Roger Folks of Bloomington drove a semi for 46 years. But these days, he’s got nothing to drive.
Folks, now 69 with some health problems, has been without his own vehicle for two years. He’s broke but trying to save up enough money to buy the $1,200 used pickup he’s got his eye on. That means Folks wouldn’t have to pay for a cab when he wants to go somewhere.
“I’m saving, saving, and saving,” Folks said.
Folks has some help. He’s a client at KTB Financial Services, a nonprofit in west Bloomington that helps seniors, those with disabilities, and others manage their money.
KTB helps make sure Folks’ government assistance goes to the right places, like his rent at Woodhill Towers. Folks’ nerves are frayed. He still has flashbacks from his service during the Vietnam war. Having one less point of stress—money management—is a big deal to him.
“It takes off the pressure off,” Folks said. “It’s just great. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Folks is one of over 160 clients at KTB. It opened five years ago with just 35 clients, filling a need after the loss of state funding led to the closure of a money management program at another Bloomington-Normal nonprofit, PATH. Most of their clients live under the federal poverty line, on less than $800 a month from Social Security, said Kim Crutcher, executive director at KTB.
KTB’s bread-and-butter is to serve as what’s called “rep payee” for someone on Social Security. That means they manage the Social Security benefits for someone who can’t legally do it themselves. Around 8 million people have their benefits managed by a rep payee, according to the Social Security Administration.
Without that help, a lot of KTB’s clients would be homeless, Crutcher said.
“A lot of them may have an alcohol issue, they may have a drug issue, they may have a gambling issue. They may have some kind of intellectual disability. They might have a mental illness, where sometimes they're fine but other times they just spend money like crazy. And so when their money's gone at the beginning of the month, then it's gone,” Crutcher said.
KTB’s work is more than just paying bills. It’s problem-solving.
That’s because the social safety net is not easy to navigate on your own. KTB’s volunteers and staff, including Crutcher, have decades of experience with state and federal benefits programs.
“Tell me how to play the game and I’ll play,” said KTB volunteer Kim Roemersberger, who spent 16 years working with adults with developmental disabilities and another 19 helping low-income people complete Medicaid applications. She’s now retired.
Roemersberger said she considers it a “personal defeat when I can’t solve the problem.”
“We had one gentleman that I started working with, he had had a couple strokes, and he really didn't understand mail,” she said. “And he was really, really in a lot of debt, and we were able to work with the hospital to forgive some of that debt and get them all back onto his medical benefits. So now he's in a much better place. And he was very worried and upset about all the back bills. So that allowed him to have that peace of mind that they weren't following him anymore.”
KTB also tries to help its clients make better money decisions. For example: Don’t rent an appliance for a deceptively low weekly fee when you can buy a used one for less money overall. And cigarettes are expensive; keep them in your back pocket so if someone asks to bum one you can say you’re out.
They’ve built partnerships to make those decisions easier. They offer vouchers, for example, for laundromats, and for Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, if a client gets a new apartment and needs some furniture. Kern Mattress Outlet has also provided KTB clients with a place to sleep. KTB is located in the same building as Mid Central Community Action, another social service agency that helps people pay their utility bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
“Can you imagine paying your rent, and your utilities, and your medications, and your food on $771 a month?” Crutcher said. “That’s not much. For most of them, it really is day to day.”
That strain can manifest itself in the KTB offices on Washington Street. Sometimes Crutcher and her seven regular volunteers have to deal with upset clients who curse or throw tantrums.
Social Security rep payees are typically a relative or close friend. So if you’re using KTB, it’s possible you don’t have any family nearby who can help—or that bridge was burned along the way. Some clients come to KTB because their last payee took advantage of them or mismanaged their money. Rogers Folks, the KTB client, said he suspects one of his previous payees was stealing from him.
Once that trust is built, KTB can become like a substitute family. They’ve attended a client’s wedding. They’ve been invited to another’s drug court graduation.
“Once they get the feeling, that my bills gonna pay and I don't have to stress about that anymore, then I think at that point, they can get beyond that, and start working on goals to grow, whether it's going to school, or getting involved more activities, doing some volunteer work, anything like that,” said Roemersberger. “But when you’re homeless, not much else matters.”
KTB is funded through a nominal fee that’s skimmed off the Social Security benefits it’s managing. But mostly, it’s powered by volunteers like Doug Priller. He’s a former 911 dispatcher who, like Crutcher, previously worked at PATH.
Priller’s job at KTB is bank runs. He’s the guy who deposits everybody’s checks.
“I always say, ‘Well, I can’t rob a bank around here. Because everybody knows me. Here comes Doug,’” joked Priller.
The work is very rewarding, he said, especially the success stories.
“You see people that are down. And you’re able to just slowly get them to the point where they’re living again, with a life that’s a lot more comfortable than living out on the streets,” Priller said.
KTB is always looking for more volunteers. To learn more, visit KTBFinancialServices.org.
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