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Tough Economic Times Creating “The New Poor”

Rohrs, Caldwell: People Who Never Needed Help Before Are Now Calling


When the economy turns sour, Cecily Rohrs’ phone rings.

Rohrs, Ridgeville Corners, has been involved in social service, in one form or another, for more than 20 years. Today, she is director of Shepherd’s Circle, a volunteer group providing support and life-skills training to the needy.

“My phone was full this morning. I had 47 messages,” she said, Friday, Jan. 23.

“The calls I’m getting now are not from people who are in generational poverty, but people who are brand new to poverty,” she said.

Rohrs said she spoke to an adult working woman, who lived in a home in Archbold. After paying what bills she could, she could not afford food.

“Her meal that day was a graham cracker,” Rohrs said.

Getting By

The people she is seeing now are those who, before the economic downturn, were getting by, making ends meet, living month to month.

But when business turned bad and employers started cutting hours, eliminating overtime, or laying off workers, those who were once getting by are now poor.

Rohrs said there are those who’ve been poor all their lives “and know how to live on nothing.”

But the new poor “have had the rug pulled out from under them.”

Ken Caldwell, director of Fulton County Department of Job and Family Services, confirms Rohrs’ observation.

“We’re seeing people we’ve never seen before.

“There are families we see over and over, but we’re seeing an increasing number of people we have not seen before,” he said.

“A lot of times, people have never been here before. We try to go through with them what services we offer,” he said.

Numbers

Caldwell said while Fulton County JFS doesn’t track the number of new-to-the-agency visits, they have seen increases in need born out in other statistics.

As of the end of July 2008, Caldwell said there were 2,388 individuals or families receiving food stamps in Fulton County.

By the end of December 2008, that number was 2,700. That’s an increase of 312, or 13%, in just six months.

Fulton County JFS administers the Medicaid program, which provides medical care to those with limited income and resources.

As of July 31, 2008, Fulton County JFS listed 4,653 Fulton County residents on Medicaid.

At the end of December 2008, the number was up 6%, or 290, to 4,943.

Caldwell said food stamps and Medicaid are entitlement programs; as long as a person qualifies, they will receive assistance through the programs.

Where Fulton County JFS is feeling the pinch in the administration costs.

“The state gives us ‘x’ amount of dollars to administer the programs. We’ve already had two cuts this year in administrative costs,” he said.

People can still get services through JFS, “just not as quick,” he said.

Encourage

Caldwell said even if someone isn’t sure they qualify for help through Job and Family Services, “we encourage people to come in.”

Fulton County JFS is located in the Detwiler office building on Shoop Avenue in Wauseon. On the first floor of the building is the Fulton County Workforce Development office.

Workforce Development may be able to help a person find a job, or even prepare a resume to assist in a job search.

Another option is 211. Dialing 211 connects the caller to a person who can refer those in need to organizations.

Bootstraps

Some have called the current national economic situation the worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Some pundits suggest that people survived the Great Depression without massive government programs, and that they can survive this crisis as well.

But Rohrs points out that in 1930, much of the nation, particularly Northwest Ohio, was an agrarian society- most of the population lived on farms.

“Today, we don’t own chickens or eggs; we don’t have a hog.

“We have to buy food, and for that, you need money. We have nothing to trade for.

“There’s a story: give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

“Now, he can’t even fish, because he can’t afford to get a fishing license,” she said.

But there are those who are stepping up.

Rohrs said during a recent period of high winds, an Archbold woman called her and said, “‘I have a big house that’s warm. If anybody needs a place, they can come here,’

“That thrilled me,” she said.

She said donations for the county Christmas Cheer program, which provides for the county’s needy, are still coming in.

“We looking for ways to funnel the funds” to those who need them, she said.

Stress

One of Rohrs’ concerns is stress and mental health.

Caldwell agreed; when someone loses a job or has their hours reduced, “it can be very stressful.”

“How many days can you get up, call around to all the temporary employment services, and be told there’s nothing available. What causes you to get up tomorrow?

“We need to connect. Connections now are more important than ever,” she said.


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