When it comes to hard-luck stories, township trustees have heard them all:
Single mothers who can’t afford to feed their children;
Senior citizens who are about to have their gas or electricity shut off because they can’t afford to pay the bills;
Families facing eviction from their home because they can’t pay the rent.
The situations are heartbreaking, but some trustees are hearing fewer of those kinds of stories.
At least four area township trustees say they think the job market is improving because fewer people asked for financial assistance last year.
St. Joseph Township received 1,519 applications in 2013, down 432 from the 1,951 the office received in 2009. In Aboite Township, requests also dipped last year – enough that the trustee slashed a significant portion of the assistance budget. And at one very small Allen County township, which normally has only a few assistance requests a year, not a single person asked for help last year.
Some Allen County township trustees are hopeful that fewer requests for assistance is an indication that the economy may be on the upswing, but Wayne Township Trustee Richard A. Stevenson Sr. remains wary.
While he thinks the economy is improving and more people have found jobs, there are other multiple factors that affect the number of people asking for assistance, he said.
On the horizon is a demographic – one of the largest – that is beginning to show up in his offices asking for help – baby boomers.
That segment of the population includes those who were born during the baby boom that occurred after World War II between the years 1946 and 1964, and by some estimates, totals about 78 million people.
As the baby boomers get older, we are seeing a larger number asking for assistance, particularly for health care and burials, Stephenson said.
The township has seen a spike in baby boomers asking for assistance in the past two years, and Stephenson expects those numbers to escalate.
The township budgeted just over $3 million for assistance this year – $2.7 million for direct services and about $386,000 for administrative services, Stephenson said.
The goal is to continue to try to work with people to help them gain financial independence, he said.
We find jobs for about 200 people a year on average, he said, and even as the economy picks up, we continue to find people jobs.
Fewer needing help
In St. Joseph Township in Allen County, requests for help last year were the lowest since 2009.
We see the numbers declining every day, Trustee Richard Uhrick said. I think it’s a sign that the job market is improving.
Uhrick designated $707,931 of this year’s $1.8 million township budget to poor relief.
It’s very difficult to budget – we never know what we’ll get hit with as far as the economy, he said.
Five years ago, Uhrick’s office interviewed 1,951 applicants who were asking for assistance. That number has steadily declined every year except one with a low of 1,519 last year.
Uhrick’s township assistance supervisor, Linda Fuller, has noticed the decrease.
I do know that more people have moved up the waiting list and received subsidized housing recently, Fuller said.
Not all requests for assistance are granted.
There are a number of reasons someone may be denied, but many times they simply do not meet the guidelines, Fuller said.
Applicants must be at 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which means a family of four cannot have a gross income that exceeds $1,988 a month.
Some sad stories
For the last five years in St. Joseph Township, requests for assistance have been lowest during February and March, a common trend observed by most township trustees.
That’s when people get their tax return checks, Fuller said, and we expect them to be accountable for how those checks are spent.
Another problem that Fuller has noticed in the wake of a poor job market is that a large number of people who lost their jobs pursued higher education through student loans.
Fuller’s office has seen quite a few who took out large loans – more than was needed – and have used the money for living expenses or other items not related to school, she said.
Fuller has been working in the township assistance office for 17 years, and there are certain cases that still tug at her heart.
The cases involving domestic violence and the burials are the hardest, she said. To a family whose loved one has just died and who has no money for a funeral or burial, some of the questions can seem very intrusive, especially in their time of mourning.
In his township of about 30,000 people, Uhrick’s office offered housing or rental assistance to 848 people in 205 households last year. While housing assistance cost the township $118,114, the office also helped people procure another $61,641 by partnering with community agencies.
The office helped pay electric, gas and water bills for 2,369 recipients, with the bulk of those expenses – $70,023 – from the trustee’s budget and the rest through partnerships such as CANI’s energy assistance program.
Even though requests are down in Aboite Township, which contains many of the most affluent neighborhoods in Allen County, Aboite Township Trustee Barbara Krisher is a little nervous after cutting $70,000 from this year’s assistance funds, leaving $100,000 in the budget.
We only spent about $100,000 last year because requests had dropped slightly, so I decided to cut it this year, she said.
Eleven years ago, in 2003, Krisher budgeted an all-time high – at that time – of $36,000.
Krisher’s office helped 122 households last year, down from 136 in 2010, she said. More than half of the requests she gets are for rental housing and more than 95 percent of that housing is apartments, she said.
The biggest problem is there is no public transportation in her township, said Krishner, who has been in office for 23 years.
People need a car to get or keep a job, and out of desperation, many buy vehicles they cannot afford at buy-here, pay-here auto outlets, she said.
Those places don’t sell cheap cars – most are in the $25,000 to $30,000 range and many people get stuck with huge car payments, she said. It’s a Catch-22 – if there’s no car, there’s no job; if there’s no job, there’s no rent money. It’s a difficult situation.
There are many places city buses do not go and this township is one of them, she said.
Many times, especially in the winter, Krisher is troubled when she sees people walking to department or grocery stores on Illinois Road.
I shudder because there is so much traffic and it’s a matter of time until someone gets hit, she said.
There are no homeless shelters in Aboite Township and only one motel that will accept township vouchers.
Krisher, who has a master’s degree in education, tries to counsel applicants on the art of planning.
I ask them, What is your plan for next week, for next year? When and where are you going back to school?’ My goal is to get them to plan for the future, she said.
Behind almost every story of someone who finds themselves in dire straits are some poor choices made five or 10 years ago, she said.
In tiny Scipio Township in the far northeast corner of Allen County, requests are down, said Trustee Marty Dager. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 414 people live in Scipio Township.
We usually have about two requests a year, but last year we did not have any, Dager said.
In Marion Township near Decatur, the recent winter storms were to blame for increased numbers of requests, said Trustee Harold Kleine.
While the bulk of requests in the past have been asking for help paying rent, Kleine saw a higher number of people coming to him for assistance to help pay high utility bills this winter, he said.