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Millions of NY'ers Just Above the Poverty Line Straining Services

September 20, 2010

NEW YORK - Census figures indicate that the number of New Yorkers living in poverty topped three million in 2009; that's a nine percent increase in one year. But local agencies say the problem is actually a lot bigger.

Nancy Cohan, team director with the Family and Children's Association, says to forget about the poverty line in suburbs like Long Island, where middle-income people are also unable to stay afloat, and the helping agencies are seeing people they've never served before. She says agencies that normally run short of funds at year's end won't make it that far in 2010.

"We're broke now, we've been out of money since, like, early summer because people just can't afford to pay their bills. They've used up all their savings, they went into their retirement, they can't find work - particularly folks that are a little bit older, like, in their 50s."

Cohan says the Family and Children's Association was one of dozens of groups that worked to ensure that the Census Bureau got an accurate count, because Census numbers affect both the number of New York representatives in Congress and the amount of federal dollars that flow to the needy.

Gwen O'Shea with the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island says the Census and many federal safety net programs define a New York family as 'poor' if they live on less than $22,000 a year, although recent studies show it costs more than three times that to get by here. That leaves a big gap.

"For Long Island, we see about 45 percent of our families that are in that 'catching' area. So, it means that they're not qualifying for any of these safety-net programs that the federal government may have, but they're not making enough money to make ends meet."

Cohan says the Family and Children's Association limits the help they give to families to one time per year. Now in many cases, they can't even offer that much, because the demand is so great.

"We're talking about people who don't have food for their kids. You're looking at people that are standing there with two kids, one in a stroller, and they're in tears, because they really don't know what they're going to do, where they're going to sleep tonight."

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY