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New solutions needed to lift people out of poverty

In the Thursday, Nov. 16, edition of the Butler Eagle, we learned about a troubling situation that some people face — choosing between working and qualifying for badly needed assistance.

A recent annual review by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology puts the wage needed to live in Butler County at $16.24 an hour, about $9 more than Pennsylvania’s $7.25 minimum wage, but Edward Mauk, CEO of the Butler County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, explained that still likely isn’t enough.

A single adult making $16.24 an hour — for a full-time job, that would be an annual salary of $33,280 — would qualify for the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, which helps make housing more affordable, but a household with two adults each earning that much wouldn’t qualify.

That’s a huge problem, as the program lets people put 30% of their monthly income toward rent and utilities, with the rest subsidized.

“You think you’re making money, but you don’t qualify here, and you also can’t afford to live here because the two people work, they’ve got cars, they’ve got insurance — you have all the expenses,” Mauk explained.

That leads to a scenario where someone getting a job that pays a livable wage actually has less money than before.

Mauk offered the example of someone with no income who might be eligible for rent as low as $50 per month.

“If I go out and get a job making $15 an hour, now I make $30,000 a year, $2,500 a month, and my rent goes to $750,” he said. “I just lost $700 just to pay my rent.”

There are some other forms of help available beyond housing subsidies. Amy Franz, regional vice president for the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said her organization connects people in need with county and other programs that help reduce costs.

According to real estate listing site Zillow, the average apartment rent in Butler is $734, but the actual price can vary greatly based on location. Fast-growing areas like Cranberry, Mars or Seven Fields have rents that are much higher, and out of the price range of people making $16 per hour.

The potential problems are obvious. Employers need workers, and workers need a place to live and transportation to and from their job.

Any time there is situation where taking a job and making a livable wage makes things more difficult something has gone very wrong. We’re glad that organizations like the United Way are helping, but there needs to be a real solution that both supports those in need and gives people who want to better their lives a chance to do so.

— JK

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