By Melissa Major
CNS Special Report
COLLEGE PARK – A single-parent household in Calvert County needs at least $53,000 a year to make ends meet, a new study shows, so some families are teaming up to help cut down on costs, especially as options for federally funded housing dwindle.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Maryland 2012 calculates the cost of living for Maryland families by looking at the price of necessities such as housing, food, transportation and child care.
The report, prepared for the Maryland Community Action Partnership, found that costs for Calvert County families with one adult, one school-age child and one preschooler have risen by more than 60 percent in the past decade.
“The stereotypical family living just above the poverty line is usually very low profile, getting by with help from family, friends, or services,” said Maureen T. Hoffman, director of the Calvert County Department of Community Resources, in an email. “Some strategies they use are ‘doubling up’ on housing, meaning they move in with family or friends.”
Services such as electric bill assistance, food pantries and shelters are other helpful resources for struggling families, Hoffman said.
“Food pantries play a big role in helping low-income families stretch their dollars,” Hoffman said. “The less they have to pay for food, the more likely they’ll be able to pay their other bills.”
Calvert County falls within the second-most-expensive group of counties in Maryland for families, according to the self-sufficiency standard. A family composed of one adult and one preschooler in Calvert County needs $53,735 a year for basic costs.
The county saw an increase in residents living below the poverty line, with a rise from 4.4 percent in 2000 to 5.1 percent in 2010, according to census data.
“Many of these economically stressed families are doing what we’re asking people to do — to be responsible, support your kids, go out there and work– and yet many are not being fairly compensated,” said Dr. Diana Pearce, author of the study and director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
Last August, the Housing Authority of Calvert County froze the waiting lists for its federally funded housing voucher program and its public housing.
The average yearly income for households participating in the voucher program is about $15,990, while the average household income for public housing is about $15,028 annually, according to the official website.
The agency closed the waiting lists because, as incomes for households in the voucher program decreased, the costs of the rent subsidies the government pays steadily increased.
On average, the income of program participants has decreased 10 percent during the past year, increasing the amount of rent per family paid by the Housing Authority, Executive Director Wayne Boyle said. As a result, there is less federal money left to take families off the waiting list.
“It became apparent this last year that there would be no more money for additional vouchers,” Boyle said. “When it became apparent that this was the case, it didn’t make much sense for us to continue to take applications from eligible households until we were able to work through the waiting list that we’d already established.”
When considering the “usual picture of poverty,” using the federal poverty level, people often don’t realize that families can be working and above the threshold but still be unable to make ends meets, Pearce 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 about 12,840 people in Calvert County– about 14.5 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.