Larry Hawkins, Family Promise Board President, I had the pleasure of meeting with Todd Brysiak and Brianda Freistat representing Rep. Dave Reed’s office on August 21. We had the chance to represent the families experiencing homelessness that we serve in the Harrisburg Capital Region.
We felt the team truly listened to our comments about how low-income folks in our area struggle to meet their needs because of 5 main areas:
1) Transportation. People are not able to find work they are qualified for in places they can actually get to by public transportation.
2) Access to benefits. Families must transfer benefits between counties. Although this should be a simple process, it typically has taken our families nearly 2 months to transfer benefits. This means they do not have food stamps, child care, cash assistance to save money and meet their needs, or medical benefits for two months. The impact this has is devastating. Families also struggle to find affordable day care. In order to receive subsidized child care, families must show 2 pay stubs. In order to work and have pay stubs, families must have day care. They get stuck in a cycle that doesn’t allow them the opportunity to move forward toward independence.
3) Housing. Working a minimum wage job (round up to $8/hour) would mean a person could afford approximately $430/month for rent at 30% of their income. That doesn’t include taxes. That leaves about $850 left for utilities, water, food, medical expenses, clothes, etc. There are no apartments in the area that people can get at that rate, especially if the family needs more than a 1-bedroom apartment. Therefore, people end up paying 70%+ just for rent. It doesn’t leave much for their other expenses. Families can’t even think about the idea of saving money. The waiting lists for public housing and section 8 are in the thousands in this area. We’ve never seen anyone get a voucher. That is not to say that the list isn’t moving or that the Housing Authority isn’t doing good work – they are, there’s just not enough support for all the people who need it.
4) Health insurance. Families do not always have access to health care benefits. It only takes one small accident to create a snowball effect where the breadwinner has medical expenses to pay, loses a job, and gets behind on rent and other bills within a matter of a few weeks. Even for those families who do not have insurance, medical bills can be expensive. Medicaid is often not enough. This is not an easy problem to solve, and is likely an expensive issue to deal with. We don’t have the easiest answers for this issue, but we know that the current system isn’t covering the need.
5) Job readiness and education. The majority of single moms we have worked with that drop out of high school (which is the majority of single moms) attribute dropping out to teenage pregnancy. There has to be a better way to keep girls in school who have children. We can’t let them slip through the cracks anymore! Even a cleaning job at a hotel requires a GED. Girls are not aware of the negative impact they are making on their life and the lives of their child(ren) by dropping out of high school. Because we see it, we need to ensure they stay in school, have mentors, learn about jobs, and get employment and day care when graduating so that they start off on the right track before high school is even over. We also don’t prepare our high school students, for the working world. From what we have seen with our families, the “soft skills” that employers want to see aren’t being taught. People don’t know them, and not having those soft skills will get someone fired more quickly than lack of knowledge ever will. We would also like to see more technical skills being taught in schools – people should be encouraged to pursue them, and businesses should receive incentives, such as tax credits, for having interns and training to hire them. If students were excited about school and the things they are learning and the jobs they could have, then they would not drop out and would leave high school prepared to work. That will make the single largest difference in the poverty in this area and across the United States.
Again, I want to thank Representative Reed, his staff, and colleagues for taking the time to pursue this issues. I was impressed to learn that not only are they looking to learn about poverty from front-line workers, they are also talking to families in poverty to understand what their struggles are. We can’t continue trying to “fix” things like poverty without understanding it from the eyes of the people who are experiencing it.
-Kristina Marshall, Network Director, Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region
To Visit the Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region’s Website, Click Here!