OGDEN -- Federal money to help the Top of Utah's poor is drying up as the number of people looking for help is rising, putting agencies that work with the poor in a financial bind.
Catholic Community Services Director Marcie Valdez told a Friday gathering of representatives from Weber County agencies that 200 new families come to her agency for food assistance every month.
That's on top of the 2,000 families a month her agency already serves.
"We're in the fourth month of these kinds of numbers," she said. "I think families that were just getting by are no longer getting by."
Friday's gathering was the annual United Way-sponsored Safety Net Summit, during which agencies from around the county and state share information and assess needs for the coming winter.
The United Way said it will use the results of Friday's summit to help determine how to distribute $200,000, half from the United Way and half from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The money will be divvied up in October, but the needs detailed by the various agencies quickly outstrip the amount:
- St. Anne Center director Jennifer Canter said she has found funds to keep a second family shelter open and is preparing to open her lobby to people at night, but is facing a critical food shortage.
- Your Community Connection executive director Julee Smith said she has nine potential candidates for each of her transitional housing units. She also needs to find $30,000 for a case manager to help clients, mostly battered women, find their way through the bureaucracy of getting legal and financial aid.
- Utahns Against Hunger executive director Jeanna Corning said food stamp use in Utah is up 116 percent since 2007, but a recent study showed Ogden still has a 25 percent rate of children who suffer from food insecurity.
- The Utah Food Bank, which provides food all over the state, has seen demand rise 35 percent in the last 18 months while supplies have dropped, said Jim Yorgason, chief operating officer. After nearly running out in August, the bank is now at 60 percent and "we're comfortable, but we're a long, long way away from where we were a year ago," he said.
- Ogden Housing Authority director Lin Fulcher said the agency has a three-year waiting list for housing vouchers, and while housing funds are holding steady, her operating budget is facing substantial cuts, which means she'll have fewer caseworkers.
- Midtown Medical Center director Lisa Nichols said her medical and dental care operations are doing well, but Utah recently cut by $50,000 her funds to manage medications for mental health patients.
- Weber Human Services is having to turn away people on Medicaid when they seek mental health help because of changes in federal rules, said Weber County Commissioner Jan Zogmaister, chairwoman of the Weber Homeless Coordinating Committee.
- Weber School District community relations coordinator Nate Taggart said the district has seen a 33 percent increase since 2007 in students qualifying for free and reduced lunches.
Ultimately, representatives from every agency said, solutions require money to buy staff time or supplies or to help the poor pay bills, and federal and state funds are drying up.
Valdez said a public plea in August for food to stock her empty shelves was phenomenally successful, bringing in nearly 80,000 pounds of food.
But, she said, in the face of growing need, she has to find more stable ways to get supplies.
"We are serving twice as many clients with less food and the same number of people that we had last year," she said.
Her housing programs face a severe cut in funding as federal stimulus funds dry up or run out. In 2009, her agency won a $982,623 federal grant for homeless prevention and rapid rehousing, but that will end in March.
Instead, Valdez expects to get a $146,000 grant to cover 18 months. Instead of being able to help 20 families a month facing homelessness, she'll be able to help only five.
What she really needs, Valdez said, is more help, including a driver to make food pickups and an outreach person to drum up more donations. She has tried using volunteers for those jobs, but they can never work long or put in the time that paid staff will.
Randy Hopkins, from the Ogden office of the Utah Division of Workforce Services, said he's still 85 percent federally funded. The agency has seen caseloads triple since 2007, but is working harder to find people jobs.
The agency has started a new program to pay employers $500 to hire someone collecting unemployment, and another $1,500 after three months.
The agency is also offering to pay the first three months of wages of anyone released from prison who is hired.
"Most of the men who get out of prison and go back are unemployed," he said, because of reluctance by employers to hire ex-cons. By paying their wages for three months, he said, Workforce Services hopes to get them into more stable lives and let employers see that they're good workers.
Hopkins said recent studies have shown that those hit hardest by the economic downturn are those with the least education, so his agency is awarding clients on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families $500 when they earn their high school equivalency diploma.