There’s extra help available for Johnson County residents having trouble paying their utility bills.
Johnson County commissioners unanimously approved an additional $25,000 to assist income-eligible residents during an Oct. 4 meeting.
The commission initially budgeted $176,000 to the 2012 Utility Assistance Program, but with three months remaining in the year, the fund was running on empty, Debbie Collins, director of the county Department of Human Services, told the board.
“By the end of August, $147,000 of county funding has been spent,” she explained. “… At the current usage rate, it is estimate that the fund will be entirely depleted in mid-October.”
Through the first eight months of 2012, the program assisted 1,972 households. The program served 2,699 households in 2011. Since 2007, the program has provided more than $1 million to eligible households.
Officials estimate the extra $25,000 allocated last Thursday will help approximately 250 more households through the end of December. Additionally, local city governments have pledged $123,000 to the program in 2012.
“Nine of the 15 participating cities have already depleted their funds and four are close to zero balances,” Collins said. “No additional resources will be forthcoming from cities. Many of the non-profit and faith-based organizations are also having trouble keeping up with the increased demand for service.”
The program, working with non-profit organizations, provides $100 each year to eligible households to help pay their utility bills, including water, wastewater, electric, natural gas and propane expenses.
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.
“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.
Her department provides “a community safety net” and helping families with utility bills is an important part of public service, she explained.
“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.”
According to a report released Sept. 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.