Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 9, 2014

POVERTY IN NIAGARA: Benefits boom -- Caseloads, costs rise following 2008 economic downturn

Social Services' caseloads, costs rise following 2008 economic downturn

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara County Department of Social Services is a busy place these days. 

In recent years, demand for services has risen, caseloads have increased and so have costs. 

The numbers reflect what Social Services Commissioner Anthony Restaino said has been one of the highest periods of activity his department has seen in his 14 years on the job.  

Niagara County, he contends, is not alone. 

“Pretty much everybody throughout the state is seeing the same thing as it relates to an increase in caseloads,” Restaino said. “The economy really isn’t making enough of a rebound to where (people) can find work and support themselves and their families.” 

Niagara County, like many other parts of the country, saw a spike in demand for social services assistance following the 2008 economic downturn. In the weeks and months that followed, Restaino said staff members saw a lot of new faces, many of whom had never applied for social services help before. Many, Restaino suspects, were victims of corporate downsizing or layoffs. 

“We were seeing more and more people who were coming into this building for the first time,” he said. “A lot of these people were trained and working sometimes for 15 to 20 years at the same job.”

While residents have been able to transition into new positions or careers, many others still have not and are continuing to receive assistance. 

The cost to the county has added up. 

“It really is showing a general increase and it’s really as a result of people not being able to get employment that allows them to not use or need food stamps or to stay off of or get off of cash assistance,” Restaino said.

His department oversees several programs under the social services umbrella, including basic Medicaid, foster care and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps. The department also is in charge of the federally subsidized “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,” which provides cash assistance to eligible families for up to five years. 

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