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'The need is here': Johnson County Utility Assistance Program expands with $750K funding

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Posted at 6:00 AM, May 24, 2024

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ks — From groceries and medications, to rent and utilities, the cost of living has skyrocketed leaving thousands of Americans struggling to make ends meet.

To help alleviate some of the financial burden, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners voted to allocate $750,000 in federal COVID-19 funding to expand the county’s Utility Assistance Program managed by Aging and Human Services.

The UAP is a safety net for Johnson County residents on fixed incomes or those facing income changes, family disruptions or other crisis.

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"Maybe they lost their job, they had a recent death in the family, a divorce, or something else happened... health concerns — they may not have qualified in the past, but may qualify now," said Brandy Hodge, communications, administration, and outreach manager for Johnson County."

Last year alone, the program assisted nearly 2,000 households and allocated more than one million dollars.

With the additional funding, qualified residents can now receive up to $600 per household. Prior to this, households could only receive up to $300.

“It’s not just about having like, you know, air conditioning or having a light on. It’s also about the safety and well being in their home," Hodge said. "We want people to be safe. Also we want to help prevent evictions. Our services are available for those who may not meet other income criteria for different types of programs like WIC or SNAP type benefits."

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Many financial safety nets during the pandemic have run out of funding or expired.

Carol Wietharn, a life-long Johnson County resident, says since being laid off during COVID-19, the list of bills feels never ending.

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"Trying to choose between food and light sometimes, it’s really difficult,” Wietharn said. "I sometimes just have to flip a coin… literally. I put it down, just flip a coin, and go, 'OK, this is what I do.'"

Even with a part-time job at McDonald’s and HUD housing, she says any additional help is worth a phone call.

“Sometimes people don’t know where to turn to get the help, and sometimes it just starts with a phone call," Wietharn said.

To qualify, you must:

  • Live in Johnson County
  • Meet the 200 percent federal poverty level
  • Have a utility bill in your name
  • Provide documentation (I.D. and 30 days of income)

All services are provided by appointment only. To see if you qualify and schedule an appointment, please call 913-715-6653. Calls are answered 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday.