A snapshot of economic conditions in Ellis County reveals many positives. The stability of the numerous public sector jobs, the highly educated workforces in place at HaysMed and Fort Hays State University, the highest oil production in the state and a retail sector with the highest pull factor, all help maintain the community's high quality of life.
Not all county residents get to share in the bounty, however. Whether it's 40 percent of students in Hays qualifying for free or reduced meals (38 percent in Ellis and 25 percent in Victoria) or more than 15 percent of the overall population living below the federal poverty line, challenges abound.
Which is why the programs and services that exist here are so critical. Offered through non-profit agencies, the schools and religious groups alike, those who do well consistently and generously attempt to help those in need. One merely look at the local United Way to see this vital symbiosis in play.
A charitable group based in Hutchinson is the latest to lend a hand in Ellis County. Interfaith Housing Services Inc. is expanding a program called Creating Assets, Savings & Hope. As the acronym implies, C.A.S.H. helps low-income individuals and families to build up a nest egg to purchase or remodel a home, start a small business, or earn a college degree.
Already available in 68 other Kansas counties, organizers are hoping to get the equity-growing ball rolling here as well. They've been trying to do just that for two years.
"One of the most difficult things we have had to overcome with this program is people fear this is too good to be true," said program director Lorna Moore. "But this one is the real deal. There is no catch here."
No catch, to be sure. But there are qualifications to meet and requirements to accomplish. Clients must be within 200 percent of the federal poverty level and must complete six hours of financial education and four life skills workshops. If they do that, C.A.S.H. will triple their personal savings up to a cap with a 2:1 matching program. The program operates under the Kansas Individual Development Account tax credit program.
It is a solid way for qualifying individuals to help take the next step toward financial security. And it would appear there is potentially a significant portion of the county's population that could benefit. The median household income in Ellis County is $43,713 -- and 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four is $47,100.
"We are really helping people to pull themselves out of not just poverty, but this is for middle-income households as well," Moore said.
We wish Interfaith Housing Services the best in getting the C.A.S.H. program operating here. Interested individuals are encouraged to call IHS at (877) 447-5927 or visit www.ihs-housing.org for more details.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry