Pandemic aid keeps the needy afloat

Despite the financial ravages of the pandemic, the number of people in financial difficulty or in poverty has not changed dramatically in the Bay Area, according to a new study.

The report – from Tipping Point Community and the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California at Berkeley – involved a survey of 1,329 residents of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa counties. Clara in the winter of 2020-2021. He compared this data with the responses of the same residents collected in 2018 and 2019.

The survey found that nearly one in five people entered the pandemic in poverty and remain there today. He also found that poverty continues to affect black and Latino communities at an alarmingly higher rate than Asian and white communities.

The study credited government and nonprofit emergency cash assistance programs for keeping people out of poverty. But Marin social service leaders said the need persisted, especially in low-income non-white communities.

And most social service leaders said the burden on local governments and nonprofits was unsustainable.

“There are these kinds of hidden pockets of great need and that’s not necessarily what people expect,” said Kari Beuerman, deputy director of the Marin County health and social services department. “This is true for Marin. It’s all the more difficult because people don’t see Marin that way, but it’s definitely out there. “

Marisa Giller, communications director for the nonprofit Tipping Point Community, said the regional study could not be broken down into specific Marin details.

“The challenges in one county impact the others – we need to take a regional approach to tackling poverty, which is why Marin and five other counties were included in the study, and this is why those in Marin should care, ”she said. “Finally, while Marin is incredibly wealthy, there are also pockets of extreme poverty – another reason this study is relevant.”

According to 2019 census data, Marin County has a poverty rate of 6.9%, or about 17,800 people. The median household income is around $ 115,000 and the per capita income is around $ 73,000.

The survey found that government benefits kept more than 200,000 Bay Area residents from sliding into poverty. These benefits include federal stimulus payments, increases in unemployment benefits, and nonprofit assistance programs administered at the municipal level.

Beuerman said the extreme wealth disparity in Marin County was illustrated during the pandemic in the way the county’s poorest residents sought services. The county’s burden on MediCal, CalFresh, CalWORKS and general relief recipients has increased exponentially since fiscal year 2019-2020, she said.

CalFresh, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, saw a 26.5% increase in the number of participants, from 10,193 in March 2020 to 12,898 in October 2021, she said. declared. Additional requests are under consideration and are not included in these figures.

CalWorks, California’s version of temporary assistance for needy families, has grown from 400 participants to 643. The county’s General Relief Program, which serves childless adults with small monthly financial loans, has grown from 511 to 971.

The survey found that financially struggling Bay Area households were more than twice as likely to seek help from nonprofits. Leaders of county nonprofits said they had stepped up efforts to provide rent assistance, direct cash payments and food service to those in need.

“The public sector has looked to the private sector to fill the gaps,” said Cheryl Paddack, CEO of North Marin Community Services. “And we wanted to better serve the gaps between the public and private sectors, but we need to do so in a sustainable way that doesn’t rely solely on public sector dollars. “

The nonprofit Novato provided $ 1.7 million in rent assistance, keeping around 2,000 people housed, Paddack said. In addition, it provided $ 455,000 in cash assistance to 910 families to purchase groceries and distributed 21,000 bags of food.

West Marin Community Services – which provides support to low-income families, undocumented workers and the elderly in unincorporated rural towns – offered rental allowances of $ 500 to families of four with total income less than $ 78,600 per year. He also saw the biggest increase in his pantry needs.

“In the past, they probably would never have used our services,” said Yareli Cervantes, manager of the emergency aid program. “Some of the families that were already falling through the cracks, we were able to step in and offer their safety net services and keep them afloat. “

The leaders of these nonprofits said that poverty in Latin American and black communities was pervasive before the pandemic and the result of historic inequities, but the financial and health impact of the pandemic has also affected these communities. disproportionately.

According to the survey, 54% of black and Latino residents reported frequently running out of money during the pandemic, compared to 24% of white residents and 19% of Asian American residents. Sixty percent of black residents said they had less than three months of savings, compared to 49% of Latino residents, 25% of white residents, and 20% of Asian American residents.

Paddack said 89% of the people served by his organization are from non-white communities.

Omar Carrera, general manager of Canal Alliance in San Rafael, said that at one point during the pandemic, 80% of cases were from the predominantly Latino neighborhood of the canal, where many residents are essential workers and live in homes. multi-family. Despite the public health risks, they took jobs because they had to pay rent, he said.

“We have all been affected by the pandemic, many of us have lost friends and family, but we were able to convert our jobs to virtual jobs and not take unnecessary risks,” Carrera said. “But that was not the reality for everyone.”

Organizations such as Canal Alliance put “boots on the ground” at the start of the pandemic to assess the impacts in these neighborhoods and engage the community, Carrera said.

“We never closed the doors. We tried to give people what they needed, ”he said.

Royce McLemore, founder of the nonprofit Women Helping All People, said most of Marin City’s immediate needs were met, such as food and housing assistance. Marin City has the highest concentration of black residents in the county.

McLemore’s concern was that aid was dwindling despite the community continuing to struggle.

“We just hope there is a turning point in all of this because we’re not normal yet and we don’t even know what normal is going to bring,” she said. “People will always suffer because the rent doesn’t go down and instead, in some places, they raise it.”

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