Phillipa Lewis-Moss doesn’t need any analyst to tell her that times are hard for people everywhere. All she has to do is look at the number of people coming to her office for assistance.
“Before, (we were) able to do interviews every day for emergency funds assistance, but now, we’ve been getting so many requests that we’ve had to limit interviews to two days a week,” said Lewis-Moss, who is director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to get any other work done because there have been so many requests. If things continue at this rate, we will exhaust our emergency funds before the end of the year.
“We’ve always served a lot of people who live below poverty — people who have come to rely on the different agencies for support — but now we’re seeing more individuals coming in who say they’ve never asked for assistance before.”
The U.S. Census Bureau lends concrete proof to Lewis-Moss’ observations. According to statistics recently released by the bureau, 12.1 percent of Hall County families lived below the poverty level in 2008. That’s an increase from the previous year when the rate was 8.8 percent. Among those families, 31.4 percent received some sort of cash public assistance.
The Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center offers a variety of assistance opportunities, including emergency assistance for water bills and even medication assistance for senior citizens.
“Our programs are open to all Hall County residents regardless of income, but we tend to see a lot more low-income residents,” Lewis-Moss said. “The majority of our requests, more than 75 percent, come from women.”
Census figures show that among Hall County families headed by single women, 32.6 percent live below the poverty level.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal poverty level depends on the size of a family. For instance, an annual income of $18,210 is considered to be poverty level for a two-person family; for a family of four, it is $27,570.
Even if they aren’t living below poverty, there are still more Hall County families that need food stamps to feed their families. According to the census bureau, 8.4 percent of Hall County families receive food stamps. Of those families, 14.7 percent live below the poverty level and another 22.7 percent have at least one disabled household member.
The number of families on food stamps nearly doubled from the previous year’s count, when only 4.9 percent of Hall families received government food assistance. Of the households receiving food stamps, 68.9 percent are white, 23.8 percent are Hispanic and 18.6 percent are black.
The census bureau also reports that 37 percent of Hall County households receiving food stamps haven’t had an employed family member in the past 12 months.
“More than 75 percent of our requests for assistance are coming from people who have had their wages reduced or lost jobs because of the market decline,” Lewis-Moss said. “While the marketplace may have seen the bottom (of the recession), the American family has not. And until they do, we won’t see the bottom, either.”