MASON CITY, Iowa - There is no doubt about it - family budgets have been strained this year. Even the simplest things, including paying the electric bill, have added to that strain.
Now, a study released by the United Way of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa shows a dramatic increase in the number of people requiring assistance in 2020.
The United Way's COVID Financial Impact Study highlighted a few key areas in which the pandemic has impacted Iowa families: namely, it's had an uneven impact, and hit those who work in occupations with the greatest disruptions like hospitality, food service, retail and health or social assistance. Second, covering monthly expenses has been difficult, with most respondents that received a federal stimulus payment said it wasn't enough to cover even a full month's worth of expenses. Third, 6% of respondents say they are unable to continue to work due to childcare issues, with 10% saying they're working reduced hours because of childcare issues.
"One of the big concerns we saw in this study were the number of people affected by childcare going away, changing...there's been so much flux in that market that families with kids are having a hard time working full time because of the scattered nature of how kids get taken care of," United Ways of Iowa executive director Deann Cook says.
The last key finding in this survey is the dramatic growth of the 'newly needy,' with Cook citing call data to Iowa 211; about 130,000 calls were received by the health and human service referral system.
"The calls have been overwhelming this year, especially from folks who have never have had to navigate social services before and are looking at a starting point. Just because they were able to keep their head above water prior to COVID, but with COVID - their job went away or they developed a health problem, or a combination of all of those."
United Way of North Central Iowa CEO Jen Arends says that the agency's COVID Emergency Relief Fund that was established earlier this year collected $102,000. The $40,000 that was set aside for individual assistance has already been spent.
The study grew out of prior work to to elevate the needs and concerns of families living below the $50,000 threshold for a family of four.