BCO meets with legislators to discuss plight of poor

By KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
After 20 years in the making, and a completed analysis in 2010, it has been reported by Connecticut Association for Community Action (CAFCA) that 21 percent of Connecticut residents are living at the federal poverty line (or poor) or below the poverty line (very poor).
Last week, legislators met with the Bristol Community Organization staff and board members, as well as CAFCA’s Executive Director Edith Pollack Karsky to discuss the findings of the report and strategize ways to decrease this number and help residents find jobs.
The poverty report, which was released last month, provides information on residents who are either at/ or below the poverty line, $22,000 annually for a family of four or $11,000 annually for an individual.
“This didn’t happen over night, and it will not be resolved over night,” Pollack Karsky said, adding that the number of “very poor,” or residents who have an income below the federal poverty line, increased 45 percent from 1990 to 2010.
Pollack Karsky said community organizations, like BCO, and legislators, chambers of commerce, business leaders and education officials need to work together to come up with strategies to increase jobs and decrease the poverty levels.
In Bristol alone, 7.7 percent of its population was considered very poor, and 12.7 percent was considered poor, totaling about 20 percent of Bristol’s population as living in poverty.
The report also showed that Connecticut had the worst record of job creation between 1990 and 2010, and is seeing many of the younger educated generation leaving the state because of no job opportunities. Pollack Karsky added that the younger generation from the urban districts is the future of the state’s workforce, and training and education are a large necessity.
Tom Morrow, executive director of BCO, said there is a “direct correlation” between education and poverty, and students who don’t graduate from high school “is a prescription for poverty.”
At BCO, a program called RX for Success is accepting youths ages 16 to 21 who have received a diploma or GED and are looking for a career in health care. The program, which works with Tunxis Community College, includes “career counseling, financial aid assistance, skill certifications, career competency training, instruction at BCO and on campus, and employment opportunities,” and is one of Capital Workforce Partners’ Workforce Investment Act Out-of-School Youth programs, and funded by the United States Department of Labor.  By KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
There are officially two candidates running for what will be a vacant mayor seat this upcoming election.
Mayor Art Ward announced last month he will not be seeking re-election, and Republican Councilor Ken Cockayne had already announced a few months ago he would be campaigning for that seat.
However, for the Democrats, City Councilor Kevin Fuller announced he will be seeking the mayoral spot this election as well.
“We need to move our city back into economic recovery and make it stronger than ever before,” Fuller said to his supporters at Nuchie’s in Forestville last week.
Fuller, who works in the Board of Education’s technology department and owns his own ice cream shop in the city, has been a councilor for almost two terms and has held the post of acting mayor, to which he was appointed to after Mayor Art Ward was out of office after being hospitalized.
“From the time he came on the council he wanted to know how, and then he implemented,” Ward said about Fuller at his announcement last week, adding that he appointed Fuller as acting mayor because of “his allegiance and his work ethic.”
“Kevin has a knack to be able to work across the lines” and to make it a point to set out what he needs to do to get things done, Ward said.
Fuller said he wants to “get our city unified again” and to stand-up and buy into the movements to improve Bristol. He said the city needs to support the changes in development, increase the city’s business base, and continue to fund the Board of  BCO helps residents from Bristol, Plymouth, Plainville, Farmington and Burlington who mostly fall into the “working poor” category. The organization has a number of programs, including energy assistance, which Morrow said is one of the largest initiatives at BCO. In 2011, BCO’s seven departments assisted 17,324 clients in the communities it serves, a 37 percent increase in new clients from 2010. Also in 2011, BCO’s support and revenue, from state, federal grants, local support, program income, interest, and sale of property, totaled a little over $5.9 million. Its expenses, which include $3.3 million spent on energy assistance, and the Head Start, Homemaker, Social Services, Supporting Services, Transportation, Employability, and RSVP, programs, also came to a little over $5.9 million, however fell about $5,000 short of the support and revenue income.
In 2013, BCO has already served 1,488 households in its energy assistance program, and 412 households.
BCO also lost a grant for another program, Beyond Sheltered, which assisted with the transition from shelters to housing and allowed the organization to hire caseworkers to be paired with clients. The program served 42 families and 18 individuals before the state changed the grant, which now covers about 60 families to be served in the entire Hartford area.
Last week, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development of Connecticut held a homeless count, and 10 individuals were found in Bristol, but there are probably more. Morrow said there is a multiplier for every one homeless person found. In BCO’s geographic area it serves, there were 121 self-reported homeless individuals. Morrow said BCO also knows how many individuals are in the shelters, but there are time limits.
Rose Bourgoin, director of Program Services at BCO, said she sees two individuals, on average, per day who are homeless and need assistance.
Morrow shared with the state legislators who attended the breakfast last Friday morning, about the programs and assistance BCO believes are priorities or that may be at risk of being lost. He said the funding for HSI, Human Services Infrastructure, is an “important service to clients” and is a priority to be funded. HSI is a statewide social services system to help clients become self-sufficient and provides programs to help families build better lives.
Morrow also said there may be a move to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which allows for lower-income working families to receive refunds equal to a certain percentage of their federal EITC claims. While this credit may only be a few dollars, Morrow said, clients depend on it.
Finally, he said the energy assistance program is a necessity at BCO, and relies on funding. The Connecticut Energy Assistance Program found more than 100,000 families eligible for the assistance program in the 2011-2012 season, and helped more than 132,000 families avoid heat and utility shut-offs. The energy assistance program at BCO only provides assistance to the primary heating source.