October 17, 2012

Idaho Poverty Rate Rises for Third Straight Year

Darla Roy needed emergency shelter when she entered Idaho Falls' Haven Shelter in January 2009.

What she got was a chance to rebuild her life -- literally.

The Haven, funded in part by the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, provides short-term transitional housing and support services to homeless families and single women.

After a little more than a year, Roy was on her way to building her own home through the partnership's mutual self-help housing program.

The program allows participants to provide 65 percent of the labor necessary to construct their own homes.

Those who qualify for the program help build one another's homes, and all of the houses must be completed before residents can move in.

After facing homelessness and taking on employment at the Haven to help others through their time of need, Roy knows she's far from alone.

"In that short amount of time that I've worked here, we've seen an increase in the need for energy assistance, housing and food," she said. "A lot of it has to do with job market ... and people not really having enough income. For a single mom like me, it's hard to make payments, to pay all those things on one income."

The number of Idahoans living in poverty in 2011 rose to 16.5 percent, up from 15.7 percent in 2010, according to the Idaho Department of Labor statistics released last month.

Those statistics aren't surprising to people such as EICAP Executive Director Russ Spain, who said food donations through the partnership ran dry in July.

"Agencies have recently seen more people than we've ever seen before," he said. "A lot of those people would have been previously classified as middle income ... but because of the recession, that status went away."

Idaho households receiving food stamps rose from 72,000, or 12.5 percent of all households, to more than 78,000, or 13.5 percent, in 2011.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Idaho's median household income, hovering near $43,300, was down 0.3 percent in 2011.

In 2007, Idaho's median household income was estimated at more than $46,200.

Since 2008, median household income for Idahoans has dropped 8.9 percent. Only Nevada and Georgia recorded larger three-year declines, according to the census bureau.

"Many, many of these folks are caught up in circumstances beyond their control," Spain said. "They've either been laid off, had to pick up the cost of expensive health care or they're underemployed. The majority of people out there are just one paycheck away from having the bottom fall out from under them."

Agencies and nonprofit organizations are facing more people in need with less federal and state funding to offer residents, Spain said.

The partnership's weatherization program, for example, will take a substantial hit next year as federal grant funding for the program will go from $300 million distributed nationally last year to $65 million in 2013.

The weatherization program funds insulation, filtration and heating system improvements, as well as replaces drafty doors and windows, for low-income residents.

"We have 347 apartments through our housing program, and they are 88 percent occupied," Spain said. "That says something about the need. If there weren't programs like this out there, where would these folks be?"

Spain said the partnership simply doesn't have enough money to fill the remaining 12 percent of apartments in the transition housing program.

Even if it did, there aren't enough "rent-ready" homes for program participants to transition into as they get back on their feet. The lack of rent-ready homes makes for a backlog of those needing assistance from the housing program.

Roy said she would still be living in poverty without the help of agencies like the partnership.

"(People) don't know where to go, because a lot of time they don't have the information they need," she said. "They're surprised help is out there. They just need help in the way of finding it."

Poverty in eastern Idaho

Percent of residents living in poverty for all ages per county:

Bingham 15.6 pct.

Bonneville 13.8 pct.

Butte 15.4 pct.

Clark 17.9 pct.

Custer 14.9 pct.

Fremont 16.4 pct.

Jefferson 12 pct.

Lemhi 21.1 pct.

Madison 28.4 pct.*

Teton 11.3 pct.

Median annual household income per county:

Bingham $43,571

Bonneville $49,979

Butte $41,368

Clark $41,387

Custer $42,575

Fremont $38,407

Jefferson $50,123

Lemhi $34,757

Madison $36,202

Teton $52,272

Article from Post Register, Wednesday, October 17th, 2012.

Community Action Agencies were established to fight the War on Poverty in 1964. Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, located at 935 E Lincoln Rd in Idaho Falls serves the nine eastern Idaho counties with services to help low-income individuals become independent and self-sufficient. EICAP is one of over 1,000 Community Action Agencies in the United States that provide services to every county in the nation.