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DSS impact on local economy: $171 million

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
One county department is surprisingly among the county’s biggest economic engines.
Last year, it brought in $171 million, far more than many local businesses and industries.
Most of its employees have no idea of the total dollar impact of the programs and services they provide.
The Rowan County Department of Social Services brought in $171 million in 2008 for county residents, primarily through services for those with low incomes and elderly.
It’s a number that surprised Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes, who has been with the department for 30 years.
“We had looked at different parts, we had never put it all together before,” Wilkes said recently.
A budget analyst hired in January took on the task of putting all the data together.
Jane Johnson, who has worked at the state level and with other county Social Services departments, brought all the information together.
Johnson recently provided the information in PowerPoint form to the Social Services Board.
The numbers clearly astounded some members.
Jim Sides, board member and former county commissioner, said, “$170 million is more than the entire county budget.”
The county budget for the same year was $130 million.
The Social Services total is also slightly more than the Rowan-Salisbury Schools budget of $169 million.
Sides also found another amazing fact in the report ó Social Service programs served 17,026 Rowan households in June 2008 with assistance. That’s a third of all county households.
“I never dreamed the total number of households,” Sides said. “It tells us we are not as well off as we thought we were. We face some tough times.”
The assistance was a mix of Medicaid, food and Work First.
County households received $16 million in food assistance in 2008.
With the continuing layoffs, food assistance payments are expected to reach between $19 million to $25 million next year.
Another statistic that caught the board’s attention: 15 percent of the county’s population ó 20,244 people ó were authorized for Medicare as of March 2009.
Medicare payment for nursing homes, medical care and equipment made up the largest chunk of the $171 million. A total of $133 million came into the county through Medicaid.
The single biggest category of Medicaid payments was $24 million for mental health. Nursing home care totaled $22.3 million, followed by prescription drugs at $16 million, physicians at $15 million and hospital-inpatient at $13 million.
On the Medicaid eligibility side, disabled individuals received $54 million of the benefits with the elderly qualifying for $31 million.
The breakdown also shows where the money goes ó how much is spent in Rowan County and how much flows outside.
In 2008, about half the $171 million was spent in Rowan. A total of $85 million went to doctors, pharmacies, Rowan Regional Medical Center, adult home care and other services.
The single largest payout was to long-term nursing homes in the county ó $24 million.
In addition, Social Services is heavily involved in child protective services and providing adult counseling. “We cannot place a dollar figures on these services,” Wilkes said.
What was the county’s cost for administering $171 million in programs?
That’s the figure that Wilkes points to with pride.
The administrative cost was $5 million, for an efficiency rate of 2.9 percent.
The report notes the average charity spends 9.6 percent on administrative costs.
“A lot of credit needs to go to our employees. We are very efficient,” Wilkes said.
Looking toward the next few years as the county and the country work to recover from the recession, Wilkes expects the workload to increase.
The PowerPoint presentation won’t disappear.
“Every DSS employee will be required to see it, to show them there is no job here that is insignificant. We are helping families,” Wilkes said.
It will become part of the orientation for new employees.
It will also be available to the public.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.

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