JoCo on the Go Podcast: Helping resources

On JoCo on the Go, episode #121, Many people continue to struggle financially through the pandemic, find out how you can get help right here in Johnson County. There are a range of programs and services in Johnson County that address hunger, utility assistance, housing concerns and more. Also, find out about an upcoming program that will teach residents what to do when your income drops.

By calling United Way's 211 (dial 2-1-1 on your cell phone) or visiting their website, United Way 2-1-1 - Home (myresourcedirectory.com), residents can access local resources (emergency food, shelter, rental and utility assistance, tax assistance, assistance applying for benefits, financial counseling) or get help applying for Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance, get connected with Kansas Legal Services if they’re in an eviction situation, or can connect with the Johnson County Continuum of Care on Homelessness. The folks at 211 will refer you to the agency or agencies that will best be able to provide the support needed.

Helping Resources

 

Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.

Highlights

Time Subject
00:24 Introduction
01:20 What are the greatest needs in the area now?
04:49 What resources are available?
18:18 What are the steps for getting assistance?

Transcript

Theresa Freed 00:00

Many people continue to struggle financially through the pandemic On this episode, find out how you can get help right here in Johnson County and learn how you can help others in need.

Announcer 00:09

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:24

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Johnson County has a wide range of resources available to help those facing both short-term and long-term financial struggles. For some that means getting help with utilities, housing, fighting hunger, and more. Here to talk more about those needs and how they're being met are Denise Dias with the Johnson County K State Research and Extension office. We also have brandy Hodge with our aging and Human Services Department. And Christina Ashie Guidry, she's the United Community Services Director of resource allocations. Well, thank you all for being here. So first off, just to start the discussion, what are we seeing with the greatest needs right now? Is that housing, food, utility assistance or is it all of that, and we'll go ahead and start with Brandy.

Brandy Hodge 01:15

Alright, hello everyone. I would definitely say I think the two biggest needs in the community right now are rental assistance, you know, including housing as well as utility assistance, food assistance, always as a need as well. So I would definitely think all three of those are very important, huge needs in our community.

Theresa Freed 01:32

And Christina, can you talk kind of regionally? Are we seeing that same sort of thing here?

Christina Ashie Guidry 01:37

Absolutely we are, Theresa and I would say, really, we've been in a pandemic state of emergency, quote, unquote, since March of 2020. Now, of course, that doesn't mean that every Johnson County resident has been in a state of emergency continuously. But I think that what we're seeing and I'm sure Brandi can speak to this is that the cyclical nature of the COVID outbreaks, with accompanying job losses, work hours cut, schools close, then back remote, then in person, then closed again. And daycares closed has really just led to a cyclical pattern for our families who live on the edge. And that just makes it really impossible for them to get back to financial stability.

Theresa Freed 02:21

And so we hear kind of mixed messages, I guess about the economy. Right now we're hearing you know, that there are all these job openings available and people are changing jobs frequently. And but then on the other side, we're also hearing that, that people are struggling to find employment. So what is the story there? Is it does it impact different levels of the economy or society? Or how can you describe that I guess?

Christina Ashie Guidry 02:47

This is a really complicated question. Um, I can tell you, from what I see it, I'm frequently with families who live on the margin. And by that I mean, families who are within 200% of the federal poverty level living in Johnson County, that's about 15% of our residents, or families who are rent burdened, who pay rent that's greater than 30% of their income. I think that's about 39% of renters in Johnson County, and folks who are uninsured, all these folks have been hit most strongly by the pandemic, I would say, um, child care. And schooling has been a huge issue that is a limitation to employment. There's some data that's come out of local sources that shows that we've lost well over 1000 childcare slots permanently in Johnson County. And we know that many, many of our families in Johnson County, both parents, all the caregivers at home, work. And you can't work when you don't have reliable daycare. So I think that childcare loss has been a huge impediment to regaining employment in Johnson County.

Brandy Hodge 04:00

I'd like to echo exactly what Christina is saying there. We've seen a lot of people come in for services this past two years, who've never needed assistance. And a lot of that is due to childcare issues, when you know, schooling had to go virtual, we've had a lot of needs now, you know, fall on the parents in the homes. And so that then has turned into a loss of income in the homes if the mother or father have to stay home with the children. So we're seeing a lot of new residents needing assistance that we haven't seen before. So you know, and another thing that we see with the clients that we serve is a lot of them, you know, have low pay wage jobs. So, you know, they may be working one or two jobs. But again, that's not meeting the needs, if their housing costs so much. So it's just trying to stay alive and trying to meet, you know, and pay for their utilities, pay for their housing and pay for food. All of that is just a lot to bear, especially during a pandemic.

