IV H. ANTI-POVERTY PLAN AND STRATEGIES
1. Analysis of Poverty in Iowa City
The 1990 Census evaluated poverty status for 51,701 people in Iowa City. Twenty-three percent, or 12,074 persons, were found to be living in poverty.
Poverty data for three types of households were analyzed: married-couple, female-headed, and male-headed family households. Of the married-couple households, seven percent were living below the poverty level. Among single parent, female-headed households, however, 27 percent were living in poverty, which is higher than the citywide average. For single parent, male-headed households, 21 percent were below the poverty level.
Table IV.4. Poverty Distribution in Iowa City by Age Group.
Percentage Below Poverty Level
6 to 11
12 to 17
18 to 24
25 to 34
35 to 44
45 to 54
55 to 59
60 to 64
65 to 74
75 years and older
Source: 1990 Census
Table IV.4 shows the distribution of poverty by age group. By far the largest age cohort living below the poverty level is the 18 to 24 group; presumably this represents undergraduate students at the University of Iowa to a very large extent. A substantial number of five-year-olds and six- to eleven-year-olds also live in poverty (15.8 percent and 12.3 percent). In fact, overall 14 percent of children under the age of eighteen, or 1,362 children, were living below the poverty level in 1989, when the Census was done.
When analyzing children in poverty by household type, there is a significant difference in poverty rates between children in married-couple households and those in female-headed households, especially among children five years and younger. When looking at children five years and younger in female-headed households, the percent living in poverty rises to a startling 62 percent. This would seem to indicate the difficulties of surviving in today's economy in a household with only one income.
Students. The University of Iowa students have a significant impact on the population of Iowa City. There was an enrollment of 28,705 students at the University as of June 1999. Using the University's statistics on student age and place of residence with the 1990 Census data, it is estimated that approximately 7,354 students residing in Iowa City are living in poverty. These students account for almost 60 percent of all persons living in poverty in Iowa City. Although most students are likely to be single undergraduates, almost 850 of them are 25 years old or older, and may be in need of housing assistance and/or supportive services, particularly if they also have families.
Elderly. There were a total of 4,201 persons aged 65 years and older living in Iowa City in 1996. Of those, 320 or 8 percent were living below the poverty level. Broken down by household type, only four percent of elderly persons in married-couple households were below the poverty level, while twelve percent of elderly persons living alone were below the poverty level. However, while about four percent of elderly aged 60-74 were below the poverty level, for elderly aged 75 and older this level rises to almost 10 percent.
Causes of Poverty-Related Problems. In 1993, interviews were conducted with representatives from seventeen local agencies. The agencies were chosen based on the range of services they provide, the size of the agency, and for a mix of private and governmental entities. The agencies that were interviewed provide a number of services for people with special needs. These services include:
services for persons suffering domestic violence
services for persons with physical and mental disabilities
services for persons with chemical dependency
The top contributing causes cited as being most influential in the development of poverty-related problems were: unemployment or underemployment; lack of affordable, decent housing; negative images of people who are recipients of assistance; the lack of available funding; and lack of policy and widespread community support for poverty issues (this includes the lack of additional federal and state funding programs to address the problem of poverty). Other important causes of poverty cited were the lack of affordable childcare, health care, education; also disability, age, domestic abuse, and chemical dependence. AIDS was not specifically cited during these interviews, but was identified as a cause of poverty in a recent survey conducted by the Iowa Center for AIDS Resources and Education (ICARE).
2. Existing Programs and Policies
The City assists human service activities through its annual budget allocations from the General Fund and Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) to the Aid to Agencies Fund. These supportive funds assist local human service organizations with their operating costs. For the City's fiscal year 2000, this amounted to $105,000. The City has also assisted with affordable housing projects through tax increment financing, tax abatement, and tax exemption.
Other funds from the federal and state governments pass through the City to human service agencies. Through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Iowa City Housing Authority assists over 1,171 households each year, all below 50 percent of the median income, with subsidized rental housing, either with City-owned public housing units or with Housing Choice Vouchers. The scope of the Housing Authority's services has expanded with the start-up of the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program (see Section III.B).
CDBG funds, also from HUD, benefit low- to moderate-income persons every year. In 1999, approximately $1.75 million were used for projects such as homeless services, housing support services, housing rehabilitation, new construction for low-income rental housing, and a program for youth business training.
3. Community Needs
The community needs/gaps that were most apparent from interview responses are: affordable housing, childcare, family preservation, education/job training, community attitudes and services coordination. Of the seventeen agencies interviewed, seven target low-income people, and the other ten target a particular clientele, such as persons who are elderly, disabled, or substance abusers. Through projects funded by CDBG funds, most agencies report that at least 90 percent of their clients were below the poverty level, and several others responded that they assumed that the clientele they serve is mostly below the poverty level. Many agencies do not keep track of income because it is not a requirement for service.
While agencies may be serving poor populations, some very poor persons and families may be unintentionally overlooked. For example, financially distressed persons or families may fall through the cracks because of ineligibility for assistance from the Johnson County Department of Human Services. Not only does this agency require its clients to meet certain income level qualifications, but in order to receive certain kinds of assistance, they may, for instance, be required to be unmarried, female, and a parent. There is an urgent need to identify those persons that are slipping through the system and to develop and provide equal and comprehensive services for them.
Some agencies reported that they have waiting lists for their services and some have to turn people away due to lack of available funding and/or staff. They also listed some non-financial constraints such as burdensome administrative tasks and a lack of willingness on the part of those in need to accept services (for some, because of fears of stigmatization).
