“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”
That’s the Statue of Liberty talking – it’s not a description of the ideal residency clientele that county governments actively seek. So Guilford County commissioners and other county officials are asking why Guilford County by all indications is increasingly getting more than its share of those who rely on county services such as food stamps, crisis intervention services and Medicaid.
The national economy has been improving for years but the demands on Guilford County by those who require many different types of economic services has been going up.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said the situation is striking and the board needs to find some answers. He said the increasing demand is becoming a major drain on the county’s resources.
Branson said the population rate in Guilford County is only growing slightly, the economy is improving, the unemployment rate is down – yet, in Guilford County, the demands for economic aid, food stamps and other social services continue to grow.
“We’ve got 2 percent population growth so why are the needs of the area growing so much?” the chairman asked.
Other commissioners are seeking an answer to that question as well. County staff is still researching the data in an attempt to provide the board with some answers and Commissioner Jeff Phillips has requested that the board address the issue in a work session.
Guilford County officials want citizens who need help to get it, but the fear is that Guilford County is becoming a magnet for those in need. In recent years, the county, along with the cities in it, have beefed up services to help the homeless and others in need. Some have theorized that effort may be making Guilford County a particularly attractive destination for people who are down on their luck. It was revealed earlier this year that Guilford County was a place where a surprisingly high number of ex-convicts move when they get out of prison. That was one rationale for starting a reintegration program in Guilford County for those just released convicts.
One law enforcement official said Guilford County was the number one destination for those getting out of state prison and said that was largely because, while in prison they talk among themselves about the best places to be service-wise when they’re released.
Ideally, the county wants to attract people who will open businesses, create jobs and pay sales and property taxes rather than further increase the demands on the county’s services.
At a recent meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Phillips said there seemed to be a disconnect between what was happening in Guilford County and what was occurring in other places.
“We’re hearing things on a national level about some of these numbers coming down somewhat,” Phillips said to social services staff during a presentation. He said he wonders how that relates to Guilford County in regard to food and nutrition services, Medicaid, crisis intervention, subsidized childcare and other services.
Myra Thompson, a division director for social services said, “I can tell you – I know with food stamp and Medicaid, those numbers are going up. In Guilford County we do have a lot of, I hate to say this, the working poor.”
Phillips said this was a very important subject.
“I don’t think it’s something that we should just sort of step over lightly,” he said. “I think we really need to understand better about what’s going on in Guilford County as it relates to these particular needs and services being provided, and what the trends look like.”