OPINION

Perry’s Thoughts

Perry Lundon, DPCAA Executive Director

During much of 2020 Dakota Prairie Community Action Agency (DPCAA) and the 6 other Community Action Agencies (CAAs) in the state conducted a needs assessment. The CAAs conducted this needs assessment survey process with Dr. Yao Yu and Dr. Zhili (Jerry) Gao from the Department of Construction Management and Engineering at North Dakota State University. The survey garnered 3,458 responses and 3170 completed surveys statewide. A statewide total of 2084 of those responses were from lower income individuals and the balance coming from local elected leaders (county commissioners, state legislators, mayors) and other human service delivery organizations. The results were presented as overall statewide needs and the needs for each of the 8 planning regions in the state. 

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The actual survey instrument consisted of three sections. Section 1 – Basic Demographic Information, Section 2 – Specific Needs and Section – Additional Feedback. Section 1 provided demographic information of the respondents. Section 2 provided specific needs under seven board categories: Employment, Income and Asset Building, Education. Housing, Health and Social/Behavior Development, Civic Engagement and Community Involvement and Other Supports. Respondents were to indicate their three most important needs for them, their families and/or their community among the seven categories.

In previously conducted needs assessment surveys food, utilities and dental health care were the top three statewide needs. The recently completed survey, most surveys were completed online, resulted in rental assistance being the number one need, not surprising given the survey was being conducted during a pandemic that created numerous housing issue that were exacerbated by the pandemic. Low-income survey respondents listed: 1. Housing - Rental Assistance; 2. Income and Asset-Building - Financial Issues; 3. Employment – Finding a Job or Health or Social/Behavior Development – Dental Insurance/Affordable Dental or Education – Paying for Education. Non-Low Income survey respondents listed: Housing – Decent Affordable Houses to Buy; 2. Health and Social/Behavior Development – Mental Health Service; 3. Employment – Higher Paying Jobs or Jobs with Benefits.

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Region 3 consisting of Eddy, Benson, Ramsey Cavalier, Towner, and Rolette counties and represents the DPCAA service area. A total of 521 completed surveys were produced in Region 3. A total of 277 were from Region 3 low-income respondents. Region 3 produced the second highest number of low-income respondents. Only Region 5 (Fargo and surrounding area) produced more low-income survey respondents. For Region 3 a total of 77.6% of low-income respondents indicated Housing was the top priority need followed by Income and Asset – Building (55.2%) and Education (54.2%). Non low-income survey respondents selected the following priority needs: Housing (66%), Education (55.7%), and Health and Social/Behavior Development (50%). Within these categories low-income respondents selected: Housing-Decent Affordable Houses to Rent (61.7%), Income and Asset-Building – Financial Issues (64.2%), and Education – Technical and Vocational Training (56%). Non low-income respondents selected: Housing-Home Repair or Decent Affordable Houses to Buy (60%), Education – Technical and Vocational Training (57.8%), and Health Social/Behavior Development- Health Education Services (67.9%). Housing activities, home weatherization, limited home rehabilitation, furnace/cooling repair and replacement, emergency rental assistance, emergency security deposit assistance, emergency temporary lodging assistance and other housing related housing services constitute the majority of DPCAA service delivery.  Housing activity accounts for 65-75% of all agency expenditures. DPCAA annually spends over $1.5 million for all agency services. 

Needs assessment surveys are required by a federal oversight agency so that periodically CAAs understand the needs of the local community respective to serving lower income households. In the over 40+ years working in the CAA network not much has really changed. Lower income individuals and families need stable employment that pays a wage that can support their needs in a self-reliant manner. They need safe, sanitary, and affordable housing that meets their housing requirements. They need access to low cost or no cost health care that is preventative in nature and not be reliant on high-cost emergency room health care. The need a support system that provides services through the inevitable troubled times when little of what they need is available to them for a variety of reasons.

Over those 40+ years I have witnessed the wealthiest nation on the planet, at least until China and/or India usurp our collective wealth, be unable, by design, to lessen income inequality but witness income inequality grow every passing year. With the advancement of technology in the next decade or so certain employment opportunities will cease to exist (long haul truck driver, warehouse worker, bus driver, delivery truck driver) and millions of workers will have difficulty producing income to meet their needs. A modern society will require insightful, truthful, and transparent political leadership that focuses on societal improvements for everyone and not dwell on the political gamesmanship that has resulted in our dysfunctional, dishonest, and corrupt governance for decades. 

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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