Benefit Programs Specialist Appreciation Month Recognized in Highland County


Earlier in this month’s Highland County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting on February 6, 2018, a resolution was adopted in recognition of February 2018 as Benefit Programs Specialist Appreciation Month.  Sarah Rexrode, Director of the Highland County Department of Social Services, spoke with AMR about what this means locally.  She says, “Overall, in this state, there are just over 3,000 Benefit Program Specialists who work in public Departments of Social Services, and they administer the financial assistance to needy families.  We are proud here in Highland to have two, Summer Cohen and Malorie Brower.  Summer has been with us for about twelve years, and Malorie has been with us for about three years, so we’re lucky to have both of them.”

These specialists enjoy hearing “thank you,” but as a few other ways to show appreciation, they had a lunch in their honor, and they are allowed to wear jeans for the month.  Even though the Highland County Department of Social Services is the smallest in the state, the programs they administer have a major impact on the community.

Ms. Rexrode continues, “In the last fiscal year, 13% of Highland’s population were living below the poverty level, so we can see that these programs are very important and the work that our Benefit Program Specialists do is very important to a lot of members of the community here.  Namely, we administer the SNAP Program, which is formerly known as Food Stamps.  SNAP stand for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and it adds an addition to food budgets of low-income households to assure that needy persons get nutritionally adequate meals.  Last year, we were able to serve 215 unduplicated clients here in the county through that program and administered over $120,000 in SNAP benefits.

“We also administer the TANF Program, which is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  It’s a time-limited financial assistance program for eligible families who have children, and we served eight unduplicated clients through that program last year, and that program is designed to provide diversionary payments to prevent long-term dependence on public welfare, so it’s actually a program that’s designed to help people get back to work so that they don’t have to have a lifetime dependence on public welfare.

“We also administer the Medical Assistance Program, which is probably the biggest program.  We have the most cases in that program, and that is a financial assistance program through direct payments to healthcare service providers for low-income individuals and families who are unable to pay for needed medical services.  Last year, we served 325 unduplicated individuals through that program and administered almost two million dollars in Medicaid benefits to folks here in the county.

“We also administer the Auxiliary Grant Program , which offers financial assistance with the costs of room and board for eligible elderly, blind or disabled individuals who reside in assisted living facilities, and then we also have the Energy Assistance Program, which includes the cooling, fuel, and crisis component, which is short-term financial assistance with heating, cooling costs to help eligible low-income individuals, and those are seasonal programs, so those are not offered year round like the other programs that we have.”

For folks interested in applying, Ms. Rexrode has more details.  She says, “They can always call the office at 540-468-2199 and ask to speak with either Malorie or Summer.  There’s also an online avenue to go and apply for benefit programs through the CommonHelp website, which is , and that’s a way that they can apply, and they don’t even have to come in to the office if they don’t want to.  Of course, we can always send them an application, or they’re welcome to come in and get assistance filling out an application.”

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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