Theresa Freed 04:59

All right. So I guess the big question is what resources are available here in Johnson County to help people. And, Denise, we might start with you, because people might not typically think of the K State Research and Extension offices as an outlet. But if you want to talk a little bit about some of the services provided there?

Denise Dias 05:14

There's lots of, you know, people that I see on a regular basis, maybe some of them have had job loss or are food insecure, whatever, but even our middle class families are struggling, just because of the higher increase in prices of food, of gas, you know, so on and so forth. So, yes, our low income, families are definitely struggling, and my heart goes out for them. But I think we all are, in one way, shape or form. One program that we have is called When Your Income Drops. And it's a fabulous series of publications that talks about what do you do when your income isn't, you know, what it once was, whether it's through job loss, or, you know, other reasons, but I would even go as far to say that this series could help any one of us, especially now that inflation, you know, has taken hold. And, you know, we need to cut corners where we can, and it's just a great series to kind of help people to educate themselves, and give them some ideas of ways that they can actually, you know, take and assess what they've got coming in, and make the most of that, but then also look for other community resources that can help them to sustain them and get them through this tough time. So that is one thing that we offer. Also, coming the first of February, we open a VITA income site, that's for income tax services and preparation, we have volunteers that come and man that site. So for families that are struggling, they can get free tax help, as long as their income is under 55,000 a year, which a lot of families will qualify for. And they can get their taxes prepared and filed. And, you know, that may help them to, you know, keep going for another month or, or what have you. So there are some other resources that we have, whether it's help with Medicare, or what have you, but just those basic needs of budgeting and managing their financial resources are some things we offer.

Theresa Freed 07:38

That's great. And I know there's an upcoming class on January 12, and you're actually leading that class. So can you pass along some of the tips that, that you can can give people if they are struggling right now,

Denise Dias 07:50

The program really helps people to focus on, you know, what they've got, you know, how do you make ends meet? How do you, you know, not deal with that stress, or what are ways you can combat that financial stress. And then also looking at taking control of your situation, I think that's huge. When you're talking income loss, and then looking for what great community resources that we have available. And then, you know, getting connected to those resources and using those, because even though it's not like hard, cold cash in your hand, it definitely is financial support and help. So all those topics are covered. And you know how to sharpen your financial skills is another one. So a lot of great information for people to kind of just bone up and you know, kind of tighten their belt, whatever you want to say and, and kind of weather this difficult time.

Theresa Freed 08:53

And it does feel like it's lasting kind of forever. So I know it's, you know, that's a prolonged stress that people are facing through the pandemic, especially if they're, you know, struggling with just making ends meet and paying their bills. So maybe to talk a little bit more about that Brandy, do you want to discuss some of the services offered through the Aging and Human Services Department here?

Brandy Hodge 09:15

Sure. Aging and Human Services, our outreach program provides a different types of assistance for low income individuals. One of the great things about our program is that not only do we see people up to 200% of poverty level, where a lot of programs are 150% of poverty, we see kind of that gap that may fall through and not qualify for programs. We also look at the past 30 days of income. So for that past 30 days of income, if someone has had a job loss or reduction of hours or something that's occurred, then you know, someone who may traditionally not qualify for our type of services could now qualify and again, that's how we've seen a lot of first time people using our services. Our biggest program is the utility assistance program. That's about a half million dollar fund, where we partner with 14 different cities, several utility companies, the local nonprofits, and also faith based organizations where we can provide financial assistance, either on past due utility bills, or for those who need assistance with payment plans. One of the common myths about utility assistance is that you have to be disconnected in order to receive assistance. And that's not true, we don't want people to wait till they're disconnected. Or until they get a disconnect notice, if they know that they're not going to be able to meet their payment or their payments past due, contacting us ahead of time is going to help where we can have a little bit more time to figure out what resources we have available. And if we need to partner with some of those other agencies to help with additional funding, additional programs, we have our Rental Assistance Program. It is limited, it's definitely not as large as the utility assistance program, but we are growing it. We have now partnered with five different cities in Johnson County, that give us additional rental assistance funding, that is Merriam, Overland Park, Roeland Park, Prairie Village and Shawnee. And so those cities, in addition to given us utility assistance, also provides some rental assistance funding, again, for the rental assistance, that one's not going to pay the huge, you know, rent us a lot of money, it's not going to pay the whole $1,000 you owe on rent and may pay 500 of it. So people are going to have to, you know, find additional resources for rental assistance. That one's just again, why rental assistance and mortgage assistance and all those are such a huge barrier is because there's there's such a large amount of money. Other programs we have we partner with the Kansas City Medicine Cabinet, so we can help people with medication assistance, whether they need eyeglasses, if they have a dental emergency, and they need, you know, some kind of emergency dental care if they need diabetic testing supplies, durable medical equipment, hearing aids, all of those, again, if they receive assistance from us that may free up money where they can use it again towards rent or towards transportation. And then three of our centers have food pantries, where once you're qualified, you can visit every 30 days. We also provide lists of all the local food pantries in area. And you can go to multiple food pantries. So if you go to ours, you can still go to another food pantry as well. So we provide a list of resources as well as the services we provide. And the brand new website, which I'm sure Theresa will talk about, also has a lot of great resources on it and can connect you to other agencies in the area such as Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services, El Centro, Salvation Army and others that provide, you know, similar work as us and again, that our partner agencies that working together, we can definitely provide more services to the community.

