Johnson County to hire General Assistance Program specialist with American Rescue Plan Act funds

Johnson County is expanding its Social Services Department by hiring an additional General Assistance Specialist. The new position is funded through what the county received in the American Rescue Plan Act.


Grace Kreber

Johnson County’s Social Services Director Lynette Jacoby poses for a portrait outside of the Johnson County Department of Human Services on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

Cooper Worth, News Reporter

The Johnson County Social Services Department is hiring a general assistance specialist to work with the General Assistance Program, as the county sees an increased need for the service.

The new general assistance specialist position comes as a result of the county expanding the general assistance guidelines on Aug. 1, 2021, to increase eligibility to serve a larger number of households in need of urgent financial assistance.

The General Assistance Program provides short-term help to Johnson County residents in dire financial circumstances, who are ineligible for other governmental programs, according to the program’s website. Financial assistance is available to address rent, utilities, provisions, transportation, and other necessities.

Some of the changes made included increasing income eligibility from 130 percent to 200 percent of the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines, adding additional months of assistance for households over 50 percent of federal poverty guidance from once a year to three times a year, and expanding eligibility regardless of immigration status.

Hiring a new general assistance specialist was one of the projects the county chose to invest in through its American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Before the new hire, the General Assistance Program only had two full-time specialists working with applicants.

The county is allocating $234,205.20 to the position starting in the fiscal year 2022 through the fiscal year 2027, covering salary and benefits.

The new specialist was hired late last month and is scheduled to start their new position later in March.

The American Rescue Plan Act was a $1.9 trillion relief package intended to help U.S. communities financially harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson County, with a population of roughly 150,000, received $29.3 million from the package.

Lynette Jacoby, Johnson County social services director, said adding an additional member to the staff will assist in serving all residents who are on general assistance and relieve stress on current staff who have been overwhelmed.

“Staff have just worked tremendously hard and put time off on hold in order to be available to meet the needs of residents,” Jacoby said. “Now we’re going to add a third [staff member], but the workload has doubled, so it’s much needed.

Jacoby said that before the pandemic, the General Assistance Program served approximately 70 households per month, and said since expanding, the number of households has nearly doubled to 130.

Before the pandemic, Johnson County’s General Assistance Program provided an average of $33,000 a month to residents. After expanding, the program saw its highest month in Oct. 2021, allocating $98,000 to general assistance users, according to Jacoby.

Johnson County Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said it made sense to add an additional staff member as the county increased the number of people eligible for general assistance.

“The more people that are coming into the program, the more applications that have to be processed, so that meant we needed to [hire] someone else and let that person kind of help ease the workload,” Green-Douglass said.

Green-Douglass said the staff did a great job maintaining the work with just two members, but eventually, it becomes too much.

“Staff were just really working their hardest, and I have to hand it to them,” Green-Douglass said. “They are kind people, and very professional, but that’s a lot of work.”

Jacoby said that surveys conducted by the county have found that 90 percent of residents on general assistance indicated that the program helped them to maintain their housing.

She said preventing homelessness is a tremendous boost to the well-being of individuals in the household.

“If somebody loses their housing, their employment may be jeopardized, if they have children, the disruption to their education, and just the overall stress of being homeless,” Jacoby said. “So this is a really important program to help keep families safe and stably housed”