Feb. 10


A weekly publication of               2/10/2014

Did you know... 

One third of people in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont live in Rural or Small Towns.
•    No public transportation system exists for more than 80% of New Hampshire's communities.
•    Rural populations in Maine are on average 2 miles farther from the closest SNAP outlet than urban populations in Maine.

Dear Pat,

Another Monday and over another foot of snow added to the ever growing snowbanks in New Hampshire and Maine. I consider myself very fortunate however. If I must get to the office, I have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If the driving conditions are poor, I can choose to work from the comfort of my home. And if I do decide to work from home and the internet goes out preventing me from getting that work done, I have personal days that I can use, so not to miss any pay.

There are many, many people who do not have these advantages. A large portion are low-income, head of household workers who must show up for work no matter the conditions. If they don’t show, they don’t get paid, and may even risk losing their jobs. 

This article was posted on a good friend’s FaceBook page this weekend and I think it is an important read for all of us.

A Blizzard of Perspective
By: Barbara Howard

What was a young mother with a toddler doing at 1:00 a.m. at a bus stop on Brighton Avenue? That was what I asked myself early Wednesday morning as I headed home from work.

I worked late preparing Morning Edition for WBUR and was driving home, when I spotted a woman sitting in a bus shelter holding a sleeping child across her lap. I put my car into reverse, backed up, and lowered my passenger side window. I shouted to her: “Are you heading toward Oak Square? Because I’m going that way, and the buses are really slow because of the snow.” She said she was, and I offered her a ride.

I didn’t have a child’s car seat, but certainly this was safer than leaving her sitting on that bench with temperatures in the teens. She piled into the back seat with her sleeping daughter, who was dressed in snow boots and a pink parka. Over the engine, I could hear the girl softly snoring. I cranked up the heat, and we took off toward Brighton.

As we drove, the young mom told me that she had taken several buses that day. She said she works in food services at MIT, had bused to her mother’s Dorchester home after work to pick up her daughter, and had been on buses for two more hours. She said she was waiting for the number 57 bus for the final leg home.

Just before Oak Square, she had me turn right off the bus route and we headed uphill on a very narrow street with cars parked on both sides. I asked her if that turn is where the 57 bus drops her off and whether she normally walks the rest of the way. She said yes. It was a very steep and snowy hill, and I commented that she must have very strong arms to carry her sleeping daughter up that hill. She told me that sometimes she just can’t carry her, especially with all the snow. She said she has to wake up her little girl and make her walk up the hill. “She doesn’t like that,” the woman said.

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Three.”

We traveled about a quarter mile, all up hill. Toward the top, my front wheel drive car could barely move; the wheels were spinning in the snow. At the peak of the hill on the left, the young woman pointed out where she lives: a large brick building that looks like a former school. She told me that it’s a shelter.

With all the snow lately, we’ve rightly heard from commuters about the hassles of getting to and from work, but many of us have options that this mother can only dream of. Last week, I took a taxi to WBUR when the snow was too much, and WBUR put the staff up in a nearby hotel for two nights so that we could cover the blizzard. Now that I’ve dug out my dependable car, which I can afford to have, I can drive myself to and from work. White collar bosses like mine tend to understand if a skilled employee is late because of public transit breakdowns. Not so for low-income heads of households, those who have no choice but to depend on a broken transit system, and who live in fear of being easily replaced.

This young mother, trying to do right by her child, is a reminder that the day-to-day mechanics of being a member of the working poor is a ton of work. Even before clocking in to her job, she faces obstacles most of us never have to think about, and after clocking out, she and her little girl spend hours on buses only to face one last uphill climb. And then they do it all again the next day.

Barbara Howard, a Boston-area broadcaster, won WBUR’s first Peabody Award. She regularly anchors, edits, produces and writes for WBUR, Boston.

Transportation is a major issue in our state, especially in the more rural areas. Read more about this issue below.

Tuesday, February 10, 1pm – 3pm, HB 163 Hearing - Establishing A StateMinimum Hourly Rate, Representatives Hall

Click here to see more events in New Hampshire!


The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conducts a semi-annual New England Community Outlook Survey. It is a survey of service providers' perceptions of the economic and financial conditions of lower-income communities and individuals in New England and the organizations that serve them.

