By ASHLEY BROTHERTON
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (February 23, 2012)—Over the past two years Patricia Santee has seen a change in the people seeking assistance from the Charles County Children's Aid Society, where she works as an administrative assistant.
"People who were donors two years ago are now coming to us for help," Santee said.
A new report says that the cost of getting by for a parent with two young children in the county has risen more than 50 percent over the past decade to at least $65,000—more than three times the official federal poverty level.
With rising unemployment and housing costs, many families are struggling and, increasingly, resorting to public or private financial aid for the first time.
The study was done by researchers at the University of Washington. They calculated how much Maryland's working families needed to make just to cover housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care and other essentials without government support. Their "self-sufficiency standard" takes into consideration the number of people in a household and their ages, and where the family lives with in the state.
In contrast, the poverty guideline used by the federal government is the same for the whole country and only adjusted for the number of people in the household. For one parent with a preschooler and a school-age child, it's $19,090.
The report says the same family in Charles County needs to earn $65,900 to make ends meet. That goes up to about $71,000 for one parent with a preschooler and an infant, and nearly $80,000 if there are two parents in the family.
That makes Charles the fourth most expensive county in the state for working families. The strain on families is apparent in state statistics, which show the number of people seeking temporary financial assistance there has doubled since 2008. The state's Charles County office averaged 47 applications per month for assistance during the 2007-2008 fiscal year. That's up to 102 a month in this fiscal year.
Since the economic downturn, many people have lost their job or taken a pay cut, Santee said. Now instead of dropping off food or coats, those families come to the society to get them, she said.
The University of Washington study did not determine how many working families have incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Census Bureau data show that roughly 19,774 people in Charles County, about 14 percent of the population, live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the census poverty threshold. (For a family of four, twice the threshold would be about $44,000.) The census data count the elderly and other categories that were not included in the self-sufficiency calculations for working families.
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