Public assistance demand increases in Kern County

Public assistance demand  increases in Kern County »Play Video
Cheri Dalton
Cheri Dalton came to Bakersfield from Wisconsin in search of a better life. With a master's degree in child psychology, Dalton was certain she could land a job.

Nine weeks later, she's still searching.

"This is ridiculous," said Dalton, a widow with a 3-year-old son who had to turn to public assistance. "I never thought it would come down to this. Here I'm thinking I have a degree, and a degree can take me anywhere out here."

Dalton has plenty of company. In the last year alone, thousands of Kern County residents have applied for and received some sort of public assistance.

Figures from the Kern County Human Services Department reveal 27 percent of Kern County's population is on some sort of public assistance.

From February 2007 to February 2008, CalWORKs has jumped by 10.1 percent and Medi-Cal by 8.6 percent. The biggest increase was in the food stamp program, where a one-year increase was 12.8 percent with a two-year jump of 45.8 percent. General Assistance has increased by 8.5 percent.

"Many of who we know as our working poor who have been on the threshold of making ends meet (and) can no longer do that," Human Services Director Pat Cheadle said.

Cheadle said 34 percent of families on aid are working but don't make enough money so they qualify for assistance.

Just when Human Services is tightening its belt, more people are asking for help. The state reduced funding for programs to help the poor, and Cheadle said more cuts remain a possibility.

"We've been told that things will get worse before they get better," said Cheadle.