Helping residents bridge gaps to pay for essentials like utilities, housing, food, healthcare, funerals and emergency shelter is a routine part of township government service.
But this year, because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, townships are expecting to see more than the usual number of requests.
At Tuesday’s work session, Bloomington Township trustee Kim Alexander said May had been “unusually quiet” in terms of requests, but as June is winding down, the township office is starting to field more calls.
Alexander is president of the Monroe County Trustees Association, which is the group that’s signing the interlocal agreement with Monroe County government to provide the $100,000 in assistance.
County commissioners already gave their approval at their regular meeting on June 17.
The money is coming from the county’s rainy day fund. But councilor Marty Hawk said at Tuesday’s work session, she thinks it is reimbursable from the $4.7 million that the state of Indiana is passing along to Monroe County from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economics Security (CARES) Act assistance. That CARES Act aid was announced in a Republic Party press release last week.
The same press release indicates that Bloomington ($2,757,105), Ellettsville ($216,594) and Stinesville ($7,040) are eligible to receive funding as part of the package.
About the collaboration between the county government and the township governments, president of the county council, Eric Spoonmore, said the interlocal agreement is a good example of different local government units working tougher. Spoonmore said the plan is very well thought out.
One of the details of the agreement is the time frame for the payments from the county to the township association. County attorney Margie Rice described to the council how there will be an initial $25,000 transfer, with up to three additional installments made if the townships need the funds. But the program wraps up by year’s end, unless it’s extended.
Perry Township trustee Dan Combs said on Tuesday that the pace of requests is starting to pick up, especially in the area of utilities. Alluding to any speculation that not all the money would be needed, Combs said, “I think we’ll use the money.”
On Tuesday, councilor Peter Iverson drew out the fact that the townships will be making their requests of a three-member review panel—Alexander, Combs and Washington Township trustee Barb Ooley. For requests that are denied, there won’t be an appeals process that’s separate from the process for ordinary township assistance—which goes through the county commissioners.
Councilor Cheryl Munson said at Tuesday’s work session that the $100,000 is “not a simple give-away.” Munson ticked through three requirements among the terms of the interlocal agreement. At least one of the requirements has to be met:
(1) The requesting Township has exhausted all of its available assistance dollars;
(2) The requesting Township determines a COVID-19-related need exists for one of its residents and wishes to provide assistance to the resident, but the need exceeds the dollar amount the Township may normally provide, per the Township’s Guidelines; or
(3) The Township determines a COVID-19-related need exists, which is not eligible per the Township’s Guidelines.
The move by the county to provide more money to townships comes as some rent and utilities moratoriums, related to the COVID-19 health emergency, are set to expire. They’re tied to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s executive orders.
In March, the governor ordered a temporary hold on evictions due to non-payment of rent and on utilities shutoffs for non-payment of bills. But both orders are tied to the declaration of the health COVID-19 health emergency, which has been extended a few times, but is now set to expire on July 4.
Also coming to an end soon, on July 31, is the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program’s benefit that provides an additional $600 per week to people collecting regular unemployment compensation.
The county’s $100,000 of rainy day fund money will supplement the normal assistance programs administered by each of the county’s township governments. Based on Department of Local Government Finance figures, for the nine years from 2011 to 2019, Monroe County’s townships have provided residents with about $6 million in help, for utilities, housing, food, healthcare, funerals and emergency shelter.
Last year, the total assistance provided across all townships was about $750,000. So the extra $100,000 that county government is looking to give the townships would bump their ability to meet their residents’ pandemic-related needs by about 13 percent.
At a late-May work session, Perry Township trustee Dan Combs laid out for county councilors how he and other township trustees are anticipating that there will be a bump in requests for assistance following the ending of the moratoriums.
That’s based on their experience with an existing type of moratorium, that can apply to eligible ballplayers during cold weather, from Dec. 1, through March 15. That disconnect moratorium is administered by South Central Community Action Program, according to Combs.
Based on the bump in requests that townships typically see in April after the end of that moratorium, Combs told county councilors he expects “a surge in applications for assistance in mid‐July to August.”
In his written message to county councilors, Combs said, “While we cannot predict the size of the increase in demand for assistance, it seems clear from our preliminary data check and understanding of the scope of the economic dislocations, that we might assume a substantial demand will appear.”