A loosening of the income restrictions to qualify for general assistance and an increase in utility rates led the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors to voice their support for raising the allocation for those services in the upcoming fiscal year.

The supervisors also indicated that the nonprofit organization that took over the program in September would continue at the helm.

The allocation proposal would add more than $19,000 next fiscal year for the program, which provides financial assistance for low- income county residents to help with rent, utilities, funeral expenses and more. The county allocated $138,750 to the program this fiscal year.

“The increase as proposed for next year, based on trends, is $158,000,” said County Budget Director Stella Runde during a recent budget work session.

The next fiscal year begins July 1.

In December, the supervisors approved increasing the cut-off salary for people to be eligible for general assistance, from 50% of the federal poverty level to 100%. A family of two that earned $704 or less per month last year qualified for the program. This year, that level is $1,409 per month.

“We did increase the eligibility, so we anticipate there will be more citizens that need our services,” said Supervisor Ann McDonough.

Josh Jasper, executive director of the nonprofit Resources Unite, which manages the program, said he also requested the increase because of some marketing projects that his team and partners have undertaken.

“The general assistance brand has strengthened since September,” he told the supervisors. “... There is an increased awareness, so there will likely be an increase in requests.”

Jasper also said his clients are “definitely feeling” Alliant Energy’s rate increases, the final outlines of which were approved by state regulators last month.

“As we expected, the utility increase is affecting all residents but is being seen especially in requests for utility assistance,” McDonough said. “Nobody had that kind of increase in their wages.”

Jasper requested no increase to the annual fee that Resources Unite is paid for its services, keeping that at $30,000.

McDonough pointed out that the $158,000 proposed is a good deal higher than the county budgeted for the program before contracting with Resources Unite. Runde reported that, in fiscal year 2019, that was $112,000.

Supervisors Jay Wickham and Dave Baker were quick to point out that the work was previously being done by county employees in the Veterans Affairs office, so additional costs were paid there.