LORAIN — The father of two young children had resorted to heating his rented home with wood fires and a generator charged by his car when he came to the Lorain County Community Action Agency for help.
The man, who didn’t want to be identified, said a previous tenant hadn’t paid the electric bill. Andrea Nash of the anti-poverty agency’s Home Energy Assistance Program helped the man get electric service in his name and on an affordable payment plan known as Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus.
Jackie Boehnlein, agency CEO and president, told the story at Wednesday’s Board of Directors meeting to illustrate the challenges clients face and how they’re helped. The anecdote was part of a presentation on the agency’s annual report for 2012-13 fiscal year, which runs from Aug. 1 to July 31.
“We’re committed to quality, and we’re continuing improving our services and our systems so that we ensure that we help everyone that we can and we continue to operate at a high level, even as funding is reduced,” Boehnlein said.
The agency, which has an $11.4 million budget and 153 workers, has a variety of programs besides energy assistance including Head Start, home weatherization, emergency home repairs and workforce development. Dogged by corruption and dysfunction in the past decade, agency leaders say they’ve created greater accountability and transparency in last few years.
Board members noted Wednesday that 92 percent of their budget is spent on programs and services — including salaries of workers who staff the programs — and just 8 percent on administrative costs.
However, despite increasing poverty since the Great Recession, the agency has seen a decrease in federal taxpayer money. Expiration of the stimulus program, which provided $4.1 million in assistance between 2009 and 2011, caused 24 layoffs in 2010 and 2011. An additional six layoffs occurred in 2012 after federal money for the Home Weatherization Assistance Program was cut.
Widespread federal budget cuts in January called sequestration cut $356,595 from the $6.8 million Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The cuts eliminated eligibility for 48 children and caused four layoffs from the programs, which provide early education and parenting skills. The agency is planning to lay off four teachers who don’t meet new federal education standards in May, although the plan still needs to be worked out with Service Employees International Union District 1199 that represents the workers.
Boehnlein, who voluntarily had her salary cut from $85,000 to $75,000 in January, said the agency maximizes funding.
“You hold us accountable, and you hold me accountable,” she told board members. “It’s reflected in how the dollars go out and the fact that we stay true to mission.”