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Poverty numbers fail to add up

WINDSOR – Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) Deputy Director Melvin Powers appeared before the Bertie County Commissioners at their February meeting here to discuss CADA’s 2017-18 application for a Community Services Block Grant Anti-Poverty Work Plan; and for the Commissioners to review the application.

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in various communities.

“We’re required as part of the planning process to have public hearings and to send our work plan to you (Commissioners) in each of the counties that we serve for your review and certification,” Powers said.

“With this program, which is our core program, the funding from the state that we receive is based on the population of individuals in poverty,” he continued. “I don’t have to tell you this, but since all of our counties are in what used to be called Tier-One counties, they have a higher percentage of individuals in poverty, we don’t get the same amount of money even though we have a higher percentage of people in poverty than your higher population areas.”

For 2017-18, Powers said the total funding allocation for CADA’s five-county service area is $397,785.  Bertie’s allocation was $62,316 – higher than Martin and Northampton’s, but lower than Halifax and Hertford.

“The funding over the past several years has been much higher,” Powers noted.

Commissioners’ chairman John Trent noted Bertie’s placement in funding allocation and asked what the funding numbers were based upon.

“They claim that, say in Halifax, the population of the percentage of persons in poverty is higher than some of the other counties,” Powers replied.

The deputy director’s response produced snickers among the Commissioners, causing him to explain further.

“(We) have argued with the state, and continue to argue with the state, about the formula that they use for awarding the funding,” he said.

Commissioner Ernestine Bazemore noted statistics that reveal Bertie County as the poorest county in North Carolina, and has been so for several years according to her documents. Another Commissioner cited CADA’s own numbers.

“You list Bertie as the number-three poorest county,” said Commissioner Ron Wesson. “And the other counties are listed five, six, and seven. But if we’re listed as third, based on poverty, you would think we we’d have a higher percentage of allocation.  Something is amiss in the numbers.”

“Charlotte and Greensboro, say, are awarded more money, even if they have a lower population of individuals in poverty,” Powers countered. “But because they have a higher population, they get more money.”

The snickers amongst the Board members now rose to general laughter.

“If you have a larger population, you may have more people in poverty in Mecklenburg, numbers of people, than here,” said Wesson. “But when you look at the percentage of the county in poverty, that’s why we are a higher number. But what I don’t understand is how can you be more economically depressed than some of the counties here, yet have less of an appropriation per person in poverty; not just dollars, but per person.”

“That’s a question we continue to ask,” Powers again replied, “but, unfortunately, because we live in eastern North Carolina, everything is set.”

Powers said the funds are allocated through the Office of Economic Opportunity under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The disparities in question, he stated, have even been shared with legislators.

“The numbers are skewed somewhere,” noted Wesson.

Powers also mentioned another CADA program done in conjunction with Dominion Power called EnergyShare, which helps qualified individuals with some utilities relief.

He pointed to CADA’s work with Section-8 housing, Single-Family (Home) Rehabilitation, and the Urgent Repair Program and their availability in all counties they serve.

Bazemore said several Commissioners were headed to Washington, DC to discuss the availability of other block grants to future assist citizens in the county and needed to know CADA’s contact person.  Powers said that person would be Chris Moody, Director of Community Services, based in Rich Square in Northampton County.

“But he does travel all around,” Powers stated.

Finally, the deputy director said CADA had received preliminary approval from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency for $150,000 out of a total award of $15 million set aside for disaster relief and recovery.

“The program is called Essential Family Rehab Loan Pool – Disaster Relief,” Powers acknowledged. “It’s apart from similar programs they run, and we applied on behalf of all the counties that we serve. We’ve been told they want to spend all of these funds and any organization can apply; and they’ve opened up the application process to multiple organizations instead of a single one.  It provides up to $40,000 a year for rehab with the only restriction that individuals must not have received funding from the Small Business Administration, but they can have received funding from FEMA to thus avoid duplication.”

He said persons could apply by email or online at the Housing Finance website.  He also added that it must be for residential property, owner occupied.

Powers ended the discussion reminding the Commissioners of CADA’s 55th anniversary celebration set for April 28 at the Northampton County Cultural Center in Jackson.