By Todd Travis
Many residents of White River Township are feeling the effects of rising costs as the pandemic continues to affect people’s health and their finances. “The fourth quarter of 2021 was especially difficult,” said Mark Messick, White River Townships trustee. “We ended up going about 19 percent over budget because of an increase in requests for assistance toward the end of last year.”
Luckily, they were able to cover the deficit, but they are expecting more funds to be needed this year as well. “Just in the first month, we have seen the trend continue as the requests for assistance continue to come in. At this rate we are going to go over budget by about 40 percent this year,” Messick projected. As a result, he will be asking for approval to increase the budget for this year, and he expects to be granted the money.
The current budget for the township is $13,500. Two years ago it ended up under budget at around $9,900. Last year they ended up going over budget and spending just over $17,000. As Messick mentioned, this year looks to be on the same track. “That’s not to say that things won’t level off over time,” he added.
AN INCREASE IN RENT, UTILITIES AND FOOD COSTS
So what is causing this extra need? According to Messick, there are a few factors. First, rental costs have gone up significantly. In 2019 a one-bedroom apartment could be found for as little as $700. Today, the rent in the same place is around $1,000. Two-bedroom apartments were going for as low as $725-$850 and today they are going for $1,100 up to $1,400. That’s a 30 to 40 percent increase in the last two years. “A lot of those increases have just been in the last year,” Messick noted. “Rent shouldn’t cost people more than 25 percent of their income, but some people are paying nearly half their income in rent alone due to this increase.”
Secondly, food costs have risen as well. “Food costs have gone up by about 20 percent in the last two years,” he pointed out. In some cases, people who have had a pay increase have moved out of the income range where food stamps or township assistance would be provided. “Unfortunately, with the increase in food costs and other costs (like fuel and utilities), people are at a net loss even with a pay increase. We’re seeing this more now with companies starting to go to $15 per hour pay,” said Messick.
A third factor is added when people get sick with Covid. “Some companies are giving paid leave for people who are sick with Covid, but most aren’t. So now you’ve lost two incomes for a week and you’re living check to check.” he said. This is an added strain to the already difficult circumstances that people are facing. As a result, more people need help.
RETIREES AND FIXED INCOMES
Retirees are some of those getting hit the hardest by the pandemic. Those on a fixed income are having a tough time keeping up with increases. Rent, food costs and medical costs continue to rise while their income stays relatively stagnant. “We’re driving them away from a place they’ve lived for 50-60 years, and that’s the reality,” Messick revealed.
The need today is especially great. A word of advice Messick would offer to those who might be looking for help: “Regardless of your circumstance, ask for assistance.” There are many ways that people can find resources even if their income level is above any minimum. If you don’t know where to turn for help, Messick will be able to provide several referrals to different organizations that have the means to help. “If I can personally find them help somewhere outside the township money, I’ll do that. If I can’t, I’m going to try and find my best way to help them.”
You can contact the White River Trustee Office at (317) 422-1143 or visit their website at whiterivertownship.org.