October 6, 2009

Utah’s safety net stretched thin

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Utah’s social safety net for its poorest and most vulnerable citizens is starting to fray. Numbers tell the story. There are 250,000 people without health insurance in the state, of which only 10 percent qualify for state health plans. More than one-third of the 1,550 people who were receiving “general assistance” emergency funds from the state have been cut off since the last Legislative session because the state slashed the assistance period from two years to one. And the number of families going to food banks for survival has surged from 52,000 to 90,000 in the last few months.

Food banks were able to accommodate the surge with help from federal stimulus funds.

But that funding is temporary. The hunger is not.

The increasing pressure on the safety net is happening just as the state faces a possible $750 million budget shortfall, writes Cathy McKitrick of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Advocates for low-income citizens spoke during a “People’s Summit on Poverty” this week. People find themselves suddenly poor because of any number of bad breaks – from divorces to layoffs to illness.

Many of these folks rely on state aid temporarily while they figure out how to get themselves back on track.  Without aid, they are at risk for slipping into homelessness, addiction, despair, or any of the other myriad afflictions of poverty that cost the state more in the long run.

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