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Community Agencies Struggle to Serve More Kentuckians in Poverty’s Grip

September 29, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Poverty's grip on Kentucky and elsewhere appears to be tightening.

The Bluegrass State has the fifth-highest poverty rates in the nation, census data shows, and nearly one-third of the state's households earned less than $25,000 last year.

Rob Jones, executive director of Community Action Kentucky, says more and more people are turning to his agency for help - even those who once considered themselves middle class.

"The numbers reinforced what we have been seeing in our offices for about the last year, which is a significant pickup not only in the numbers of applicants for services, but also the nature of the applicants for services."

The state's 23 Community Action agencies are trying to stretch their service programs to help the unemployed college-educated searching for work, Jones says.

"They're needing access to computers, to broadband so they can communicate with their employers. So, we're seeing new initiatives in those directions that may not have been the central, core function of the types of services that we had provided in the past."

Jones explains how Community Action Agencies, reliant on federal dollars, are fearful of hefty budget reductions which could have a chilling effect on their ability to administer programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

"We are concerned about seeing those that are most in need get that benefit and are able to make it through the cold months without extreme discomfort."

Last year, Community Action agencies in Kentucky served more than 473,000 individuals and roughly 210,000 families with employment, education, housing, nutrition, health and emergency services made possible, in large part, by the Community Services Block Grant program which leverages federal dollars with private investment. Jones worries that the program will face the budget ax at a time when the services are most needed.

"I think most of our agencies are able to leverage 30 to 40 times the money through other grants and through private investment that they invest in programs with their community-services block grant."

The Community Action Council which serves several Bluegrass counties is hosting a poverty forum Monday night in Lexington to heighten awareness of the worsening financial plight of struggling families. More information about the event can be found online at povertyforum.com.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY