Helping Families to Weather Unexpected Financial Setbacks

A sudden job loss. A devastating illness. These setbacks are not only stressful, they can spell financial disaster to families already living month to month. Nonpayment of rent or mortgages can quickly lead to eviction, foreclosure and homelessness.

In fact, Prosperity Now, a national research and policy organization, published a scorecard last month that showed two in five families in Massachusetts report they cannot build the savings needed to last three months in the event of an emergency.  Home values in Massachusetts are five times higher than the median income and 50 percent of Massachusetts renters spend more than 30 percent of their household income on rent and utilities alone. It’s no wonder that this high cost burden makes it difficult to set aside emergency savings and creates significant ripple effects in our communities.

For over 40 years, United Way’s Family Fund has been providing individuals and families with one-time emergency cash grants to help pay for utilities, buy food or prevent homelessness in times of crisis. Walking the tightrope that is known as “making ends meet” has not eased on the past few decades – if anything, it is worse.  Since 1980, rents in Boston have risen by close to 60 percent, while real income only rose about 20  percent over the same time period.

This year there are also additional challenges: several recent storms have created unexpected household emergencies for many families, a record-breaking cold snap earlier this winter drained family budgets early in the season, fuel costs are rising, and there are proposals to eliminate federal fuel assistance from the U.S. budget.

Since its creation. United Way’s Family Fund has helped over 90,000 households meet these basic needs. The Family Fund remains as relevant now as ever, maybe even more so. The National Grid Foundation has been a steadfast partner of United Way and the Family Fund, giving nearly $1.5 million spanning over a decade to help families in need.

Last year alone, United Way’s Family Fund helped more than 30,100 households.  Despite this assistance, United Way’s partner agencies also reported they could not help over 3,540 requests for assistance due to a shortage of funds.

The funds donated by the National Grid Foundation will help close the gap between need and available resources as families require assistance.  National Grid Foundation funds helped nearly 1,000 individuals in the region last year.

This year, the National Grid Foundation has contributed $150,000 to help families in need.  The funds will benefit community-based organizations serving Boston, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Quincy, and Somerville.   They include Action for Boston Community Development, Catholic Charities, Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Lynn Economic Opportunity, Quincy Community Action Programs and The Neighborhood Developers.

Together, we can provide families with the help they need today to weather unexpected financial setbacks and get back on their feet.

Edward White is Executive Director of the National Grid Foundation.  Michael K. Durkin is President and CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

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