Commissioners briefed on needs assessment for low-income community

Sheela Schermetzler presents the results of a community needs assessment — which examined the needs of the low-income community in Lincoln County — at the County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis)

Grant writer and consultant Sheela Schermetzler presented the results of a months-long community needs assessment at the Lincoln County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The assessment was necessary for Lincoln County to receive funds in the form of a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG).

Representatives from Lincoln County Public Health, High Country Behavioral Health, the Kemmerer Food Bank, the Afton Food Pantry, the City of Kemmerer, Star Valley Medical Center, the Kemmerer Senior Center, Oyster Ridge BOCES and the South Lincoln Human Resource Council were also present at the meeting.

Schermetzler’s community needs assessment included a survey, three community meetings (held in Kemmerer, Afton and Etna), a review of relevant census data, and a public comment session during the presentation of the results at the commission meeting.

CSBG is part of a program under the U.S Department of Health and Human Services that is meant to help low-income individuals and agencies that serve those individuals.

“We started the assessment in July, and the full report will be posted on the county website by Oct. 15,” Schermetzler said. “We did what I call a baseline assessment, which is essentially starting from scratch.”

Schermetzler reminded the commissioners and the audience that her assessment focused on the low-income population of Lincoln County and the agencies in the county that serve low-income individuals.

“This was not a dialogue with just me,” Schermetzler said.

Thirty-nine individuals responded to the survey, including 30 from north Lincoln County and nine from the south of the county.

“But 61 agencies responded,” Schermetzler said. “I expect that the next time the survey is distributed — because there needs to be an assessment every three years — we will get a better return.”

She also presented results from federal and state data about the extent of poverty in Lincoln County. Nearly nine percent of the total Lincoln County population lives in poverty, with children ages 0-4 as the largest age group living in poverty in the county.

The cost of living is the 8th highest in the state. Women working full-time year-round in the county are paid 45 cents to every dollar paid to white men working full time.

Schermetzler noted that some agencies surveyed in the assessment serve low-income individuals in all of Lincoln County, while others are focused on either the north or the south end.

“Generally, there are services available in every part of the county — they may be limited, but they are there,” Schermetzler said.

She also said the study showed there was a consistency in what the low-income clients and the agencies felt were the biggest needs or gaps in services in the county.

“The low-income clients that were surveyed indicated there was a big need to become self-sufficient,” Schermetzler said. “That’s a good indication that low-income clients are interested in moving themselves out of poverty.”

Schermetzler found that subsidized housing is limited for low-income families in the county. There is one subsidized housing unit in Afton and one in Kemmerer.

The assessment found that services are readily available in Afton and Kemmerer, but few services are available in the outlying areas of the county.

“Something we learned from attendees at the community meetings is that public transportation is an issue in the north and south of the county,” Schermetzler said. “That’s mainly transportation to medical care, but it could also include transport to the grocery store or the food bank.” 

Other gaps in services that Schermetzler found were that clients didn’t know what the resources were and where they were located.

Meeting attendees informed Schermetzler that there was a South Lincoln Human Resource Council, because she had only been aware of the North Lincoln Human Resource Council.

“Maybe there’s a possibility then of working together to combine a resource directory for services in the north and south,” Schermetzler said.

Another service gap presented in the study results was the need for emergency dental services and assistance to pay for health insurance supplements for seniors on Medicare.

Schermetzler recommended placing health services as the No. 1 priority for meeting needs for the low-income individuals in Lincoln County. Meeting that need included providing transportation access.

After discussing the results of the study, Schermetzler presented Draft of Community Action Plan to the tripartite board and the Commissioners.

The tripartite board — which consists of Commissioner Robert King, Afton Public Health employee Justin Day and a member of the low-income community — will work with the County Commissioners to distribute the CSBG funds.

The draft of the Community Action Plan featured several goals for the county to use the CSBG funds, including:

• Affordable housing for low-income families

• Emergency assistance for low-income families

• Access to affordable health care

• Access to consistent, affordable and nutritious food and services

• Low-income families who have the appropriate work skill set have access to child care opportunities so they can receive and hold a job

Schermetzler offered strategies for the county agencies to use in working toward these goals using the CSBG funds.

Mary Crosby, Lincoln County solid waste director and the employee who helped facilitate the CSBG grant application, addressed the commissioners and the audience about the CSBG funds that would be distributed after this assessment was completed.

“Following this year’s CSBG application process for the grant money, $45,000 will go to High Country Behavioral Health to assist with the Drug Court Program,” Crosby said.

Crosby said the remainder of funds would be set aside for emergencies, and would be distributed by the tripartite board with the assistance of the county’s agencies that serve low-income individuals.

“We will continue to look at this more in order to decide how to handle the applications and grant funding,” Commissioner Robert King said at the conclusion of the meeting.