By Paula Blair, Annette Craft & Christine Bucher
October is “National Energy Awareness Month”, an effort to help citizens understand the importance of energy to our prosperity, security and environment. This may seem “over our heads” to us on the local level in our own households, but October is also a good time for us to consider our own energy consumption and how we can reduce it thereby saving money, time and the environment.
Colder weather is just around the corner and a nip is now in the air, and many of us welcome winter with snow falling and building snowmen and sledding. Others, however, look at winter and are filled with stress, frustration and feelings of dread. Heating bills are higher and some are left in the cold.
Last month, Jen Kinney wrote in a blog posting on the Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) website about a study she co-authored by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and The Energy Efficiency for All Coalition. This study shows that low-income families, minorities and rental households may pay as much as 7.2% of their household income paying for energy. Other studies reveal that low-income families spend anywhere from 17% to more than 50% of their income on household energy while other families spend on average 4%.
These energy costs reflect the condition of those who live in low-income housing – usually older homes which lack proper insulations, have older appliances and are less likely to have the resources to mitigate these effects. However, even in newer homes older appliances, inefficient thermostats and leaky windows can lead to increased energy costs.
What can be done? Surprisingly, there are many resources available to individuals and families who are struggling with energy costs.
November 1 through April 30, you can apply for assistance through LEAP (Low-Income Energy Assistance Program), a federally program that helps eligible families, seniors and individuals pay for a portion of their winter home heating costs.
Throughout the year, Energy Outreach Colorado, through its partner agencies, helps low-income Coloradans with energy and heating assistance, emergency furnace repair and energy efficiency improvements.
Another local resource, Energy Resource Center (ERC), can help landlords and renters make their homes more energy efficient. Qualified individuals and families can request a free energy assessment to determine what changes can be made to help make homes more energy efficient, thereby saving money. ERC can also provide assistance in making the recommended changes. Those who are not struggling financially can also request an energy assessment from ERC for a small fee and learn how to save money in the process.
On October 20th, ERC will hold a class at Tri-Lakes Cares about energy efficiency, weatherization and the services they provide. It will start at 12:30 p.m. and last about 45 minutes. Contact your case manager to sign up.
In addition, our case managers at Tri-Lakes Cares can help you access help for energy costs. Contact Annette (719-481-4864, x 102 / A-L) or Paula (719-481-4864, x 112 / M-Z) for questions or how to get help.
In the meantime, here are some simple things that all of us can do to help bring down our energy costs (source ERC’s website):
- Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
- Clean or change your furnace filter.
- Clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator, removing dust and other debris which causes the unit to use more energy to run.
- Keep your thermostat lower at night or when no one is home.
- Fill your dishwasher completely before running it.
- Caulk drafty windows.
- Unplug appliances or electronic devices rarely used (even if these items are not on, just by being plugged in, they are drawing power).
Challenge your family to bring down your energy costs and you might be surprised how small changes can make a difference!
By Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager
Nearly 1 in 7 Coloradans struggle with hunger, sometimes not having enough money to buy food. Devastatingly, 1 in 5 Colorado kids may not know when or where they will get their next meal. 1 in 7 seniors struggle choosing between food and medication.
September is “Hunger Action Month” – Feeding America’s nationwide awareness campaign designed to take action on ending hunger. During the month, Tri-Lakes Cares will be running its own awareness campaign found here.
But what is Tri-Lakes Cares doing about hunger in our community? How are we hoping to lift the 1 in 4 working families in Colorado who do not have enough food to meet their basic needs out of poverty?
In addition to our supplemental food programs and Help Yourself, TLC is expanding food assistance through:
- With the funding assistance of Kaiser Permanente, Case Manager Paula is participating in community outreach to screen our community for food insecurity.
