Bottom Line: Families Are Still Struggling

by Doug Cowan, President & CEO

About a month ago, I did an interview with The Examiner, and I gave the line that is serving as this blog post's title - "Bottom Line: Families Are Still Struggling." We're in the eighth month of the COVID-19 crisis, and there is more noise than ever to cut through. There is a lot of noise about the virus, about hospitals, about health departments, about shut-downs, about school openings, about businesses, about elections, and just about everything else. All the above topics, on their own merits, deserve critical discussion and dialogue. My hope, through all the noise, is that we collectively can agree that families are still struggling. I can tell you that, from what we see at CSL, families are very much working hard to keep it all together. Data can help drive dialogue. Through our CARES Act assistance program with the City of Independence, we've solicited data points from families to help tell a story. We have close to 1,100 applications, and here's a few insights:

- the average reported utility delinquency is $1,277

- the average applicant's monthly household income is $2,137

- this means the average household is looking at a utility bill that is equivalent to 60% of their next month's entire income

On October 1, a family in Independence brought this letter to CSL after we helped with a $600+ utility bill.

Many workers lost their jobs overnight when the crisis hit, and some industries (retail, restaurant, tourism) have struggled to return to employment rates anywhere close to where they were pre-COVID. Here are a couple stories (these are unedited submissions directly from assistance applicants):

“Lost a job due to covid-19 back in February of 2020 job picked and choosed who came back and I wasn't one of the ones who got called back. Now trying to get back on my feet for me and my 3 kids.”

“For the 1st few months my hours were lowered and I fell behind on utilities and now I'm back to normal hours but I had expenses come in for car repairs.”

“My husband had a heart attack right before the shutdown and was off work for 4 months due to the risk of covid 19. My hours were cut. Rent, electric, gas, and food became more difficult. It caused my depression and anxiety to elevate and I had to take time off work. We began living off of credit cards.”

“I was unable to start the job that I was hired for, because not only did the company decide to suspend all new hires, my young children were no longer going to school, and all of the day cares were closed.”

“I lost my job due to quarantine and my unemployment claim had issues. I am currently looking for new employment but I have no child care since my children are home bound. I paid 1800 last month and 900 the month before on my utilities. I just don’t have it. I spent all of my money.”

Our approach must be multi-pronged. CSL has "Help for Today" and "Hope for Tomorrow" programming. The two really have to work together. We must provide basic needs, like food, medicine, shelter, and other essentials. We are also focused on how we make tomorrow brighter by providing access to jobs or training programs. In 2020, we will graduate a record number of students from our welding and healthcare programs, and early commitments for 2021 suggest next year will be even bigger.

Our workforce team is also connecting with employers so we can guide job-seekers into good work opportunities that can help provide immediate stability to families. As we speak, thousands of jobs are opening in anticipation of a busy holiday season. By arming workers with the right tools and coaching, we can help them leverage season work into long-term career opportunities.

While more noise will continue to surround us, let's not allow it to take away our local focus. We can all look, right around us, and see struggling neighbors. Your support of CSL ensures that we can deliver help today, and hope for tomorrow. I appreciate the incredible way our donors have stepped up in 2020 to give CSL the resources to do that.

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