February 20, 2021

By Matt Sanning
Executive Director
Lee’s Summit Social Services

In 2019, the Federal Reserve took a survey and concluded that 40 percent of our country could not afford an additional $400 emergency expense.

If we take a minute to ponder this information, it’s easy to think about all the expenses we have which could fall within this area. Vehicle tires or repair, medical or dental emergencies, veterinary expenses and home repairs.

In 2020, COVID-19 hit our community. For several reasons, some people lost their opportunity to keep working, the hospitality and restaurant industries among those hit the hardest. Lee’s Summit has done an incredible job working on the retail and restaurant scene, as well as employing many more than ever before as our amazing town continues to grow, but it also comes with challenges. For those who live on a tighter budget, or have fluctuating incomes because of hours, commission, or tips, situations like this wreak havoc.

In 2021, we now have record-setting cold.

High energy costs, rolling blackouts, busted water lines, cars that won’t start. The list goes on. Something that people may not consider with a loss of power is that some really cannot wait an hour for power to be restored. People who need their oxygen machine, CPAP, and other devices are a few of our biggest concerns. But another concern is some of the lower-income housing may simply not power back up when everything gets turned back on. Shoddy wiring, power surges and aging fuse panels all factor in.

Now let’s combine all of those years and scenarios together. Welcome to February of 2021. The year has not started the way many of us imagined it might, but for families who fall into these categories, it has been a nightmare.

When we think about the families who are generally self-sufficient, but possibly living paycheck-to-paycheck, the concerns are quite easy to visualize. While wages meet their lifestyle, the desire to get more distance between not being able to afford that $400 expense and not having to worry about it can grow. Taking away their ability to do so is a great concern for them and their family.

A nationwide pandemic causes their employers to do their best with what they have, but they may have to scale back capacity, hours, or opportunity, not to mention falling customer demand. If they can work, but they have young kids, how do they provide care during their shift? If the kids are school-aged, our schools would allow for the parents to go to work and structure a schedule that meets the needs. But if they have daycare needs or their children to be cared for during virtual learning, that could mean additional expenses. Childcare costs quite a bit and can easily cause a household budget to fall apart.

Let’s add in the fact that any lost income could cause a family to turn to credit card utilization in excess of the norm, which incurs interest and added burdens when average-to-high-risk borrowers might see anywhere from 15-30 percent interest over time. Once that snowball starts, it’s hard to get off and sometimes it truly spirals out of control.

The safety net of the moratorium on evictions and the decision by utility companies and local governments to stop all shut-off actions have been a blessing for some. But for others, penalties and bills still accumulate, much like the interest on a line of credit. They still need to be paid, but the compounding debt creates an even bigger hole for the family.

Landlords, for the most part, are playing by the rules, but some are not. In these situations, many of us would turn to our attorney for support. That’s hard to do when you can’t afford daycare or saving every penny to pay for the car insurance. That said, all the bills still come due and opportunities to get “caught up,” simply may be too few and far between.

So, the good news is that there are organizations working hard in Lee’s Summit during such a crazy time. Agencies like ours work to find solutions through education, resources and advocacy. The funding and donations from Lee’s Summit help us do our jobs and get many families back on track.

We need you. We need you to help us help others. We need to keep the lights on, water running and we need all hands on deck. This is exactly what Lee’s Summit has been known for and we have been grateful to see all the amazing support for decades. We are a community that cares, and we appreciate you for everything you do.