Woodburn residents struggle with utility payments
Each month Woodburn sends out 15 to 20 water and sewage utility shutoff notices, and each month about five or 10 of those notices result in shutoffs.
That's about 300 homes that have service shutoff each year, according to Assistant City Administrator Jim Row.
"It's a significant amount," Row said. "It indicates that there is a need (for assistance) in the community."
The number of shutoffs have stayed more or less the same in recent years, Row said. However, the city does not currently keep track from year to year of how many people need monthly utility assistance.
Woodburn created a utility assistance program in 2015 to provide aid to people struggling to pay water and sewage utilities. The assistance program receives $5,000 annually to provide eligible customers in danger of having their water turned off $150 per account per 12-month period.
The Woodburn City Council approved an agreement April 23 to contract out management of the utility assistance program to Woodburn aid organization Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC).
Love INC organizes churches and service agencies in Marion County to connect people living in and near poverty to aid like clothing donations, home repair, bus passes and laundry services. Love INC's primary focus after providing aid is mentoring assistance such as budgeting advice.
A nonprofit organization is better suited to running the assistance program than the city, according to Row.
"As a government entity it's very difficult to evaluate need and whether an individual qualifies. A one size fits all approach doesn't work because every family situation is different," he said.
Love INC can contact people and families on an individual basis and provide not only one-time assistance, but ongoing aid programs and social services, Row said.
Woodburn originally created the assistance program in 2015 and contracted management with the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. The city ended the agreement after it determined that MWVCAA did not provide assistance to a single Woodburn resident.
"People were contacting them (MWVCAA) and being told assistance was not available," Row said.
The city entered into a new agreement with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) in 2016. SVDP issued $1,675 in aid to 23 Woodburn residents during its contract. SVDP returned $9,000 in funds that had not been disbursed, $5,000 of which will be used as the initial funds for Love INC's administration of the utility assistance program.
"St. Vincent did a really nice job running the program," Row said.
The city only decided to switch over to Love INC because the organization is working on a larger scale and brings together city services and nonprofit services.
"We've seen firsthand the really good work they are doing in the community," Row said.