OPINION

Perry Says

Perry Lundon
Guest Columnist

May is Community Action month when the 1000+ Community Action Agencies (CAAs) across the country celebrate their service to the communities and individuals they serve throughout the country. CAAs have been existence since the mid-1960s starting in the urban areas and rural areas with the highest rates of poverty then expanded throughout the country in the proceeding years. Currently CAAs serve about 95+% of the country providing a wide range of services most designed to assist lower income individuals and households.

DPCAA was incorporated in 1974 and currently serves a six-county area that includes: Rolette, Ramsey, Cavalier, Towner, Benson and Eddy County. The services provided by DPCAA can be largely categorized into two major areas: energy conservation/housing and emergency assistance. Energy conservation/housing encompasses home weatherization activities, furnace repair & replacement, air conditioning repair/replacement/purchase, minor homeowner rehabilitation and limited major home rehabilitation. Emergency assistance involves security deposit aid, rental aid, employment/education transportation aid, veterans homeless aid and other assistance provided on a case by case basis. Energy conservation/housing expenditures constitute about 60% of the overall expenses of DPCAA. Emergency assistance expenditures, including operational costs constitute about 25% of the overall expenses of DPCAA. The remaining 15% are other minor activities designed to meet the specific needs of lower income individuals and families through the DPCAA service area. Total expenditures for DPCAA annually range between $1.5 and $2 million depending on normal funding fluctuations and the influx of new funding that may or may not have a short funding cycle.

It is important to understand that all agency activities are subject to income guidelines that can vary by funding source. Department of Housing & Urban Development - HOME housing activity uses a certain percent of the median income (most commonly 60% or 80%) for a given county to determine eligibility. Home weatherization activity uses a specific percentage of the poverty level to determine program eligibility. Emergency assistance activities use different eligibility levels depending on three specific funding sources, although for the most part a specific percentage of the federal poverty level is used. Most emergency assistance services have seen the eligibility guidelines increase significantly from 125% to 200% of the federal poverty guideline. It is easier to have you contact the DPCAA office (701-662-6500) for the differing income eligibility guidelines for program participation than to explain them in this article.

During 2021 DPCAA had total expenditures of slightly over $1.8 million. Over $950,000 of those expenditures were made on energy conservation (home weatherization, colling assistance, and furnace repair/replacement) activities. Funding provided through the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) accounted for over $350,000 in 2021 expenditures. The balance of funding was used for housing rehabilitation activities, emergency assistance, homeless veterans’ services, operational expenses and several other minor activities such as money management assistance, holiday food baskets and school supplies distribution project.

During 2021 DPCAA spent more than $175,000 on emergency assistance activities to aid low-income individuals and families with crisis situations that were beyond their financial ability to address in a timely manner. Over 100 different landlords were paid on behalf of individuals and families seeking assistance. The cumulative rental assistance paid to these landlords can range from $100 or so to thousands depending on the specific situation. It is important to stress the issue of in a timely manner because many of those seeking emergency assistance could address their crisis if given enough time, however, time is not a luxury with an eviction, utility shutoff, security deposit and most other crisis situations.

DPCAA uses an extensive program participant tracking software program, we use more than one based on funding source requirements, that tracks participant demographics, services received, and extraneous information designed to provide a picture of who we serve and what services were provided. In 2021 over 850 unduplicated household were assisted by DPCAA in some manner representing more than 1900 unduplicated individuals. The reason behind siting unduplicated numbers is that a given individual or household may have received one or more services through DPCAA during 2021.

The breakdown of individuals assisted was interesting because it was 56% female and 44% male. Historically there has been a higher percentage of female individuals requesting assistance. A total of 44% of those served attained a high school/equivalent diploma as their highest level of education, while 30% had some college education including 12 individuals that had a graduate degree as their highest level of education. Those under age 18 constituted slightly more than 40% of those served and those age 18-54 comprised a bit more than 38% of those assisted by DPCAA. More than 85% of the individuals served were receiving health care through Medicaid.

It is important to realize that DPCAA assisted over 850 unduplicated households and more than 1900 unduplicated individuals in our designated 6 county service area. The DPCAA service area is a very rural region with no real overly dominate city like Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck or Minot. DPCAA strives to meet the needs of those seeking assistance either directly or by assisting in locating assistance not provided by DPCAA. DPCAA and most CAAs focuses on being demand responsive but works to limit ongoing dependency on future assistance. Community Action month is a low-key celebration of how CAAs across the country carry out the delivery of needed services that meet localized needs that have existed for over 50 years.

Perry Lundon is a local columnist and DPCAA Executive Director in Devils Lake