Applications increasing for Kandiyohi County economic assistance programs – West Central Tribune

WILLMAR – The state of Minnesota, with the help of federal and local governments, offers several programs to help residents who are struggling financially. Counties, including Kandiyohi County, administer programs for the state, including accepting applications and proving eligibility.

“Federal, state and local resources work together to help people meet their basic needs so they can live with dignity and reach their highest potential here in Kandiyohi County,” said Jennie Lippert, director of health and human services of Kandiyohi County. “Financial needs can arise for individuals for many reasons and for reasons beyond their control.”

Lippert presented to the Kandiyohi County Board Tuesday along with staffers who work with the county’s financial assistance programs.

Jennifer Lippert

Jennifer Lippert

Contributed / Kandiyohi County

Anyone can apply to these programs, although all have specific rules, regulations, and guidelines that must be met. Admission requirements vary from program to program.

“Kandiyohi County and the state of Minnesota work closely to provide financial assistance and healthcare to all beneficiaries,” Lippert said.

In 2022, Kandiyohi County saw a significant increase in the number of individuals and families applying for these financial assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Minnesota Family Investment Program, Housing Supports, and Medical Assistance.

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“Even though people may not know if they’re eligible or not, they’re applying,” said Deb Grunwald, director of the county’s HHS.

So far this year, the county has received 409 applicants, up from 221 in 2021. That’s an 85% increase over the year. Grunwald believes there could be at least two reasons for the increases, although there may be more.

The first possible cause is the new government online job application portal called MNBenefits. Launched in March, it makes it easier for people to apply for help online. Applicants can also apply to several different programs at the same time.

“It’s smartphone-friendly,” Grunwald said, making it more accessible to those who have a smartphone but don’t have a computer.

The second reason for the surge in applications this year could be changes in SNAP income guidelines. To be eligible for SNAP, a household can now account for up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, an increase of 165%. In Kandiyohi County, that would be $55,500 for a family of four. It used to be $45,837.

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“This makes more people eligible for the programs,” Grunwald said.

There has also been an increase in applications for emergency aid. During the last two years of the pandemic, many nonprofits, such as United Community Action Partnership and the Salvation Army, had additional resources available for people to tap into when faced with a financial emergency. Since most of these resources have now expired, residents are turning to the county for help.

“We see people coming back for help for emergency relief, evictions or shutting down their utilities,” Grunwald said.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on financial programs. Many waivers have been put in place to make it easier for people to receive and retain benefits while the major impact of the pandemic is being felt.

However, many of these exemptions have expired, and some others for programs like Medical Assistance and SNAP may soon be removed. The main concern is that people who have benefited from these waivers will soon find that their benefits are either reduced or taken away because they are no longer eligible.

“The federal government has indicated that if it lifts these waivers, it will give us 60 days notice of when this will happen,” Grunwald said. “We’re a little worried about how that’s going to look.”

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With the increase in applications, the workload of Kandiyohi County staff has increased. The state requires that all requests for assistance be processed within 30 days. There are also cases where an application is expedited and must be made within 24 hours.

“Our permissions staff work really hard to make sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect and that every case is handled according to policy,” Grunwald said.

The county takes the integrity of the program seriously.

Staff review reports internally to ensure there are no errors and additional training and support is provided where necessary. Kandiyohi County has its own fraud investigator, making it easier to investigate fraud when it occurs. The Minnesota Department of Human Services also conducts audits of county financial assistance programs to ensure they are functioning properly.

Kandiyohi County just received its results for the last fiscal year SNAP program and no errors were found.

“We’re really proud of our employees who have worked so hard through all these times,” Grunwald said.

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