The Washington Post

More Arlington residents still in need

More Arlington County residents are visiting food banks and getting emergency assistance despite signs of a rebounding economy in the region.

The Arlington Food Assistance Center served more than 1,200 households in fiscal 2010, a 55 percent increase from fiscal 2008. In February, the food bank served more than 1,400 people, the highest month on average in the center’s 23-year history, said Charles Meng, executive director.

Eviction prevention grants from Amen (Arlingtonians Meeting Emergency Needs) — tripled between fiscal 2008 and 2010. Last year, the organization gave more than 600 grants to people who had received eviction notices, said Geraldine Shannon, executive director.

Almost 3,500 people applied for food stamps in fiscal 2010. As of Feb. 11, that number had increased to more than 4,030, said Anita Friedman, chief of the county’s Economic Independence Division within the Department of Human Services. Medicaid and housing assistance needs are increasing.

“Due to recent difficult economic times, the people need a little extra support to just cover the basics,” Friedman said. “Somebody recently said this is like the ‘but-for’ program. But for these services, we’d have a lot more homeless people.”

County Manager Barbara M. Donnellan’s proposed fiscal 2012 budget includes $11.3 million for county services that help low-income families and individuals, a 13 percent increase over last year’s budget.

Amen is one group that provides those services. The nonprofit organization receives referrals from the county’s human services staff and then, for example, writes a check for a $20 antibiotic prescription, $100 for a uniform for a new job or $1,200 to cover a month’s rent, depending on the need, Shannon said. The 35-year-old organization is there “to help people with emergency needs so crises don’t become calamities,” she said.

“In the long run, it is cheaper to pay their electric bill,” Shannon said. “If they become homeless, they become a larger burden on Arlington County taxpayers.”

Forty-eight percent of Amen’s $918,000 budget is funded through the county. The rest comes from donations, Shannon said. The organization’s overhead is 11 percent, meaning 89 cents of every dollar donated goes to emergency grants.

Shannon said the organization supports recent budget requests for more housing-assistance funding from the county, but she is not asking for additional funds.

The average family of four that receives a housing grant has an annual household income of about $24,000. Elderly and disabled people who receive the grants make about half of that, Friedman said.

Unlike Amen, the Arlington Food Assistance Center has requested about $26,000 more from the county this year.

The price of food, housing and gasoline are increasing, Meng said. “Families who were able to make it, can no longer make it, and therefore, they come to us.”

The center’s $5.1 million budget includes $2.8 million in donated food and $500,000 in volunteer time, Meng said. The county provided nearly $360,000, which is part of the $1.7 million that is used to buy fresh eggs, milk and chicken, he said. About 93 cents per donated dollar goes to the food program, he said.

“There are a lot of folks that are doing very, very well in this county,” Meng said. “Those in the lowest income brackets are the ones who are really suffering, and I really don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

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