“We don’t find people apartments or pay security deposits and we won’t help (with direct assistance) if they have no income,” said Carr. “We confirm they have a place and can pay for it.”

Recently, a woman came to the office from Vermont looking for an apartment, and Carr said they referred her to the shelter.

“We ask, who else can help? We work with other agencies in the area and will usually refer them to a shelter.”

Carr said she is skeptical of Bergeron’s assertion that welfare brings people to Claremont.

“The perception is that people are here because of great services,” she said. “I don’t know that is the case. We really don’t have a lot of places people can go for help.”

Carr said shelter space is limited and while there are a couple of churches that will help, housing options are few. Mental health services are available but state budget cuts have meant a longer wait for an appointment.

She said that the practice of “dumping,” which refers to another community sending people in need of welfare to Claremont, isn’t a phenomenon she’s witnessed.

“I don’t think it is a big issue,” she said. “We just don’t see it and it is unethical.”

Once assistance is given, Carr said her office imposes strict controls and if the person violates them, they can be sanctioned, meaning the assistance is cut off.

“They have to apply each time they need assistance,” she said.

Applicants also must produce copies of bills for utilities and fuel and abide by all conditions. The assistance is paid directly to the fuel or utility company or the landlord.

“We can often be a bridge when they run into a little trouble,” Carr said. “We have an elderly man who needs help with his fuel bill when it is due the same time his water bill is.”

Carr sums up her office is a place for an emergency, not a way of life.

“We are a short-term emergency assistance agency but the law is written that if they are eligible we have to help them,” said Carr.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.