CLEVELAND — The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies conducts studies on poverty in Ohio annually. While it’s too soon to know the exact impact of COVID-19 on Ohio’s poverty rate, the coalition’s Executive Director Philip Cole says more families are struggling.
“Many people in middle class are suddenly poor and they’re struggling,” Cole said. “Some of our agencies were seeing increases and phone calls and people coming in asking for assistance by four and 500% so if you saw 1,000 people all of a sudden you saw 5,000.”
Under the 2020 federal guidelines, a family of three with an annual income of less than $21,720 is living in poverty. This year’s study found one in 20 people in the United States match the criteria. It found six out of every 20 people struggle financially at least two months out of the year.
In Ohio, 14% of Ohioans had annual incomes below the federal poverty level in 2018, which is a two percent decline from five years ago. Yet, it’s still slightly above the national average. Cole says Ohio ranks 16th among states with the highest poverty rates.
“It’s because of the living conditions, lack of healthcare, people having to go to work on these buses, you know when you’re packed together tightly it’s hard for low-income people you know to maintain social distancing and those kind of things,” Cole said.
The reality is making it hard for families to afford basic necessities like food and housing. In Cleveland, at least 9,000 evictions are filed every year, according to the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. In court, the group says tenants often lose their cases even with representation.
“It’s basically a human rights issue. Everybody deserves housing,” said Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Kelley.
Kelley says it’s a new legal aid program will help city residents fight evictions filed before or after the pandemic.
“We will be representing all people facing eviction that meet the criteria, 100% poverty, children in the house. And we’re going to advocate on their behalf,” he said.
Kelley says the city is also allocating $11.5 million from the CARES Act to support those unable to pay rent due to either being furloughed or let go from their job because of coronavirus. He says residents can apply online starting next month.