During the worst recession in decades, the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services is receiving national recognition for reducing a once unrelenting cycle of crisis assistance requests that was draining department resources. At the same time, they are ensuring that older adults are aware of services that can improve their quality of life.
The National Association of Counties (NACo) presented the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services with two achievement awards for substantially reducing costs in its Crisis Financial Assistance Program, and for a community outreach program to aid underserved older adults in Cabarrus County.
The annual NACo Achievement Award Program recognizes innovative county government programs in a variety of categories. Cabarrus County DSS won for Counting the Costs Financial Learning and Accountability Program and REACH – Reaching Elderly Adults with Community Helps.
“It has been our goal to think outside the box regarding services and how we can help impact people’s lives,” said Ben Rose, director of Cabarrus County Social Services.
“We feel honored to be recognized by NACo for our two community-based programs.”
Cabarrus County DSS developed the Counting the Costs Financial Learning and Accountability Program in partnership with NC Cooperative Extension and assistance from Cooperative Christian Ministry. The program offers free, financial counseling to recipients in the county’s Crisis Financial Assistance Program, which helps residents pay utility bills and rent.
Along with increased social work intervention and the financial counseling classes, the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services saved county, state, and federal tax dollars set aside for crisis. In the last year, the department has seen a 31 percent reduction of applications taken for crisis assistance, and a 37 percent reduction of the same families coming to the agency for additional help throughout the year.
“Giving clients the tools to manage their personal budgets more effectively ultimately lessens their reliance on our programs,” said Rose.
One resident turned to the agency after her live-in, adult son died unexpectedly, leaving her to pay the bills. Social workers referred the woman to several financial crisis programs, and she enrolled in the budgeting class.
While there, she met an unemployed woman who was in-home aide for a client who recently died. She, too, was having trouble paying bills. The two women connected and soon realized they could turn to each other for help. Woman A hired Woman B as a personal care assistant, and Woman B now has a paid client.
DSS also sought new ways to spread the word about untapped services available to older adults in Cabarrus County. The REACH program was a collaboration between three Cabarrus County departments: Social Services, Commerce and Aging.
Through outreach programs at churches, nutrition sites and other community locations, REACH connected with 254 participants. Out of those requesting needs, 124 participants were referred to at least one program and/or service to assist them.
Multiple people were connected to services allowing them to have their Medicare premium paid, prescriptions paid, and qualifying them for food stamps because they were skipping meals to save money. Among those in need was an older couple caring for a young child. Through programs at DSS and other services in the community, the child was able to get her special needs met, easing financial strains on the couple.
“We are grateful to all our partners as we share these awards with them. I am appreciative of my staff and their willingness to take on these challenges as we strive to improve the quality of life for Cabarrus County residents,” said Rose. “These two awards are reflective of the difference we are making to our citizens.”