Ogden-area safety net: Real changes vs. entitlements

Friday , February 28, 2014 - 12:26 PM

JaNae Francis, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN – David Montoya, 55, is a man who is frustrated because he can’t get help paying his light bill right away.

Explaining that he has a mental disability and receives Social Security payments, Montoya said he has gotten help every year for the last five years and he said he’s been told that because of his low income level, he qualifies for the assistance.

“That is just something the government does for low income,” he said.

Previously when the program was administered by the Red Cross, he got help in January. But because he didn’t need the help last January, he waited until March to get the money. And now, he’s being told by a worker at the Salvation Army, where the program is now administered, that he’ll have to wait until March again because the program is set up to only allow assistance every 12 months.

And that answer doesn’t sit well with him. He’d like to report the worker for her refusal to help him in a timely manner.

“I ain’t going to have no problem paying it,” he said, noting that he’s not in danger of his lights being shut off. “It’s just that I was entitled to it.”

Montoya voiced his frustration with the woman who told him he’d have to wait for the money, saying she was rude and didn’t listen to his explanation of why he needed the money now. He said he’s afraid if he waits to get the money in March, he’ll have to wait until March every year from now on.

Montoya’s story is just the type of scenario that workers in non-profit service organizations throughout Ogden would like to see change.

They’d like to help people not just with regular or occasional financial boosts but they’d like their help to extend into getting people to become self sufficient.

Leslie Herold, executive director of collective impact for United Way of Northern Utah, recommended that Montoya visit Cottages of Hope, the Ogden non-profit that seeks to create paths of prosperity for people through education, job preparation and services, for immediate help.

Cottages of Hope has been designated by United Way as a center point for an upcoming change in the way Ogden-area non-profits are tied together to better mirror a program in the San Francisco area. United Way of Northern Utah has named Cottages of Hope as the area’s Financial Empowerment Center and has handed over to the organization all remaining Safety Net funds for emergency assistance in the area from the last two years.

Clients wishing to receive Saftey Net funds now will have to participate in budgeting and other self-sufficiency training before they may receive the money.

“He’s not coming to the agency because he needs help with his light bill,” she said. “He’s coming to the Financial Empowerment Center because he needs help to sustain himself financially from month to month and from year to year.”

Herold is among 16 area for-profit and non-profit representatives who are traveling to the San Francisco area next week to learn more about a program that has a track record of assisting people in becoming self-sufficient as it bundles services together for its clients from participating service agencies.

The SparkPoint Oakland Center in the San Francisco area is boasting a 282 percent increase in the number of clients it saw become financially stable when it started bundling services for them from the various service agencies and limiting the number of case workers those clients would have to report to while receiving help.

The program defined financial stability as one of the following:

* Livable income that reaches the self-sufficiency standard (In Ogden, that’s a family income of $52,000),

* Good credit score of 650 or above,

* Savings equal to three months of living expenses, or

* Debt less than 40 percent of monthly income.

“We’re not just going to give you the help and say now you are on your own,” Herold said. “You needed the help because there was a situation. … Sometimes you need more than one agency to help you. We need a coordinated effort so we don’t just send them from place to place.”

The change, which will coordinate offerings from area non-profits through Cottages of Hope, is just what could help people like Montoya rise to where they wouldn’t need to rely on help each year, Herold said.

“It’s not just about a light bill,” Herold said. “That’s the thing. If you can’t pay a light bill, we need to do something for you to make sure you are stable. What other things do you need to make sure you have a good life? You need all those things first. You need all these things to be successful.”

Herold said when someone has trouble with something as simple as paying a light bill, the result can have a ripple effect as they forgo other community needs to address that problem.

“It is like a pebble in a pond,” she said. “It just balloons into a problem that limits economic development.”

For instance, she said kids can go without food or adequate lodging as their parents struggle with such issues.

Without food or shelter, they can fail in school.

Then down the road, something like a company’s decision not to locate in a community because its residents are uneducated could cause a huge economic cost to the area.

Jeremy Botelho, executive director of Cottages of Hope, said helping people see ways of becoming self-sufficient is difficult in today’s world.

“You cannot place all of the blame on the individual for feeling like that,” he said of Montoya’s comments about being entitled. “It’s just the nature of what the service is. They get the message that if you qualify, you should get it.”

Botelho said to make real changes, service providers need to get people to form a plan to become self sufficient and see the value in doing so.

“The system has no plan in place to help them get out of the cycle,” he said of people learning to depend upon entitlements.

“If you don’t ever take the time to develop a plan of action, it’s not ever going to happen.”

But Botelho said there is hope.

“We need to take each case individually and help them set up a plan of action,” he said. “We want them to be able to rest well at night, saying, ‘I did this.’”

Among the changes in place for mirroring SparkPoint are locating Utah Department of Workforce Services caseworkers within Cottages of Hope, where the caseworkers from the two agencies will work closely together.

Herold said priorities a program mirroring SparkPoint would address include those addressed in the recent Safety Net report. They are:

* Coordinated case management services to facilitate impactful service allocation,

* Centralized sharing of information,

* A shared holistic view of community demographics, critical needs and service delivery,

* Investment in infrastructure to support coordinated service delivery, and

* Basic prevention services to promote health, education, employment, community safety, access to healthy food and short and long-term housing.

Herold said the new changes would be paid for with new money provided by banks interested in investing specially designated funds into the community. The change would not take away from any programs already in place, she said, explaining that the changes would only enhance them.

Contact reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228 or jfrancis@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @jfrancis.

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