While the Great Recession is technically over, many Johnson County families are still struggling to make ends meet.
More people than ever are using the county’s Utility Assistance Program, which helps income-eligible residents pay their water, wastewater, electric, natural gas and propane bills.
In fact, the program recently received an additional $25,000 from the county, after running on near-empty funds this fall.
The move was unanimously approved by the Johnson County Commission.
The county’s Department of Human Services, which runs the program, estimates the allocated $25,000 granted will help an additional 250 families until December.
“There has been a steady increase in participants since the recession,” said Anna Rizzi, the manager for the multi-service center in Johnson County. “We’re facing the ‘new poor’— people who are not used to asking for help. This is a different time for Johnson County.”
The program usually receives around $175,000 from the county every year, and Rizzi anticipates the amount will be the same next year.
Fifteen cities in the county participate in the program and also contribute money, based on what they can afford per year.
This year, local city governments pledged $123,300 for the program. Those funds have already been depleted.
The program has already helped more than 2,000 households this year so far. Last year, the program served 2,699 households.
Overall, the Utility Assistance Program has provided more than $1 million to eligible households since 2007.
“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,” said Debbie Collins, director of the Department of Human Services. “Many of these households include children, elders and people with disabilities.”
The county’s Utility Assistance Program isn’t the only organization facing diminishing funds. Many nonprofit and faith-based organizations are also having trouble keeping up with the demands for service, Collins said.
According to a report released in September by the United Community Services of Johnson County, there were 36,100 people, or 6.6 percent of the population, living in poverty in 2011. That number was 23,200 in 2008.
“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.