By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
The economic outlook is getting brighter for a lot of folks, but not all. As the Great Recession has given way to a creeping recovery, the county's human services has stayed hopping.
"We hoped that the economy would get getter, so that demand would go away," County Manager Jim Dinneen told the Volusia County Council at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 7. "That's not what happened. We're going to have to come up with some one-time money again."
The council unanimously approved an additional $75,000 for the human services' emergency-assistance fund. That fund helps qualifying folks who come up short for rent or mortgage payments, and utilities. Additionally, the fund helps folks with emergency dental, prescription and transportation needs, along with paying for indigent burials and other items.
Dave Byron, community services director, said in an interview after the meeting that the previous county council had budgeted about $1 million from the county's general fund for emergency assistance. The same as the previous year.
"We ran out of money last year," Byron said. "We had to go to the county council to ask for $75,000 in August."
The fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
"We were running on fumes," Mr. Byron said.
Last year, the options were to add $75,000 to the emergency-assistance fund late in the game, or start turning everyone away.
Jason Davis, the new county chair who took office in January, said that letting things get that desperate again, or turning folks away, would be unacceptable to him. He told fellow council members his Veterans of Foreign Wars post -- 3282 in Port Orange -- often gets requests for financial assistance from cash-strapped veterans.
"We would send them to you guys to help them," he told Dona DeMarsh Butler, director of community assistance, at the meeting.
In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, there were 21,402 sign-ins at the four human services offices. Mr. Byron said some sign-ins are duplicated households. Many don't have the needed paperwork to get interviewed during their first visit and must return. Others make repeated visits for different forms of assistance in a year. Most forms of assistance are available only once a year.
Human services also works with area charities to direct people to community resources.
In '11-'12, there were 7,919 times that people received help from the assistance funds. Another 3,287 times folks were denied assistance for various reasons.
In the previous fiscal year, people signed up for help 24,523 times. There were 9,448 times that folks received assistance. In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, people signed up 22,724 times, and were helped 8,191 times.
In addition to the county's general funds, human services gets and disperses grants from the state and federal governments. Those grants come with a litany of rules and requirements.
"Sometimes we can mix and match (funding sources) depending on the need, the flexibility of the grants and on (people's) income," Mr. Byron said.
Mr. Dinneen told the council the additional money to prevent a repeat of last year's 11th-hour request will come from the county's reserves. At large member Joyce Cusack moved to approve the additional expenditure.
"I think this is a part of our responsibilities to citizens," she said. "I feel we should appropriate additional funding. That's my vote."
In the interview, Mr. Byron said human services had spent $331,500 of its original appropriation by the middle of January.