County agencies receive fewer FEMA funds

By Dan Jacobson

DeKalb County agencies assisting in fighting hunger and homelessness will receive less help from the government at the beginning of next year because of falling unemployment figures in the county.

DeKalb County was recently awarded $31,041 to help fight hunger and homelessness within the county, a figure that is $6,000 less than the county received last year.

The funds are part of $130 million appropriated by U.S. Congress to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help emergency food and shelter programs grow.

Mary Olson, director of the DeKalb County Community Services department, said the money is appropriated each year to counties on a formula based on poverty and unemployment figures.

“(FEMA) is not designed to fund agencies but to give them a little more money to help them do what they do,” Olson said.

The drop in the amount of money this year is attributed to dropping unemployment figures. Based on the results of the formula for DeKalb County, “poverty has stayed the same but unemployment has gone down,” she said. “We are just as poor but it doesn’t show up in the figures.”

Olson said the reason unemployment has gone down is because there are less people seeking jobs in the county. “The unemployment figure doesn’t include people already unemployed,” she said. “The drop in unemployment doesn’t necessarily mean employment has gone up.

“There is mainly not enough employment to go around,” Olson said. “In DeKalb County, if you work for minimum wage, you make $600 to $700 a month. A fair market for rent (in DeKalb County) is $550 a month.”

Agencies must be either units of government or non-profit organizations to be eligible to receive part of the funds. Other requirements include annual audits and approvable accounting systems.

“We distribute to agencies (that) apply that provide emergency shelter or food,” Olson said. “We have received this money from FEMA before because our figures are usually high.

“For a county our size, we do have a significant hunger and homeless problem,” Olson said. “The problem is concentrated in the city of DeKalb but definitely exists in all the villages in the county, which is why we try to fund agencies outside of DeKalb.”

Some of the agencies that have received funding in the past include Feed Our Older DeKalb Program, Safe Passage, Hope Haven, The Salvation Army, DeKalb Area Food Pantry, Jubilee Services, Our Sharing Pantry and the Kirkland Food Pantry.

The decision concerning the distribution of the funds is made by local representatives from the national FEMA board and a former homeless person. “The board provides the determination as to how to divide up the money,” Olson said. The board meets each year in December, and the money is then awarded in January.

The agencies that sit on the board are The Salvation Army, Red Cross, The Council of Churches, United Way, Catholic Charities, the Jewish Federation, a representative of local government and a local homeless person.

Peggy Carey, director of social services at the Salvation Army, said the Salvation Army has received funding from FEMA for the last several years and the help has made an impact.

“The money makes a significant difference every year,” she said.

Carey said the Salvation Army received $4,000 to buy food for DeKalb County families in need at the beginning of 1993. “The money provided us with two months of food we wouldn’t have had,” she said. “We generally run out of funds (for food) in the first two weeks of the year. With the help from FEMA, we can make it to the end of the month.”

Carey said an additional $7,400 from FEMA went to help pay the rent and utilities of families that have problems paying the mortgage. “This is a one-time, once-a-year service. We give $200 toward rent and we pay the largest utility bill for the family,” she said.

“The reason this is a great program is that it’s tax money but there are no administration fees,” Carey said. “One hundred percent (of the money) goes to the people.”

For information on how to apply for aid, call the Community Services Department at 758-3910.