One unexpected bill away from a family emergency
When they are statistics, it’s easy to read past them. But stop for a minute and think about it.
Almost 40 percent of all adults in the United States wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge that they could quickly pay off, a Federal Reserve survey recently found.
About 27 percent of those surveyed would need to borrow the money or sell something to come up with the $400 and an additional 12 percent would not be able to cover it at all, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2018 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households released in May.
So, when you’re shopping or attending a parent’s event at your child’s school or at town meeting, four of every 10 people by your side are likely one paycheck away from disaster.
These are mostly hard-working neighbors, many holding down full-time work and even moonlighting to make ends meet. On Cape Cod, many have seasonal jobs that also are affected by the weather. One in 10 households struggle because of wide variations in their monthly income, despite expenses that can’t wait until the next paycheck.
The Federal Reserve also reports that one fifth of adults surveyed had unexpected medical bills far surpassing their budgets. One in four skipped necessary medical care because they couldn’t afford it.
Now meet Susan. She is your neighbor. She brings these statistics into sharp human focus. She grew up right here on Cape Cod, a place she loves. She and her partner try to do everything they can to support their two children.
She teaches ballet while caring for her kids. Had she not suffered a back injury she might still be performing on stage, having studied at the Boston Ballet. Her partner works in the construction business.
As much as Susan might want to work fulltime, caring for two children takes precedence, and every hour at work equals what she may have to pay for daycare. Construction, meanwhile, is one of those occupations with wide variations in income depending on season and weather.
Together, they just manage to make ends meet. But, at every turn, their best intentions, their sense of parental responsibility face gauntlets that continuously place them on the economic precipice, with little money saved after expenses.
Susan’s family even managed to surmount its own medical emergencies when her partner was in a one-car accident that sent him to a Boston hospital with serious injuries. Then, her son was born with a bronchial cleft cyst, a lump on the side of his neck below the collarbone that necessitates surgery.
But their tipping point was a scenario too common to Cape Cod families, finding an affordable rental when the landlord suddenly wants them out during the summer.
“We were very happy and secure in our home, paying $1,500 a month in rent before other expenses,” explained Susan. “We never got behind in the rent. My partner even did a lot of work on the house at no cost – replacing shingles and slider doors, trim, three windows on top of his going to work full time.”
“Then, without much notice, we were asked to leave so the owners could occupy it,” she said. “We could come back, of course, but with two kids, we suddenly had to find another place to stay.”
That other place would cost them more than $1,000, money not in the bank account.
“We were beside ourselves,” Susan recalled. “We didn’t know what to do. It was July, and we’re seeing so many people coming to the Cape to enjoy their vacations, and we’re suddenly eating peanut butter and jelly for dinner in a motel room.
That’s when a friend of her partner told them about Lower Cape Outreach Council.
“It was very difficult going to LCOC,” Susan recounted. “I was as low as I could be. I never before had to ask for help. We never were on food stamps. I was so embarrassed. How did I get here?”
But once she walked through its door, she knew she was at the right place at the right time. “They were wonderful. They never judged me. We needed help with the motel bill, and they were right there for us, along with the Homeless Prevention Council.
“Their financial help let us catch our breath at a time when everything had begun to snowball. It made all the difference in the world,” said Susan.
Since then LCOC has been helping Susan’s family locate a more affordable home as they adjust to the extra expenses associated with their second child and also so the couple can build up an emergency fund they realized will be needed sometime in the future.
Her daughter made a special card with a picture of their home and sent it to LCOC with a big thank you.
“That’s the kind of gratitude that puts smiles on our faces,” said Gennie Moran, LCOC’s chief operating officer. “It’s the thanks that inspires our donors to give generously during Gifts of Hope so we can provide more than $1.4 million in emergency help each year to families like Susan’s.”
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