Low Income Needs Assessment

Assessment Report & Summaries

View the 2006 Low Income Needs Assessment Report (PDF) or take a moment to read the work group summaries (PDF) from the Presentation to the Community on October 2, 2006. Summary of needs assessment is as follows:

  • Education: 61% have at least a high school diploma.
  • Employment: 48% of households include wage earners; 28% of all households have wage earners working fulltime; 23% rely, to some degree, on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); 18% receive Social Security income.
  • Income and financial situation: 50% of client households report $900 or less in total monthly household income; 69% have household incomes that are at or below the Federal Poverty Level. Except for Russian speakers, all respondent subgroups were more likely to report that their financial situation had gotten worse over the last year.
  • Eligibility for free and reduced price meals: One annual measure of poverty levels is the proportion of public school enrollment eligible for free and reduced price meals. There is a distinct upward trend in this statistic in Snohomish County in recent years. The proportion has increased steadily, from 20% in 2000 to 29% in 2005. This increase is primarily due to the proportion of enrollment eligible for free meals.
  • Benefit reductions: Many households rely to some degree on benefit programs such as TANF, SSI, and food stamps; 40% of respondents reported that their benefits had been reduced or stopped in the last year.
  • Race and Ethnicity: 88% of respondents are white, 7% Native American, 8% African-American, 2% Asian or Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander; 6% of all respondents are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and 11% are from Russian-speaking households.
  • Seniors: 12% of respondents are senior citizens.
  • Domestic violence survivors: 16% report having left home recently due to physical or emotional abuse.

Executive Summary Introduction

Snohomish County Human Services Department, through its Community Action Partnership Division, conducted a low-income households needs assessment designed to help local public and private agencies plan for future service delivery. This assessment is based on the results of a survey administered to low-income clients representing 930 low-income households.

Focus Groups

The households represented by the respondents included 2,581 persons (1,404 adults and 1,177 children). In addition, focus groups were conducted with three population subgroups that were either underrepresented or unrepresented in the survey sample: homeless youth, low income Latinos, and Vietnamese immigrants. The purpose of the focus groups was to gain a deeper understanding of their day-to-day challenges, and their suggestions for how to improve social and health services delivery in Snohomish County.

Respondents’ High Priority Needs

The respondents' high priority needs included:

  • High priority needs with lower availability: According to client respondents, affordable housing, affordable medical and dental care, and living wage jobs are high priority needs or services that are hard to access.
  • Comparing demographic subgroups, these high-priority needs changed somewhat. For example, Hispanic respondents would add childcare and adult basic education to that list. Across all subgroups, affordable dental care is a high-priority need that is difficult to obtain.

Findings Based on Category of Needs

  • Housing: In the last year, 8% of respondents needed to use emergency housing, 8% needed some form of transitional housing, and 15% relied on HUD Section 8 rental assistance. Respondents also faced the following housing cost-related situations:
    • 22% share housing with another household due to cost
    • 17% moved in the last year due to high housing costs
    • 11% were evicted from their housing
    • 27% had their heat or electricity turned off
    • 35% had their phone service turned off
  • Energy: 29% of respondents rely on energy assistance programs to heat their homes.
  • Childhood Development and Parenting: 12% of respondent households with children aged 0-5 receive services from Early Childhood Education and Assistance or Head Start. A small but significant proportion of respondent households (4%) say that someone in the household has assumed responsibility for the overall care of their grandchildren.
  • Food and Nutrition: 40% of respondents say that in the last year someone in their household had gone hungry for lack of food.
    • 90% of respondents rely on one or more food assistance programs.
    • Food banks (73%), food stamps (57%), DSHS (29%), churches (19%), and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, popularly known as WIC (17%), are the most frequently accessed assistance programs.
    • 29% of respondents say they are often concerned about their household’s ability to prepare food.
  • Health and Healthcare: According to the Community Health Network of Washington, the fastest growing segment of the uninsured are the poorest families, those earning less than the Federal Poverty Level. Statewide, over 60% of the uninsured are low-income, those earning less than 200% of the poverty level. Data from the Washington State Population Survey confirms this. The proportion of uninsured is highest among the poorest families. And it is this group that experienced the largest increase in uninsured persons over the last two years, jumping from 18% to 23%.
    • Uninsured: 35% of respondents are uninsured. Among households with children, 65% say that their children are covered by health insurance.
    • General health and welfare status: One-third of respondents say their lives now are worse than a year ago, and respondents are twice as likely to say their health is worse (38%) compared to those who say it is better (18%).
    • Impact of illness: About one in four respondents say that someone in their household suffered an illness in the last year that left them unable to work or care for their children.
    • Medical care: More than a third (37%) of respondents say that someone in their household has postponed needed medical care due to cost in the last year. Not surprisingly, the problem of postponing needed medical care is strongly associated with a respondent’s insurance status. Among those with coverage, only 26% say they postponed care, yet more than twice that proportion (60%) of the uninsured say they postponed care.
    • Dental care: More than half of respondents (53%) say they postponed needed dental care due to cost.
    • Mental health: 17% of respondents report that someone in their household obtained mental health services in the past year.
    • Substance abuse: 12% say that a household member received drug or alcohol abuse treatment.
    • Disability: Nearly a third (32%) report having at least one household member that has a disability that limits one or more daily activities such as walking, eating, bathing, or toileting.
    • Long-term care: The prevalence of household members who are receiving long-term care is low among the overall sample of respondents and most demographic subgroups: however, it is more common among seniors (12%) and Russian-speaking (15%) respondent households.
    • Emergency services: One in three respondents say their household has contacted 911 for some reason in the past year.

