How meeting basic needs transitions to longterm stability
How her Catholic Charities journey begins:
While Mariah’s* three kids were sleeping in bed, she sat alone at her dimly lit kitchen table, taking inventory of the overwhelming monthly expenses, going through a stack of bills that grows with each passing day. She was desperately searching her utility bills for one critical piece of information: the “shut off” date—the absolute last day she could postpone payment. Meanwhile, Mariah went through a careful but familiar juggling act in her mind: “What is the minimum payment I can make on my light bill this month, how late can I make my rent payment without getting assessed late fees, how little gas can I put in my car, and how much will I have left to spend at the grocery store this weekend?” The following day she walked through our front door to ask for help paying her light bill.
* Names and some details have been changed to protect anonymity.
Her underlying issue:
Mariah is one of an estimated 86 million American adults who have had little to no practical education in basic household finance. Financial literacy is such an unmet need that the federal government has for the last 12 years designated April as National Financial Literacy Month.
For the more than 826,000 Missourians like Mariah living at or below the federal poverty level, this careful juggling act occurs daily. According to Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks across the country, Americans fall more than $21 billion short of affording the food they need every year. In Missouri, about one in every six households are “food insecure,” meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Our data shows one-fifth of those who visit Catholic Charities don’t know where they will obtain their next meal.
The impact we made last year:
When those people living paycheck to paycheck are scared, frustrated or ready to change their situation, they can turn to Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s Welcome Center. In fiscal 2018, the Welcome Center served over 3200 households, assisting them in meeting their most basic immediate needs, which include housing, transportation, medical assistance, utilities, hygiene, diapers and formula, clothing and food. This process occurs at our two physical locations in Kansas City and St. Joseph, through mobile outreach providing information/referrals and direct service delivery within the community, or by other internal agency programs utilizing the Welcome Center philosophy.
To help meet this need in fiscal year 2018, we provided…
- 12,000 pounds of food
- 2,888 packs of diapers
- 33,000 hygiene items
- Clothing for children and work attire over 9700 times
- Over 2600 one-way bus tickets to those who need to get to doctor appointments, job interviews and other crucial appointments.
All together, in the year 2018 we provided over $77,000 in utility assistance and $823,443 of rent assistance to community members struggling to pay rent and utilities.
We also make an impact by using the opportunity of that initial Welcome Center interaction to aid those like Mariah who need help in lifting themselves out of poverty by beginning the work of long-term sustainability planning. At times when Catholic Charities cannot meet the requested need, staff still walk with the client and connect them to other viable resources in the community. To this end, 93 percent of people report their sense of wellbeing improved after their interaction with us. Fully 93 percent also report they have gained knowledge and developed a plan, or that they were connected to resources that will assist them in meeting their long-term needs. Our Financial Literacy and Education program, for example, is a key component in helping people better understand and manage earned income. Across all of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, 582 individuals received one-on-one financial coaching sessions aimed to increase their household financial stability.
The challenge we face:
Unfortunately, the need continues to grow exponentially. Our agency is forced to turn away requests every month, and we have much work before us in order to begin to meet the demand. For perspective on that challenge, although we gave away $77,000 in utility assistance to people like Mariah in all of 2018, the requests for utility assistance in the month of September 2018 alone were $1,000 higher than the entire sum we gave away in 2018, at $78,000. Rent assistance requests, similarly, were $151,880 in September alone, which across an entire year would equate to $1.82 million, or more than 2.2 times the amount we gave out in 2018. The need is great.