The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday will consider a contract that would pay Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas $250 for each application approved for a utility assistance program.
That amount is roughly equivalent to two or three months’ worth of the average residence’s city utility bills, which include water, sewer, stormwater, and solid waste and recycling.
According to the commission agenda item, the city can now allow residents to opt in to donate to a utility assistance program through their own bills. The city already has a special rate for residents ages 60 and up who earn 110% of the federal poverty level or less, but this program would expand assistance to other customers with low incomes.
A previous agenda item states that “In following other Utilities, it is recommended that an outside charitable agency would administer the funds raised through a donation program.” The cities of Topeka, Salina and Kansas City, Kansas, use nonprofit agencies to administer similar programs, according to the July 7, 2020 meeting agenda. Other than those examples, though, it’s unclear from the agenda why city staff would not administer the program.
Catholic Charities was the only response to the city’s request for proposals, according to the agenda. The organization also administers Salina’s program and determines the amounts customers receive.
The contract up for commission approval contains a clause forbidding the organization from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status or age. The contract also states that CCNEKS would be tasked with fairly applying program criteria to determine eligibility, but it does not spell out what eligibility would entail.
If the commission approves, the program would take about eight weeks to roll out, according to the agenda item; then the city would accrue funds through Jan. 1, 2022, when the contract with Catholic Charities would begin.
— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-422-6363.