The numbers that follow will get your attention… both because of their size and because they are an increase from than those reported a year ago.

    The amount of money spent on social services in Polk County during 2016 (that is the last year for which the information is available) totaled $102,449,230. This was up more than 6 percent from the 2015 total of $96,269,703.

    If you brushed over those numbers, they are in the millions.

    Of that $102 million total, the federal government provided almost half at $49,244,3498 and the State of Minnesota contributed $46,907,236.

    Polk County property taxpayers contributed $5,208,549 (or just over 5 percent) through their property taxes. The remaining $1,089,047 came from miscellaneous sources and revenues.  

    For a county of 31,500 or so residents, the $102,449,230 amounts to more than $3,250 per person.

    The federal and state contributions basically pay for programs that they have created and mandated through legislation. Polk County’s role centers on the distribution of that money to those determined eligible to receive it.

    Of the $102,449,230 total spent on social services in the county, $61,839,978 (60 percent) was spent for “Medical Assistance” (M.A.) and $31,479,654 (31 percent) went for “Social Service” programs. The remaining $9,129,599 (9 percent) was spent on “Support Services.”

    These three areas of assistance cover:

    M.A. includes care in nursing homes or immediate care facilities, health and dental care, child and teen check-up programs, and programs that assist clients in staying in their homes rather than in expensive medical facilities.

    Social Service programs are those that address the wellbeing of children (adoption, protection, life skills training, and child welfare), childcare, chemical dependency, mental health, developmental disabilities, and adult services.

    Support Services provide supplemental aid for the aged, blind or disabled. They also assist families in working out of poverty and fund cash assistance programs, employment training, child support enforcement collections, and group residential housing for persons who would normally be cared for in nursing homes.

    While social service spending is often questioned, there are a lot of people who have needs and we need to accept the fact that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

    When the County Board decided 21 years ago in 1997 that something had to be done about the cost of “out of home placements,” it came after the cost had ballooned to $2.4 million. And that number came with the warning that this was just the beginning.

    Background: Troubled and/or abused juveniles are sent to “out of home placement” facilities because of their behavior or when their homes are determined to be unsafe and/or lacking appropriate parenting. The cost of out of these placements can be more than $300 a day… almost all of which is paid by local property taxes.

    In addressing the problem, the County Board directed the heads of the local agencies that have a role in determining out of home placements that something had to be done. That group developed a plan to hire (at county expense) five family-based service providers (FBSPs). These were not trained social workers but just good, caring people who could to work directly with kids and their parents to address the problems.

    While risky and expensive, the strategy worked. The $2.4 million cost in 1997 was more than cut in half in just four years. And, while it regularly stayed in the $1 million range for most of the years since then, the effects of inflation and changes in how people live caused it to increase to $1,390,997 two years ago, to $1,384,851 in 2016 and to $1,449,240 last year.

    The cost has gone up but it has still been a very good program. Imagine where that cost would be without the work of these family-based service providers.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners