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Social Service Squeeze in Imperial Valley



The Imperial Valley's skyrocketing unemployment and foreclosure rates are putting a squeeze on the region's social services. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

The Imperial Valley has some of the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the country. That translates into a flood of families in need of social services. Agency workers say so far there has been a 23-percent hike in Medi-Cal cases and a 14-percent jump in food stamp recipients.

Social services director Jim Semmes says more and more families are sliding into poverty.

“We're just really getting into this recession and so we don't really know what it holds forus in the long term,” Semmes said. “If the economy doesn't turn around, eventually it’s going to catch up to us. And if more stores close, that has a direct effect on the availability of jobs.”

That's why Semmes worries about the future of the agency's welfare-to-work program in the Imperial Valley. He's concerned there may not be enough jobs available to get people off public assistance.

In the meantime, Semmes and his staff say they're working overtime to get these new families help. He says the main office in El Centro is one of the few places hiring to keep up with demand.

Semmes says a new office is desperately needed in the northern part of the county because more than 8,000 recipients live there.

“That's a lot of people that have to come all the way down to El Centro,” Semmes said. “We're a big county geographically, not so much population wise, but we’re a big county. So someone who lives up in Salton Sea, and has to come down here to apply for food stamps, that's an all day trip.”

Semmes' office is also partnering with Imperial Valley school districts to raise awareness and get families help.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.


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