Alma Rutgers: Helping town families beneath poverty level
By Alma Rutgers
Published 12:00 am EDT, Sunday, August 26, 2018
The Town of Greenwich Department of Human Services (GDHS) has just announced the launch of a new nonprofit organization: the Greenwich Department of Human Services Fund (Greenwich DHS Fund).
In full disclosure, I serve as secretary on the DHS Fund’s five-member board. Other board members are Steve Gross, president; Rick Muskus, treasurer; Branden Beecher, and Bill Phyfe.
The fund’s mission is to accept charitable contributions to support programs and services offered by GDHS and to promote community awareness of the needs that these programs and services address.
The Greenwich DHS Fund is a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions are fully tax-deductible. Among the GDHS programs that have historically received support from private contributions are the Campership Program, Back to School, the Greenwich Youth Conservation Program, and Holiday Aid.
The Campership Program provides scholarships to GDHS clients to attend summer camp. Scholarships are paid directly to local day camps, as well as to two sleep-away camps.
Back to School provides backpacks and school supplies to GDHS client families who have children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The Greenwich Youth Conservation Program serves more than 100 Greenwich teens, ages 14 and 15, and provides them with an opportunity to hold their first job. Each teen that completes the program receives a stipend of $225. The program teaches teamwork and practical skills, while allowing teens to make a positive contribution to the town’s environment.
Holiday Aid provides food assistance for the Thanksgiving and December holiday seasons. Families served by GDHS receive food vouchers or gift cards so that they can purchase their holiday meals. The amount they receive is based on family size, and is also determined by the total donations received.
Who are these individuals and families that GDHS serves?
They are Greenwich residents who are at an economic disadvantage. Some readers may be surprised to learn that 5.5 percent of the Greenwich population, or 3,430 town residents in 1,214 households, live at or below the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that income level, as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, is $25,100.
Eligibility for GDHS programs, however, is set at 200 percent of that federal poverty level, which for a family of four is $50,200. By this measure, 13.4 percent of the Greenwich population — 8,372 individuals in 2,959 households — qualifies for GDHS services.
But according to Greenwich Commissioner of Human Services Alan Barry the current method of determining poverty for program eligibility is antiquated.
“The poverty eligibility guidelines need to change and incorporate a modern updated cost of living to determine need, including a regional approach,” he said, noting that it makes no sense to have uniform poverty levels for the entire country when there are substantial regional variations in the cost of living.
According to Barry, a more accurate alignment with the actual cost of living for our area would be 300 percent of the current federal poverty level, which would be $75,300 for a family of four. Those at, or below, 300 percent of the federal poverty level — 20 percent of Greenwich households - struggle to make ends meet.
In 2017, GDHS served 2,336 households. Those served were 76 percent female, 43 percent white, 10 percent African-American, 35 percent Hispanic/Latino, 5 percent Asian, and 7 percent other.
Persons served by GDHS include children and youth at risk; those suffering from confusion, dementia, and other declining abilities; those with intellectual disabilities and chronic mental illness; and older individuals living on limited fixed income who have physical and medical needs.
For many clients, financial hardship — including unemployment and underemployment — creates heightened levels of stress. Substance abuse, domestic violence, anxiety, and depression are not uncommon among those in difficult financial circumstances.
The current GDHS budget is $3,896,159, which is only 1 percent of the town’s total budget. GDHS seeks to allocate these resources to meet the basic needs of its clients. GDHS has identified four such general areas of need: health, including behavioral and developmental health; education and employment; personal safety; and shelter.
The newly established Greenwich DHS Fund is intended to help support these programs and services, as well as heighten community awareness of the needs. To learn more, or to make a tax- deductible contribution, visit the fund’s website: http://www.greenwichdhsfund.org/
Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 25 years. Her blog is at blog.ctnews.com/rutgers/