- Two SNAP Ambassador volunteers, Wanda and Karen, are on-site during client service hours to help our clients apply for SNAP. Colorado currently ranks 45th in SNAP/food stamp access for those eligible
- Expanding the Snack Pack program to include free/reduced lunch students in District 38 high schools with funding provided by Nutrition Camp School Foundation
- Hosting CSFP (Commodity Senior Food Program) at Tri-Lakes Cares to increase nutritious food access to our senior clients
- Providing senior resources through “Senior Brown Bag” lunch to increase awareness and availability of senior programs in our community
Whether it’s by raising awareness, participating in the SNAP Challenge, advocating, donating or volunteering, find a way to make a difference in our Tri-Lakes community. Together, we can tackle hunger!
For more information on the food programs and food assistance, please contact Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org or 719.481.4864 x111
We are so thankful for our partnerships with our local community through service-oriented clubs and organizations, youth groups, churches, businesses and others, who live and work in the Tri-Lakes Region.
In an effort to acknowledge all these wonderful groups, we will be posting periodic blog postings and also updating the “Our Supporters” section of our website.
For this first posting, we are high-lighting the various service clubs in our region who support us. These organizations, and their members, host fund-raisers that benefit Tri-Lakes Cares, volunteer, donate goods, services and advocate for the work we do in the community.
Monument Hill Kiwanis Club: Their motto is “Helping Kids & Youth, Building our Community, and Having Fun while doing it” and this is epitomized each year in October when they host their “Empty Bowls” fundraiser bringing the community together. Attendees select an empty bowl, crafted by local potters, and sample soups donated by local restaurants. In conjunction with the Empty Bowls, Tri-Lakes Cares hosts the silent auction portion of the event. Without the tireless work of the members of the club, this event would not be as successful as it is. You can view photos from last year’s event here – scroll down. And THIS YEAR’S EVENT on October 5!
Beyond “Empty Bowls,” the Kiwanis conduct food drives for us with a huge focus on “Harvest of Love.” Members of the club help with holiday distributions in November and December. And, this year, they helped facilitate the donation of desktop computers and monitors for our clients in partnership with Blue Star Recycling.
Tri-Lakes Lions Club: We have enjoyed a great partnership with the Tri-Lakes Lions Club. They provide financial support for clients who are seeking assistance with vision needs as well as to our “Help Yourself” area of the pantry, providing funds to purchase fresh produce.
In June, they hosted a fishing derby at Palmer Lake (scroll down to see photos), collecting canned food donations as the entry fee for the kids who participated. And on September 19th, they are hosting a golf tournament at The Club of Flying Horse with a portion of the proceeds designated for Tri-Lakes Cares.
Tri-Lakes Women’s Club: The mission of the Tri-Lakes Women’s Club is to support the Tri-Lakes community through charitable and educational endeavors by raising and distributing funds to assist qualified organizations and promoting the education of its members and the community through instructional programs. For the past 40 years they have held their annual spring event – Pine Forest Spring Show – to raise funds. In addition, they hold a fall event – this year a food and wine tasting event to be held at Spruce Mountain Ranch in September called “Harvesting Hope.” The funds raised at these events, they support various organizations through a grant-making process. We have been fortunate to receive funds to purchase items (carts, filing cabinets, tables, etc.) for both Tri-Lakes Cares and Hangers to Hutches to help with daily operations.
Additionally, the members of the club have conducted numerous food drives to benefit our pantry and have participated in the annual “Giving Tree” program which helps us provide gifts to children and senior citizens in need in our community.
American Legion Tri-Lakes Post 9-11: For the past three years Post 9-11 has provided us with grants to specifically help with the emergency financial needs of our military and veteran clients. In order to raise funds, they conduct weekly bingo games on Saturday nights in The Depot Restaurant at Palmer Lake (did you know that the Post 9-11 actually operates the restaurant?). Visit their website for details on how to participate!
Sertoma: We have been grateful and fortunate for the support of two Sertoma clubs in our area. Sertoma is an international service organization whose members are dedicated to volunteerism and philanthropy in SERvice TO MAnkind. Their main focus is assisting individuals with hearing and hearing loss issues, but their support goes beyond their primary mission.
Legacy Sertoma: Legacy Sertoma continues the legacy of the Sertoma mission and support for the community in the Tri-Lakes area. Traditionally, they have raised funds to support our holiday programs in November and December ensuring that those in need or financial stress can enjoy a holiday meal and gifts (for youth and seniors).
