United Way of Roanoke Valley says 37 percent of people can't afford basic necessities

That group shown to outnumber people living below federal poverty line

By Rob Manch - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Statistics released by the United Way of the Roanoke Valley show overwhelmingly that people who are turning to charitable organizations to get by, already have a job. The numbers show more than a third of families in the Roanoke Valley aren't making enough to afford basic necessities.

That means nonprofits are being asked to do more because the majority of the working poor make just enough that they don't qualify for federal programs like welfare or food stamps. With federal budget cuts proposed next year, that reliance on charitable organizations could increase.

"You often think about poverty and you think about a very specific kind of need. You think people who are reliant on the systems, you think of people who utilize social services and access support from the government, but in truth, only about 15,000 families in our community struggle in that way," said Afira DeVries, President of the United Way of the Roanoke Valley.

DeVries says another 37 percent of people who actually have a job and are working in the Roanoke Valley still need assistance.

"They're making more than what's considered federal poverty wage, but they're not making enough to meet the basic needs of their family," said DeVries.

For those people, DeVries says the government has few safety net programs, but one that is offered by Roanoke County Social Services is daycare assistance. For the 2015 - 2016 fiscal year, that program served 117 families. That number grew in the 2016 - 2017 fiscal year to 204 families, and now, 47 families are on the waiting list. For those who can't get government assistance, one of the first places they turn is the local food pantry.

"We started seeing that a lot of the working families, part-time working, working without benefits, the minimum wage hasn't really increased, but cost of living has," said Pamela Irvine, President of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

Irvine says right now, 85 percent of children in the City of Roanoke qualify for free or reduced lunch, but she says in addition to more mouths to feed, nonprofits are seeing donations drop.

The United Way of the Roanoke Valley came in more than $800,000 short of its fundraising goal this year. Irvine says Feeding America is hurting too.

"We can tell you by the resources we see through donations, and the people we serve, it just simply is not enough," said Irvine.

Furthermore, the proposed federal budget for 2018 has food stamps being cut by more than $4.5 billion.

"If we see horrendous cuts, we don't have the resources to help the people that are going to be more dependent on the system," said Irvine.

DeVries says, to solve poverty in the 21st century, it's going to take nonprofits teaming up to meet the needs of families.

"If we get it right, we could be talking about completely different numbers in 10 years," said DeVries.

DeVries says, right now the goal of the United Way of the Roanoke Valley is to help lift 10,000 families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency by 2030.

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