United Way funds boost recipients’ hope of self-sufficiency

Published 8:33 am Friday, November 19, 2010

by Penny R. Van Brackle

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of guest columns from organizations that benefit from the Franklin-Southampton Area United Way’s annual campaign, which continues through next month.

Some might view social services’ practices negatively. However, social service agencies across the country are put into place to help people. The Southampton Department of Social Services is truly devoted to helping people and sets goals to do just that.

Promoting self-sufficiency is one our goals. This goal presents its challenges, especially during these tough economic times. However, the support we receive from the Franklin-Southampton Area United Way helps us achieve this goal.

Oftentimes, clients visit our office to receive help for an emergency or crisis situation involving a utility disconnect notice, an eviction notice or a prescription. Our decision to help in these types of situations rests heavily on whether the client can maintain his household expenses after receiving help.

We have designed a plan for the United Way funding that allows us to help up to 60 families per year. A family can be helped once during a 12-month period. When comparing this year’s data with last year’s, we had helped six families twice in a 24-month period, which means we only have a 10 percent return rate.

This figure is fairly low and lets us know as an agency that we are successful in promoting self sufficiency. This data also shows us that we are helping a broader scope of county residents. We also try to target those who may be ineligible for other sources of help such as those who are just over Federal Poverty Income Limits or those who are uninsured.

United Way Funding is most useful to our agency during some of the most difficult situations. The majority of the support is used to help people with utility disconnect notices. Sometimes clients find that they don’t meet the requirements for Energy Assistance, especially during the Cooling Phase, when clients not only have to meet income limits but also have to have an elderly person, disabled person or a child under 6 living in the household.

About two years ago, we had a mother of three apply for Cooling Assistance. She and her husband had recently separated, and she was unable to maintain a household. Her children were not currently in her custody, but for her to get custody, she had to provide safe, secure housing for them, which meant having the electricity on.

She was ineligible for Cooling Assistance because the children were not in the home, but we were able to help her get her electricity turned on because of United Way funding. Hence, her children were returned to her shortly afterward, and all four family members remain living safely and happily in the county today.

Even though the majority of support is used for utilities, prescription needs are on the rise. A portion of our United Way support is already dedicated to prescriptions because of the increase of this need.

There are resources in the area to help people with prescription maintenance and prescription costs, but what we tend to see are uninsured residents who have just been released from the hospital with immediate prescription needs.

This was just the case with a 20-year-old woman who visited our agency a couple of months ago. She had just been released from the hospital, had no insurance and was ineligible for Medicaid.

She needed help obtaining several prescriptions that were not ongoing prescriptions. Because of her absence from work due to her illness, she missed a paycheck and ultimately had no money to get her prescriptions.

We were able to help her, and a couple of weeks later she was given a clean bill of health at her follow-up doctor’s appointment.

We have good working relationships with local pharmacies, so people who receive help with prescriptions are normally able to pick up their prescription within a day. All people who visit us with prescription needs are given prescription discount cards and then referred to other area resources.

We are able to help people with extreme circumstances because of the community support we receive from United Way. Because of the way we have this funding set up, the money is truly used for emergency situations and not ongoing needs. What’s even better is this funding helps us help those who may have otherwise “fallen through the cracks.”

PENNY R. VAN BRACKLE is a self-sufficiency specialist with the Southampton County Department of Social Services. She has been employed with the department for six years. Her
e-mail address is penny.vanbrackle@dss.virginia.gov.