Directors of the nonprofit Heisse Johnson Hand Up emergency assistance program for low-income utility customers at risk of cutoff voted Monday to more than triple the annual limit on the amount of assistance the agency provides to an individual household.
In light of more than $115,000 in accumulated donations on deposit at the end of August, the board voted to raise Hand Up’s per-household assistance limit from $150 once a year to $250 twice a year and to attempt to make its resources available to as many additional households as possible.
Lester Lattany, president and CEO of the United Way of Washington County who also serves as the chief administrator for Hand Up, recommended the increase to spend down the account balance to a reserve of approximately $75,000.
Lattany told the board members Hand Up needs to spend about $40,000 at this time in order to bring its account “to a place where we still have solid reserves and ... are not building up too large an account balance.”
“These funds are to provide assistance, not to accumulate in an account,” Lattany said. “At this time, based on the deposits going into the account, we should be spending at least 75 percent of the dollars coming in. That would mean that we should be spending at a minimum of about $4,000 per month.”
To help draw down the account balance, Lattany requested the Johnson City Salvation Army and Good Samaritan Ministries, which screen applicants’ eligibility for assistance from Hands Up, look for households that may have “fallen through the cracks on opportunities to get assistance” and help make the agency’s resources available to as many eligible households as possible.
Committee member Judy Buttolf noted that at a maximum of $500 per year, the additional $40,000 expenditure will allow Hand Up to assist 80 additional households.
Several of the board members as well as representatives of the Johnson City Power Board noted that the greatest need for Hand Up assistance occurs between January and March.
In August, Hand Up provided $2,082 in assistance to a total of 40 households, compared to $8,267 provided to 67 households in February and $3,514 provided to 71 households in August of last year.
Lattany said the board would review the results of Monday’s increase in six months to determine if any further adjustments should be made.
Monday’s increase was the second time in the past two months Hand Up has upped its annual assistance limit and followed $25 added to the annual limit earlier this summer.
Lattany said the current account balance compares to balances of only a few years ago that dipped as low as $1,000. He attributed the increase to the Power Board’s strong support for the program.
Jason Dalton with the Salvation Army and Sarah Wells with Good Samaritan Ministries thanked the Power Board for their partnership with Hand Up. “This is going to give more life to a lot of people,” Wells said.
Hand Up assistance is made possible by the donations of customers of the Power Board, Atmos Energy, and most recently, the Jonesborough Water Department, who are given the option of adding donations to the nonprofit program to their monthly utility payments.
In August, Power Board customers, who are the program’s largest contributors, donated $5,475 to Hand Up.
The Jonesborough Water Department, which joined the Hand Up program in July, this week forwarded Hand Up its first round of monthly contributions totalling more than $200.
Last month the program received a $10,000 contribution from the estate of Lydia Johnson, whose husband, the late Heisse Johnson, was a Methodist Minster who led the Johnson City community in establishing the partnership with public utilities through which Hand Up operates.
So far this year, the program has provided $39,757 in assistance to 454 households.