As an increasing number of families find themselves needing financial help, the Mathews County Social Services Department has had to rely more and more on local foundations and individuals to help pay for services.
While Gloucester’s Department of Social Services does not rely as much on private assistance as Mathews does, that agency also receives its share of generous donations from local clubs, organizations and churches.
During the 2011 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 1,413 Mathews adults and children—15.7 percent of the county’s 8,978 residents— participated in the Food Stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). This was a 62 percent increase over the average number during the mid-2000s of around 870 recipients. A sudden 15 percent increase in 2008 heralded larger subsequent increases of 22 percent in each of the following two years, while the 1,413 recipients in 2011 represented a 10 percent increase for that fiscal year.
Mathews Social Services Director Jo Ann Wilson-Harfst said there’s always been a need in Mathews for extra resources beyond the government funding the agency receives for its clients, but the need is greater now because of unemployment and underemployment. The unemployment rate in Mathews more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, from 2.5 percent to 6 percent, while the poverty rate increased from 8.1 percent in 2007 to 10.2 percent in 2010 (poverty figures weren’t yet available for 2011).
“Financial problems are affecting more people,” said Wilson-Harfst. “And it’s a population not accustomed to asking for help.”