Task force: Faces of KY's 'most vulnerable' may be older, more burdened

Task force: Faces of Kentucky's 'most vulnerable' may be older, more burdened

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Advocacy Center of the Family & Children's Place likely will be spared the nine percent state-funding cuts many agencies will face in the two upcoming budget years. But its clients are among the most vulnerable Kentuckians.

More than 1,300 victims of physical or sexual abuse receive therapy, counseling and an opportunity for justice there each year.

They're the faces the law won't allow to be shown. Faces foreign, even to the teenage volunteers who help the Family & Children's Place in its food pantries and activity centers.
 
"I don't think I know any," Iroquois High School sophomore Michael Taylor said.

"I kind of sensed it," Iroquois senior Kasia Jaalouk said. "Because, you know, the world. A lot of hard times going on."

The General Assembly's Task Force on Vulnerable Kentuckians got a broad sketch of citizens at risk at its first hearing Wednesday. Formed after the 2016 Regular Session ended, its chair, Rep. Jim Wayne (D-Louisville) was the only lawmaker to vote against the 11th hour budget compromise that virtually doubled the yearly contributions to pension funds for teachers and state workers to shore up a $23-35 billion projected shortfall.

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Wednesday, speakers translated his concerns into numbers.

"We have so many people who are at risk for homelessness," said Curtiss Stauffer, of the Homeless & Housing Coalition. "This is just talking about our renter population."

More than one quarter of Kentucky renters are shelling out more than half their monthly income for rent, Stauffer said.

"Some of our major employers now are paying one half the wages for the new workers they paid for their old workers," said Ron Crouch, a consultant who analyzes demographic and economic data. "Some of those new workers who have family qualify for food stamps."

TARC buses are the wheels for more than 45,000 people daily, marketing Kay Stewart told the task force. Kentucky provides about $1.7 million.

"That's about 15 million rides a year," Stewart said.

Only two states put less funding into mass transit.

The growing group of working poor is in the 42-52-year-old age bracket, Crouch reported. Typically, those are considered the prime earning years. But 38,000 members of Kentucky's adult workforce have no high school diploma or GED. 

And more are gate-workers, technically independent contractors. But they're less likely to be entrepreneurs than odd-jobbers, ineligible for pensions or employer-supported retirement plans or health and disability insurance.

"We may see a growing homeless older population," Crouch said. "They're working longer because they do not have the resources to live in retirement."

And more have more to worry about themselves, staffers with Shively Area Ministries claim.

"They're raising grandchildren," Roxanna Trivett said. "Their children have gotten on drugs and the grandchildren have been dropped at their door."

That helps explain why 74.8 percent of those who responded to the Ministries'  "Needs Survey" are baby-boomers and Generation X'ers in their 40s to 70s. Almost half report they're trying to make do on less than $1,000 per month.

"We used to serve about 400 families in (the Ministries') food pantry," Sister Jean Anne Zappa said. "Now it's between 7-800 families a month."

Almost two-thirds of those the Ministries surveyed report they have smart phones. They serve as the only link to the internet, or online knowledge, for more than half -- 54.4 percent of those surveyed.

More than one third -- 36 percent -- would seek counseling for anxiety or depression. Almost as many -- 32 percent -- smoke, or admit they're addicted to tobacco products. Fourteen percent are diabetic, nine percent report heart disease.

Poverty and chronic health conditions shorten lives, Crouch said. The average life expectancy in coal-dependent Harlan and Perry Counties is 66.5 years, 10 years fewer than the national average.
 
What's worse, Rep. Wayne claimed, Kentucky has little hope of generating more money to address chronic needs without meaningful tax reforms.

"Our tax system is regressive," Wayne said. "We have too many loopholes and tax breaks for those who could pay, and don't need them."

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