4. Goals, Policies, and Programs
The greatest needs in addressing the problems of those living in poverty appear to be:
Affordable housing. HUD has mandated that the Consolidated Plan be coordinated with other programs and services intended to reduce the number of households with incomes below the poverty threshold. The majority of agencies interviewed for the Anti-Poverty Plan cited the lack of affordable housing in Iowa City as one of the most significant contributors to the problems faced by their clients. Strategies to meet these needs are addressed in the body of this document.
Childcare. The lack of funding for decent, affordable childcare is a major problem that prevents many low-income people from making efforts at becoming self-sufficient. Childcare is not affordable for many if they choose to continue their education, and it simply does not pay for a single parent, or even a married parent, to take a job paying minimum wage when childcare is an issue. According to the Human Services Coordinator for Johnson County, childcare is a real gap and a very basic problem for the very poor.
At the moment, there is some progress being made in the Iowa City area. Handicare is an integrated daycare setting and a model nationwide that cares for children with disabilities as well as those without. In some traditional settings, some inroads are being made for children who are poor, disabled, or abused. Preliminary work is underway to determine the feasibility of developing day care centers in partnerships with local employers. The University has a small program for its employees, but much more is needed in this area.
Many people below the poverty level work or perhaps could work third shift at area manufacturing companies, but childcare at this time of the night is very difficult if not impossible to find. Usually, a second parent stays with the children when a parent works this shift.
The key to solving this problem is financial resources. Public investment in childcare is cost-effective when compared to the greater costs of job absenteeism, unemployment, and welfare dependence. The City of Iowa City, State Department of Human Services, and local agencies are not in a position to provide the needed funds. There are, however, Iowa Welfare Reform proposals that recommend extending childcare and child support programs after AFDC/FIP eligibility ends. This could be an important first step in assisting many poor children and their families. (See also Section II.B.)
Family preservation. The 1990 Census indicates that a significant number of families, youth, and children are living in poverty. The agency interview responses also focused on the need for more services for families and children. There are currently many programs that provide various types of assistance; many of the programs could be improved by focusing more on preventive intervention and outreach. There is again, however, the problem of limited and restrictive funding sources.
Three programs in particular, Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP), the Johnson County Head Start Family Service Program and the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, are aimed at the needs of families, youth, and children. The Head Start Family Service Program provides comprehensive child development and family support services to high-risk families with preschool-aged children. The Neighborhood Centers provide a range of supportive services for families living in the Pheasant Ridge and Broadway Street neighborhoods. They provide a variety of services such as parent education, financial management, childcare cooperatives, teen groups, family intervention, and preschool groups. The Centers also assist families in finding other resources. In addition, Youth Homes provides transitional shelter for homeless parenting youth, and UAY has a program for teen mothers.
These programs are in great demand in the community and often have waiting lists for certain services. Expanding neighborhood-based services throughout the community and creating more case management interaction would assist in earlier, comprehensive intervention. Early and expedient comprehensive intervention will contribute to improving and maintaining nurturing family environments. Neighborhood Centers is in the process of constructing a community center at Pheasant Ridge, which will provide opportunities for expanded services.
Education/job training/self-sufficiency skills. Assistance provided to people in poverty tends to be more oriented toward managing crises that arise rather than prevention of poverty or more long-term intervention that invests in a person's future. However, there are some important services available in Iowa City aimed at addressing the long-range goals of assistance-free, independent living.
The development of self-sufficiency skills involves promoting programs for general job training, general and vocational educational opportunities, health care and nutrition, self-esteem enhancement, budgeting/money management, food management, family and parental counseling, skills development, childcare, and communication skills. Many of these are already available in the Iowa City area. Many times the difficulty lies in getting the people who need them to the appropriate program, agency, or course, or in providing adequate financial support for the services.
The City will continue to facilitate and enhance the development of self-sufficiency programs such as Successful Livings program, HACAP's Transitional Housing Program and the ICHA's FSS program. Together these three programs provide a range of services to families and individuals, including child and parent counseling, employment opportunities, financial education, housing, daily living assistance, and semi-independent living services to persons with physical disabilities, mental illness or mental retardation. (See also Section II.C.)
Community attitudes. The agencies interviewed often said that the lack of adequate information regarding the extent and existence of poverty in Iowa City creates misperceptions. Persons living in poverty are often difficult to distinguish visibly, therefore many people in the community do not realize the extent of poverty in Iowa City.
There is often a stigma attached to people who receive assistance from local agencies. Some people avoid seeking assistance that could significantly improve their lives because of negative attitudes. In turn this hampers agencies' ability to serve clients in the early stages of a problem because people wait until their situations are more desperate. In order to begin to eliminate this stigma, citizens must be educated about poverty in their community. This can be a very difficult job. Currently, funding is the primary way that the City is choosing to deal with the problem of poverty. City Council support of funding for affordable housing and human service agencies, however, shows residents that it is important to address poverty issues, and that it benefits the community as a whole.
Services Coordination. Though a wide range of services are available to low-income residents, some individuals are unable to take full advantage of these resources. This may be due to a lack of information on what is available or due to inexperience with how to coordinate services to best meet their needs.
Throughout the "CITY STEPS" process, the need for the coordination of available services was reiterated by both agencies and residents alike. Currently the City assists with the funding of the JCCOG Human Services Coordinator who puts agencies in contact with each other, makes referrals and serves as a central location of information on community resources. The City also encourages the coordination of services through projects such as "City Steps," and through the CSA and United Way allocation processes.
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