Gleneagle Sertoma: In response to the growing Gleneagle neighborhoods in the mid-1980’s, Gleneagle Sertoma was formed. It is the largest Sertoma club in the immediate region and hosts its annual “Spirits of Spring” event to raise funds to benefit a number of non-profits in the area. We are grateful to have been the beneficiary of past events. Members of the club have also collected school supplies and held food drives to fill our pantry shelves.
Knights of Columbus, St. Peter’s Council #11514: The Knights are a fraternal order of Catholic men who work to support various charitable organizations in the community. Each year they provide financial support to our programs and services, while 12 of their members volunteer on a regular basis in our food pantry. Other causes they support include Special Olympics, School District 38’s special education department and St. Peter Catholic School. They also provide scholarships to students to attend the parochial school. Funds are raised through pancake breakfasts Sunday mornings following mass at St. Peter Catholic Church and spaghetti dinners. Their biggest fundraiser is the pancake breakfast they host each year at the Fourth of July parade.
Thank you to all of these groups for their support! We couldn’t do it without you!
Please watch for future posts thanking other groups and donors!
By Guest Blogger, Michael Brom
District 38 Teacher & Couponer Extrodinaire
Since my initial couponing blog in June, Tri-Lakes Cares has been receiving coupon inserts. Thank you so much for helping get this project going!
In addition, in late June I approached my principal, Mr. Seann O’Connor, at Lewis-Palmer Middle School about having students participate in this project during the 2016-17 school year. Throughout my experience at LPMS, I have found students, parents, and colleagues to always be genuinely interested in ways we can support others in our community. This coupon project and partnership with TLC will provide LPMS students with an invaluable community service opportunity. This kind of undertaking requires volunteers and time to cut, sort, and organize the coupons to help coupon distribution be more efficient, and I know our students will rise to the occasion!
I will begin offering couponing classes at the end of August at TLC to anyone interested in learning how to coupon. The focus of the initial classes will be for beginning couponers. The most important part of couponing is getting started. As one gains experience in couponing, it becomes easier to be more effective and efficient.
One simple couponing strategy that I use as often as possible is to focus on purchasing items that are on sale and I have, or can, obtain a coupon for those items. Of course, it’s not possible to buy every item that way; however, targeting sale items helps narrow the focus when it comes to finding and using coupons. Having a partner to coupon with is also helpful – both in gathering coupons and also when doing the actual shopping. Having both a navigator and a driver when shopping makes couponing less stressful and the shopping trip more efficient.
I look forward to sharing my couponing knowledge and helping others in the Tri-Lakes community save money.
Coupon Classes: First Class on Monday, August 29 @ 7:00 p.m.
The initial class will accommodate 12 people. If more than 12 people are interested, we will open a second slot at 7:30 p.m., also for 12 people.
Each class will be 30 minutes. It will be an introduction to couponing with future, additional classes for those who might be interested in learning more.
You are asked to bring a copy of an average grocery shopping list – what items to do you buy most consistently? Michael will use your lists as examples along with grocery store sale inserts and coupons to show how much you could save.
What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. Albert Pine
August is “What Will Be Your Legacy?” month. Take the month to reflect on your past, consider your present, and plan for the future to make positive changes that will affect generations to come. Some things you can do are write out your family history for your children, grandchildren and other young people in your family; plan how to implement your long-term goals (what is on your bucket list?); and update or complete your will or estate plan.
A common misconception is that wills are just for the wealthy. But in reality everyone, even those with a modest income, has assets. Consider: if you own a car or a home, you have assets. If you have a life insurance policy or an IRA or other type of retirement account, you have assets. If you own family antiques or jewelry, you have assets. A will or estate plan can protect those assets and help your heirs understand your wishes for distribution. This is part of your legacy.
Another aspect of your legacy can include our future. When writing your will or establishing your estate plan, consider leaving a bequest to Tri-Lakes Cares. In simple terms, a bequest is a transfer (a gift) of assets or property at by will to a specific recipient. You can also name Tri-Lakes Cares as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy or your IRA/retirement accounts. Naming us a beneficiary will let your heirs and others know the importance you place on supporting us and ensuring our future.
