Now that the season of giving is officially over, we are approaching the harshest time of year when underprivileged, poor and homeless fellow Americans need our help the most. The average high across the USA in January is 42 degrees and the average low is 27, which is the coldest month of the year. In February, the average high moves to 44 and the average low is 28, which is the second coldest month of the year. Using New York State as the example, the cost of heating oil jumps in the winter with last year's January cost per gallon of $4.13 and February's cost of $4.34, which was the highest of 2014.
According to the US Census Bureau, a family of four is considered living in poverty if their annual income is under $23,850. The current rate of US addresses under the poverty rate is 14.5%, which is down from the 15% in 2012 and was the first decrease in the poverty rate since 2006. This means there are 45.3 million people living in poverty. The poverty rate is two percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before our most recent recession. The poverty rate for children is 19.9%, for people ages 18-34, it is 13.6% and for those over 65, the rate is 9.5%.
We can't rely on our government to take care of the poor, or can we? The New American just reported that 65% of our children live in households that participated in at least one or more of these government aid programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP new version of food stamps costing taxpayers $82 billion annually, up from $18 billion in 2000), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Medicaid and the National School Lunch Program. The "War on Poverty," which was part of the "Great Society" plan of President Lyndon Johnson, where he believed in expanding the government's role in education, health care and poverty reduction, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. Our government has spent $22 trillion over these 50 years to support this war.
So does the US welfare system actually hamper dignity while claiming to grant it? We continue to hear stories of recipients abusing the social safety net designed to help those who truly need our help. Do some of these programs trap people into the poverty they are trying to escape? Our government programs address complex social problems with a one size fits all solution. Local nonprofit organizations and local governments have a better vantage point to identify and address the true poverty issues in their communities. Local and state communities are more invested in the success of the families and individuals living within their communities.
More cold, more cost to keep warm and now that the holidays are over, we are back to focusing on ourselves. Whether it is finding a gym to get back in shape, or a diet to lose the holiday pounds, our attention naturally shifts away from those who need our help 365 days a year. Lucky for us that there are several nonprofit organizations that don't give up after the holidays and continue to help those in need. One of my favorites is One Warm Coat. This nonprofit organization started with a Thanksgiving weekend coat drive in 1992 in San Francisco. Since then, they have organized thousands of groups across America that collect coats to give to those in need, free of charge. They have given away four million coats! Another favorite is Operation Warm which started in 2002 and use organizations like Rotary Clubs and Fire Fighters to distribute over 300,000 coats to impoverished children annually. Each of these caring organizations began way before the recession, survived the recession and continue to serve the underprivileged as the country recovers. The Salvation Army, which started in 1865 and now has operations in 126 countries and just about every town in the USA, is a true definition of being there for local community needs. They are the second largest charity in the country receiving $2.08 billion in donations annually. The largest charity is The United Way, who took in $3.87 billion and because they are a network of over 1,300 units across the country; they really are our communities' feet on the ground supporting the local charities that see our poverty issues up close. And at DollarDays on our Facebook page during January, we are giving away 1,200 sets of hats, gloves and scarves to nonprofits in your area to help keep the needy warm, so make sure you nominate a charity in your town for these free hats, gloves and scarves.
With the impasse in Washington, which looks like it will be getting even worse in 2015, we cannot rely on our government to pick up the slack to take care of those Americans who truly need our help. Gas prices are going down, giving all of us more discretionary income to spend. The holidays are over, you bought all the gifts you needed and now it is time for the average American to step up and begin to funnel your extra gas money back into our local communities to help our neighbors pull themselves out of poverty. We, as citizens, need to create a new grass roots effort and create our own local War on Poverty. Having 45.3 million people living in poverty is not what any of our forefathers envisioned and it is not the country we want to leave to our children.