Lakeland Public Television, the Bemidji Pioneer and MPR are hosting a town-hall styled event tonight in Bemidji that focuses on the challenges surround the high rate of poverty in the area at a time of dwindling resources and economic opportunity. Leading up to this evening’s event, all three news partners deveoted editorial resources to help inform the discussion around the topic.
New census data shows some of the state’s poorest counties are in northwestern Minnesota, where living wage jobs are limited and geography isolates rural residents.
Beltrami County is one region with concentrated poverty where officials are examining the future challenges. About one in five people in Beltrami live in poverty — nearly a quarter of all children.
“We just keep giving out food, but our numbers continue to grow,” said Randy McKain, Food Shelf director. “There are more people in need.”
This year, the Food Shelf extended allotments of boxes of short-term emergency supplies from five times a year to monthly distribution. (Bemidji Pioneer).
The poverty rate in Beltrami County is nearly 21 percent and need is increasing, but resources are shrinking. Since the recession, the number of people getting some type of public assistance has climbed to approximately 6,000, up from around 5,000.
“Right now, the need is utility assistance. We’ve seen a little bit of a rise in the need for groceries,” says charity director Dottie Moen. “Gas to make it from paycheck to paycheck” (Bemidji Pioneer).
MPR’s Tom Robertson reports on the high rate of poverty through the perspectives of Amanda Vojak and Rebecca Spears. Vojak, a single mother, lives with her three children in a trailer park in Bemidji. She constantly juggles her finances, but said she’s never able to make ends meet. Spears, also lives in a Bemidji trailer park, lives with her 17-year-old daughter and relies on public assistance for income.
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