As I am writing this, the Indiana General Assembly is nearing adjournment, and the House and Senate have not reached agreement on legislation regarding township government. This year, the Indiana House and Senate passed very different bills concerning townships. For a bill on townships to become law, the House and Senate must reach an agreement as to the language in the bill.
The House passed a bill calling for a vote during the November general election in each Township as to whether the voters wanted to keep their township trustee form of government. The Senate bill would eliminate township boards and transfer the legislative and budget approval duties of the board to the county council.
The Wayne Township Trustee’s Office provides many invaluable services to our community. I can’t help but think that those persons who advocate for changing or eliminating Township government don’t really understand what we do and what we mean to our residents.
Townships throughout the state have different focuses depending on the needs of each township. In an urban township like Wayne, our main function is providing financial assistance for those in need. Indiana law calls this help, “township assistance.”
Township assistance is the same type of assistance that many persons, including some in the local media, lobbyists and legislators, incorrectly refer to by the outdated term “poor relief.” The words “poor relief” were removed from Indiana law several years ago in favor of the words “township assistance.”
Whether a client receives township assistance and the amount a client receives is based on written eligibility standards, as well as Indiana law. Wayne Township Eligibility Standards are twenty-five pages long, with numerous schedules attached and can be found on our website, www.waynetownship.org.
Our Standards contain income limitations, specific amounts clients are eligible to receive and requirements clients must follow to receive help. Per Indiana law, we can only help clients meet their basic necessities, including housing, utilities, food and medicine.
Our assistance is very different from programs administered by the State of Indiana. The State programs provide cash payments to parents with children (TANF), food stamps and Medicaid. Our assistance is open to adults, whether or not they have children, if they meet our eligibility requirements. We cooperate with the State by requiring persons who are eligible for State assistance to apply for that assistance, so we can use our resources to help those not receiving other help.
Unlike the State, we do not give financial assistance directly to clients. Instead, for example, we send payments to the client’s landlord to help with rent or to the utility companies to help with utility bills. That way we are assured that the assistance is being used to meet the client’s basic necessities.
To receive Township Assistance, able clients must pay back to their community by performing work at a non-profit or governmental agency. Last month, our clients contributed over 4,000 hours to help out non-profit agencies in our community. What a loss our non-profits would suffer if they no longer had our clients to work at their facilities for free.
Clearly, eliminating or making major changes to township government would impact our community well beyond not being able to provide financial assistance to those in need.
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee
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