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Challenges abound for Community Services

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news Brainerd, 56401

Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The recession put pressure on individuals and families who had never depended on safety nets before.

Struggling families with unemployed breadwinners, veterans and others have felt the pressure.  

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Beth Wilms, Crow Wing County Community Services director, said one of her goals in her new post is to increase awareness of programs for those who may be struggling but need a little help to be self-sufficient. Another is to be open to the public about what services are provided and who is eligible. 

Helping families keep from falling off the edge is a “good investment in our community,” Wilms said. “We see ourselves as advocates and truly care about the most vulnerable.”

Budget constraints are expected to be the challenge for the foreseeable future. 

“There are tough decisions when you talk about cutting good services,” Wilms said. 

Wilms said she thinks the process of applying for services is frustrating and more difficult than it needs to be — such as multiple applications for services in a duplication of effort. She’d like to see more transparency in how the department works and how it meets needs. Wilms is in favor of providing more information online so people know what eligibility requirements are and potentially provide an option for online applications. 

“People don’t want to be poor,” Wilms said. 

Wilms said the department is a resource and referral to help people/families become self-sufficient. Community Services is more than welfare or child protection, Wilms said. The department has a variety of components — Women Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC), immunization, veterans services, child support, mental health and chemical dependency support among others. Child support helps custodial parents get money from noncustodial parents. 

Wilms said the WIC program, which provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age 5, is underutilized. 

Wilms, who was a foster parent, said the program is great to help buy basic things children need. 

Often, Wilms said the focus is on the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state’s welfare reform program for low-income families with children. The program has a 60-month time limit and the state reports when most families apply for cash assistance, they participate in a four-month program that “helps parents go immediately to work rather than receive welfare.”

Wilms said for working families, child care is an major expense, and there is assistance available on a sliding scale for people who may not realize they are eligible. The assistance is there for families who may be on the edge and struggling to make it on their own but face a challenge to pay for child care. 

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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