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Higher utility bills bringing new sticker shock

By Susan Walker

By Susan Walker

Utility help requests are a symptom of a larger problem

Click here to read the entire September 2018 newsletter

The Welcome Center can help

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States set a new three- month record for the hottest summer. In the Kansas City area specifically, temperatures for June, July & August averaged just over 88° causing a spike in utility usage and costs. This spike was acutely felt by vulnerable families, those living on the edge of poverty whose wages don’t allow for any kind of deviation.

“Often times people have a set amount of money to live on, going paycheck to paycheck, and a spike in utilities forces them to choose between paying a bill or buying groceries for example,” said Kisha Thomas, director of the Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph Welcome Center. In just the last two months, Thomas added, Catholic Charities provided over $36,000 in emergency rent and utility assistance.

But, as Paul Harvey famously said, here’s the rest of the story. Each week Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph is forced to turn away requests for help ranging in value from $20,000 – $75,000. That’s somewhere between $1 million and $4 million annually in unmet needs. And, this is just in rent and utility assistance!

It’s a symptom of a much larger problem – the need for employment that pays a wage allowing a family to meet monthly bills. In Missouri, 732,000 families earn less than $30K a year, of which, utility bills can eat up to more than 22% of their take home pay. Renters are not exempt. 47% of renters in Missouri spend 30% or more of their household income on housing. Perhaps this is another reason Employment Services at Catholic Charities is experiencing dramatically higher class enrollment (See Employment Services story).

Click the video to watch as Fox 4 Kansas City features the Catholic Charities of KC-SJ Welcome Center in its report on high utility bills.

Click the video to watch as Fox 4 Kansas City features the Catholic Charities of KC-SJ Welcome Center in its report on high utility bills.

Here’s the impact on a family of four with a household income of $30,000 and how they fare over the course of a year:

Annual cost
Rent (2 bedroom apartment, at Missouri’s average cost of $815 per month) $9780
Food (low cost USDA food plan, family of four at $843 per month) $10,116
Utilities (electricity, gas, water – average 22% of take home pay) $6286
Total for food and shelter. $26,182

After paying for these basics, this family only has $3,818 to cover transportation, child care so both parents can work, health care/health insurance, personal hygiene items like soap, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, school supplies, shoes, clothing, and saving for emergencies.

Poverty is an interconnected cycle where one factor can push a family over the edge. To help avoid energy costs from being that factor, Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph partners with KCP&L to educate our clients and help families manage their utilities. We invite you to participate in our upcoming classes:

Dates: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 and Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Kansas City location
4001 Blue Parkway (Suite 250)
Kansas City, MO 64130

Dates: Tuesday, September 25, 2018 and Tuesday, October 30, 2018
St. Joseph location
1123 S. 10th Street
St. Joseph, MO 64503

For more about the impact of high utility bills and the need for emergency assistance, go to the 2018 Missouri Poverty Report.

Susan Walker
Executive Director, Catholic Charities Foundation
(816) 221-4377


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