The Frederick News-Post interviewed four families that struggle to afford basic necessities, despite, for some, earning more than the federal poverty level. For these families, described in a recent report by the United Ways of Maryland as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), social service agencies provide crucial assistance to make ends meet. These are their stories.

Veronica Henry

Income:

$46,000 for a family of three (one adult, two children)

Occupation:

Housing Choice Voucher resource and community impact coordinator for the Housing Authority for the City of Frederick

Veronica Henry signed up for The Prosperity Center’s financial education classes to better understand how to help the clients she serves in her job at the Housing Authority for the City of Frederick.

She didn’t expect that she would also be a candidate for such programs.

She expected that as a single mother with two teenage children, one with autism spectrum disorder and the other a Type 1 diabetic, homeownership was out of the question. Not to mention the $100,000 in student loans from her law degree at University of Baltimore’ School of Law, which rendered her ineligible for any traditional mortgage or lending program.

“When I was married, it was much easier to be a homeowner,” she said in a recent interview. “But upon my divorce ... it seemed impossible.”

Still, she had a full-time job and a law degree, and she rented a condominium in Walkersville — hardly a candidate for financial assistance, she thought.

She thought wrong.

Through The Prosperity Center’s Credit Cafe, a two-part credit counseling and workshop run through Interfaith Housing Alliance, she realized she qualified for a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program. The program would subsidize a portion of her mortgage in exchange for $120,000 of her “sweat equity” — essentially labor to make necessary repairs and rehabilitation to the aging single-family brick rancher.

As of two weeks ago, Henry is now the proud owner of the Walkersville home. She’s learned to power-wash and repair brickwork as part of the labor contribution, with supplies and guidance from the alliance’s staff.

“I’ve got muscles now,” she said with a laugh.

She continued: “It’s such an amazing feeling, not only to be more financially independent, but the sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Coming out of a long marriage, coming out of a long time in school ... I feel more capable at 40 than I ever have in my entire life.”

And her prior misconceptions about who was eligible for social services are long gone. Henry emphasized that there was no shame in relying on assistance, and hoped more people would take advantage of such programs.

Alicia Jamison, Jonathan Collins

Income:

less than $45,000 for a family of four (two adults, two children)

Occupation:

stay-at-home mother, laborer for NVR (parent company for Ryan Homes)

With a toddler son and a baby on the way, Alicia Jamison, 25, and Jonathan Collins, 35, were just making ends meet for their growing family.

Then Collins was laid off from his job at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Frederick, making Jamison’s earnings as a student loan consultant their sole source of income. The couple struggled to pay their rent, bouncing from place to place accompanied by a series of eviction notices.

Soon after Collins secured a new position with NVR in Thurmont, the parent company of Ryan Homes, Jamison’s company, Squared Away Consulting, shuttered the doors of its Frederick office. She was able to continue working remotely for the office’s sister company while pregnant, but was laid off from that job the week before she gave birth.

During this time, the couple were slapped with another eviction notice. The requisite payment of two months’ rent, about $2,400, was more than they could scrape together ahead of the looming September eviction date.

“We were literally going to end up on the street,” Jamison said.

She’d never been homeless before. The prospect was “f---- — scary, especially with a newborn,” she said.

Salvation came in the form of Advocates for Homeless Families, a local service agency Jamison found through a Google search for “help with eviction notices.”

Through the agency’s Families Forward program, which helps families at risk of becoming homeless afford to stay in their homes, she was paired with a case manager who helped her family secure one of the income-restricted apartments in the newly finished Sinclair Way development. Sixty-three of the 71 apartments included in the project were designated for families who earned 30 to 60 percent of the area median income — about $30,000 to $60,000 for a family of four based on 2016 median income estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The $895 monthly rent for their two-bedroom apartment was much lower than the $1,200 they paid previously. And a grant from Advocates cut the couple’s contribution down to $695 for the first three months with a slightly higher, but still reduced payment after that.

She and Collins still find themselves forced to choose between basic necessities regularly: gas for his car or a visit to a doctor’s office, going without lunch so their children can eat. Collins, who has health insurance through his job, has delayed his doctor-recommended MRI for a hernia because of the costly co-pay.

“We’re better off now than we were,” Jamison said. “But we’re still making sacrifices.”

