WisCAP Community Action News

United Way Donates $31,000 to SDC’s Tax Help Program

The United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County has awarded a $31,000 grant to the Social Development Commission (SDC) for its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.  SDC is the Community Action Agency serving Milwaukee County.

The VITA program offers free federal and state tax preparation and filing assistance for low-income residents. It also offers financial workshops and banking assistance for those with a household income of $56,000 or less.

The SDC aims to raise $82,000 for VITA and also garner matching funds from the Internal Revenue Service for the 2015-’16 tax season. It expects to provide free tax return preparation and filing for 8,000 people this season.

“Learning of the grant from United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County was a magnificent holiday gift to SDC and the individuals and families that rely on the VITA tax program,” said George Hinton, chief executive officer of SDC. “United Way’s support means we can maximize our VITA operations and help thousands of program participants save hundreds of dollars which they can use for bills or to purchase food for their families.”

“Part of United Way’s mission is to mobilize people and resources to change lives and improve our community.” said Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way. “We were honored to be able to assist the Social Development Commission with the resources needed to continue this vital service to help local families.”

The VITA program will begin Jan. 19 and run through April 18. Locations and hours for assistance will be posted at www.cr-sdc.org in mid-January.

(This article compliments from BizTimes, Milwaukee Business News)

CAI Child Care Learing Center Earns Highest Youngstar Rating

A program of Community Action, Inc. of Rock & Walworth Counties, Community Kids Learning Center, has recently received a five-star YoungStar rating from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Five stars is the highest rating available, indicating a provider “meets highest levels of quality standards.”

This is the first year the community action agency’s child care center has achieved this rating level. The center experienced significant renovations in 2015 – from new doors and HVAC units to a new playground with an outdoor classroom space. The renovations were made possible by a capital campaign involving a $100,000 donation from a local business. The gift sparked other donations and volunteer labor to upgrade the center’s overall environment.

While Community Kids serves families from all income levels, the majority of children enrolled are eligible for state child care assistance. Community Kids is also one of the few state licensed centers in Janesville that offers second-shift schedules for working families.

Community Action, Inc. is the designated Community Action Agency for Rock and Walworth Counties, a locally controlled, not-for-profit organization providing a broad spectrum of community programs aimed at preventing and reducing poverty in Rock and Walworth Counties. CAI operates a Fresh Start program, child care; at-risk youth programming; health care; senior benefits counseling; homeownership programs; affordable housing units; home weatherization and rehabilitation; assistance in dealing with housing crises; food for area pantries; and shelter for the homeless.

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WISCAP Helps to Expand Rural Facilities

Five years ago, the neighboring Trempealeau County villages of Strum (pop. 1,001) and Eleva (pop. 635) faced identical problems. What to do about the communities’ aging wastewater treatment facilities?

The Strum facility, constructed in 1981, was in poor overall condition. The facility operated, on average, at about 65% of capacity. Forecasts indicated it would exceed capacity on an average day before the year 2030. In addition, the plant wasn’t capable of meeting the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ [DNR] phosphorous criteria.

In Eleva, a similar plant had been constructed in 1982. It operated at about 50% of capacity and it too would be overloaded regularly by 2030. The plant also did not meet the DNR’s phosphorous standards.

To address the issues of their aging treatment facilities the villages, in 2010, hired an engineering firm to complete a facility plan for the upgrade or replacement of their respective wastewater treatment facilities (WWTF).

After evaluating the various options and costs, it was agreed the best solution was to construct a new regional treatment facility to serve the needs of both communities – the Eleva-Strum Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.  Based on the evaluation criteria used, joint treatment was found to be 25% less costly than constructing, owning and operating individual facilities.

The villages were referred to WISCAP’S Rural Community Development Department by both the engineering firm and by the U.S Department of Agriculture – Rural Development for assistance in developing a funding package for the $6.5 million joint project. Bill Brown, WISCAP’s Rural Community Development Director, and Lisa Totten, Rural Development Specialist, worked on the package. U.S.D.A. funding applications were developed. WISCAP completed income surveys for both communities for a Community Development Block Grant [CDBG] application. WISCAP also prepared the CDBG application for Eleva. The various mix of grant and loan applications was successful, resulting in a total funding package of $6,510,000 (USDA-Rural Development loan in the amount of $4,167,000; a USDA-Rural Development grant in the amount of $1,915,000; a CDBG grant in the amount of $400,000; and local funds totaling $28,000).

Plans and specifications for the project were approved by the DNR in October 2011. The facility was designed and bid in 2012; constructed in 2013; and became fully functional in 2014. During the construction phase, WISCAP Rural Development Specialist Totten also served as CDBG Administrator for the Village of Eleva.

To provide oversight and financial management of the project during construction and operation of the new facility, the villages of Eleva and Strum established the Eleva-Strum Joint Sewerage Commission. Totten provided financial management assistance to the commission and continues to assist both communities and the Commission with financial management capacity building and U.S.D.A. reporting – services provided under WISCAP’s Technitrain program, funded by USDA-Rural Development.

Racine Kenosha CAA Helps Low-Income Navigate the Complex World of Purchasing Health Insurance in the Marketplace

The Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency (CAA) has partnered with the Covering Wisconsin organization to provide healthcare navigator services to communities in its service area.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare navigators are supported by federal dollars to provide consumers, small businesses and their employees with unbiased help understanding options available through the marketplace and in completing eligibility and enrollment forms. While this important work is conducted throughout the year, the open enrollment periods provide the biggest challenge to meeting consumer needs.

Throughout the 2014-15 open enrollment period, CAA navigators noted an increasing need to help consumers organize and understand the materials they received as part of the enrollment process. Consumers often came to appointments with envelopes, loose papers and folded printouts of income history, legal notices and communications from various state and federal agencies. At the same time, the enrollment process requires consumers to establish accounts on the marketplace website with user names, passwords and security questions. Completed applications produce 16-page eligibility determination documents with important dates, application numbers and instructions for providing verification information. Finally, plan selection provides consumers with insurance premium, deductible, out-of-pocket maximum amounts and co-pay/coinsurance amounts. Even the most prepared consumer was inundated with information and documents which, upon returning home, probably seemed overwhelming. Continue Reading

SWCAP: Transitioning to a New Ethnic Reality

Southwestern Wisconsin, the region served by the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program (SWCAP), like other rural areas of Wisconsin and of the Midwest, is experiencing a dramatic shift in its demographic profile. No matter where one looks in terms of census data, community planning and/or economic development, size of school systems, church attendance, etc., the realities of the shift hit home. What one sees is the following:

  • The overall population will not grow or will actually decline. The current population for the five counties served by SWCAP (Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette and Richland) is 148,090 and is expected to grow to 158,485 by 2030 – or only a 7% increase overall. In some counties, the overall population is expected to drop.
  • The population of retirement age is expected to grow from 25,235 in 2015 to 38,820 in 2030, or an increase of 58%. The population is projected to get much older.
  • The total school enrollment in CESA 3 for the region dropped from 23,026 in 2001 to 19,554 in 2014, or a 15% drop – with some communities experiencing a more dramatic drop in enrolled children.
  • The average age of farmers in 1992 was 50 years of age. In 2012, it was 57 years of age. Recently, in Wisconsin, it was calculated at 63 years of age. As these farmers begin to ratchet down and approach retirement age – or the age where they cannot be as physically active working on the farm – the transition to younger farmers or farm workers will be a crucial issue.

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