Fewer than 100 people in Genesee County who are able-bodied adults are on welfare Eileen Kirkpatrick, commissioner of Social Services locally, told members of the legislature on Monday.
"The idea or belief that Genesee County has a huge cadre of its citizens just sitting around collecting welfare is a myth," Kirkpatrick said.
There are currently 626 people receiving cash assistance, and 348 of them are children, Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick presented her report to the county legislature during its Human Services Committee meeting.
Of the 278 adults receiving cash assistance, 179 of them are not considered employable. These are people who may be awaiting SSI benefits determinations or have temporary illness or injuries that keep them from working.
Of the able-bodied adults receiving cash assistance, many of them have jobs but do not earn enough money to fully support themselves. They get a small, partial grant, Kirkpatrick said.
The able-bodied adults who don't work are required to do volunteer labor with various local nonprofit agencies.
All able-bodied adults receiving assistance are required to take classes or get job training that may help them get better paying jobs.
There are two types of cash assistance. There is a 60-month Family Assistance program that is funded by the federal government. The benefit was capped at 60 months by the Clinton Administration.
But, according to the state constitution, DSS is required to provide ongoing cash assistance to individuals who qualify once Family Assistance runs out.
The second program that provides ongoing assistance is called Safety Net.
The cost of the Safety Net program is largely shouldered by county taxpayers. The state pays for only 29 percent of the program. The county pays 71 percent.
"The Safety Net program is mandated, yet localities have little or no control over the provisions of benefits, short of detecting fraud," Kirkpatrick said. "The state defines what must be funded, but has decreased their support for funding the program."
The county currently handles 158 Safety Net cases, serving 189 individuals.
That's an increase from 2010 when there were 108 cases, serving 138 people.
Family Assistance cases increased during the same period from 152 to 177.
Kirkpatrick said the increase is a result of the recession taking a bit of a toll on Genesee County.
From 2008 to 2010, Genesee was the only county in the state that actually saw a decrease in the number of people receiving temporary assistance.
Another myth Kirkpatrick said she wanted to dispel was that people getting food stamps don't have jobs.
Of the 2,888 households in Genesee County receiving food stamps, Kirkpatrick said, 72 percent have at least one adult who has a job.
The program brings more than $9 million into Genesee County, Kirkpatrick said, all of it federal dollars.
"A lot of folks don't realize there is no local share," Kirkpatrick said. "They think they see people with food stamps buying fancy steaks and lobster at Tops, or going to the 7-11 and buying surgary drinks and junk food, but there's no local cost to the benefit."
Food stamps are supposed to supplement a family or individual food budget, but DSS is seeing more cases, Kirkpatrick said, of recipients relying entirely on food stamps for their meals.
"Although the program is meant to supplement a family's nutrition, surgary sodas and cereals, candy and snacks, pre-packaged food and other unwise purchases are allowed," Kirkpatrick said. "While the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program is made available to recipients, they cannot be mandated to attend."
The local cost for the food stamp program is in administration, and the state is covering less and less of that expense.
Currently, the county spends $542,505 on food stamp administration and gets $49,041 from the state.
Administration costs are also going up as the state encourages more and more people to sign up for the benefit.
Kirkpatrick said there is one group of Genesee County residents who may not be taking full advantage of the food stamp program -- seniors.
Only 451 people in Genesee County age 65 or older receive food stamps. Kirkpatrick said -- especially since eligibility is based on income, not resources -- many more local seniors probably qualify for the program than are using it.
ILLUSTRATION: A graphic that has been making the rounds on Facebook the past couple of weeks.