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Dept. of Human Services spends $1.5 million in January-February

by Bill Knowles

LAS ANIMAS — Two months into fiscal year 2016 and the Las Animas County Department of Human Services (DHS) has seen an increase in case loads that have driven up their expenditures.

Arlene Lopez, director of the Las Animas County DHS, told the county commissioners, during the regular monthly meeting between the department and the commissioners, that expenditures out stripped revenues by eight percent in January. “For February, revenues were $998,000, and expenditures were $1.13 million. This leaves a fund balance of $236,000 at the end of February.”

Without a healthy fund balance the department is threatened with depleting its funds before the state starts its new 2017 fiscal budget in July, which will begin again the reimbursements from the state to the county. “Case loads drive the reimbursements from the state by about 80 percent to 90 percent,” Lopez said.

However, the time between the filing of reimbursements with the state and the arrival of the checks to the DHS might be as long as 30 to 40 days. The department is mostly financed by the state, with the county putting up about 5 percent of the total funding.

The two largest programs administered by the DHS are Food Assistance and LEAP.

Food Assistance is managing around 1,670 cases, with a total outlay of $770,285 so far in the year. This has flushed around $382,000 back into the local food economy for January and $388,000 for February.

However a problem called “caseload movement” is growing.

Caseload movement is when an applicant files for food assistance in Las Animas County, and before the paperwork has had a chance to move through the system, the applicant moves and files in another county. The application filed in Las Animas now has to be transfered to the new county. This applies also to a state to state move. This requires that funds also move.

Sometimes coupled with the movement is the use of a food benefits card to draw cash for use on alcohol or marijuana, something forbidden by the state. This can constitute fraud, and is investigated by the first county to received the application: Las Animas County in this illustration. The investigation costs are borne by the county of origin.

LEAP, a program that covers utility costs for heating, is the second largest program administered by the DHS. From October 2015 to February 2016, the number of households participating in the program grew from 607 to 1,094, with 952 cases being approved. The program covers both utilities drawn from electric or natural gas and propane. Total pay outs to vendors for the five month period covered by the report is about $464,000.

The old age pension saw a further decrease of seven over the January and February reporting period. This is due to the passing of the pensioners, dropping the caseload from 194 to 192. Expenditures for the months is about $76,800.

Aid to the needy disabled saw a drop of nine cases, bringing the total down to 67 from 76 with an expenditure of nearly $28,000.

Medicaid cases increased by 57 cases through January and February over December 2015, an increase of 16.4 percent, bringing the total number of cases for 2016 to 3,291.

The commissioners approved and accepted the reports with a 3-0 vote.