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Drought Food Assistance

Pastor James Jones of Last Days Ministries loads boxes into a shopping cart during a KCAO drought food assistance distribution last year. The state has announced a new aid program for low-income rural residents whose water wells have gone dry.

The state is making a new pot of money available to local families hurt by drought, but it comes with a twist: You have to be on a failing well and you have to be low income.

Those are the outlines of the still-emerging program provided to The Sentinel by Jeff Garner, executive director of Kings Community Action Organization, in an interview Wednesday.

Garner said between $150,000 and $1 million could come to Kings County. He said he's in talks with county officials to decide which agency or agencies will manage the funding.

Garner said he became aware of the funding about a week ago.

"The state is trying to identify who would provide the [local] service," he said. "It's something that we're exploring."

This latest approach to state drought emergency assistance is a departure from past efforts that have focused on drought-related unemployment.

In 2014, the state made $560,000 available to KCAO and Proteus to provide food, rent and utility assistance. Recipients -- most of them farmworkers -- had to prove that they suffered direct economic harm due to drought.

A separate program was launched to provide food assistance to drought-affected families.

Funding for the food program through KCAO continues, but the other programs have sunsetted.

The new program described by Garner is more narrowly focused on people who are losing their drinking, cooking and washing water because of failed wells. It would help pay for their relocation and could be used to cover things such as a rent deposit, utility bills and maybe even moving costs.

To receive the aid, residents would not only have to prove their well is dry or is going dry: They'd also have to show that they meet low-income requirements based on a 2015 federal poverty line of $24,250 for a household of four people.

The potential problem, according to Garner, is that rural homeowners' income levels are often too high to meet the program's requirements.

"We were hoping that the guidelines would be a little more flexible, but it looks like that isn't the case," Garner said.

That's where is a separate county effort could come in handy.

County officials are working on a separate emergency assistance plan that would provide several-hundred-gallon tanks of water to affected residents. The money would come from the California Disaster Assistance Act, and the program would be based on actual water needs regardless of household income.

County supervisors discussed the idea at a recent meeting, but have yet to schedule a vote that would put the concept into action.

"This new program could definitely work in collaboration with that," Garner said.

Garner said it's too early for people to apply for the new help just yet, but he encouraged anybody interested to go to for drought assistance updates.

He said the new assistance could start next month. 

The reporter can be reached at or 583-2432. Follow him on Twitter @snidever.

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