Focus Group Findings

The focus group findings about the major challenges facing low-income households include:

  • Homeless Youth: Most homeless youth focus group participants agreed that issues related to housing are the most important challenges they, and others like them, face. Health care access is another major challenge. Although health care coverage, independent of their parents, may be available for people in their age group, they say that many are not aware how to access it. Adequate transportation and transportation-related costs also present challenges for homeless youth, most of whom do not own their own car.
  • Latino Households: Participants shared many challenges and experiences. Some were horrific and harrowing tales of illness and poor medical care, living in substandard housing, and feeling powerless to change things. Most mentioned difficulties with transportation and getting health care. Some remarked about the difficulty in obtaining affordable childcare, especially on nights and weekends when many have to work. Many were disappointed that things had to get really bad (and expensive) when, really, just a little help up front would have resolved the issues and prevented much suffering and stress.
  • Vietnamese Immigrants: Participants agreed that government and other organizations have taken care of all the importance services for people in the Vietnamese community. However, medical and dental coverage for low-income people are limited. Because of financial hardship, adults and children have difficulty accessing recreation programs. Bilingual staff are very helpful, but not available at many agencies. Low-income working families need help to attain homeownership of townhouses or condominiums.

The focus group offers suggestions regarding low-income household members receiving improved delivery of social and health services:

  • Homeless Youth: All focus group participants appreciated the housing and supportive services they obtain directly or indirectly through the nonprofit organizations that operate the transitional housing programs. They suggest that more of these programs and facilities are needed to reduce the waiting time it sometimes takes to get placed in this type of program. They also agreed that they, like their peers, knew little or nothing about such services when they first needed them, and that it would be a good idea to better publicize their existence through appropriate media that target youth (e.g., in the schools). Similarly, they suggested that few youth are aware of their options for medical and dental care access independent of their parents. Efforts to increase this awareness should be supported.
  • Latino Households: Latino focus group participants cited the need for more affordable or subsidized housing so the waiting lists are not so long. They also mentioned the need for assistance with expensive security deposits, the difficulty some have with the amount of paperwork type of documentation required to obtain housing. More effort should be expended in raising awareness about tenants’ rights.

    Regarding healthcare, Latino participants believe that medical coupons should cover more services than is currently the case, and more doctors are needed who will accept patients using medical coupons. They feel that mental health service providers ignore or fail to seek input on treatment options from the patient or the patient’s family. Most want to learn English more quickly than many ESL programs allow. They would prefer to be able to have more time-intensive programs (more hours per class and/or more class days per week).

    For all services, participants believe there needs to be a major improvement in deliberately serving Latinos in a more culturally appropriate manner: more resource material and application forms available in Spanish, and more bilingual agency staff.
  • Vietnamese Immigrants: Vietnamese immigrants suggested many of the same improvements as Latino focus group participants: additional affordable housing resources to reduce waiting lists for subsidized units; more comprehensive medical and dental coverage in subsidized health insurance programs, and the provision of better services overall by hiring bilingual staff and translating important materials and applications into their native language.

    In addition, Vietnamese participants suggested developing a housing assistance program that would help lower-income working households purchase condominiums. These participants also noted the problems some have accessing healthcare between jobs. Some form of inexpensive or subsidized insurance should be made available to insure people during these gaps in coverage.