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Family assistance need escalates during pandemic

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There are many more Bucks County families in need of housing and food than before the pandemic took hold in the region in mid-March, Bucks County Opportunity Council CEO Erin Lukoss, told the county’s commissioners during a recent virtual press conference.

There’s been a dramatic increase in those needing food assistance, said Lukoss. Approximately 1,200 families every week receive food from the BCOC programs, up from about 400 families before COVID-19, said the director. “Each week we’re seeing new families,” she added. Many are seeking help for the first time.

About 50 families are home-bound and can’t come to pick up food. Volunteers are delivering food to them weekly, Lukoss said.

And, while the community action agency was able to move 39 families from shelters into permanent housing during the ongoing public health crisis, there are still those remaining in shelters, where efforts to protect residents and staff from the virus are challenging, said Lukoss.

As the state’s moratorium on evictions sets to expire this week, Lukoss said, there are still many in Bucks County that need rental assistance, Lukoss said. “Landlords are our partners, too,” noted the CEO. “They rely on the (rental) income for their families.”

Bucks County is the third wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, with a poverty rate of 6 percent, Lukoss said, adding, “that could be lower.” Asked if she thought the pandemic might change people’s views on poverty, Lukoss said, “I hope so. Many people are just one step away themselves.”

Diane Ellis Marseglia, chair of the commissioners, said, “You don’t go through something like this without being changed.”

“We’re the only state that hasn’t raised its minimum wage,” said commissioner Vice Chairman Bob Harvie, adding, “You have to question how strong the pillars of our economy are when so many are one paycheck away (from poverty).” The pandemic, he said, “ has exposed the economic fault lines in our system.”

Public officials at every level of government, said Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo, should be concerned with health insurance, food insecurity, education and poverty. The issues, he said, “should be at the front of all discussions.”

Lukoss said, there are many services available for those in need. The opportunity council’s website, bcoc.org, has many resources, as well as staff who can help. The county’s website and Facebook page also have information on where to find assistance.

“We’re lucky to live in a county with resources to help,” she noted.


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