If you have already named Tri-Lakes Cares in your estate plans, thank you! We would love to hear from you and learn your story. Don’t worry; we will keep it completely confidential.
If you want to include us in your estate plans, we can provide you with sample language, but make sure you consult your lawyer or financial advisor.
So, during August think about your legacy and begin planning how you want to be remembered.
By Guest Blogger, Michael Brom
District 38 Teacher & Couponer Extrodinaire
I want to thank Tri-Lakes Cares for the opportunity to contribute to their blog. I have a passion and enthusiasm about what I am going to share with you. First, though, I would like to share a little bit about my personal background. I grew up as the oldest of eight children; six of my siblings were adopted. Given the size of our family, finances were oftentimes very tight. For a time we even lived in a two bedroom house. The situational poverty I grew up in taught me how to budget well and how to coupon well.
As I was couponing recently, I began to ponder ways that I could possibly incorporate couponing with community service. I called Tri-Lakes Cares to gauge their potential interest in a coupon project, a project that would help Tri-Lakes Cares stretch its dollars, help clients stretch their dollars, and would provide volunteers and others in the Lewis-Palmer community with couponing knowledge to save money in their households as well. Interestingly enough, one of the ideas that had been jotted down at Tri-Lakes Cares prior to my phone call was “couponing,” so I met with a few of the Tri-Lakes Cares staff to brainstorm ways on how to proceed and help make this project become a reality.
This coming fall I will begin my fourth year as a math teacher at Lewis-Palmer Middle School – my 25th year overall as an educator, so I have a personal interest in helping meet the needs of not only my students but also those in our community. Community service is a guiding principle for me both professionally and personally. It is my desire to teach my students about couponing as well, which will give them a lifelong skill that they and their families will benefit from. It also increases their financial literacy.
The initial need for the coupon project is to build up an inventory of coupons. It would be ideal for people who receive coupon inserts to cut out what they need and then donate the remainder of the inserts to the Tri-Lakes Cares. The objective is then to cut, sort, and organize the coupons, and distribute them to clients according to their needs. Coupons may be used for purchases made by Tri-Lakes Cares to help stretch their budget as well.
Couponing can, however, be a frustration. It can be cumbersome, time-consuming, and overwhelming. In an effort to make couponing a more productive, efficient, and enjoyable experience, couponing classes will be offered in the coming months. These couponing classes will be available to clients, and classes will also be made available to volunteers and anyone in the community who has a desire to learn more about couponing.
Thank you in advance for the work you all do to benefit so many individuals and families in our community. I look forward to the coming months as we strive to see this project evolve from a dream to a reality.
Note from Tri-Lakes Cares staff: Michael recently shared that at a recent trip to King Soopers, he saved $126.81 by using coupons and spending only $40.43 on his recent grocery bill.
By Julie Brown, Programs Manager
May was National Older Americans Month, highlighting the important roles that senior citizens play in their communities. From contributing to social networks to serving the community through volunteer work, older Americans are an important part of the areas in which they live. Seniors touch our lives every day, whether they are volunteering their time to improve the lives of those around them, or reaching out to friends and neighbors for a helping hand.
According to the National Council on Aging, “Over 25 million Americans aged 60+ are economically insecure—living at or below 250% of the federal poverty level ($29,425 per year for a single person). These older adults struggle with rising housing and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings, and job loss.” Many of our retired clients are on a fixed income and must carefully budget their income in order cover all of their expenses each month. Unfortunately, many seniors are faced with the devastating decision of having to choose between their required medications or having enough food to eat. We recognize this issue and understand that seniors, who do not have the ability to earn any more income, may never reach self-sufficiency. With that in mind, we do all that we can to support our senior clients and provide them with services that help them save money that can be spent on necessities such as medications.
We serve many seniors through various assistance programs, some of which are specifically geared towards assisting clients over the age of 60. The Senior Groceries program provides a bag of groceries that is personalized for each senior, based on their dietary needs and personal tastes. A team of dedicated volunteers calls each client enrolled in the program to ask about their dietary needs and food preferences to generate a list of items to be included in their monthly bag of Senior Groceries. These phone calls serve another purpose – a chance for TLC to touch base with the seniors and have a conversation about how they’re doing in general and remind them that we are here to help.
