Steve Geller, Amanda Rundle,
SEVCA's Survey of Local Households with Lower Incomes Reveals Hardships of Poverty
On September 17, the Census Bureau released its annual American Community Survey, which includes state and local data on a host of indicators, including poverty rates, income, wages, unemployment, housing cost burdens, etc. While data for the U.S. as a whole shows a slight improvement in the poverty rate and income levels, in Vermont household incomes have remained stagnant and the poverty rate stands at 12.2%, no significant improvement from the previous year. Click here to find out more.
SEVCA also conducted a recent survey on the needs of lower income residents in its service area, which portrays a troubling picture of the difficulties so many of our neighbors face as they struggle to make ends meet. SEVCA distributed surveys to many of the people who use its services, and also asked various other community organizations to complete the survey and help distribute it to their clients to complete, as part of its Community Assessment. Community Action Agencies like SEVCA conduct such an assessment at least every three years to inform its strategies to address the needs and service gaps in the community. Over 350 lower-income residents responded. While the survey is not necessarily representative of the low-income population as a whole, it does offer some insights into their experiences. Highlights of the results include the following:
- Households with lower incomes struggle just to meet their basic needs. 64% of those surveyed said their household income is not enough to meet their family’s basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc.). 69% said they have had to borrow money or use their credit cards just to pay for their basic needs.
- Chronic lack of adequate income or even a period of financial stress can lead to a debt trap for many lower-income households. 60% of survey respondents said they can’t afford the monthly payments on their debt, and 68% said they can’t get credit or have bad credit. Only 17% of those surveyed said they are able to save money regularly.
- Few opportunities other than low-wage work are available to this population. Among lower-income workers surveyed, 85% said that most of the jobs they can get don’t pay well, and 85% said they and/or their partner had to work more than 40 hours/week just to pay the bills.
- More education and/or training is needed to help households move out of poverty. 66% of respondents said they need more education or training to get a better job, and 79% of this group said they are not able to afford the education or training program they need. 50% said they would like to start a business but need more support and training.
- Lack of transportation and lack of affordable child care are common employment barriers. 43% of respondents said they had trouble getting or keeping a job due to problems with transportation, and 34% had trouble getting or keeping a job because they could not find affordable child care. In general, 71% of respondents said that public transportation does not go where they need to go at the times they need it, and 69% of those with a car said they had a hard time maintaining it.
- Many people in lower-income households are no longer able to work. A large proportion of those we surveyed were disabled and unable to work (28%) and/or retired (20%) and on fixed incomes.
- Housing costs represent one of the most persistent barriers to sustainability for low-income households. 86% of respondents agreed that it is hard to find affordable, safe housing in their area, and 68% said that they have a hard time paying their rent and/or mortgage. 40% said they are behind in their rent or mortgage payments, and are therefore at risk of homelessness. Housing subsidies are scarce: only 12% of those surveyed had rental assistance or lived in affordable housing.
- Housing quality is also a concern, with 80% of lower-income homeowners surveyed saying that their home needs major repairs but they can’t afford them. 68% of all respondents said that their home or apartment was cold in the winter and/or not insulated well.
- Most lower income households have trouble making ends meet despite receiving at least some public benefits. For example, 80% of survey respondents received 3SquaresVT (Food Stamps ), yet 60% of those surveyed said they sometimes skip meals to save money on food, one of the indicators of food insecurity. 28% said they don’t have enough nutritious food to feed themselves and their families.
- Lack of access to dental care emerged as a major issue among the households surveyed, with 66% saying that they have a hard time finding dentists that take their insurance. In comparison, only 19% said they had a hard time finding doctors that take their insurance. 63% of the respondents indicated they had Medicaid/Dr. Dinosaur, 36% had Medicare, and 18% had a VT Health Connect medical plan.
- Mental health is also a significant concern for many lower-income households. Sometimes poor mental health is a contributing factor to a household being in poverty, and other times the stresses of living in poverty are at the root of the mental health problems experienced. 58% of survey respondents say they or someone in their family needs help with a problem like depression, anxiety/stress, or other mental health issue.
SEVCA’s Community Assessment also included surveys of organizations throughout Windham and Windsor counties (91 responded) and SEVCA staff to get their perspectives on community needs. A more complete description of survey results and key findings is available HERE.
A Bigger and Better WRJ Recycling Center Thrift Store Now Offering Furniture!
The Town of Hartford has graciously agreed to expand the space available to SEVCA’s “Good Buy” Thrift Store at the town’s Transfer Station and Recycling Center on a six-month trial basis. This will enable the store to offer a much bigger and better selection of furniture, clothing, and household goods; keep usable items out of the landfill and get them into the hands of residents who need them; and enhance its ability to continue to operate at that site.
Declining revenues in some locations had led SEVCA to consider various options to ensure the sustainability of its Thrift Store operations, including the possible closing of the Recycling Center site altogether. But when Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg learned the store might close, he acted quickly to get approval from the Select Board for the store to use the additional 1,000 square foot space, formerly serving as the recycling education center, on a six-month trial basis.
