County poverty level increases
EAGLE COUNTY – Poverty is increasing in Eagle County, as it is in the rest of America
The latest U.S. Census figures put Eagle County’s poverty numbers below state and national levels, but the nagging recession has made local numbers jump.
Local relief agencies don’t need a government agency to tell them that.
“The difference is the faces – people who have never, ever had to seek services before,” said Marian McDonough, Western Slope director of Catholic Charities.
Some are unemployed; others are underemployed. When an emergency hits – someone breaks their glasses or the car needs repairs – they’re sunk, McDonough said.
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Sometimes, they can pull through it themselves, but sometimes, they need help.
“It’s more overwhelming for people coming in for the first time. It’s like learning a new language,” said Megan McGee Bonta, who runs the valley’s Catholic Charities efforts.
McGee Bonta works with 35 regional agencies and helps people locate resources, explaining some of the processes and helping them navigate that world.
“Some of it is brainstorming with them about what they have and what they can do. Some of it is just being that listening ear,” McGee Bonta said.
The Census statistics don’t break down the increasing poverty numbers by ethnic groups or education levels, but McDonough said it’s across the board.
Catholic Charities’ clients are 67 percent white, McDonough said.
“It’s absolutely every walk of life,” she said.
At the local Salvation Army, they soldier on as some of those who used to offer help are now faced with asking for it, said executive director Tsu Wolin-Brown.
Salvation Army volunteers spent Saturday morning packing 700 holiday food boxes. They’ve averaged 600 per month the past few months.
“A lot of people who were giving support are now asking for help,” Wolin-Brown said. “They’re often so embarrassed, but they really need the help.”
The Salvation Army hands out around $4,000 per month in benevolence – rent, car repairs, utility bills – things that can smack down a struggling family, Wolin-Brown said. They spend another $100,000 per year on food.
According the federal government, you’re living in poverty if you’re a family of four with a gross monthly income of $1,863. That’s 100 percent of the federal poverty level, said Rita Woods with Eagle County’s Health and Human Services department.
In Eagle County, that was 4,404 people living below the federal poverty level in 2010, Woods said. That’s 8.5 percent, up from 6.8 percent in 2007, Woods said.
That comes with its own cost:
• LEAP (Low Energy Assistance Program) changed its eligibility requirements from 150 percent of the federal poverty level to 130 percent, making it more difficult for people to qualify, Woods said.
• CCAP (Child Care Assistance Program) has seen its funds become increasingly limited. That forced Eagle County to cap the number of working families able to receive assistance at 45.
• EFSP (Emergency Food and Shelter Program) reduced Eagle County’s grant from $5,000 in 2010 to $2,159 in 2011.
The local economy has hemorrhaged 6,000 jobs since the recession hit, mostly in the construction industry, according to the Eagle County Economic Council.