In addition to the Senior Groceries Program, TLC clients have access to other food assistance programs including Help Yourself, Supplemental Groceries and holiday meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clients can receive medical services through the Penrose St. Francis Neighborhood Nurse Mission Outreach Program, staffed by Nurse Cindy Stickel. Clients can also speak with a volunteer Healthcare Advocate, who can offer guidance to clients when applying for health insurance. Tri-Lakes Cares can also provide a wide variety of financial assistance that is determined based on the need of the individual client.
Older Americans Month has provided an opportunity to reflect on the role that seniors play in our community. Most of the volunteers who serve Tri-Lakes Cares and enable us to run day-to-day are over the age of 60. The National Council on Aging states that some of the benefits of seniors volunteering are that “Older volunteers report greater life satisfaction than non-volunteers and that new relationships and making a difference provide a greater sense of purpose in life for older Americans.” Without the compassion, valuable insights and tremendous skills of senior volunteers, Tri-Lakes Cares would not be able to impact clients and the community in the many ways that we currently do.
If you know of a senior in need or have questions about senior services in our community, please contact us. In some cases, we will be able to provide assistance (such as through the Senior Groceries program) and in other cases we will able to provide referral information to other organizations.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-sufficiency is defined as “able to maintain oneself without outside aid.” By this strict definition, nearly everyone – in poverty, in middle-class and in upper-class – is not self-sufficient. We all benefit from such things as car loans, mortgages, credit cards, tax credits and child care assistance. Without some of these things we would not be able to purchase cars or homes – imagine paying for a $400,000 house in cash with no mortgage!
On the extreme end, some would define self-sufficiency as doing everything yourself. You make your own tools, grow your own food, make your own electricity – everything that you would buy in a store or services you would pay for would go against being fully self-sufficient.
According to The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2015, published by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the self-sufficiency standard is the measure which “describes how much income families of various sizes and compositions need to make ends meet without public or private assistance.” The report reveals that for most workers throughout Colorado, whose wages are above the official Federal Poverty Level, are still not making enough to meet their family’s needs. In 2015, a family of four (two adults, two children) would need to make an hourly wage of $15.47 per adult for an annual income of $65,350 to be economically self-sufficient in El Paso County.
Considering that many of those who seek assistance at Tri-Lakes Cares are working for a minimum wage of $8.31 per hour (Colorado is higher than the federal minimum wage), you can see how it is difficult to make ends meet. And, financial difficulties can multiply if work hours are reduced, a position is eliminated or unexpected medical costs are incurred.
Yet, some of those clients view themselves as self-sufficient. Consider the man who comes in on a weekly basis to visit Help Yourself – where he can pick-up bread, fresh produce, dairy products and other perishable items which are donated by area businesses to supplement what he can purchase on his fixed income. This may be the only assistance that he seeks. Or, consider the senior citizen who received help to repair the gutter work on her trailer where she continues to live independently and asking for no further help. Yet, these individuals may be receiving food stamp benefits, disability payments, and income tax credits meaning that by the official definition they are not self-sufficient.
Tri-Lakes Cares works with all of our clients to help them move out of poverty and towards greater self-sufficiency as defined by the individual and their unique situation. We offer them opportunities which might improve their chances of getting out of the cycle of poverty. One such possibility is our “Getting Ahead” class. This 12-week course, which is part of the aha! Process, Inc. family of resources and developed by the creators of Bridges out of Poverty, helps individuals understand their own situation and encourages them to review their resources and capabilities on how to move out of poverty and towards increased self-sufficiency. Other possibilities offered include budget counseling and assistance with post-secondary education costs (everything from helping to pay for books to providing tuition assistance for work-related licensures).
Self-sufficiency means different things to different people depending on their financial circumstances, their philosophy on life and their personal perceptions. We cannot impose our own definition for self-sufficiency on others. We can only understand it when we hear the other’s story – walking a mile in their shoes – and only then can we move together towards an understanding of self-sufficiency for each individual.
