Public Assistance on the Rise

September 19, 2012 Updated Sep 19, 2012 at 6:41 PM EDT

By Rachel Elzufon

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September 19, 2012 Updated Sep 19, 2012 at 6:41 PM EDT


Buffalo, NY -- Even as unemployment goes down in Erie County, there's been 49-percent increase in people needing food stamps since 2009.

Since the recession hit, the number of requests for public assistance in Erie County keeps going up.

Requests for both food stamps and Medicaid have gone up about a thousand since last year.

So far in 2012, there have been 28,237 applications for Medicaid assistance. This time last year, there had been 27,209 requests.

There have also been 27,097 food stamp requests this year -- an increase from the 25,884 requests from January to August of 2011.

There have also been 2,801 requests for homeless assistance this year -- up from 2,221 requests this time in 2011.

Carol Dankert, the Erie County Social Services Commissioner, explains "many people have just exhausted all of their informal supports. They are hopping from friend to friend, relative to relative and there's nothing left for them."

These numbers are coming out just days after a video was posted online, in which Governor Mitt Romney was videotaped talking about supporters of President Obama at a fundraiser. In the video, Romney says "There are 47-percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them."

Romney was talking about the people who do not file federal income taxes. However, Dankert says it is not that simple.

She explains "We also have a large population that's in the labor market, but they're under employed. So even though they're out there working, they still need support in terms of food stamps and perhaps medicaid."

Dankert adds this number also "It includes a lot of our elderly and people who are out there aggressively to find employment."

In Erie County there are strict standards for those filing for unemployment. Dankert says "They really have to work off the equivalent of a grant. So they're out there at work sites, performing a task or a job."

Mitt Romney's spent the last few days defending his statement. He says those comments referred to his campaign strategy, not about his view of the American people. He explains "I believe the right course for America is one where the government steps in to help those in need -- we're a compassionate people. Then we let people build they're own lives. We believe in free people, free enterprise, not redistribution."

Erie County officials are looking into the local numbers to try to find trends. They hope the numbers will decrease in the near future.