General Assistance Program from Johnson County sees big increase in users

The program, which helps provide county residents with short-term financial assistance, saw an increase of over 400 households in fiscal 2022 from fiscal 2021.


Matt Sindt

The Board of Supervisors listen to speakers at the Johnson County Administration Building on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022.

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

Johnson County’s General Assistance Program has seen an increase in households served recently, with 745 in fiscal 2022 compared to 304 in fiscal 2021.

Johnson County Social Services Director Lynette Jacoby provided an update on the county’s General Assistance Program at Wednesday’s work session meeting for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

The program is aimed at providing short-term assistance to county residents facing financial problems. In the program, the county outlines how it will help address financial problems for rent, utilities, provisions, and transportation, among other necessities.

Jacoby explained that the reason for the high volume of households has been word of mouth between existing users and new ones.

“We have a lot of social service providers that provide referrals, but then we also receive a lot of referrals from consumers telling friends and family about our program,” Jacoby said. “The more people access our program, and that number grows, then there continues to be that outreach and they tell their friends, their neighbors and family members, and so it continues to grow.”

In March, the county hired an additional specialist for the program, using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act as part of an expansion to the program.

For fiscal 2023, Jacoby shared that the program has already served over 500 households.

“To date now, through November 29, we’ve provided 556 households with general assistance support, and that will be higher as we close out the module,” she said.

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

According to the presentation, the amount of assistance allocated also increased in fiscal 2022. In total, $885,55 provided. By comparison, $173,640 in assistance was provided in 2021, and $351,130 in 2020.

For fiscal 2023, $447,761 has been allocated  so far.

The amount of funding also increased per application. In fiscal 2022, there was $651 per application, compared to $403 in 2021. In fiscal 2023, the number is slightly higher at $682.

The high volume of usage has left the county facing the likelihood of going over the budgeted amount allocated for the program, Jacoby said.

“Through October, for this fiscal year, we’ve allocated or provided just shy of a half a million dollars in general assistance. When I factor in November, to date that’s $588,180,” she said. “So we’re on target now to extend, I would guesstimate, about $1.5 million in general assistance, which is significantly over budget.”

Currently, Jacoby said the county has $1 million allocated to the program for the current fiscal year.

Jacoby said that the service continues to see the trend of high demand. Currently, there are three program workers who have their days fully booked with appointments, with other appointments being scheduled for a week later to meet other applicants.

To deal with the high demand of the service, Jacoby outlined in her presentation possible solutions to the supervisors. A few of the options provided were hiring additional staff, or modifying service.

Another option would be to scale back eligibility. Eligibility was expanded earlier this year with ARPA funds, with the intention to scale it back in the future. But with the high demand for the program, Jacoby said that scaling back could be an option to help cut down on the demand.

During the presentation, Supervisor Rod Sullivan voiced concerns for possibly cutting back on service. 

“It’s a huge mistake to back off and just be people that hand out checks, because there are so many things that people can avail themselves of if they only know they’re there. And I just think the level of service has been so good,” Sullivan said. “I hate the idea of cutting back on that.”

Sullivan said he would prefer to have options made available to the board to have the program operating as best as it can.

“I think we should try to continue doing this, but I don’t think we can continue doing this and doing every other thing we want to do,” he said. “ I’m inclined to try to keep us doing this and give you the adequate staff to continue.”