A study from the United Ways of Iowa shows how the pandemic is impacting the state’s households and finds low-income families are suffering disproportionately in trying to pay for essentials.
Deann Cook, the agency’s executive director, says the report finds more than half of Iowa households are reporting a loss of income or increased expenses due to COVID-19.
“Iowans who are still in a position to give have been very, very generous, particularly with disaster funds. That has been really heartwarming to see,” Cook says. “But there’s just simply more need out there than the non-profit sector is able to provide.”
Charities of all sorts are being stretched to the limit, especially food banks and agencies that help Iowans in need to pay their utilities or rent.” Probably the biggest resource that United Ways have is the Iowa 211 Hotline,” Cook says. “When residents of Iowa find themselves with a challenge that they need help navigating, pick up the phone, call 211 and those call agents can walk you through and help direct you to the best resources.”
Before the pandemic, Cook says 37% of Iowans were having a difficult time paying all of their bills. Those are people who are living above the federal poverty level who are working, but simply don’t make enough to pay for the basics. The report shows even more Iowans are now financially fragile.
“Eighteen percent of Iowans told us they couldn’t cover one month’s bills prior to the pandemic. That is now well into 30%,” Cook says. “We have a third of Iowans, at least, who are now struggling to even come up with one month’s reserve should they have a problem, should they lose income, that kind of thing.”
Beyond money worries, the three primary concerns Iowans expressed are: a second wave of virus activity and closures, a household member contracting COVID-19, and mental health issues. Cook says families with household incomes below $50,000 reported significantly higher concerns about paying for food, utilities, and rent.
“Going back to what it was like before the pandemic is not exactly going back to a great place,” Cook says. “There were Iowans struggling going into this and this has only exacerbated all of those problems.”
For Iowans who want to help, Cook says there are United Way chapters across the state, in addition to food pantries and local community disaster funds, all of which would welcome donations.