By Shelley Grieshop
Michael Adkins wasn't sure where to go for help when a large tree branch broke through the roof of his mobile home last week during the ice storm.
He now knows that help isn't always just around the corner.
"I thought I could fill out some papers and someone would be able to help me out right now, today," said the 62-year-old Montezuma area resident. "Instead, they told me it would take 30 to 60 days before I'd get anything, that's if I was approved at all."
Adkins, a disabled veteran, said he paid a visit to the Mercer County Department of Job & Family Services agency last week after reading in the newspaper that disaster funds were available. He was seeking money to pay for the removal of the damaging branches that fell from his 80-foot tall tree and blocked the front entrance to his home. Living on a fixed income, he also needed funds to hire somebody to cover the gaping hole in his living room. And rain was on its way, he said.
Disaster relief, he thought, would be immediate. Apparently, so did others like him who sought help at the agency following the recent disasters, said agency Director Dale Borger. "It's going to take some time," Borger said. "A week or so is my goal right now."
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft declared Mercer County an emergency disaster area Jan. 7 due to the recent winter ice and snow storms. As a result of the declaration, $225,000 was allocated to Job & Family Services of Mercer County to help provide shelter, home repair, tree and branch disposal, utilities, moving expenses, clothing, food and personal care items to those who meet the requirements.
"But the money's not in our hands at this time," Borger said. "We simply can't write any checks yet."
Borger said his department is waiting on the Mercer County Commissioners to approve the 2005 budget, which will officially appropriate the needed funds to the agency. Kim Everman, clerk-administrator for the commissioner's office, said she believes the budget will be approved by late next week.
The Martin Luther King holiday observance on Monday closes all government offices and brings yet another delay for people like Adkins, who are seeking assistance.
"The government never works fast," Everman added.
The first round of applications received by Job and Family Services will go the auditor's office today; checks could be issued to those in need as early as next Thursday, Borger said.
Adkins said it was difficult enough to swallow his pride and ask for help; he tries hard to make ends meet without applying for welfare for himself and his wife, who also is disabled. To top it off, he felt degraded and disrespected by the woman who waited on him at the agency, "as if I was trying to take money right out of her pocket," he said.
"I was talked down to and made to feel like I was asking for something I didn't deserve," he said. "When I asked about getting food stamps, she said that, too, would take 30 days or longer. Hell, we'd starve to death by then."
He later found a temporary source for food, he said.
Borger said he's sorry if Adkins wasn't treated properly at the office, but suspected staff members may have been overwhelmed themselves by the weather as well as the numerous applicants.
If anyone has immediate needs, particularly food and shelter, Borger suggested they fill out an application at his office and also contact the American Red Cross, OUR Home Family Resource Center or SOURCES, and/or one of several local food pantries.
"We know people get upset sometimes, especially when they don't get what they want right away. We're working on that," he said.