Stearns County changes eligibility requirements for emergency aid

Changes took effect July 1 to Stearns County’s emergency general assistance programs. Revisions to eligibility criteria were approved by the Board of Commissioners.

Emergency General Assistance and Family Emergency Funds are programs designed for residents who need financial help with short-term, non-recurring housing and utility expenses. Both are mandated, state-funded programs.

In past years, funds for these programs were depleted by fall, and all subsequent applicants were denied assistance.

By making these changes, the Stearns County Human Services Department hopes to assist more individuals and families in Stearns County, streamline the eligibility process and provide consistencies among local counties.

Criteria changes as of July 1 are:

• Residents can now apply for assistance every 18 months, rather than every 12 months.

• Applicants no longer need to do a basic needs test.

• Clarification of a household unit, defined as all individuals who live together in the same location regardless of legal relationship.

• Gross income limit of 200 percent, rather than 125 percent, of the federal poverty guideline, increasing from $2,454/month to $3,926/month for a family of four, giving eligibility to more working families.

• Funds will cover a maximum of two months unpaid rent and utility disconnect, not to exceed $3,000, instead of two months’ rent and an additional $3,000 for utilities.

Over the past five years, an average of 1,800 individuals and families were served through these two programs, at a cost of over $700,000.