RALEIGH, N.C. — New numbers indicate the number of people applying for government assistance in Wake County increased dramatically toward the end of 2008 compared with a year earlier.
For example, according to the Wake County Department of Health and Human Services, 2,244 people applied for food stamps in December – a 42 percent increase over the same time in 2007.
The number of applicants who applied for the county's emergency electricity program also spiked nearly 20 percent.
"The number of people who are seeking employment assistance has also increased significantly," said Bill Stanford, Wake County Human Services Board chairman.
The new data come at a time when county commissioners have already asked each county department to cut its budget by 4 percent to help make up for a $17 million budget shortfall.
They are also asking departments to devise spending plans that cut expenses by 10 percent for the 2010 budget year that begins July 1.
Commissioners say cuts are necessary to avoid raising taxes.
"We are going to have to make some tough choices that hopefully won't affect our senior citizens and those with disabilities," Wake County Commissioner Lindy Brown said.
Nothing is final, however, and it could be the end of the month before leaders begin deciding where to cut expenses.
Wake County Health and Human Services is one of three county agencies that could be affected the most. It provides services such as food assistance, housing assistance, energy assistance and job training to people with low incomes.
Other areas in the county budget that could also be heavily affected are the sheriff's office, which could be asked to cut training, and the school system, which was asked last month to reduce its spending plan by $5.7 million.