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Johnson County’s Utility Assistance Program received an additional $25,000 on Thursday, October 4, to help income-eligible residents in paying their utility bills through the end of 2012.
The additional funding was unanimously approved by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners.
Debbie Collins, director of the county’s Department of Human Services, advised the Board that county funding for the 2012 Utility Assistance Program with a budget allocation of $176,000 was running on near empty with three months remaining in the year. The department is located at 11811 South Sunset Drive, Olathe.
“By the end of August, $147,000 of county funding has been spent, leaving an available balance in the county’s Utility Assistance Fund of just over $29,000,” Collins said. “At the current usage rate, it is estimated that the fund will be entirely depleted in mid-October.”
From January 1 to August 30, the program had provided utility assistance funds to 1,972 households from all utility assistance sources (including allocations from cities, utilities, and other social service agencies). The program served 2,699 households from all sources in 2011.
The Utility Assistance Program has provided slightly more than $1 million to eligible households to help pay their utility bills since 2007. The program spent $883,838 from 2007 to 2011 and allocated $146,959 through August 30, 2012.
Prior to Thursday’s funding allocation, the county had set aside $176,000 for the 2012 Utility Assistance Program. The additional $25,000 will serve approximately 250 eligible households through the end of December.
Another $123,300 for the program was pledged in 2012 by local city governments.
“Nine of the 15 participating cities have already depleted their funds and four are close to zero balances. No additional resources will be forthcoming from cities,” Collins said. “Many of the nonprofit and faith-based organizations are also having trouble keeping up with the increased demand for this service.”
The Utility Assistance Program, which provides a $100 allocation each year for eligible households to help pay for their utility bills, is administered by the Human Services Department. The program matches county and city dollars to provide financial help with water, wastewater, electric, natural gas, and propane expenses along with working in partnership with nonprofit organizations, churches, and other utility-assistance providers.
City funds are used to assist residents and families living in their respective cities. County funds help residents and families in Johnson County who qualify for utility assistance.
According to Collins, her department provides “a community safety net” and helping families with utility bills is an important part of public service.
“Without this assistance, families would live in conditions that jeopardize their health and safety – unbearable heat or cold, unsanitary conditions from lack of water, absence of refrigeration, no electricity for cooking,” she said. “Many of these households include children, elders, and people with disabilities.”
The county program works closely with the cities; utility companies, including Johnson County Wastewater, Atmos, Water District 6, and WaterOne; and many non-profit and faith-based organizations to provide utility assistance and other types of emergency assistance to struggling households.
“All resources within the community are stretched thin because of the continuing economic slump and the growing number of Johnson County residents who live in poverty,” Collins said.
According to a report released September 24 by United Community Services of Johnson County, there were an estimated 36,100 people, or approximately 6.6 percent of the county’s population, living in poverty in 2011. The number was 23,200 in 2008.
Eligibility for county’s utility assistance is based on 200 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines. For an example, a household of four could not exceed an annual income of $46,100 in order to qualify. The income of a household with one individual could not exceed $22,340.
More information about the Johnson County Utility Assistance Program is available by calling the Human Services Department at (913) 715-6653.