General assistance spending down after fund is switched to health department

Managing the county’s general assistance fund through Webster County Health Department has been a positive change for the county, according to health department Director Kari Prescott.

Prescott updated the county Board of Supervisors on general assistance, public health, and substance abuse funding at the board’s meeting Tuesday.

“Last year was the first full year we had been the administration for that particular fund,” Prescott said, referring to general assistance. “We were under budget on that fund by $28,000.”

About 11 percent of the budget went to cover salaries, 8 percent covered rent assistance, 1 percent covered utilities, and 35 percent went to cremation services, she said.

General assistance was moved into the health department for the July 2017-June 2018 fiscal year.

In 2017, Supervisor Mark Campbell said this would help streamline the process, help people find funds from multiple sources, and help officials better track who is using services and to cut back on people “shopping around” for services.

Coordinating care from a variety of sources has been a benefit, Prescott said Tuesday.

“People might come in with a rental assistance need, and then we can do an assessment to make sure of what else they need,” she said. “We don’t just address the problem they’re coming in with. This is maybe a band-aid for this month, but what are you going to do next month?”

General assistance is a one-time assistance, Prescott said.

General assistance is created by Iowa statute, said Ken Hays in 2017, who directed the county’s program at the time. Counties have a responsibility to provide for the needs of the poor, which he said are defined by ordinance as someone who is unable to work because of a mental or physical disability, which is determined by a doctor.

Today, when people come in with one need, Prescott said, the department can also connect them with public health programs.

“If it’s somebody with children, or if it’s somebody that needs some WIC services or oral health services or, let’s say, they have some medication complications, we can … coordinate to make sure they get the care they need,” she said. “It’s really nice that it’s all under one roof.”

She added, “last year from July 1 to June 30 the health department provided 28,153 services to 8,808 people in Webster County.”

That includes “child immunizations or well baby checks or lead screening, anything that the family may need.”

That 8,808 number also includes compassion care and general assistance.

The 2017-2018 budget for general assistance was $59,000.

It’s at $59,000 for the current year as well.

The health department itself is run like a business, Prescott said, and gets its funding from various sources to cover all its expenses.

End-of-the-year expenses were about $4.088 million, while revenue was about $4.07 million, Prescott said. It also had outstanding revenue coming in that hadn’t been counted yet of about $385,000.

Also on Tuesday, the county signed a renewed agreement with the Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Center.

The only change is that a few more counties have joined the agreement, Supervisor Bob Thode said.

Buchanan County joined in 2018, while Worth, Crawford, Dubuque and Lucas counties joined in 2017, according to the agreement. Webster County was one of six founding counties in 1993. The Juvenile Detention Center is located in Eldora.