You can read and study the full self-sufficiency standard report here:
By Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager
On average, over 190 million pounds of safe, edible food are thrown away every day in the United States.
(The Food and Agriculture Organization)
Have you ever wondered where all the food comes from that Tri-Lakes Cares distributes to clients? All the food – breads, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, baked goods, etc. – in the “Help Yourself” area comes from “food rescue” efforts.
What does “food rescue” mean? Food rescue is the practice of gathering edible food that would otherwise go to waste from places such as grocery stores and other retail outlets which is then distributed to local food programs benefiting low-income individuals and families. In most cases, the rescued food is being saved from being thrown into a dumpster and, ultimately, landfills or other waste disposal.
What is Help Yourself? Help Yourself is our food rescue program, with fewer restrictions than our other food programs. The Help Yourself area is set up like a mini-market where clients can select their own breads, baked goods, fruits and veggies allowing them the dignity of self-selection. Dairy products and other similar perishable items are kept in a large refrigerator (purchased with the support of the Tri-Lakes Women’s Club). Clients experience a greater control over their own food selection and are more likely to eat what they take. It has the added benefit of offering more variety of fresh items with nutritional value.
On a weekly basis, twenty-three volunteers spread out across the community to pick-up donated food, set-up the Help Yourself area and assist clients during service hours on Mondays and Thursdays. These volunteers give over 2,500 hours on a yearly basis for this particular program.
Who supports Tri-Lakes Cares through “food rescue”? We could not offer the Help Yourself program without community support. Since December 2015, our community food rescue retailer participation has increased by 63%. Our current food rescue partners include:
- Care and Share of Southern Colorado, 2605 Preamble Pt., Colorado Springs, CO 80915
- King Soopers, 1070 W Baptist Rd., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- Safeway, 624 W Highway 105, Monument, CO 80132
- Natural Grocers, 1216 W Baptist Rd., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- Sprouts, 13415 Voyager Pkwy., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- 7-Eleven, 2650 Old North Gate Rd., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- Penzeys Spices, 7431 N Academy Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 80920
- Panera, 1845 Briargate Pkwy., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- Kneaders, 13482 Bass Pro Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- Which Wich, 7640 N Academy Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 80920
- Kum & Go, 1206 Interquest Pkwy., Colorado Springs, CO 80921
- Kum & Go, 1410 Cipriani Loop, Monument, CO 80132
Thanks to these generous retailers, 104,882 pounds of food rescue food was distributed to 1,689 clients during our last fiscal year (October 2014 to September 2015). And, Help Yourself continues to be a popular service with our clients.
But, is the food safe to eat? Rescued food is edible, but often not saleable. Bruised fruit such as bananas or apples, day-old breads and baked goods, and products that are just at or just past their “sell by” dates are donated – but still edible. Other times, the food is unblemished, but the store may have made or ordered too much. Rest assured, that Tri-Lakes Cares volunteers and staff carefully review all expiration dates and look over produce to ensure that only the very best is available! We follow best practices in food handling and safety, distributing rescued food the same day we receive it through the Help Yourself program. In addition, retailers are protected by the 1996 Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act which supports food rescue programs from liability lawsuits as well as offering tax benefits for their donations.
How can you help?
Say “Thank you!” to our current Food Rescue partners by shopping in their stores. Be sure to thank the store managers and other workers for their Food Rescue participation and partnership with Tri-Lakes Cares! If they know the community values their efforts, they will continue to donate and assist us.
If there is a food store not on our current list, let the store manager know you’re passionate about reducing food waste and hunger in our community and that what may seem like an “insignificant amount” of food waste to them, can be extremely valuable to the needy in our community. Be clear that what you’re proposing requires almost no additional work from their employees, and over time can help save a substantial amount of food. If they need more reassurance, refer them our Food Programs Manager.
For more information on our Food Rescue efforts, contact Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager at 719.481.4864 x 111 or email@example.com
A frequent question we get at Tri-Lakes Cares is how people qualify for services such as food and rental assistance. The answer is if they make 185% of the federal poverty guideline and reside within our service territory, they are eligible for assistance. But what does 185% of the federal poverty guideline mean?
