Butler County Emergency Relief Initiative (BERI)

What is BERI?
 
The Butler County Emergency Relief Fund and Initiative (BERI) was formed in 2005 when the United Way of Butler County gathered community leaders and the faith based community to discuss how to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees migrating to Butler County and to respond to the rising fuel prices due to the havoc along the Gulf Coast.  Together, with the help of the newly formed Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), the community responded and families impacted by Katrina were helped.
 
As the needs of Katrina families subsided, a winter utility crisis emerged and the work of BERI shifted to utility assistance for Butler County residents.  With the help of nearly twenty human service agencies, a coordinated approach to utility assistance, the Utility Integrated Single Point of Contact (UISPOC) program emerged.  Center for Community Resources leads the program and connects residents with local providers including the Assistance Office, Housing Authority, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, public utility companies and deliverable fuel providers.  This integrated point of contact approach has helped to connect those in need with the appropriate resources.
 
BERI is supported by donors and businesses in the community along with church congregational appeals.  The funds raised are used to provide support for individuals and families when all other resources have been exhausted.  Nearly twenty years later, BERI’s mission remains:  To complement other agencies in meeting essential needs of Butler County residents whose lives have been affected by a significant emergency.

BERI is also available to assist in times of emergency. On July 5, 2017, a storm dropped several inches of rain in the West End of Butler over a very short period of time. The subsequent flooding had a huge impact on the people of that area with approximately 100 homes experiencing damage including two homes which were destroyed. Through BERI and the incredible generosity of the community, more than $40,000 was raised to support flood relief efforts. As of October 2017, 14 furnaces and 6 hot water tanks had been purchased and installed for people who had lost theirs in the flooding. Additionally, 5 dehumidifiers were given to families in need and some minor repair work was completed in the initial aftermath. The work to assist those affected is ongoing and 100% of the funds raised to support flood relief efforts will be used to help those who experienced damage as they seek to repair and rebuild. 

The Partnership
The BERI partnership involves multiple funders and conveners including United Way of Butler County, Butler County Human Services, Area Agency on Aging, Community Action Association of Butler County, and many churches in the faith-based community. Program providers include Center for Community Resources, the Housing Authority of Butler County, Catholic Charities, The Lighthouse Foundation, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army. Additional partners partners include public utilities, deliverable fuel providers, Butler County Assistance Office and PA 2-1-1 Southwest.

Center for Community Resources, provides the Utility Integrated Single Point of Contact (UISPOC), a service for those seeking assistance with heating and utility payments. The agency also provides the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) to help clients secure tax credits and recognize savings on tax preparation and refund anticipation loan fees and interest, providing income for fuel and utilities.

The Housing Authority of Butler County, Butler County Home Ownership, provides the Supported Housing Opportunities Program (SHOP) which provides a three-part program including financial literacy training through Butler County Community College; a better renter’s course; and housing counseling. Clients earn a match to their savings that may be put toward utility payments or housing costs. This organization also oversees the Housing Assistance Reform Plan (HARP) which is a step-down program that requires clients receiving utility assistance through the Utility Integrated Point of Contact to seek housing counseling before receiving any further assistance.

United Way of Butler County manages the BERI fund and advisory committee that brings the faith-based community, utility and fuel providers, local agencies, and governmental entities to the table monthly in order to meet with all the partners to solve problems, set goals, and provide resources to address problems and goals. United Way also provides funding for the Utility Integrated Single Point of Contact (UISPOC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs.

The Results

The Utility Integrated Single Point of Contact (UISPOC) fields over 1,300 calls for assistance annually and completes full intake assessments on approximately 900 households. UISPOC also provides case management and assistance with applications for government and private utility company programs while coordinating private assistance through BERI and other funders for approximately 296 households annually, with BERI helping nearly a quarter. Those that are not assisted through BERI are referred to Dollar Energy, LIHEAP, PUC and Utility Universal Services programs. BERI and Center for Community Resources work year round to focus on helping families become more self sufficient and financially stable. 
Clients contributed $20,162 or 32% toward the $63,431 in utility debts paid in order to prevent shut-offs or provide emergency deliverable fuel. This initiative and partnership allows resources to stretch farther and is a clear demonstration that individuals are taking more responsibility in becoming self sufficient.  In addition, the Housing Assistance Reform Plan (HARP) program suggests steps that clients should voluntarily take to improve their financial stability.  To receive further assistance, individuals are required to participate in housing counseling, employment counseling, or financial literacy training.  
 
This diverse coalition removes communication barriers between nonprofits that are directly serving clients, eases the concerns of local and county governments who want to see tax dollars being used prudently, and brings community-minded businesses and churches to the table who want to donate their time and money to a worthwhile cause. Agencies once inundated with calls, now refer callers to UISPOC and can focus on more intensive case management in housing, financial literacy education, and employment preparation and placement. Most importantly, this ongoing partnership reduces the duplication of human and social services, directly saving financial resources for nonprofits, churches, and government organizations. The community has not exhausted funding in the last twelve years and in fact, maintains a reserve for disasters. BERI has been established to be incorporated in-perpetuity to assist future and present Butler County citizens with heating and housing needs. 
 
2018 STATS
 
3% of callers collect unemployment
11% of callers reported no household income
19% of callers are from single parent households
34% of callers are employed
34% of callers have an associates degree or higher
74% of callers rent their living space 
96% of callers have health insurance
749 children were served last year

 

The Emergency Relief Fund provides direct utility assistance and assistance with deliverable fuels, such as propane, kerosene and heating oil. The fund is accessed when all other sources have been exhausted and is managed by United Way of Southwestern PA, Butler County Office. A special Oversight Committee of community representatives monitors the use of the funds.

BERI Oversight Committee Members:
Chariman: Mr. Bryan Colbert, Peoples
Ms. Lori Altman, Butler County, Human Resources
Pastor Joel Benson, Trinity Lutheran Church
Ms. Karen Boltz, Salvation Army Service Saxonburg Unit
Commissioner Kevin Boozel, County of  Butler
Ms. Amy Franz, Butler Region Director, United Way of Southwestern PA, Butler Office
Ms. Dawn Grochalski, United Way Southwestern PA, Butler Office 
Mr. Charles Hawkins, Cranberry Area Diversity Network
Ms. Beth Herold, Area Agency on Aging
Honorable Marilyn Horan, U.S. District Court
Ms. Janine Kennedy, Alliance for Nonprofit Resources
Ione Mathias, County of Butler 
Ms. Haley Merchant, Center for Community Resources
Heather Mullen, Peoples 
Commisioner Leslie Osche, County of Butler
Mr. Jim Panei, President UAW 3303 AK Steel
Ms. Allyson Rose, Butler County Human Services
Ms. Joan Tutak, Neighborhood Legal Services Association

To donate to the Butler County Emergency Relief Initiative, please send checks made payable to United Way of Southwestern PA; note "BERI" in the memo line to:

Butler County Emergency Relief Initiative
c/o United Way Southwestern PA, Butler County Office
407A West Jefferson Street
Butler, PA 16001