Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why the EFA program deserves another $20,000

Maybe it’s the grant writer in me or maybe it was the sheer volume of need I saw the day that I observed the inner workings of the Emergency Assistance Program at the Center of Hope, but I know for sure that the EFA program would easily put another twenty or heck, fifty thousand dollars to excellent use. To give an example of the volume, the 211 Helpline, the "911 number for social services" refers more callers to EFA than to any other social service program in the Tulsa area. (Read a Tulsa World article about it.)  The community members who apply to the EFA program have a direct need, a financial need, and come to the Salvation Army as an outlet of the community’s goodwill to get their need met.

Fortunately, The EFA application process is fairly straightforward. First, if a community member calls to inquire about financial assistance, they are directed to call back at 2pm to make an appointment. Appointments are made for the following business day, at 9am. At 9, applicants (of which there are usually between 20 and 40) come to see program specialists, Cathy and Heather,and fill out an application packet. The packet consists of just a few items: a photo id, the utility bill in question, verification of income (can be a current paycheck stub, DHS statement, or social security statement) and some sort of housing verification (rent receipt, lease agreement or mortgage papers). This usually takes about 15 minutes or so.

Then after packets are filled out, Cathy and Heather call each applicant up (by their folder number) and verify that they brought everything they need and to find out what their ‘story’ is -- that is, why they couldn’t pay their bill. For many, it was a matter of a fixed income and high summer bills not being compatible, for others, it's chronic unemployment. And of course, there’s always a handful of unusual circumstances: medical issues, immigration issues, and recent release from jail.
Applicants who I met ranged from families with children at home, to a great-grandmother toting a baby, to single moms, single dads, and ex-cons. Although the bills were high and the number of applicants lower, Cathy informed me that Christmas was the busiest season -- when the heating bills get big and families are trying to put together a good holiday for the kids.

After verifying paperwork, we adjourned to the ladies’ office; applicants stayed in the paperwork room, where “Live! With Kelly” played on a large television—and got down to business calling into
the utility companies to check on accounts. They call to find out three things: what the total due is, what the past due amount is (i.e. what’s the amount needed to keep the service on) and the cutoff date.

Then regardless of what the balance is, Cathy types up “fund commitment letters”, stating what the Salvation Army can contribute- amounts vary by funding season (there is less money available in the summer than in winter) and can be from $50-$150. However, each person receives the same amount, regardless of circumstance. There’s no determining who “deserves” to get their bill paid.
If there is a balance still due (on the past due amount), the applicant will need to pay that balance. It needs to be taken care of before the Salvation Army can send over our part.

Last, we returned to the waiting room, where we called up applicants one by one and explained what we could do: here’s what we can help with, but here’s how much you owe still. Or, less frequently, “here’s what we can do, and actually, you’ll be caught up!” The majority of applicants seemed happy to get what we could offer them, although one lady did say, “well, if you can’t pay the whole thing, why bother!” and stormed out. Man, I understand her frustration, but now, she’s back at square one -- cut-off notice and no closer to paying it off than she was. 

Although the majority of applicants still had a balance due, we are able to make referrals to other agencies and churches who could also assist. Every little bit helps. And with another $20,000 in their coffers, the ladies at The Salvation Army’s EFA program would love to dish it out to those who most desperately need it. 


Interested in helping contribute to the EFA fund? Use our “Donate Now” button here on the blog, or Text Tulsa EFA to 85944 to make a one-time $10 donation. 

Also, Share this Blog post on your social network and spread the word!
Need help with a bill or other circumstance? Call the Center of Hope at 918-582-7201 and ask about scheduling an intake for the Emergency Financial Assistance Program.

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