Ocean County Press Release
Demand for Social Services Goes Up
TOMS RIVER – A bad economy, a depressed job market, the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy all combined with sweeping federal changes to social services programs has resulted in unprecedented increases in the demand for social services programs in Ocean County.
"Since 2007, the Ocean County Board of Social Services has led the state in increased requests for emergency assistance, General Assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families," said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Board of Social Services. "Only two other counties out number our requests for food stamps also known as SNAP."
Little attributed the increases to a number of factors including changes to federal guidelines to qualify for the various government programs have expanded eligibility to include a much larger population.
"Our populations continue to increase, we are suffering from a lingering economic recession and we are also serving many victims of Superstorm Sandy which forced thousands of our citizens from their homes," Little said. "It has been a difficult road for so many of our citizens. The Board of Social Services is here to help however the increasing caseload has made the job more difficult."
The Board of Social Services Offices in Toms River, Stafford and Lakewood townships saw a combined 11,401 clients in July and 11,414 in August.
"We anticipate the September numbers to be even higher," Little said. "In addition to people visiting the offices, the agency is averaging over 100,000 incoming telephone calls a month."
Little noted that since the Obama administration increased food stamp eligibility, Ocean County has experienced a 163 percent increase in applicants since 2007.
About 62,000 people in Ocean County are currently receiving SNAP (food stamp benefits). The county's increase is just behind Middlesex and Hunterdon counties.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families caseload has increased 77 percent since 2007, with more than 1,500 families receiving TANF assistance, representing the highest percentage of increase in the state.
General Assistance also has increased by 109 percent since 2007, also the highest in the state with about 2,700 beneficiaries.
Little said that emergency assistance for families has skyrocketed by 201 percent since 2007, again making the increase the highest in the state, with more than 506 families currently receiving the help.
"Overall demand for all Ocean County Board of Social Services programs has gone up 150 percent since 2007, which is the highest percentage increase in the state," Little said.
Little said social services workers also are gearing up for a surge in applicants for Medicaid, which under the Affordable Care Act will be expanded.
"It is estimated that over 17,000 people in the county may qualify for the expanded Medicaid program which is administered by the Board of Social Services," Little said. "The Board of Social Services staff is working diligently to process and handle all of the clients that are seeking help.
"They are doing all they can to make sure applications are processed in a timely manner," Little said. "But due to the steady increase in requests it may take a bit longer to process applications and we are hopeful the public will understand."
Most of the boards' programs are funded by the federal government, and aggregate benefits surpass $600 million annually. The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders earmarked $21 million to social services to administer the programs.
"This was one of the few areas of the County budget that was increased this year," said Freeholder James F. Lacey, who serves as a member of the Board of Social Services. "The Board of Freeholders is aware of the need that is in the County. We do all we can to make sure the needy and the vulnerable are given the help they need with the hopes they will again become self-sufficient."
Ocean County Freeholder Director John P. Kelly noted the staff at social services is highly dedicated to helping the disadvantaged in Ocean County.
"I want to thank Freeholder Little, Ron Dancer, the chairman of the Board of Social Services along with all the board members and all the workers committed to helping the citizens of Ocean County during very difficult times," Kelly said.