Margaret Nelson: View From The River – Assistance can provide financial backup – Monadnock Ledger Transcript

Consider with me for a moment what it would feel like to live with absolutely no financial backups – no money saved, no friends who would help you if needed, no family who are talking to you.

Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. According to Prosperity Now of Washington D.C., in our corner of the world, almost one in five residents lack enough money to live at the poverty level for three months if they lose their job. Some of these folks do have some savings, just not enough to keep going for more than three months. Some can’t get through next week without income.

Do you remember being told to save for a rainy day? Or being encouraged to save each week through the savings plan at school? For many households, that is just not reality. They struggle to get by from week to week, barely covering expenses with their income. There is nothing left to save for a rainy day. It is monsoon weather every day. And if they lose their job, then there is no backup plan for groceries next week, let alone paying the rent, putting gas in the car, etc.

Many are not making enough to meet expenses. The numbers just do not add up. If you earn minimum wage ($7.50 per hour) and work 40 hours per week, you earn $15,600 per year. I am challenged to figure out how I could survive on $15,600 without some kind of assistance — and what if there were children in that household? And how do you save part of that income? There is no wiggle room for purchasing new tires, medical deductibles, dental work or the kids’ new shoes.

But, there is hope. There are assistance programs that are designed to help families get back on their feet, to have some financial backup, to have money in the bank. The housing assistance programs currently available for low-income households can provide rental or mortgage assistance for up to 18 months retroactively or going forward.

So consider an elderly individual who has been on the wait list for senior housing for months. They get a call that there is an available space for them and they are able to move. They have been paying a much-higher monthly rate and have been living with no savings. Now they will be paying a much-lower monthly rate and will be in good shape financially going forward.

However, they still have moving expenses, setup costs, all the extras that moving involves. They very well may be eligible for rental assistance for the past 18 months. This assistance could be put in savings, used to pay the moving expenses, hire a storage unit if needed, buy the welcome mat for the front door and still have some left for a rainy day. For more information on housing assistance, please call The River Center at 603-924-6800, Ext. 10.

How about the family who could benefit from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or WIC (Women, Infants and Children) assistance? How about fuel assistance to heat the home? Or child care subsidies to help cover the cost of child care while the parents are working? The River Center can help families connect to these programs.

And then there are the Child Tax Credits and the expanded Earned Income Tax Credits. Money to help cover the daily costs of life:  food, clothing, housing. And hopefully, to have a little left over to save for the rainy day.

What the statewide numbers tell us is that in New Hampshire, 15,000 households did not claim their Earned Income Tax Credits last year, amounting to $33 million left unclaimed. We also know that there is $20 million in unclaimed Child Tax Credits, which includes 7, 745 children in low-income households. Why? Some of it is because they don’t know about it or how to access it. Some is because Uncle Charlie does their taxes and he doesn’t know about it. And some of it is good old Yankee pride.

Pride is an admirable quality which keeps us independent, feisty, resilient. It can also keep us from getting the assistance we need. Pride can work against us if we refuse help when we really need it. I have talked with individuals who never think of applying for an assistance program, who think that is for other people. Well, sometimes, it is for you or your loved ones. Sometimes we need a little help to get over the rough patch. Sometimes something like a global pandemic overly complicates life and gets us in a complicated and compromised position. It is OK to ask for help, to apply for assistance. If you meet the eligibility requirements, it means the assistance was designed for you.

It is tax season. As you see from the numbers, there are many households who are not getting the tax credits that were designed to benefit them and their families. I ask you to help us spread the word about free tax programs. They are designed to help low- and moderate-income households claim the tax credits they are eligible for and to help them create a more stable, hopeful future.

For more information about any of these assistance programs or to have taxes prepared by our free tax program, contact The River Center at rivercenternh.org or 603-924-6800, Ext. 30.

Margaret Nelson is executive director of The River Center in Peterborough.