The COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world economy, disrupting supply chains and creating shipping delays. Labor shortages and consumer demand surges exacerbated these problems. With many items in short supply and the cost of shipping going up, prices began increasing.
Meanwhile in July 2022, Santa Cruz County was named the second most expensive place to rent in the country, behind San Francisco by only 1.9%. Limited housing and employment options leave 40% of county residents – 38,000 rental households – needing 133% higher wages than the average American while earning 30% less than the average housing wage.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly earnings increased only 4.7% over the past 12 months, while food, housing, gasoline, utilities rose a combined 8.2% in August alone — a nearly 40-year-high. Grocery prices increased 13.5%, the largest rise since 1979. And USDA data shows the lowest-income households spend 30.6% of their budgets on food, compared to high income households that spend only 7.6 percent of their income on meals.
Housing costs rose 11.7%. Transportation increased by 14.4%. Energy prices are up 19.8%, and gas prices are at an all-time high, up 18.2% over last year. These conditions strain families paying for childcare, essential workers commuting to work, households rationing food budgets, and older adults having difficulty paying for medical care and utility bills.
Rising costs also affect those already likely to experience food insecurity. For children, hunger can diminish their ability to learn and grow, as well as create lifelong deficiencies. Poor nutrition among older adults can cause chronic disease requiring costly hospital or nursing care. There are also significant systemic barriers such as racial disparities and disabilities.
As demand increased due to COVID-19, Community Bridge’s Meals on Wheels program rose to the occasion thanks to community...
Conventional wisdom states that public agencies and social services work together to alleviate these crises. Collaboration between government and nonprofits is baked into the system. Clients come to our Family Resource Centers having spent hours away from work and family obligations trying to apply for benefits on their own, only to come up short.
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“It’s a 10-page application, I have a master’s degree and I’m not in crisis. And it was a struggle for me to figure it out,” commented Tina Postel, CEO of a Charlotte, NC food pantry. “Call your county social services or other nonprofits that operate in your area for help. Many organizations have specialized staff who can help navigate systems and applications.”
Community Bridges has filled this role since the inception of many federal relief initiatives. Programs including Meals on Wheels, Child & Adult Care Food Program, and Women, Infants & Children (WIC) are essential to ensuring that emergency aid is delivered to local areas by community members so that help is available here in Santa Cruz County when we need it.
In fact, safety net programs that were expanded during the pandemic are credited with lifting 1 in 5 children out of poverty in 2021. Family-friendly policies such as CalFresh and the Child Tax Credit also prevented 3.9 million Californians from slipping into poverty in the first place.
Community Bridges Family Resource Centers help thousands of residents apply for these resources every year, serving as a hub for meeting individual household needs. Staff provide one-on-one support with accessing public benefits as well as many other services including eviction prevention legal assistance, mental health counseling, and parent education that strengthen and support residents in their time of urgent need as well as across generations.
Early Education Division preschools invest in affordable, high-quality education to create lifelong stability to help our community thrive. Elderday and Lift Line allow elders to stay in their communities by making it possible for them to live at home with support and assistance with meeting their health and nutritional needs.
Recovering from crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, CZU Fire, mounting inflation, housing and living costs requires leadership and commitment to ensure we work together and stay connected. Disinvestment from county and city budgets, along with rising operating costs, strain the availability of services that people need right now. Filling gaps piece by piece can lead to inequities in the safety net, limiting services to one eligible individual over another.
From the pandemic, to a reopening economy providing people with more options for their disposable income, the costs of inflation and investment losses have created a rift where emergency relief funds have dried up while others are unable to give. Community Bridges needs your help this year as much as ever to ensure that local families can thrive.
This holiday season, please join Community Bridges in meeting the needs of local residents. Visit our donation site, contact email@example.com, or call 831-688-8840. Donations can also be mailed to 519 Main St, Watsonville, CA 95076 in time for the holidays.