JOHNSTOWN - Caseloads, numbers of recipients and expenditures for those receiving temporary assistance or Food Stamps have mostly been on the rise the last five years for Department of Social Services' units serving the tri-county area.
Officials say the sluggish economy appears to be the main reason.
Hamilton County has seen a small decrease in temporary assistance numbers, but the caseloads are very small to analyze for trends.
"I think Food Stamp numbers are up," noted Fulton County DSS Commissioner Sheryda Cooper.
The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in Albany provides monthly and annual caseload statistical data for DSS districts statewide.
An analysis of the statistics from 2011, 2010 and 2006 shows the numbers generally keep going up for the state, along with Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties.
Here are the 2011, 2010 and 2006 statistics for the average monthly number of temporary assistance cases, recipients and the annual expenditures for New York state and Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton?counties. The statistics are from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance:
New York state
2011: 297,041 cases - 565,224 recipients - $2.12 billion spent.
2010: 287,572 cases - 547,600 recipients - $2.09 billion.
2006: 289,178 cases - 572,151 recipients - $1.87 billion.
2011: 371 cases - 691 recipients - $2.38 million spent.
2010: 358 cases - 620 recipients - $2.30 million.
2006: 323 cases - 555 recipients - $1.80 million.
2011: 542 cases - 1,204 recipients - $3.59 million spent.
2010: 493 cases - 1,072 recipients - $3.20 million.
2006: 354 cases - 712 recipients - $2.26 million.
2011: 12 cases - 20 recipients - $56,494 spent.
2010: 12 cases - 22 recipients - $58,551.
2006: 13 cases - 34 recipients - $69,019.
The following shows the monthly average households, recipients and annual expenditures for Food Stamps in the same areas and years.
New York state
2011: 1,617,973 households- 3,029,361 recipients - $5.45 billion in expenditures.
2010: 1,506,281 - 2,835,075 - $5.16 billion.
2006: 939,252 - 1,788,883 - $2.28 billion.
2011: 4,727 households- 9,265 recipients- $15 million in expenditures.
2010 : 4,418 - 8,832 - $14.8 million.
2006: 2,812 -5,597 - $6.19 million.
2011: 4,316 households - 9,305 recipients- $14.7 million in expenditures.
2010: 4,116 - 8,971 - $14.4 million.
2006: 2,607 - 5,690 - $6.4 million.
2011: 206 households- 343 recipients- $556,300 in expenditures.
2010: 188 - 306 - $519,751.
2006: 172 - 258 - $203,335.
OTDA Assistant Director of Public Information Anthony Farmer said a stagnant economy will always increase the caseloads. He said he thinks that's probably the reason in this area.
"I think it would be a safe assumption," Farmer stated.
The Leader-Herald analyzed figures provided online by the state OTDA for temporary assistance, defined by the state as a combination of family assistance and safety net assistance.
Rogers said family assistance is 100 percent state money, while safety net funding is a combination of state and local funding.
The state defines temporary assistance as temporary help for needy men, women and children in New York. The state says the program is helpful for those unable to work, can't find a job, or if their job does not pay enough.
The analysis also looked at Food Stamps, the federally-funded program that issues monthly benefits that can be used to purchase food at authorized retail food stores to help low-income working people, senior citizens, the disabled and others feed their families.
Across New York state, the analysis found the average monthly number of temporary assistance cases rose from 287,572 cases in 2010 to 297,041 cases in 2011 - a 3.3 percent increase.
The 2011 figure for cases statewide jumped from 2006 when there were 289,178 cases, but the 2011 figure of 565,224 for recipients was down from 2006, when 572,151 recipients received temporary assistance.
The state said Fulton County's monthly average number of temporary assistance cases increased - in terms of percentages - more than the state from 2010 to 2011. Fulton County had 358 for 2010 compared to 371 for 2011, for a 3.5 percent hike in cases.
However, Cooper said figures provided online by the state OTDA are somewhat different from her unit's internal figures.
Fulton County DSS Director of Financial Assistance John Rogers said the state figures reflect cases opened during a month, but his DSS unit tracks figures leftover at the end of the month after cases have been closed.
"They're both accurate figures," Rogers said. "We have historically tracked cases that are still open at the end of the month."
He said even though state figures show temporary assistance cases, which include cash assistance, increasing for Fulton County, they are actually down to start this year because of the way his unit tracks the cases.
For example, Rogers said at the end of January 2011, the county listed 362 temporary assistance cases for the month, versus 305 cases for January 2012.
Cooper reiterated what she has said in the past, that residents seek out benefits when they are having trouble financially.
"Again, I would think it would relate to the economy," the Fulton County DSS official said. "We're not advertising the [benefits] program."
Broadalbin Supervisor Joseph DiGiacomo, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors' Human Services Committee, said he has tracked the surge upward in DSS caseloads over recent years and it is directly related to the economy.
The supervisor also said the reason people may seek out more DSS benefits in the local area may be because they are supplementing their low-paying jobs.
"A lot of jobs don't pay well," DiGiacomo said.
With Food Stamps, Rogers said the reasons why cases are often up relates to a combination of the economy and it being easier in recent years for the public to access such benefits. He said the Food Stamp program has made it easier for people to apply electronically for assistance. Also, Rogers said, the program doesn't require a "resource test" -such as how much assets or money people have in the bank -to be eligible to acquire Food Stamps.
In the area of temporary assistance, Rogers said Fulton County DSS has been able to keep its caseloads down by getting people off cash assistance and into the workplace as soon possible.
"We're really aggressive in our employment program," Rogers said. "We have people getting jobs every day. It's not as easy to get cash."
According to the state data, Montgomery County's monthly average temporary assistance cases also increased. From 2010 to 2011, the county's percentage of cases rose 9.9 percent -well over the state average of 3.3 percent.
Montgomery County DSS Commissioner Michael McMahon said his county's public assistance and temporary assistance caseloads seem to be continually on the rise.
"There's been an increase generally since 2004," McMahon said. "I think it has to do with the condition of the economy."
McMahon, who has been in his job for eight months, said the numbers of "underemployed" in the area continues to be a problem. Those are people that used to work full-time jobs, but are forced into part-time situations in which the family then has to find supplemental income.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org