Council launches new low-income assistance program to assist with city services costs

Crystal Connor & Julianne Morreale pictured packing food for a low-income food program. The HSRC grocery supplement program provides food for low-income individuals in the greater Corvallis area.

Sukhjot Sal, News Contributor

The City Services Billing Low-Income Assistance Program created by Corvallis City Council is set to begin in Jan. of 2021, providing up to $25 per month to help eligible residents pay their monthly city services costs.

Mayor of Corvallis, Biff Traber, said in an email that this program represents City Council efforts to ease the burden on those having the most difficulty paying their city services bills. The Council funded the program with the help of the rest of the bill payers, by adding a very small increase to those bills.

According to Andy Parks, interim finance director for the city, receipt of benefits takes approximately one month from application for processing. This means to be eligible to receive assistance beginning on Jan. 1 2021, qualified residents must submit their application by Dec. 1, 2020. 

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Corvallis residents may be eligible for the program if part of a single family who pay the City Services bill for their residence, participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Oregon Health Plan or school free-lunch program.

However, Parks added via email that the program presently does not have a deadline. Applications will be accepted and processed as long as the program exists.

Once qualified, Parks said a resident would receive the benefit for up to a year. There may be the opportunity to reapply depending on whether the program continues, whether the program requirements change or whether the resident’s financial situation changes.

However, City Councilor Barbara Bull noted a lot of people – including students – who need the financial assistance this program offers, might not qualify for it, as they do not pay their water bills directly.

“If you’re living in an apartment, you might not pay your water bills, your landlord might pay your water bill – in which case, this program couldn’t apply,” Bull said. “So a lot of students might run into that. The Community Services Consortium might be more help to that population.”

Residents who are not eligible to apply for this low-income assistance program may seek financial assistance from the CSC, which administers a range of assistance programs that can help people who are having trouble paying monthly bills.

Hyatt Lytle, City Council president, said in an email that the program is something the Council has been planning to launch for a couple years now; the Council’s intentions did not root from trying to tackle the effects of COVID-19.

“Building the program took some time; there were several elements that City Staff worked on in creating a funding process and most of all, coming up with a qualification process was probably the most challenging piece of the Program’s creation,” Lytle said. “Thankfully, Parks and Recreation has an existing Scholarship Program which uses specific financial qualification criteria for its application process – which from a policy position, I thought was a great way to model a qualification process for this new program, rather than create a new one from scratch.”

The Parks and Rec Scholarship Program is paid for with a fee portion of all registrants to Parks & Rec Programming. Similarly, Lytle said the Council couldn’t ask the entire City to subsidize this Assistance Program and instead chose 35 cents from all City Services customers to help build the funding account. 

“‘One quarter and one dime each month in order to ensure assistance to even some’ was how I supported my vote on it at the Council meeting,” Lytle said. “I also supported the concept of following the Parks & Rec qualification process early on, because, who knows? Perhaps using even similar qualification processes, it may in the future have benefits of data sharing and potentially minimizing crossover efforts between City departments for future programs.”

In regards to alleviating financial burdens that Corvallis residents may be facing currently or any other time, Lytle said that $25 per month can mean a lot for those budgeting with a specific income.

“My City Services bill ranges from $84-88 per month, and speaking with neighbors and constituents, that seems to be the pretty standard here in South Corvallis,” Lytle said. “Take $25 off that each month, you are only worrying about a $63 bill. That may not seem like a big difference for some people, however, I had roommates while working three jobs full time and paying for my undergrad degree, I know what $25 extra dollars a month means in groceries. I have seen what $25 extra dollars means when you’re a new parent and everything is diapers and formula. I have seen what $25 means when you are retired on Social Security and living off of a $642 benefit per month expected to cover everything.”

In the meantime, Lytle said the Council plans to keep an eye on this project and evaluate its progress. If they reach the totality of their available program funding, then Lytle said she imagines it will be up to the Council to reassess the needs for the program at that point.

“Being that this is the first time the City has launched a program like this for its City Services bills, I am hopeful for its success while being mindful for lessons we can learn as a City,” Lytle said.

The City Council will be discussing the low-income assistance program again at their Dec. 7 meeting, at which point there may be some updates to the program. The discussion will take place on a virtual webinar meeting open to the public.