Ephrata Area Social Services instituting new policy

By on May 8, 2019

Constantly worrying about how the bills are going to get paid is tough.

Receiving money from a non-profit agency helps for awhile, but it’s not something anybody wants to do forever.

Now, the Ephrata Area Social Services (EASS) is trying to enhance their ways and means to help people by building relationships with families, rather than just providing the resources.
For the past six months, people requesting financial assistance have had to show proof of income; a new addition to the process.

Now, beginning May 15, the agency will be asking all clients who are requesting assistance to fill out a financial assistance application.

“We feel that this application process will help everybody,” said Executive Director Joy Ashley. “This will be a real shift, because they never had to apply for assistance before.”
The EASS application will require proof of income, address, and identification.

“This is not any kind of punishment; we’re trying to help families and it’s just a different kind of help,” Ashley said.

Folks will need to schedule an appointment and come in to discuss possibilities of how to make things better in their lives as they fill out the application. A portion of the application requires the applicant to explain a tentative plan for making money.

Ashley also urges clients to come in when they get “warning” letters from a utility, instead of waiting until a cutoff notice is received.

“When you get a warning letter, come in to us so we have time to help you make a plan,” Ashley said. “We have to get clients away from waiting until the last minute; it’s reactive and it doesn’t give anybody time to plan.”
Handling finances that way can be costly, Ashley said, with late-payments and fines added to the existing bill.

“Next year, many will come back with the same problems,” Ashley said. “It’s important to try to start them thinking ‘how do I get out of this vicious cycle’…we’re trying to get folks to be a little more accountable.”

Program coordinator Lisa Gockley meets with clients and will assist them with the application form, if needed.
Volunteer interpreters in Spanish and Russian are also generally available.

“We are really converting our operation to be more solution-based,” Ashley said. “Anything we can do to help a family stop living in the crisis mode is what we want to do. With the application process, hopefully they’ll be able to get a plan in place.”

In the past year, the EASS helped about 235 families in northern Lancaster County, portioning out about $30,000 to those in need. Now the agency is looking at ways to help on another level, Ashley said.

“We want to build relationships with families; not just transactions,” Ashley said. It’s important to get a handle on one’s finances before things turn bleak; to notify the agency before that cutoff notice arrives from the utility company, for example, Ashley said.

“We have been in the process of changing our financial assistance program in the last year,” Ashley said. “In the past, clients would call and say ‘I need help with my utility bill or oil’ and we’d have them come in with a cut-off notice as we try to solve that problem by phone.” Formerly, the EASS would write a check and mail it to the company to whom the money was owed.

“There was no relationship being built through that transaction,” Ashley said. “We want to make our transactions more solution-based by helping them to develop a plan so they don’t have this recurring crisis year after year.”

Through the Northern Lancaster Hub, warning letters are being placed in utility bill for folks falling behind in their payments, to give them a ‘heads-up.”

“This was our attempt at trying to help, another example of how we’re trying to come up with solutions,” Ashley said.

Other changes have been happening, too.
At the food bank, clients can now choose what they need, instead of receiving a pre-filled bag, making the experience resemble normal grocery shopping.

Since mid-March, groceries have been the clients’ choice, Ashley said. The clothing bank is now open the same time as the food bank, saving clients extra trips, she added.

“We’re trying to deal with the families holistically,” Ashley said. “We want to give them the tools to get out of that vicious cycle.”
EASS offers free budget counseling, and the under-employed are referred to Career Link, she said.

The agency also recommends that job-hunting folks go to the Ephrata or Adamstown libraries to fill out job applications if they don’t have access to a computer.
For more information, call EASS at 717-733-0345.

Marylouise Sholly is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. 

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