Neighborhood Assistance Programs Can Lend You A Hand

helping-handDespite reports that the U.S. economy is bouncing back, times remain tough for the average American — especially those among the long-term unemployed. Nearly 1.3 million Americans saw their unemployment insurance terminated last year and over the next year, 4.9 million unemployed Americans will get fewer benefits.

President Obama has called income inequality the defining challenge of our time. At the end of 2012, the top 1 percent owned 50.4 percent of the total wealth in the country, a level that even surpasses that of 1928, when the roaring 20s stock bubble was at its peak. It’s no surprise that many of us continue to tighten our purse strings – a recent survey showed that 38 percent of Americans even cut back on holiday spending last year.

Closing this wealth and income gap is as much a practical issue as it is a moral one: the U.S. economy can’t thrive when it lacks a solid middle class.  Americans have begun engaging in economic justice fights at both state and local levels, some which successfully lead to 13 states raising their minimum wage this year.

But due to partisan gridlock in our nation’s capital and inaction by Congress, many of us find there’s just not enough to make ends meet. Don’t be embarrassed if the effects of this wealth disparity are directly impacting your ability to provide food or basic necessities for your family. There are several assistance programs that can lend you a hand.

For example, United Way accepts applications for housing and assistance. To apply, families need to submit current proof of income, proof of address, ID, and birth certificates or proof of custody for children ages 12 or under. United Way can also direct you to agencies that help pay for your utility bills.

The Salvation Army provides a breadth of social services for families in need, including clothing, dinners and even toys for children. To register, contact your local Corps Community Center by using the location search on its website.

If you have children, contacting their school may also be helpful. Try speaking to a school counselor or social worker. Discuss your situation with them and ask for referrals to programs that might offer assistance. The school itself may have the resources to give you a boost, or at least know of local programs you can contact.

For parents who may be incarcerated, The National Resource Center of Children and Families of the Incarcerated offer a directory of programs serving children & families.

Larger, better-known programs always advise you register and apply for assistance in advance due to wait listing. If you need other alternative resources, this useful site on offers a list of charities, toy drives and food banks by state.

The unfortunate reality is that it is more difficult to get by day-to-day; but don’t be afraid to reach out for help for you and your family.  There are people and resources ready to assist you.

Dedrick Muhammad is the Senior Director of the Economic Department of the NAACP.

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