Legislature’s moves increase demands on agencies, impact on families

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 07:36 PM

Cuts in unemployment benefits made by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory appear to be having an impact in Vance County.

“We gave out 49 food boxes this morning, and we’ll probably give out 30 this evening,” Dorothy Hunt said Tuesday. She’s the founder and executive director of Lifeline Outreach, Inc.

She said that is “much more” than the organization typically gave out two months ago, before cuts in unemployment benefits went into effect.

Legislation passed in the recently completed legislative session cut impacted unemployment benefits to about 70,000 workers statewide on July 1. The maximum weekly payment fell from $535 to $350 for those qualified, and reduced the number of weeks that benefits can be received from 26 down to 20.

According to community organizations that serve the needy, those cuts are affecting residents of the Tri-County area.

“Our numbers are steadily going up,” said Twanna Jones, director of Area Christians Together in Service. “We are now feeding 500 to 600 a week.”

Apparently the reduced unemployment benefits caught some people by surprise. “One lady said they had cut her benefits,” Jones said. “She didn’t know it was going to happen so fast.

“We have to give out more food boxes because people can’t buy it.”

In addition, other kinds of needs are emerging.

“We’re giving out the basics — paper towels, toilet paper, toothpaste — that we never did before,” Jones said.

The Salvation Army’s Capt. Rick Langley said, “We’re noticing an increase.”

The cuts in unemployment benefits have affected the number of people needing financial help as well as those struggling to put food on the table.

“We’ve had a few people come in and say their benefits were cut,” Langley said. “We’ve helped some out with rent, with their electric service.”

The situation for many families could get worse as cold weather approaches. “We’re dreading the winter,” Langley said.

Senior citizens appear to be affected less by cuts in unemployment benefits, because fewer of them are in the job market.

Even though the senior center serves an older population, they are not necessarily retirees.

“People no longer automatically retire in their early 60s,” May said.

“We’re pretty much up to capacity all the time,” said Juan Jefferson, director of the Vance County Senior Center. “We may have added people to the waiting list.” He said their capacity is limited by funding. “We have to stretch it out for the whole year.”

“Because we serve a 60-plus population, they aren’t much affected by cuts in unemployment benefits,” said Kathy May, director of Granville County senior services. “We do see a tremendous increase in our congregate meals, but I can’t specifically tie that to unemployment benefits.”

“We are seeing additions to our waiting list in the last month,” said Alicia Giddiens, director of the Warren County Senior Center.

However, she said she couldn’t tell if it was the result of cuts in unemployment benefits. The center doesn’t do an extensive investigation of why people seek assistance, she said.

 

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.