Dubuque County staff this week proposed a plan that would once again drastically overhaul the way residents access rent and utility assistance.

The proposal would bring oversight of the general assistance program back under the county’s Veterans Affairs Department. But clients in need actually would work with a collaborative program overseen by the nonprofit Community Solutions, where county dollars will join other rent and utility assistance resources.

“Anyone seeking assistance will be funneled through that coordinated point of entry,” explained Ed Raber, interim executive director for the county Board of Supervisors. “Instead of directing the client to call us, the individual who is assisting that client will serve as their case manager. They would handle working with the county. The client would not be pushed here to run to us or another service provider.”

This follows two years of the county’s general assistance program being outsourced to the local nonprofit Resources Unite for an annual $30,000 administrative fee. County supervisors voted, 2-1, in February to end that relationship and bring the program back in-house.

Supervisor Jay Wickham, the lone vote against that move earlier this year, pointed out that the new program as proposed bears little resemblance to what was discussed then.

“I’m not saying I’m against it,” he said. “It’s just different than what this board discussed when we were exiting Resources Unite. The comment was ‘in house. Let’s let our people do it.’ Just a couple of months later, it’s like ‘No, let’s go to a wider group.’”

No information was provided on what the arrangement with Community Solutions would cost the county.

In the meantime, many area organizations who offer rent and utility assistance began meeting to brainstorm a way to streamline delivery.

“With the pandemic, there are a lot more funds coming in,” said Ron Axtell, Dubuque County outreach director for Hawkeye Area Community Action Program. “A lot of agencies have additional funding — more than they ever had — to provide funding in those two areas. I think it’s really important that we coordinate those resources.”

Community Solutions staff will work as the coordinator of sources such as HACAP, other organizations and, if the supervisors agree, Dubuque County. They then will be in touch with County Veterans Affairs Director Randy Rennison, who will also serve as director of general assistance.

Supervisor Ann McDonough said she saw this approach as a way for county investment to go further.

“It allows us to stretch our dollars further because they’ll be joining the millions of federal dollars and millions of state dollars that are available,” she said.

Supervisor Harley Pothoff said he saw the proposal as a win-win for the county and its clients.

Wickham said he still had some concerns about how clients’ confidentiality would be maintained when working through various organizations.

Supervisors did not vote on this proposal, as it was not a complete plan. The presentation served as an update on internal planning.

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