“This is a really exciting development,” said Tonia White, Director of SEVCA’s Thrift Stores and Textile Recycling program. “This could be just what we need to boost revenue and keep our store open at the Recycling Center location. With the additional space, we can offer a lot more variety and a higher volume of high quality used furniture and clothing, and that will attract a lot more shoppers. We also look forward to being able to take a lot more donations than we currently have the capacity to accept.”
The expanded space, which SEVCA has named the “Furniture Annex,” opened for business on August 20. SEVCA will assess the impact of the expanded space over the next six months and will work with the Town Manager to determine what the future will hold for the Recycling Center store.
The “Good Buy” Thrift Stores are part of SEVCA’s multi-pronged strategy to combat poverty in Southeastern Vermont. Last year, SEVCA served over 13,000 people in Windham and Windsor counties through a range of programs such as crisis fuel assistance, homelessness prevention, Weatherization, home repair, business start-up and support, job readiness and skills training, Financial Fitness, asset building, Head Start, Food Stamp outreach, access to affordable health care, budgeting/savings, and information & referral, as well as the thrift stores. Not only do the stores offer products that meet people’s basic needs at very low prices on a daily basis, they often provide those items free of charge to households experiencing especially difficult crises. In addition to assisting its own clients, SEVCA has a strong partnership with The Upper Valley Haven, providing free clothing and household goods to help the homeless families they serve to get back on their feet.
SEVCA invites Windham County residents to register for its upcoming “Financial Fitness” class, to be held at Marlboro College in Brattleboro starting September 16. This seven-part workshop series will help participants improve their relationship with money, develop strong financial habits, and take steps towards prosperity. Topics covered include; saving, spending, credit, paying for college, purchasing a home, purchasing a car, insurance, and retirement. The instructor will review credit reports and provide recommendations to take steps to build healthy credit or resolve credit issues.
SEVCA's Sponsors and Participants "Chip Away at Poverty"
It was a rainy start to what turned out to be a beautiful day for a golf tournament. On June 26th, Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) held its 14th Annual “Chipping Away at Poverty” Benefit Golf Tournament at the Brattleboro Country Club. The four Tournament Co-Sponsors were Black River Produce, Mutual of America, Cigna Healthcare, and Mountain View Apartments. Over $11,000 was raised to support SEVCA’s essential anti-poverty programs serving low income individuals and families in Windham and Windsor counties. Check out our Facebook page for highlights of the day.
Weatherization and Crisis Fuel Program vendors, regional businesses, local service providers, and other SEVCA friends and supporters sponsored and/or engaged in friendly competition to raise money for the agency, many returning from previous years. A Hole-In-One Contest sponsored by Brattleboro Ford-Subaru gave participants the chance to win a new Ford Edge and other valuable prizes. One player actually hit the pole a foot above the hole, but unfortunately, the ball didn’t go in. There was also a Putting Contest for a possible $5,000 cash prize. Although no one sank the 80-foot putt for the grand prize this year, Jim Gould won a smaller cash prize for getting closest to the cup. Players enjoyed participating in a 50/50 raffle and a ‘Vegas Hole’ competition in addition to the team and individual golfing competitions.
Tournament winners were: 1st Place Team – Raven Bay Associates; 2nd Place – Mutual of America; 3rd Place – Claypoint Associates; Men’s Closest to the Pin – Chad Illingsworth; Women’s Closest to the Pin: Leslie Hoyt; Women’s Longest Drive – Thalia Holmes; and Men’s Longest Drive – Jake Obar. The winner of the Vegas Hole Contest was Sean Bradley, who donated his winnings to SEVCA, and winner of the 50/50 Raffle was Jessica Leventry, who also donated a portion of her winnings back to SEVCA.
In addition to the co-sponsors listed above, SEVCA wishes to thank the following businesses, organizations and individuals for their sponsorships and other support: ‘Double Eagle’ Level Sponsor –Kinney-Pike Insurance; Putting Contest Sponsor: Mountain View Apartments; Golfer Gift Bag Sponsor: Mutual of America; Hole-in-One Sponsor – Brattleboro Ford-Subaru; Breakfast and Luncheon Sponsor—IPG Employee Benefits Specialists; Hole Sponsors– Allen Brothers Oil, Burtco, Inc., Clark’s Quality Foods, Durand Toyota Ford, GreenFiber, G.S. Precision Inc., Harriman’s Heating, Leone, McDonnell & Roberts P.A., Northeast Delta Dental, Simon Operation Services, and WW Building Supply; General Supporters –Don’s Heating LLC, Magee Office Products, Sam Streeter LLC, Westminster Auto Service, Farnum Insulators, PayData, Hugh Haggerty, Eugene Guy. In-Kind Contributors –Bellows Falls Country Club, Brattleboro Country Club, Hooper Golf Club, Pine Grove Springs Country Club, Tater Hill Golf Club, Cannon Solutions America, Putney Food Co-op, Leone, McDonnell & Roberts, P.A., Sunset Tool Inc., Vermont Country Deli, United Natural Foods, Walmart. Special thanks go to Brattleboro Country Club and their staff for their assistance and generosity in hosting our tournament this year.