There are more than 120 Sampson County residents on a waiting list to receive home repairs — from wheelchair ramps and handrails to interior and exterior fix-ups and replacements — as part of a Department of Aging program designed to boost the quality of living for elderly and disabled citizens in the county.
Many are served each year and the waiting list for those awaiting assistance is not getting any shorter, said Lorie Sutton, Aging and In-Home Services director for the Sampson County Department of Aging. Sutton called the Home Repairs Program a “very important program” in the county, and it has staffing and equipment needs to sustain it.
With many seeking help throughout the county, the Home Repairs Program aims to provide that help but is strapped in terms of cash and staff with applications regularly pouring in.
“We provide services for the elderly, disabled and indigent of Sampson County,” Sutton remarked. “Last year we provided repairs for 96 homes paid for by Home and Community Block Grant funds, county contribution and donations.”
Work is completed through the Home Repairs outreach that included building wheelchair ramps, installing handrails, repairing or replacing floors, windows and doors, minor plumbing repairs, roof repairs and similar work.
The Department of Aging is requesting an increase of approximately $70,000 in county dollars in 2013-14, a total of approximately $370,000 compared to the roughly $300,000 county contribution for the current fiscal year. The total budget request is $1.68 million. The bulk of the requested increase, aside from about $17,000 of additional health insurance costs, is due to tremendous needs in the Home Repairs program, to the tune of more than $53,000 to extend services throughout the county in an efficient manner.
That request encompasses a replacement Home Repairs work truck for $24,050, as well as two part-time Home Repair crew workers in the amount of $29,572. Sutton said the price of one full-time person was weighed against going through a temp agency, and hiring two part-timers was found to be more cost-effective.
If the requests go unfunded, the program could take a hit.
“With talks of budget cuts coming in, that’s a concern,” Sutton said. “We get applications every day. We make it a priority to do handrails and wheelchair ramps. The ramps, alone, keep us busy. We’ll get seven or eight and sometimes 10 to 15 ramp applications in a month. In addition, between last fiscal year (2011-12) and this fiscal year (2012-13), we also provided 21 urgent home repairs paid by N.C. Housing Finance Agency. With this program, we were able to replace roofs and provide more major home repairs.”
There is a waiting list for home repairs, with 127 people currently waiting for service. The handrails and wheelchair ramps have been designated as priorities for a reason.
“We want to keep people in their homes,” said Sutton. “By building ramps and handrails, we’re able to keep people at home. A lot of these people who are helped would have to go to the nursing home if they didn’t have this work done.”
At the same time, some who have applied to receive assistance through the program will find themselves waiting, as other priorities move past them. With only so much money to go around, many residents have waited for years.
“It puts the other jobs off,” Sutton said of the necessary prioritization. “We did a job the other day and that person had been on the list since 2009.”
The general lack of staff has not helped, with a Home Repairs coordinator and one contract worker essentially handling all the duties, with an emphasis on the former.
“We have one county employee (the Home Repairs coordinator) in this program and he works on each and every job,” said Sutton. “Because our county is so large, he spends a great deal of time traveling to and from jobs making assessments, picking up and delivering supplies, making final inspections as well as doing a large part of the actual work himself. He touches every job.”
There is also a contractor, but that is expected to change very soon.
“We currently have one contractor who works with us. However, we expect this to change in the very near future,” said Sutton. “It is doubtful that we will fund another contractor to work with us in this same capacity, which is the reason we are requesting the part-time help.”
The program does not receive a great deal of donations, but all assistance from church groups and funds from private donors are welcome. “Church groups help us out a lot,” said Sutton. “They built 15 ramps this year.”
Donations, while minimal, have also helped.
“We are thankful for every penny we get,” Sutton said, “because we need it.”
Nearly all of the Home Repairs program and efforts like it are dependent on county contributions and whatever grant funds are available. In recent years, during a recession and every government entity looking for outside funding avenues, many grant opportunities have dried up, leaving local governments to fund the difference.
Rising cost of materials has only compounded matters.
“Five years ago, it cost $800 to build a ramp,” Sutton said. “This morning I did paperwork for a ramp that cost $1,600.”
An increased cost of materials also means there is little, if any, money left over to go toward paying a contracted laborer.
“We can only spend $1,500 per job. Materials for the ramp is costing all of that $1,500,” Sutton said. “They’re just not going to make a lot of money off of it. That’s why we’re looking for a different way of doing things.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.