Chelsea Ciufolo
Income: $14,400 for a family of two (one adult, one child)
Occupation: small-business owner

A 1994 Toyota Celica with 333,000 miles on it gave Chelsea Ciufolo her independence.

The 25-year-old single mother was ready to strike out on her own, moving out of her mom’s house into her own apartment in Middletown, with a new job. The vehicle, a gift from her stepdad, was the last piece of the puzzle — her transportation to work, to run errands, and when her 2-year-old son, Bryce Billow, got older, to take him to preschool.

But the aging vehicle was in dire need of repair, including an oil change, new wheel bearings and front brakes. The repair work cost more than Ciufolo, who works as a laborer for a garden center and has also started her own cleaning company, could afford. The added expenses of rent and child care that accompanied her newfound freedom were already consuming most of her income.

Her inclination at the time was to put off the repairs, hoping she would make it through.

“I would have tried to fix it when it was probably already too late,” she admitted in a recent interview.

Luckily, it never came to that. Second Chances Garage, a local service agency that offers discounted donated cars and repairs to those in need, stepped to the plate. The garage’s Reduced-Cost Auto Repair program charged Ciufolo about $150 to address the safety problems and change the oil, less than a third of the $500 fee she estimated she might have paid elsewhere.

Ciufolo highlighted how the program both for its affordability and the compassion with which employees treated her.

“They actually cared about my safety,” she recalled.

Even so, it was hard to, in her words, “suck my pride in and ask for help.” She never envisioned herself relying on service agencies like Second Chances.

After graduating from Washington High School in Charles Town, West Virginia, she enrolled in Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg. She has halfway done with a business degree before she dropped out.

Ciufolo recently started her own business, Made 4 U 2, specializing in cleaning services for property management and construction companies. She hopes to finish her business degree and expand her business, creating a better life for Bryce.

“Because I’m in poverty, I feel like he’s been kind of shorted, and not able to live up to his full potential,” she said. “I want to give him more.”

Rebecca Bunai
Income: about $50,000 for a family of four (one adult, three children)
Occupation: mortgage consultant for Allied Mortgage Group in Frederick

The end of Rebecca Bunai’s marriage forced her to start anew.

She traded in her San Diego home for a town house in Frederick, closer to family and friends in her native Montgomery County. She re-entered the workforce, returning to the world of mortgage consulting after a nine-year hiatus when she stayed home to care for her three children.

And the comfortable lifestyle she grew accustomed to while still with her husband was replaced by one of struggle. Even with a job, her income was barely enough to cover expenses for her family of four.

The cost for after-school care for her three elementary school-aged children was particularly high — second only to housing, she said. The prospect of summer vacation, and with it, costly summer camps, loomed large.

But thanks to persistent efforts — “stalking,” she said — to enroll her children in Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County, she secured three spots in the summer program at the club’s Burck Street building. And the scholarship she received cut the cost to just $300 per month, a third of what she paid for after-school care during the school year, and for twice as many hours of supervision.

“It was sort of the difference between being able to barely make ends meet and having to borrow money or not pay bills,” she said of the savings from the scholarship.

It was the first time she had found herself on the receiving end of financial assistance.

“It’s definitely been a humbling experience asking for help, yes,” she admitted. “But I felt like it was needed, and it was just a huge relief.”

For her children, the camp provided a source of comfort and new friends during what had been a difficult transition.

“The first day, when I came to get them, they were like, ‘we don’t want to leave, we love it here,’” Bunai said.

Even after summer camp ended, and her children returned to Ballenger Creek Elementary School, they continued as clients of the Boys & Girls Club through its after-school program. Although Bunai didn’t qualify for a scholarship for the academic year — she had just received a raise at work — the $90 monthly fee was still more affordable than other options.

She wishes she could give her children more of the “extras” they’ve gone without as a result of her limited income — things like school yearbooks, regular haircuts and extracurriculars. Unexpected expenses such as car repairs only add to her stress, and in some cases, have prompted her to borrow money from family or friends.

But ensuring her children remain safe and cared for while she’s working is not among her worries.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

How much does it really cost to live in Frederick?