Theresa Freed 12:52

And I imagine that can feel a little bit daunting, because there are lots of resources out there, but just you know, you've got your focus on your immediate needs, how do I get, you know, in contact with those resources and get things as quickly as I need to? So I'm sure you guys walk people through that process and help them with that. And Christina, can you talk to you about some of the state and federal resources that are available and then also, a little bit about the Human Services Fund, which Johnson County government supports?

Christina Ashie Guidry 13:21

Yeah, we are in such a fortunate situation, Theresa, not only do we have the Johnson County Aging and Human Services Program, United Community Services, I'm really proud to say, helps to collaborate and convene many different agencies around human service needs. And one way that we do this is through the Human Service Fund. And the Human Service Fund is a pooled fund of voluntary dollars contributed by 14 cities in Johnson County. And through that funding, we're able to leverage literally 10s of millions of dollars of impact for Johnson County residents. And for example, in 2020, the last year where we have completed data, over 37,000 residents in Johnson County were served through over 180,000 units of service and as Brandi mentioned, this includes things like safe shelter at night through Salvation Army or Hillcrest Ministries or Safe Home, or Johnson County Interfaith Hospitality Network. This includes financial management and counseling, or VITA tax return services through El Centro, where they can also assist you in Spanish. This includes food pantries, and hosts in behavioral and mental health care with free or sliding scale fees through Health Partnership Clinic or Kids TLC. I'm really there are a ton of resources available. We even have childcare support through Growing Futures and Salvation Army to help folks who need to get back into the workforce. In addition to the Human Service Fund, we have the Johnson County Continuum of Care on Homelessness, which United Community Services also directs. And through that program, all of the agencies that support works on homelessness in Johnson County come together and have a collaborative plan for addressing homelessness, which is just amazing. When you look beyond us to the regional, state, and federal level, there are huge opportunities available right now. We have the Kansas emergency rental assistance program. For individuals who are having difficulty paying their rent, this program, Theresa will pay up to 15 months of your rent and utilities. That's not a mistake, one five,15 months. To qualify, you have to be at 80% of area median income. And you can check that on our website and you have to be able to self-attest or say that you have had some kind of COVID impact on your finances, you don't have to provide documentation of it, you just have to be able to say yes, you know, like my childcare was limited, or I had to stay home and take care of a family member or I missed work hours. So, you have to have some kind of COVID impact. You fill out the application. And we actually have local agencies who will help you do that. And then it does, I will warn you take several weeks for applications to be processed. So be patient once you apply. But there between the Kansas emergency rental assistance round one funding, and round two funding, which should be released fairly soon and will not require a COVID impact, there will be well over $200 million available. And we are nowhere near spending all that money at this point. I think as of December, about $18 million had been distributed to Johnson County residents directly, which is awesome, but there's so much money left to go. So folks really need to apply. Um, and I don't know if I can. So the easiest way to get to that point is to call United Way's 211. You can push 211 on your cell phone or you can go to their website and say I need rental assistance. Can you connect me to someone who will help me with KERA, the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance Program. And they will direct you to a local agency Catholic Charities or Jewish Family Services or SABE, who will help you complete that application and take you through the process. At the same time, those same agencies if you are experiencing homelessness, or if you're near eviction, there's free representation for eviction services through Kansas Legal Services with those folks will connect you with KLS. And they'll even connect you with additional resources including the Johnson County Aging and Human Services Program. And other basic needs you might have for financial counseling or food or other rental or utility assistance. So don't miss out on your opportunity apply for KERA 15 months of rent and utility assistance.

Theresa Freed 18:18

That was a lot of great information. That was terrific. I think, you know, it's it's overwhelming, I'm sure when you are in the face of a crisis. And you don't know where to turn. But it is so reassuring, I think for people to know that these resources are available right here in Johnson County. And there are lots of people very willing and able to help them, walk them through all of those steps that are needed in order to get approval for the various kinds of resources. And so just to wrap things up a little bit. So you mentioned United Way is a good first step. Can you talk about other things that people might need to do? Or if there's paperwork they need to start gathering, you know, proof of income, things like that. What are what are those steps?

