Assistance programs

Morrison County Social Services Director Brad Vold and Income Maintenance Supervisor Karen Szczodroski present in front of the Board of Commissioners, July 13, at the Morrison County Government Center.

The amount of payments made by Morrison County through the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) was up from previous years, through April.

The total, $89,711, reflected changes in the way low-income families have received assistance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrison County Income Maintenance Supervisor Karen Szczodroski said families are not currently being put into the county’s diversionary work program (DWP), a four-month effort to help parents find jobs. Instead, those families are being put directly into MFIP, which normally has a 60-month eligibility period after someone finishes the DWP and has yet to find employment.

As of April, Morrison County Social Services had 102 open cases, accounting for 65 adults and 138 children in the MFIP. There were also 28 caretaker cases — when someone such as grandparents are raising their grandchildren — and 10 waiver cases that are beyond the 60-month lifetime limit for being on MFIP.

“So that is coming to an end,” Szczodroski said, referring to the waiver program. “The peacetime emergency ended 7/1. The state of Minnesota has 60 days to end the waivers, so we’re anticipating the end of August those people will come off.”

Those 102 cases through April amounted to $89,711 in payments. That is up significantly from $75,735 through April in 2020 and $74,188 in 2019.

The full standard available for a one-person household — which would include only an expecting mother — is $515, $350 in cash assistance and $165 in food assistance. The cash portion for a two-person household is $537.

“It’s not a lot of money,” Szczodroski said. “And these standards actually went up $100 back in October.”

In the current waiver system, families can receive those benefits without going through the DWP, which requires them to partner with the Workforce Center to seek employment.

Under normal circumstances, a family is only eligible for an MFIP extension if they meet several criteria. Those include hours of work minimums, being unable to work due to illness or injury or being difficult to employ due to being developmentally disabled or mentally ill.

Szczodroski said most families are not eligible for cash assistance extensions due to the work requirements. In order to maintain that help, a one-parent household must work at least 30 hours per week, and a two-parent household must work at least 55 hours per week.

In some cases, however, though they are no longer eligible for MFIP, they can continue to receive food assistance, such as SNAP, medical assistance and help with child care.

“There are retailers out there that — everywhere you go, there’s people that want individuals to work,” said Morrison County Commissioner Mike LeMieur.

“If they’re able to work, they will have to start working with the Workforce Center (once that waiver period ends),” Szczodroski said.

She added that she always tells her clients that getting off of cash assistance is “something to be proud of.” Just getting off of that program is a linchpin of being self-sufficient, even if the person is still receiving assistance in other areas, like food, medical or child care.

“The cash assistance is a big one,” Szczodroski said. “But, if you can get a client to get a job, it seems like once they get that first paycheck, it really excites them, and they want to continue to work. That’s where the Workforce Center comes in. They do a really good job with our clients.”

There were also a total of 43 child care assistance cases open with Morrison County, as of April. This, both Social Services Director Brad Vold and Szczodroski described as “one of the better programs” it has for low-income families within the county.

Of those, 29 families are on a sliding fee scale, meaning they do not receive cash assistance through MFIP. There are two cases in transition off of MFIP to the sliding scale and 12 families who are also receiving cash assistance.

Clients who are on both MFIP and child care assistance are working.

“Now, some clients can’t work a lot,” Szczodroski said. “So, you have to understand, if they have issues such as physical or mental health issues, they’re always going to be part-time unless they can roll into Social Security. So, we do have clients that are not able to work a full-time job.”

Morrison County received $194,342 in allocations from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) for child care assistance in 2021. That amount is up from $186,939 in 2020.

Szczodroski said there is currently no waiting list for child care assistance in Morrison County. She encouraged anyone who might be eligible to apply.

“That’s even if you’ve never been on MFIP,” Vold said. “So, let’s say you just have an entry level job and you have a child, or even a paying job that doesn’t pay as well as you would hope. There is child care assistance available for those that want to keep working and not go on MFIP at all.”

In April 2021, the county issued $8,825 in child care assistance to families on the sliding fee scale. That was more than the $6,011 available for clients on MFIP and $1,458 to those who were in transition.

There are several criteria one must meet in order to be eligible for child care assistance, as well. Those include hours of employment and searching for full-time or better paying jobs, or an approved education plan. If it’s a two-parent household, both must work.

“Do our employers know that there’s help for people with day care?” asked Board Chair Mike Wilson. “I could see people coming in looking for a job and they say, ‘Well, I got day care.’ If employers knew this, that there’s help with that area, that could be part of your conversation, that they have to help them get through that. Because I just see people saying, ‘Well, by the time I pay day care, there’s no sense of me going to work.’”

Szczodroski said the folks at the Workforce Center were definitely aware that child care assistance is available. However, Vold was unsure if businesses outside of the organization were aware of what is out there. He said working with the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce to ensure employers know about that assistance was a good idea.

“I’m not sure if employers know when they’re hiring folks — and they talk about the challenges of child care, paying for child care with that wage — I don’t know,” Vold said.

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