Massachusetts Looks After Vulnerable Populations

Since the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, people across the U.S. have been struggling financially on many fronts. One of the principal symptoms of this has been the ever-increasing barriers to home ownership, with many people too sunk in debt to be able to afford a reasonable mortgage. As a result, many families and individuals rent their accommodation, but here too prices have become prohibitive: a “typical family looking to rent has to pay more than 30 percent of its income for a typical apartment” reports the Christian Science Monitor, and for lower-income families, this may rise to as much as half their earnings going towards rent. The increased demand for rental homes has increased a demand that pushes rental prices upwards.


Soaring costs of living becoming a burden

At the same time, other financial pressures are making it ever more difficult for families and vulnerable people to make ends meet. The soaring costs of education are turning college into the remotest of possibilities for some families, while others take the financial leap but are saddled with debt. College tuition costs have “increased 538 percent in the 28-year period” since 1985, reports Bloomberg, while “balances of student loans have eclipsed both auto loans and credit cards, making student loan debt the largest form of consumer debt outside of mortgages,” observes a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Child care costs are increasing, especially in Massachusetts, where it is the highest in the entire nation with an “average annual cost of $16,430”, reports the Herald News. All families are feeling the crunch, but particularly those living on the minimum wage, which, adjusted for inflation, has decreased consistently since 1968.


Pressures on state support programs

Now more so than ever, budget cuts resulting in decreased assistance to vulnerable families and individuals are increasing the unbearable pressure on those with low incomes, and Massachusetts is working hard to continue to deliver social security to its most vulnerable populations. In an attempt to help combat the barriers to home ownership, the Massachusetts-based Mortgage Network provides “first-time low- and moderate-income borrowers with affordable financing options” – a project that will result not only in greater financial stability for those families who are able to buy their own home, but also in a deflated and therefore more affordable rental market. As observed by Governor Patrick in his recent State of the State address, Massachusetts is “the only state to guarantee emergency shelter” to those who need it, with state programs assisting homeless individuals not only providing food, shelter, and clothing to those who need it, but also helping people to secure permanent housing, providing healthcare and job assistance, and offering help with mental illness and substance abuse. This is particularly vital given the stigma attached to homeless people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse, which can cause addicts to “miss work, neglect family obligations and have financial problems,” notes the Coalition Against Drug Abuse. Programs are needed not only to help reduce the numbers of homeless people in the short term, but also to develop “innovative programs and services that address the underlying factors that cause homelessness in the first place,” argues the Boston Globe.


Heating benefits pledge

The recent ‘farm bill’ instated by Congress aimed to reduce the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (‘SNAP’) by ending state practices that triggered higher SNAP benefits for families receiving minimal heating assistance (as low as $1). The bill required that heating benefits would need to be raised to as high as $20 before resulting in an increase in SNAP benefits, but Massachusetts, along with Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Montana has used this loophole to keep its SNAP program up and running. Federal funding in the amount of $3 million will be used to fund the increase in heating assistance needed to keep SNAP benefits up and running. ''Despite what Speaker Boehner said last week (ironically, on the same day he invited Pope Francis to address a joint session of Congress), this effort is not 'fraud' or 'cheating' — it's an effort by states like Massachusetts to provide food to hungry families,'' commented U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

The Lowell Housing Authority is proud to form part of the ongoing work of Massachusetts to take care of its most vulnerable citizens by improving services to families and individuals seeking housing assistance. 


Emma Finch