Source: United Ways of Maryland ALICE report

For a family of four in 2014 Monthly cost
Housing $1,469
Child care $1,456
Food $612
Transportation $889
Healthcare $607
Miscellaneous $574
Taxes $704
Total $6,311
Annual survival budget $75,732

ALICE across Frederick County

•represents percent of households whose earnings in 2014 were less than the basic cost of living, estimated at $75,732 for a family of four Source: United Ways of Maryland ALICE report

Muncipality below ALICE threshold•
Brunswick 37%
Emmitsburg 55%
Frederick 43%
Middletown 21%
Myersville 15%
New Market 32%
Rosemont 23%
Thurmont 43%
Walkersville 27%
Woodsboro 36%
Frederick County (overall) 32%

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(27) comments

Comment deleted.
lilman44

Don't forget cell phones

riccicc

Like one leftist female told me, they would rather be a single parent and homeowner than have a MAN to pick up after, like his dirty, smelly socks under the sofa. I guess power-washing and brick repair work is a lot easier than picking up socks and putting them in the washer!?! lol

public-redux

That female sounds conservative to me. She is showing initiative, taking personal responsibility, and working hard. Sounds like she cleared off the freeloader too.

sevenstones1000

Riccicc - 1950 called and wants its mindset back.

jls1843

Aaannnddddd.....bring on the judgmental opinions of Frederick...

tonyc51

I wish them all well, but it appears that a lot of the problems resulted from bad life choices; 100K in college loans without the understanding of how it would be repaid in the chosen profession. Having children (and then more children) when they could not be supported, poor decision relating to life partners, the lack of child support by fathers (or mothers) and on and on. While I am sympathetic to the plight of the children, not so much to the adults who put themselves into this situation (and continue to add to their problem by having more children, etc.) There are numerous support programs both private and public designed to assist with these issues, but it is impossible to start over once all the cumulative poor life decisions are made, not by society but by the individuals.

Fawned

Thank Zenu there is assistance available, cost of living around here is way too expensive and people are making too little. It's just going to get worse and worse if we keep letting capitalism run amok.

User1

Capitalism or just poor judgment and lack of responsibility? Put the blame where it belongs. Nowhere did any article state child support was received. Why not? If you can't afford the children you have then don't have more!!! And I bet that each of the people have an iPhone and probably smoke.....that's a ton of money there. And where is the family support system? Each of these have no family to assist them? Time to take responsibility for your lives!

Hayduke2

So User, So, do you support planned parenthood and a person's right to choose?

tonyc51

Hay I support both, but also believe in personal responsibility.

des21

God forbid we allow anyone but the free market decide success in life. Why should you or I, as individuals Fawned, have that power? I haven't always made the best decisions for myself (getting a Ph.D. kept me out of the labor market until I was 30 during the boom years of the 1990s! That was foolish and I will never regain those earning years.) how do I know what is best for you? How would anyone else know what is best for me?

tatt2ed

fawned... and your alternative to capitalism? Socialism, state control, federal control of markets? I really doubt we will ever drop into communism, but I suppose that is possible. We all have the ability to do as we wish. Some people wind up in bad circumstances, some are born into a structure that they don't have to struggle as much. What would be your solution? Pay everyone a "living wage"? When you do this, prices increase to match the ability to spend, so it is net zero situation. We have, and will continue to have, 3 classes in this country. Great thing about this country, you can actually make a choice where you want to aspire to.

CDReid

"ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed." I see the proof readers were hard at it this morning.

sue1955

"With a toddler son and a child on the way"...don't have children you can't afford. That's meaning...don't get pregnant in the first place. And, what happened to child support for these formerly married parents who lived comfortably while still married? The spouse must have been making a decent income where they were living just fine without outside help. In reading over health care statistics for healthcare costs, that looks way too high for people who are healthy; i.e., people who don't incur high prescription costs. Deductibles and co-payments would have to be a result of a poor healthcare insurance premium if it's that high.

Hayduke2

So, do you support planned parenthood and a person's right to choose?

tatt2ed

hayduke... Planned Parenthood, No. Your right to choose, fine. Basically, anything you do on your own dime, I don't have an issue with. You choose to use my tax dollars to support your chosen lifestyle, I have every right to judge, complain, ... As noted by an earlier comment (Des, I believe), I have made some really screwed up choices in my earlier years, no one is perfect. I judge by how you pull yourself out of those choices.

phydeaux994

Judge not, or ye shall be judged.

des21

He's not judging Phy (Have you noticed most of Jesus' advice hasn't really been followed over the past couple millennia? Look how the anti-Trump faction judges him and his supporters. If he or his supporters are insane (as a hilariously "balanced" piece in the WaPo argues this morning) aren't they deserving of our pity and compassion? I think its ok to judge some (the rich most obviously), anathema (sorry Phy) to judge others.) Tatt is simply saying he doesn't want to pay for the poor judgements of others. That's not even a subtle difference. It's huge.

