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Federal funds available for food, shelter aid

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Thousands of dollars in federal aid is being made available for local emergency food and shelter assistance.

Hancock County nonprofits and government agencies can apply for a portion of more than $8,300 that’s been made available through an Emergency Food and Shelter Program grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA provides states with these funds each year, making direct awards to some counties and leaving the state to dole out the rest.

Kevin Polivick, executive director of the Interlocal Community Action Program, said that Hancock County never qualifies for a direct award, but instead receives part of Indiana’s set-aside funds. ICAP petitions the state for the funds on behalf of Hancock County.

“It’s targeted for rental assistance and utility assistance and food pantries and the homeless shelters,” Polivick explained. “It’s a great fund.”

The National Board, which distributes the funds to communities across the country, uses a formula involving population, poverty and employment data to determine eligibility of an area. Polivick said that Hancock County’s small size and relative affluence kept it from qualifying for a direct award. The funds are still important, though, he said.

“Historically, these funds have been used in Hancock County to support operations at the Hope House and food pantries,” he said.

The county’s award of $8,332 is an increase from last year, when the county received $6,798.

The award is a relatively modest amount when considering Indiana received $2.1 million from the National Board. But a little can go a long way. Just ask Steve Vail, executive director of the Hope House.

The Hope House – Hancock County’s sole homeless shelter – receives the majority of the county’s emergency funds each year. Vail said it is just one of two programs that award federal dollars to programs like his.

“We’re very limited on the programs available to homeless shelters,” Vail said. “EFSP is one of them.”

Vail said it costs an average of $69 per individual for each night of shelter the Hope House provides. So an award of even a few thousand dollars makes a big difference.

“There are ongoing challenges on the funding side,” Vail said. “ESFP money is important to us; it goes toward being able to provide the shelter.”

Vail said the funds received through ESFP go straight into the operating budget to help pay the bills and keep the doors open. It’s especially important right now, he said, because need remains high. Just last month, Vail said, occupancy was its highest since he took the position a year and a half ago.

“We get calls every day,” he said.

So even though the county is not recognized nationally as an area of great need, there are still populations that need emergency food and shelter funding.

“The homeless issue gets hidden because we’re a more wealthy (county),” Vail said.

That, too, is why ICAP continues to petition the state for funds each year, explained Polivick.

The money allocated to Hancock County will be distributed by a local board through an application process. Applications can be requested from Polivick by phone at (765) 529-4403 or email at kpolivick@icapcaa.org. The deadline for applications to be received is 4 p.m. Dec. 18.

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