Christina Ashie Guidry 19:04

Yeah, really, the best first step is to call United Way 211 and they will help you identify the multiple different services that you might be eligible for. And if you're potentially eligible for KERA they'll connect you with someone who will help you for KERA, you do need proof of your identity, you'll need a copy of your lease and you'll need some kind of proof of income. So there is some paperwork you have to pull together you'll also have to reach out to your landlord or the Kansas Housing Resource Corporation will help you do that. So that your landlord can attest to the fact that you live where you say you live in that you owe the money you say you owe. And this is not as daunting as it seems. I would the KHRC has been distributing this money for about nine months now. So they have the process pretty well established getting landlords on board and getting the data together and approval done. But it does take, you know, six weeks or longer. So folks should not wait. Go ahead, get your application in. And then when you work with a local agency partner, we can call on your behalf and check on the status of your application regularly so that you know what's going on.

Theresa Freed 20:22

Right. That's great news. And, Denise, we talked a little bit about the tax assistance that's available. So people who are expecting a refund, they might be very eager to get that done. But if they are potentially owing money, that might be a little bit scary. So are there any tax breaks or anything that are, you know, related to the pandemic that that people can anticipate for for 2022?

Denise Dias 20:43

Yeah, like, you know, people that are missing any of the stimulus payments that were that came out, or the childcare credit that some families have been able to take advantage of, if they haven't gotten those payments, or those credits, tax time is the perfect time to be sure and file your taxes and claim those things. So, you know, I would tell people don't be scared, our volunteers are fabulous. And they will kind of help walk you through all that. So it's, it's not scary any longer just because they're just really good. And, you know, they, they kind of know what to do and how to, to help guide you through that process. So yeah, tax time is the perfect time to, to be sure that you're getting every tax credit that is owed or do to you. And also just to kind of help, you know, families that are struggling, you know, get that extra money to kind of get them over the hump if need be.

Theresa Freed 21:45

That's great. All right, and Brandy, just to wrap up with Aging and Human Services, you know, we talked about the resources that are available and how to access those, you can go to jocogov.org, and we've got some great information there on what's available and how to access, you know, for I'm thinking of people who may be facing very immediate needs, what should they do when they come to Aging and Human Services. So how do they get up, get in touch with you to get those

Brandy Hodge 22:12

Theresa you phrased that perfect. If they have immediate needs, then they definitely need to contact us. KERA is if it can wait a little bit longer. So that's why sometimes we're kind of bridging that gap. If someone's needing assistance, you know, and they need assistance. You know, we can't do it same day. But we can do it typically within the same week. We do have on our website what they do need to bring, but it's similar to KERA, they do need proof of identity. Everyone who is 18 and older has to have photo IDs, we collect social security guards for everyone in the household, proof of income for the past 30 days. And then the utility bill if they're getting utility assistance has to be in their name. So those are the requirements basic requirements for utility assistance. There are a couple more programs that we do include on our website that are hosted through the state. And right now, there's LEAP, which is the Low income Energy Assistance Program. And that's for energy assistance. So that's heat and gas. And then there's also a new program that just launched in December. And I don't know if I'm pronouncing it right, but I just call it E-WAP. So it's E dash WAP. So Emergency Water Assistance Program. And that's for water and wastewater assistance. And both of those programs are run through the Kansas Department for Children and Families. And our staff know about those programs as well. And so if anyone was to need services, we just have them call our telephone number, which is 715-6653. And even if they need KERA assistance, we have those resources where we can connect them to that as well. So we're not processing the care applications or doing LEAP or E-WAP applications. But we do know how to connect them to the right people.

Theresa Freed 24:00

Alright that's perfect. Anybody have anything else they want to add? Before we close out?

Brandy Hodge 24:05

Just have one more thing if anyone's looking to donate, we still have our Amazon wishlist out. And we can provide that in the link to the podcast in the comments. If you want. We can provide that link. But we're always we hosted this during the pandemic and it was the best way for us to get and generate a lot of donations. And so currently, we're our food pantries also collect hygiene products and hygiene is are the items that are really most needed right now. So collecting items people can't buy with food stamps, or the EBT cards, toilet paper, soap, body wash, shampoo, deodorant, razors, all those good things. They can purchase it on Amazon, it gets shipped to us directly and we get it to the people who need it. So that's just one easy way you can help if you're interested.

Theresa Freed 24:52

That's perfect. All right. Yeah, well, we'll definitely have links in our show notes to how our listeners can help because I know there are many generous people here in Johnson County he would love to be able to, to help others in need. So thank you all for being here today. We appreciate all the great information and hopefully it is helpful to somebody who might be struggling and hopefully the pandemic will be over soon so we can all get back to normal financially and otherwise. Alright and thank you for listening.

Announcer 25:18

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.

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K-State Research and Extension
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