Below is a portion of the January 2014 survey which shed light on the challenges facing New England’s rural communities:

In each iteration of the New England Community Outlook Survey, the financial well-being of lower-income individuals and families has ranked among the most pessimistic measures. Respondents consistently observe decreasing financial well-being and predict a pessimistic future. This past October (2013) was no different; over half of respondents said the financial well-being of lower-income people in their communities has decreased. Furthermore, the future does not appear to hold much relief, as 88% of respondents predicted a further decrease or no change in the situation. The survey defines financial well-being as the ability to fund basic needs; of course, two of the most basic needs are affordable housing and access to food. Lack of affordable housing and food insecurity are among the top problems facing vulnerable populations. Affordable housing consistently ranks among the top challenges in the New England Community Outlook Survey. Food security is beyond the current scope of the survey; however, the USDA did issue a report on food insecurity and found that in 2012, 14.5% of the households (about 49 million people) in the United States were “food insecure.” New England fares little better with only half of the states reporting rates less than the national average.

New England is dominated both economically and demographically by Boston and its surrounding area, which accounts for 32% of New England’s population3 and 47% of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). Consequently, those who live outside of the larger cities are often overlooked. There are over 1 million people living in small towns or rural areas in New England, and in many cases, these people face the same challenges as their urban counterparts.

New England’s poverty rate increased from 9.1% in 1999 to 10.5% in 2011, mirroring a nationwide increase during the Great Recession. During the same time period, the rural poverty rate in New England rose from 10.5% to 12.6% in 2011. It is important to note that Massachusetts’ more-buoyant economy masks a more concerning picture for the rest of the region. A more dismal picture emerges from the data on individual states.

Maine, comprising almost half of the land mass in New England, has 9% of the population but 43% of the region’s rural population. The poverty rate in 2011 in Maine was 12.8%, but in rural Maine poverty topped 15%. In several Maine zip codes, more than one in three residents live beneath the poverty threshold.  While effective poverty reduction in urban areas often provides basic needs through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and housing vouchers, in rural areas, these solutions may not have the same impact.

Responses to the Community Outlook Survey consistently indicate that availability of affordable housing is a pressing issue for both rural and urban lower-income communities.  Both urban and rural survey respondents rank affordable housing the second most important challenge for lower-income communities after job availability. Nine out of 10 rural respondents saw the availability of affordable housing decrease or stay the same over the past six months, and most of those respondents do not see any relief in the near future.

There are solutions that work in rural areas. 

Maine Housing launched an initiative to help lower-income people replace pre–1976 mobile homes with newer, more energy-efficient manufactured homes. The program includes low-cost credit for the homeowners as well as a $30,000 grant to ease the financial burden. 

In New Hampshire, the Community Loan Fund recognizes that rural and small town affordable housing does not mean developing new buildings but has turned to affordable manufactured housing as a possible solution. Through a variety of programs—from low-cost manufactured home mortgages for resident-owned communities to matched savings to help people save for their first home purchase—the Community Loan Fund has directed more than $150 million to rural New Hampshire.

Part of the financial well-being definition is the ability to fund basic needs, primarily housing and food and health care, but also may include household utilities, child care, and other needs. The most widespread food assistance program is SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). It remains the primary source of food assistance for the poor in America. For rural populations, the challenge, as with affordable housing, is related to the distributed nature of the population. Rural populations in Maine are on average two miles farther from the closest SNAP outlet than their urban counterparts. In a rural setting, with fewer public transport options, and fewer direct routes, two additional miles could mean the difference between a short walk and a long drive.

Some areas (albeit sparsely populated) are more than 20 miles from the closest affordable food provider. Households in rural Maine zip codes are 1.3 times more likely than their urban counterparts to receive SNAP assistance; thus, the people most at risk have the least access. This is just one example of the differential access to public programs between urban and rural populations. Recent changes to the SNAP program as a result of the decline in government funding due to the sequester threaten to further erode the assistance it provides to all lower-income individuals and families. 

Average Distance to Closest SNAP (Food Stamp) Outlet

State
Urban zip codes (miles)
Rural zip codes (miles)
Difference
(miles)
Rural/Urban
CT
1.32
2.66
1.34
2.01
ME
1.94
3.94
2.00
2.04
MA
1.01
3.27
2.26
3.23
NH
2.11
3.34
1.23
1.58
RI
1.38
-
-
-
VT
1.74
2.60
0.86
1.50
Source: USDA SNAP outlets and author’s calculation

MaryLou Beaver
New Hampshire Director
Every Child Matters Education Fund





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