Federal funding mistakenly cut from a program designed to help people get off public assistance is likely to be restored due to the intervention of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Kenny LaPoint of Redmond-based HousingWorks said Thursday.
HousingWorks is one of five local housing authorities in Oregon that saw their funding for caseworkers in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program cut due to an apparent mistake by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
LaPoint, director of the program locally, said his office had applied to HUD to receive three caseworkers serving 129 families in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties.
HUD announced in September that it would fund only one caseworker.
LaPoint brought the issue to Merkley’s attention. HUD has funded three caseworkers for HousingWorks for seven years, LaPoint said.
Housing authorities in Yamhill County, Marion County, Northeast Oregon and Linn-Benton also saw their staffing levels reduced due to the error.
Merkley spokeswoman Courtney Warner Crowell said it appears to be the result of HUD using outdated information on the number of clients served by each program on a website the housing authorities used to apply for funding. She said it’s not clear if housing authorities in other states have had similar problems.
In a news release issued Thursday, Merkley’s office said HUD has acknowledged the error, and is encouraging housing authorities to re- apply for funding.
“No Oregonians should lose their jobs or lose the roof over their head because a government website made a mistake," Merkley said in the release. “There’s nothing more frustrating than when you have to pay the price for a government agency’s screw-up, and to their credit, HUD fixed this problem promptly."
The Family Self-Sufficiency Program assigns caseworkers to the client families enrolled in the program, LaPoint said. They work closely with the families to develop goals on how they can work their way off of public assistance. The caseworkers help the families sign up for housing vouchers and other forms of assistance and enroll in school or job training programs, and they work closely together for as long as the families are receiving aid.
“It helps them to get back on their feet so they can basically release the need for assistance and go back out into the community and work a regular job and not need public assistance at all," LaPoint said.
LaPoint said HousingWorks has been using a reserve fund to pay for a third caseworker for most of this year in order to meet the expanding number of client families in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, and has used its reserves to fund both the second and third caseworker since HUD withdrew a portion of their funding in September.
HousingWorks may not be able to get its third federally funded caseworker during the reapplication process, he said, but trying to run the program with a single caseworker would be impossible.
“It would be absolutely absurd, and it would harm the families we’re working with incredibly," he said.
Families in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program typically get off public assistance in about four years, LaPoint said, as opposed to nearly eight years for families receiving more traditional public assistance. That’s a savings of around $30,000 for each family.