Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Some thoughts on poverty in St. Lawrence County

This past Friday, a group convened in Canton to start a discussion about the issues surrounding poverty in St. Lawrence County and what we can do to better address it.

Chris Rediehs, the Commissioner of Social Services for the County, was one of the speakers and laid out some worrisome statistics:

  • Over 2,000 County residents are supported by the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF, what some people might call "welfare")
  • In addition to those residents, nearly 14,000 additional residents are enrolled in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
  • 9,500 households rely on heating assistance to stay warm in the winter
  • These programs bring $240 million annually into St. Lawrence County, meaning we have a disproportionate reliance on funds from outside our own region.

Commissioner Rediehs noted that poverty is about both lacking resources and finding doors to opportunity closed, so that giving people food is not going to solve the problem.  He also has seen that poverty is not usually a permanent situation and that all of us may need a little help at some point in time.

He made three suggestions for how people can get involved:

  1. Events like today to illuminate the issue of poverty and its complexity.  Educate yourselves and work to educate others.
  2. Volunteering - there is no one solution, but every effort helps.  While giving out a meal of a bag of canned goods will not solve all of a household's problems, it will help them in the moment and that's important.  Consider how else to volunteer that might get beyond the hand-outs to a hand up.
  3. Don't accept that it's hopeless.  It's not and we can make progress toward solutions.