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Aid Group: Effects of Hidden Poverty Surface in ND

In addition to expiring jobless benefits, economists say eviction rates are likely to soar because of the pandemic's ongoing effects. And in North Dakota, state law makes it easier for eviction cases to proceed. (Adobe Stock)
In addition to expiring jobless benefits, economists say eviction rates are likely to soar because of the pandemic's ongoing effects. And in North Dakota, state law makes it easier for eviction cases to proceed. (Adobe Stock)
July 9, 2020

FARGO, N.D. -- An anti-poverty group in North Dakota says extra federal unemployment benefits have shielded many laid-off workers from seeking assistance. But it acknowledged that things might change soon, and that existing challenges didn't come out of nowhere.

There's been little indication that Congress will extend the extra $600 a week in jobless benefits approved at the onset of the pandemic. The additional pay is scheduled to end July 31.

So, Andrea Olson, executive director of the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, said they're preparing for higher demand: "We are anticipating a general increase, just based on the numbers of people that were affected by executive order."

She said that includes service-industry workers affected by business restrictions as the pandemic started to grow.

Even with restrictions lifted, the coronavirus is seeing a resurgence across the country, creating fears that economic reopening efforts will need to be reversed.

Leading up to the pandemic, said Olson, many North Dakotans weren't in a position to survive this kind of crisis. Even if they were working, the cost of living has prevented them from creating a reliable financial cushion.

Olson pointed to a 2019 Federal Reserve report that found almost 40% of Americans could not cover an emergency expense of $400.

In North Dakota, she added, not everyone who might fit the profile of the "working poor" is seeking help that could reduce the burden they're carrying.

"We call it a 'prairie pride' mentality," she explained. "People don't want to ask for help; they don't want to ask for assistance. They think there's a stigma attached to it."

Olson's group helps more than 20,000 families each year, and food insecurity is among the current major concerns.

As for extending the extra jobless benefits, some in Congress worry that the extra $600 a week might be deterring some people from returning to work.

Those who want to continue the extension have said the economy still will be in rough shape, even if there are no more shutdowns, because consumers will be reluctant to visit stores and restaurants.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND