NEWPORT CITY – Last Thursday, about two dozen Newport area residents met at the Emory State Office Building to discuss community needs. Similar meetings have taken place elsewhere in the state. Eventually members of the groups will bring their message to the State House.
Put People First, part of the Vermont Workers' Center, organized Thursday’s meeting. Members are particularly concerned about what will happen to public assistance programs. They also feel everyone has a right to housing, education and dignified work.
“People are definitely ready to have a voice,” said Vermont Workers’ Center staff organizer Sarah Weintraub.
During the meeting, each person had an opportunity to discuss his or her concerns.
Joe Patrissi, from Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), said heating is one of the biggest challenges for many Vermonters. “I can’t imagine how people are going to make it,” said Patrissi.
He said that the average heating assistance benefit is $470 for the season. “I can’t imagine what will happen if the state or federal government doesn’t step up to the plate.... I’ve never seen anybody in state leadership program let its people go cold. This year, I don’t hear it yet. I am not confident yet,” he said.
Transportation is a big issue for Travis Baraw from NEKCA's Parent Child Center North.
Housing, healthcare, childcare issues and livable wages were other issues expressed at the meeting.
Stories about families having their homes foreclosed on or not able to buy heat are seldom told, Weintraub said. However, on Thursday, those stories came across loud and clear.
One of those stories came from Penny Wilson from the Lyndon Children’s Center. The center is facing barriers like the ability to remain open. One of the biggest problems is the high unemployment rate, which means fewer people need childcare services.
Wilson said that, for some families, rent is what they make a month.
A person at the meeting, identified as Mark, said he would be lonely and lost if there are cuts to his benefits. He said people may end up taking advantage of him and he may end up living on the street.
A 21-year-old restaurant worker said the economy makes it difficult for her to work enough hours to earn a livable wage. She said there are times when she needs to find someone to take care of her child because she often works when her daycare is closed. She said she earns $8.60 an hour and pays $5 an hour for a babysitter.
She loses opportunities to work more hours at other places because she can’t afford to get her car fixed. She said food assistance only goes so far. She said she gets frustrated when some people complain that they can’t afford to heat their driveway.
“If I could make more an hour, I could make my bills and I would not be so dependent on the state,” she said.
The people who attended the meeting are not alone. According to 2010 figures, over 15% of Americans are living in poverty, the highest figure since 1993, and one in three children in America live in poverty.
Poverty thresholds in the United States are as follows: For a single person under 65 years of age, $11,344; for a single person 65 or older, $10,458. For a single parent with one child, the poverty level is $15,030; with two children, $17,568. For two adults, the poverty level if they have no children is $14,602; one child, $17,552; two children, $22,113; and three children, $26,023. (http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/ )