Counties propose state delivery of social servicesNorth Dakota county officials want the state to take over the delivery of social services programs, including federal Medicaid and food stamps, saying counties can no longer afford to do it. The North Dakota County Commission Association is seeking a two-year study of the idea starting in 2011, the year of the next legislative session. Its resolution says counties would contribute up to 15 mills of property taxes each.
GRAND FORKS (AP) — North Dakota county officials want the state to take over the delivery of social services programs, including federal Medicaid and food stamps, saying counties can no longer afford to do it.
The North Dakota County Commission Association is seeking a two-year study of the idea starting in 2011, the year of the next legislative session.
Its resolution says counties would contribute up to 15 mills of property taxes each.
“It’s something that makes sense to us,” Ramsey County Commissioner Joe Belford said. “Some rural counties are nearly broke. They can’t continue to pay higher costs for these services that the federal government says we must deliver.”
The commissioners’ proposal is patterned after the child support enforcement, which switched from county to state administration about four years ago.
The North Dakota Association of Counties, which represents county auditors, social service directors and other county officials besides commissioners, is conducting its own study.
It will decide next fall whether to push for the change, said Terry Traynor, the association’s assistant policy director.
Arguments against moving the responsibility to the state include the potential loss of services and money, especially in smaller, rural counties, he said.
“There would be fear in the rural counties that there could be a decline in services to their counties, that they would have to travel away from their counties for those services,” Traynor said. “They’re important to the counties and communities.”
Federal social service programs have been delivered through the states, with administrative costs passed to the counties.
“Counties now have very little — some say no — say in how services are delivered,” Traynor said. “All they’re doing is paying a good share of the delivery bill, without having a say in it.”
Salaries for social services workers fall under the state’s merit pay system.
“That creates some friction in county courthouses,” Belford said.
In Pembina County, for example, the County Commission initiated a a wage freeze for county workers for 2010. Still, county social workers under the state system will get a 4 percent state pay raise, Auditor Dorothy Robinson said.
“This affects every county in the state,” she said. “I know it’s happened in the past.”
Under a new law, child care providers are subject to background checks and fingerprinting.
“That has really put a lot of pressure on the system,” Grand Forks County Social Services Director Keith Berger said. “Statewide, it’s thousands of people. The good point of that is that it’s set up to provide another level of protection for the folks out there looking for child care for their children.”
Berger foresees a regional system.
“I can envision the day in Grand Forks where there will be a car going out on Tuesday, and we’ll send two people out to Lakota. We might do their child care licensing that day, take their food stamp applications, or provide other services,” he said.
“There are some big changes coming in the future, whether that’s a state-run system, regionalization or something else,” he said.
“Some counties are just about bankrupt in this state. They just can’t do it, keeping up with all the federal regulations and requirements,” Berger said. “If we don’t do something for some of those rural counties, we’re going to have a disaster.”