No increase yet in claims for welfare

Kathy Wilson is a busy woman.

The Hudson human services specialist wears many hats during a normal day, but increasingly she’s answering phone calls and meeting with people seeking some sort of assistance from the town’s welfare department.

“I can tell you the phone is ringing off the wall,” Wilson said. “A lot of people are getting laid off. I’m seeing it this month.”

While there hasn’t been a big jump in applications in Nashua, Bob Mack, the city’s welfare officer, said things seem to be picking up.

“We seem busier,” he said. “It seems more intense than in times past.”

So far, though, the numbers don’t reflect Wilson’s recent activity or what one might expect in terms of welfare applications in the midst of a less-than-robust economy.

Nashua has spent $515,044 of its $1.7 million budget this year. Most of that amount, $412,502, has gone to people who need help with rent or for shelter payments, according to information provided by the city’s Welfare Department.Last year, the city spent $995,254, and of that amount, $762,835 was spent on rent and shelter payments.

Nashua is on pace to spend about 80 percent of its budget, including about 85 percent of its rental/shelter budget. Last year, it spent just 72 percent of its total budget, including 72 percent of its rental/shelter budget.

“Could these patterns change based on current economic conditions? Yes, they could. Depending on how things pan out . . . that could impact us further down the line,” Mack said. “We’ll wait and see how this is going to affect us in future months.”

Hudson’s numbers are similar, although on a smaller scale. So far this fiscal year, which runs July 1 to June 30, Wilson has doled out $59,262 compared to $127,592 all last year.

Those numbers don’t include pending applications or the number of people who have applied and didn’t qualify for assistance but were referred to other agencies.

“These are just the people that I’ve helped,” Wilson said. “This month, it’s picking up.”

Most clients at the Merrimack welfare office are disabled and need temporary help, according to Welfare Administrator Patricia Murphy, but she’s also seeing an increase of “unusual” clients, those who have been affected by the economy and financial crisis.

Of those clients, the most common are people who have lost their homes to foreclosures and contractors who aren’t building or doing renovation projects.

“There’s definitely been an increase in the amount of people who are experiencing foreclosures here,” Murphy said.

The tumbling cost of heating oil has been a big help to welfare budgets in the region. Increased costs last winter lead to more people needing heating assistance, Murphy said.

“I think the applications are a little less because of the less heating emergencies,” she said.

The biggest impact in Nashua as oil prices fluctuate isn’t the number of applications, Mack said, but what it costs the city to give assistance. Last winter, each application cost twice what it usually did, he said.