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Poverty Numbers Up in Buchanan County

A new study shows greater numbers of people in Buchanan County are living in poverty. Local agencies are rising to meet the rising demand.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A new report shows poverty numbers in Buchanan County are growing.

The Missourians to End Poverty Coalition says more than 19 percent of people in the county are living below the poverty level.

Those statistics surprise no one who currently helps the poor get back on their feet.

St. Joseph's social services safety net keeps catching more of those who are falling into poverty.

"A lot of them are working and struggling to get by day after day," said Kylee Strough, executive director of the United Way of Greater St. Joseph. The local United Way provides funding to 19 partner service agencies.

"I think that's a little different face than we're used to," Strough said.

Christina Warford has come to Community Action Partnership for help. She doesn't like that some say the poor are lazy and just living off the system.

"It actually makes me pretty mad when people say that," Warford said. "At any given time I can have 20 or more applications out around town but those phone calls never come."

"We get clients who come in the door and say I've been laid off," said Gina Smith of Community Action Program. "[They say] 'I've never had to use a program like this before. I don't want to be here, but I have to be here."

Warford is caring for her 8-year-old son. With her financial situation she often has to make tough choices many people wouldn't understand.

"Sometimes it's stupid things like if he wears a clean pair of pants every day, will there be enough laundry detergent to get through the rest of the month?" she said.

At the Social Welfare Board, they're seeing more people come in for healthcare services. Many of these are people who are working.

"Unfortunately the trend is to employ folks 29 or less hours per week, which eliminates the employer having to provide benefits," said Linda Judah, executive director of the agency.

Caseload at Social Welfare has gone up 67 percent in the last three years. Judah has high praise for local agencies helping with a hand up and not a hand out.

"There is a fine line between enabling and helping," Judah said. "I believe we, the safety net organizations in St. Joe, do a good job of helping them get back on their feet."

Warford continues to look for jobs and is thankful for the help she's getting to bridge the gap.

"Honestly, I wouldn't want to think of where life would be. I wouldn't know how to do it," Warford said.

The survey identified five key areas of need for those in poverty: food, healthcare, education, energy and housing and economic security.

The current poverty level for a family of four is $23,550 per year.
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