It can be complicated. Let’s see if we can make it easier.
Every year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issues “poverty guidelines” based on household size (1 to 8). These guidelines are updated annually from the “latest published weighted average poverty thresholds using the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.” The poverty thresholds are calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Consumer Price Index, a statistic produced by the Department of Labor.
The poverty guidelines, or percentage multiples of them (125%, 150%, 175% or 185%), are used as a method to determine eligibility for federal government assistance programs. In addition, state and other local governments may use some part of the poverty guidelines and percentages to determine eligibility for state or local assistance programs.
Are you confused yet? It took me visits to four different government websites and one research institute website to just glean the information above. You can see links at the end of this post.
So, how does this work? Let’s take the example of the Smiths, a family of four residing in El Paso County, Colorado, trying to qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, commonly known as “food stamps.” According to the most recent poverty guidelines published on January 25, 2016, the Smiths are considered to be living in poverty if their annual income is $24,300 or less.
Per the El Paso County Department of Human Services, to be eligible for SNAP, the Smiths would have to earn a monthly gross income of $2,628 (which is 130% of poverty) and a monthly net income of $2,012 (100% of poverty) or less. (Per the county, gross income means a household’s total, non-excluded income, before any deductions have been made. Net income means gross income minus allowable deductions.) The annual gross income for the Smiths is $31,526 which is $27,303 dramatically below the $58,829 annual gross income needed to be considered self-sufficient. (The self-sufficiency figure is from the 2015 Colorado Self-Sufficiency Standard report prepared for and issued by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. **) Based on this calculation, they would qualify for benefits. However, benefits aren’t always guaranteed just on this metric alone as other factors may come into play as well. But that is a whole different story. Back to Tri-Lakes Cares.
Tri-Lakes Cares uses the poverty guidelines in a similar manner. In order to qualify for financial assistance (i.e. anything that would require a check for things such as rental assistance, secondary education tuition or help with medical bills), a client would qualify if their income is 185% of the poverty guidelines. For the Smiths, the annual poverty guideline is an annual income of $24,300. 185% of this amount is $44,955, meaning their income needs to be equal or less than this amount in order to qualify for financial assistance at Tri-Lakes Cares. As in the example above, this income falls almost $14,000 short of the $58,829 self-sufficiency standard. And, considering that the median income for El Paso County is $73,000 and the Tri-Lakes area even higher, the Smiths would struggle to make ends meet.
For the various food programs at Tri-Lakes Cares other percentages are used, some which are set by the federal government such as the TEFAP (Commodities) program or internally by Tri-Lakes Cares. Because senior citizens are such a vulnerable population, living on fixed incomes and with little opportunity to increase their income, the percentage may be calculated at a higher rate. Children who receive food through the “Snack Pack” program are already qualified by receiving free or reduced price breakfast and lunches at school at income levels set by federal guidelines. And, there are always special and limited-time circumstances which may account for “beyond the basic rules” of receiving assistance.
Rest assured that the Paula and Michael, our Case Managers, work closely with all of the individuals and families to determine eligibility and to make sure all of our resources and donor-dollars are used in the most efficient manner.
** Watch for a future blog posting about self-sufficiency – what it is, how it is calculated and what the salary requirements are to meet it.
https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html (U.S Census Bureau)
http://www.irp.wisc.edu/faqs/faq1.htm (Institute for Research on Poverty)
http://www.colorado.gov (State of Colorado)
http://dhs.elpasoco.com/Pages/FoodAssistance.aspx (El Paso County, Department of Human Services)
- Cooking Matters – Learning how to shop for, and cook, healthy meals on a budget
- How does our garden grow?
- Getting Ahead (in a “Just Gettin’ By World”)
- The changing face of poverty
- What is the face of poverty at Tri-Lakes Cares?
- What is Food Insecurity?
- What are Social Determinants of Health and why should you care?
- Through you, our impact in February 2018
- Giving what is needed vs Giving what you want to give
- You make an impact through your support of TLC!