Having an overabundance of funds available for utility assistance is perhaps a good problem to have.
But it's still a problem, at least for the Salvation Army of Callaway County. Each year, the Salvation Army uses the funds it raises through bell-ringing and the Field of Joy to provide utility assistance to Callaway County residents. During its most recent fundraising season, the SACC raised about $16,900. Those funds must be spent by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
"Any money left in our account on that date goes to Midland Division in St. Louis," explained Glenda Fitch, the SACC chairperson. "We don't want the money we raised to go to St. Louis."
This usually isn't a challenge, said Fitch.
"Normally we have trouble making it last until September," she said.
But this year, as COVID-19 spread through the United States, Callaway County received several million dollars in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds. The county set aside $500,000 to help area residents pay their utility bills, a program administered through Central Missouri Community Action. Any household adversely affected by COVID-19 with an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level can apply for assistance paying electric, water, sewer, gas, trash or internet arrears (bit.ly/2Dd3Q6e).
Fitch suspects that's where people in need of assistance are turning, rather than SACC. According to Fulton Chief Financial Officer Kathy Holschlag, between 40-50 Fulton utility customers have applied for and received CARES utility assistance, clearing about $34,000 in arrears as of Monday. (The City of Fulton has suspended its utility shut-offs to give customers time to apply for assistance.)
As of this week, the Salvation Army of Callaway County had only received 20 requests for utility assistance in all of 2020.
Facing the prospect of spending a little over $14,000 by Sept. 30, the Salvation Army board has opted to donate those funds to several local relief agencies: the SERVE food bank ($2,000), Callaway Senior Center's Meals on Wheels program ($2,000), Our House ($750), Buddy Pack Program for Central & Northeast Missouri ($750) and Bright Futures Fulton ($750).
Leftover funds will continue to be used for utility assistance, and if any money is left at the end of September, it'll be used to purchase gift certificates from the City of Fulton's utility department. A little additional money has been set aside for special circumstances.
"Gift cards will allow us to offer assistance in October, November and December something we normally are unable to do because our account is empty," Fitch said.
People that don't meet the federal guidelines for the CARES Act may qualify for Salvation Army assistance, she noted.
"We aren't a federal agency, so we don't have to follow the federal guidelines for income," Fitch said.
Those in need of help — especially those who don't meet the CARES Act program's income guidelines — may apply for SACC's utility assistance through SERVE (4901 County Road 304, Fulton; 573-642-6388).