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Our History

The creation of state legislated programs to provide services to citizens in need (the poor, indigent, mentally ill, orphans, etc.) dates back to the early 1900s. Each city or county appointed representatives to serve on the State Board of Charities and Corrections. By the 1930s each locality was required to establish a Department of Public Welfare that was responsible for providing oversight of their local community's social service needs and administration of state and federal programs. The City of Roanoke established its Department of Public Welfare on July 1, 1936. Prior to the creation of the local Department, the City was giving what resources it allocated for the needy to private social service agencies. The new Department hired a director, absorbed four caseworkers and two clerks from the Family Service Agency, and assumed responsibility for the current and furture caseload of customers eligible for services. The new Director of Public Welfare was also responsible for the City Poor House, Poor Farm, and Northeast Nursery School. The State Public Assistance Act established a formula for sharing with localities the costs for program services and administration. Much of the Department's casework dealt with emergency assistance and screening for employment services through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Old Age Assistance (OAA), Aid to the Blind (AB), and Aid to Dependent Children (ADS). During the first few months of operation, two to three hundred people came to the Roanoke City Department of Public Welfare asking for help and seeking employment.

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s additional state and federal welfare programs were established. These programs included Foster Care, State and Local hospitalization (SLH), Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled (ATPD), Food Assistance, and Title Twenty (XX) of the Social Security Act which provided services to low income families such as day care and prevention services. In 1964, President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act that began America's War on Poverty initiative. All of these programs were to provide communities with resources to take care of the aged and dependent, create economic development, and eliminate poverty. During this same time period, however, there were no programs that offered broad assistance for medical needs. In the 1950s, the City set up a clinic, hiring visiting nurses and a physician. The clinic was attached to the Department of Public Welfare and remained in operation until 1970, when Title Nineteen (XIX) of the Social Security Act established the Medicaid Program. Medicaid provided the opportunity for a larger number of needy people to be able to get medical services from private physicians. The City no longer needed to operate the clinic and the nurses, physician, and pharmacist were all transferred to the City Health Department.

The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s continued to introduce new programs for specialized populations, or the revamping of old ones. For example, the Social Security Act was amended to add the Supplemental Security Act, which transferred recipients of OAA, AB, and APTD to the Federal program and required the Social Security Office to distribute checks. The Federal Food Stamp program was created; the Child Abuse and Neglect Act was passed by Congress, appropriating funds to States to operate a Child Protective Services Program; the Refugee Act was passed, providing assistance to those fleeing persecution; the Comprehensive Services Act was passed, consolidating resources and service among several agencies serving at-risk children and families; and the State Welfare Reform initiative required all able-bodied persons to work and put time limits on allowable benefits.

The Department itself experienced several significiant organizational changes as well. In 1972, the Department was mandated to change its staffing responsibilities by establishing Eligibility Determination as a separate division from Social Services. In July 1982, the State called for names of local Departments of Public Welfare to be changed to the Departments of Social Services. Throughout the 1990s the State introduced the use of program-specific computer systems to track and report on services provided to customers. Most of these systems proved too difficult to use, incompatible with one another, resulting in program inefficiency. Finally, changes in eligibility criteria and Welfare Reform decreased some programs' caseloads, increased the paperwork demands on staff and resulted in higher numbers of hard-to-serve customers needing intensive case management services. At the close of the 1990s, local Departments of Social Services found themselves heavily influenced by national and state politics and the concept of "temporary" financial assistance--an able-bodied person must work for his/her benefits, thereby decreasing the number of people receiving services.