Poverty Rates Spike in Jackson County

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MEDFORD, Ore. – Under-stocked refrigerators and bare pantry shelves await families at the Maslow Project, one of Medford’s biggest homeless support agencies.

Their limited resources are being stretched thinner and thinner by growing demand.

The agency serves only families that meet federal guidelines for homelessness. In the past year, the number of families that qualify for their services has risen 10%. The amount of families they actively serve has risen by roughly a quarter.

It’s a sudden, unexpected pattern of poverty for which the agency has little explanation.

“The fact that we’re actually seeing higher numbers is concerning to me,” said Mary Ferrell, Executive Director of the agency.

The trend is also concerning to Medford schools.

For years the district has used what’s called Title 1 federal funding for schools that have a at least 70% of the student body under the poverty line. Those schools get access to a pot of federal dollars to better serve at-risk kids.

For the past decade or so, seven schools have been splitting that pot. Next year, there will be nine.

And the pot is getting smaller.

“What we’ve actually seen is a sequester of funds from the federal government where we’ve actually been cutting programs, not adding,” said Julie Evans, Director of Elementary Education for the Medford School District.

Those cuts amount to about 10-15%, a rate Evans says is unlikely to change. And as more and more schools qualify for the funding, they’ll have to continue spreading it thinner.

Meanwhile, agencies like the Maslow Project are struggling to provide food for the table.

“Even with the free lunch programs in the schools, it’s just not enough to get a family through,” said Ferrell.

And while their strained pantries buckle under the load, a long-term solution remains sadly out of reach.

“I don’t have the immediate answer,” said Ferrell. “I wish I did.”