Hayduke2

But planned parenthood provides reproductive counseling so people don't make poor choices. Can't have it both ways - criticize someone's choice while taking away a viable alternative from them...

des21

Of course you can- particularly as the example you chose to cite is government funded and not (by far) the only provider of such services. I was surprised when you wrote as if support for choice necessitated support for Planned Parenthood above (which is ludicrous) but I chose not to engage as I have grown tired of our tedious exchanges. But trolls will troll so you will do what you do so let me see if I can explain the difference for you. I have no doubt that you will not get it but education is important to us both right?

Adults have many and varied wishes, desires and needs. That is a good and proper thing and I have no problem with an adult trying to satisfy his/her wishes, desires and needs as long as it does not adversely effect me individually, my family or, more broadly (and contentiously) the community as a whole. It becomes problematic however when one adult expects other adults to provide for the cost of satisfying his/her particular wishes, desires and needs because then it infringes on those other adults attaining their own particular wishes,desires and needs. Get it?

It would be wonderful if all we wanted in life (say, a college education for example) was "free." Of course, as grown-ups, we know that very little in life is truly "free." Someone always pays. Now maybe its okay in the eyes of many as long as its not them in particular who are paying for that "free" good. That always struck me as a somewhat selfish and quite illiberal point of view.

Hayduke2

des - I really don't need the lecture from someone who believes they are superior in their knowledge of life. You are correct about some having tedious responses and implying superiority in responses. However, be careful throwing rocks when you live in a glass house.

Also, I am glad you have added "troll" to your vocabulary but please note that not all responses are directed at you. For someone who chose not to engage, this is a curious way to achieve it.

tatt2ed

phy... judge away. Have no issue with it.

tatt2ed

hayduke2.... you want to have an abortion, find a doctor and go for it. You pull out your check book, cash, credit card. On you, I don't have to live with your decision, and in this case, it is none of my business. You do this through taxpayer funded measures, I do have a right to complain, b*tch, moan, or just about any other thing I feel is necessary. IF planned parenthood were to get out of the abortion business, I may (emphasis may) not have such an issue with taxpayer funding. Most people (rich / poor / under represented / any race) know how pregnancy occurs. If planned parenthood were to start teaching that keeping your fly zipped or your knees together would prevent bad circumstances from raising its head, I would support that. I guess we will disagree on this issue. I have no desire to have my tax dollars funding personal bad decisions, enough of it goes toward funding government mandated bad decisions.

des21

Sigh, so predictable- and tedious.

des21

Sorry tatt2, that was for Hay, not you. If there ever was a guy who needed some lecturing its him, not you.

Hayduke2

tatt - just curious - did you question the huge boost to the military with no monitoring or accountability? After all, 80 billion dollars is a huge amount and it all comes from taxpayers ? No, I am not anti-military or less patriotic but I sure would like to know where my tax money is going ( and not to give some perk to a senator or representative a boost for his/her vote ). Planned Parenthood costs someone making about $ 200, 000 a year about 42 dollars in taxes. An income of 50,000 costs you about 15 dollars. ( Please note that these numbers are spread over a 10 year period- But, it's important to note that federal dollars are not used to provide the service at the center of the political debate around Planned Parenthood: abortions. That's been banned by law in almost all cases since 1976. (The details of the ban have shifted over time.) Instead, the organization uses money from other sources — private donors and foundations as well as fees — to fund its abortion services. ) Pretty cheap to help those less fortunate in my opinion.

It is also worth noting that : "But, it's important to note that federal dollars are not used to provide the service at the center of the political debate around Planned Parenthood: abortions. That's been banned by law in almost all cases since 1976. (The details of the ban have shifted over time.) Instead, the organization uses money from other sources — private donors and foundations as well as fees — to fund its abortion services." These come from private sources so your claim of using your tax dollars is not accurate. I guess we'll agree to disagree.

Hayduke2

Sorry for the repeated info in the previous post...

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