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Cass, Crow Wing to cooperate

BACKUS –Reno Wells, Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services (HHVS) director, obtained county board approval Tuesday to begin a pilot program with Crow Wing County to offer benefit application services interchangeably between the two counties.

From April 1 to Oct. residents of both counties may choose whether to apply for assistance benefits from either county and will then have the county where they applied track their benefit distribution.

Benefits include those for general assistance, Minnesota supplemental aid, Minnesota family investment program, diversionary work program, work benefit, supplemental nutrition assistance program or health care programs.

This will be a demonstration project to try to provide more flexible and convenient services to clients. At the end of six months, the counties will assess any changes in cost to administer the programs and decide whether to continue the two-county exchange on a permanent basis, Wells said.

Candy Enblom, Cass financial assistant supervisor, told the board many people make their applications by phone now, but some people still prefer to go to an office to make application in person. She said staff sees a convenience benefit if residents can apply in either county.

If the program is as successful as he expects, Wells said he hopes to establish an exchange with other neighboring counties by next year.

Commissioner Bob Kangas noted that veterans have been allowed to apply for benefits in any county for many years. Because program for veterans works, he said he expects this also will work.

Crow Wing County Board has yet to vote on this issue, but is expected to consider approving it in February. In another measure to improve HHVS efficiency, Wells obtained board approval to consolidate one group of social workers and a unit of public health nurses under one supervisor. This will enable the department to eliminate one team leader position, Wells said.

The board approved purchasing a new electronic data system for the income maintenance division of human services for about $156,000. The new system will improve work flow and increase efficiency without the need to purchase new hardware for most of the workers, according to Tim Richardson, central services director.

Federal reimbursements are expected to cover 25 to 40 percent of the program purchase costs according to Larry Wolfe, chief financial officer.

The system can be expanded to accommodate future growth, Richardson said. The board approved 2013 appointments to the screening team assigned to evaluate children scheduled for out of home placements. Michele Piprude, HHVS social services manager, chairs the team.

There will be one representative from each of the following: probation department, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, mental health professional, guardian ad litem, county board, county attorney, Cass sheriff, Cass social services and the HHVS director.