Service helps cash-strapped dig out of hole
People of all economic means run into budgetary problems
Sixth in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Joanne Flemming
|OUT THEY GO: Karen Sukowatey and Sue Ruck of Catholic Charities cut up credit cards - an essential in getting runaway spending under control. (Rick Evans photo)
Catholic Charities provides marriage and family counseling, adoption services, parenting enrichment programs, budget counseling, resettlement and immigration services, aging/elderly services, community outreach, health services and emergency assistance referral.
It has five main offices in the Green Bay Diocese:
Green Bay, 1825 Riverside Dr., (920)437-7531 or 1-877-500-3580, ext. 1
Appleton, 214 E. Summer St., (920)734-2601
Oshkosh, 36 Broad St., Suite 200, (920)235-6002
Manitowoc, 1203 N. 16th St., (920)684-6651
Marinette, 844 Pierce Ave, Suite 102, (715)735-7802 or 735-3539
Catholic Charities also has Outreach Offices at:
Camp Tekawitha, W5248 Cty. H, Shawano, (715)526-2316.
Sturgeon Bay, 20 S. First Ave., (920)495-0162
Waupaca, St. Mary Magdeline Church, 223 S. Division St., (920)734-2601
Wautoma, St. Joseph Church, 364 S. Cambridge, (920)787-3848
Harry and Helen - not their real names - were getting by. They both held blue collar jobs, paid all their bills and even managed to save a little. Then Harry had medical problems that forced him to quit working for several months. The bills far outpaced their health insurance policy. Meanwhile, Helen's employer lost some key clients and her work hours were reduced. Soon they were where they'd never been before - deep in debt.
Miles away, Joe and Joan - also not their real names - were on top of the world. They had good paying white collar jobs, earning just short of $100,000 a year between them. They bought a large new house with a big mortgage in a great neighborhood, plus a boat, new cars and whatever struck their fancy. Money was never a problem. They signed up for most of the pre-approved credit cards they were offered nearly every day. And they used them, maxing out one card and moving on to another, while meeting the monthly minimum payments. Life was
great until corporate down-sizing left Joe without a job. Suddenly they couldn't pay even the monthly minimums. Their dream world was collapsing.
Fortunately, while they took different routes to get there, the Green Bay Diocese's Catholic Charities' budget counseling program was there to help them both with their financial crises.
"We offer hope for a lot of people who at the present time might be really seeing no hope at all," said Bobbie Lison, budget counseling supervisor.
Budget counselor Sue Ruck agreed: "In budget counseling we offer people hope that things can get better. Normally they can. People just need help to do that. It's not that easy when you are in a crisis."
Last year Catholic Charities three full- and one part-time budget counselors helped 383 new clients and 1,573 ongoing clients, Lison said, at its offices in Green Bay, Manitowoc,
Appleton and Marinette.
Starting last spring, Nancy Esidore, budget counselor in the Green Bay office, began providing counseling services twice a month in Marinette, usually on Mondays, for six new and 19 ongoing clients.
Before that, 44 clients drove from Marinette to Green Bay for counseling. People from Marinette, Forest and Florence counties are served through the Marinette office, said Karen Johnston, Catholic Charities director. Forest and Florence are among the state's poorest counties, she noted.
People seek budget counseling for a variety of reasons, Ruck said. Not all are poor or marginalized. "We serve people at all income levels. We do work with people who make over
$100,000 a year," she noted.
Many have never been in financial distress before, she said, but face problems now because of the economy - lost overtime, lost jobs, fewer work hours, businesses forced to close.
A depressed economy is the major reason for budget counseling in the Marinette office, Johnston said. Many of the clients are the "working poor" beset by credit card debt and, for some, gambling debt.
The budget counseling program offers two services: counseling and money management classes. Referrals come from families, financial institutions and social service agencies.
Ruck said clients seeking counseling are "really worried, extremely stressed." Creditors are calling their homes. Some have major debt because of illness: Their health insurance may have lapsed or costs exceeded insurance limits.
Budget counselors do not judge clients' situations, she said. "We start where people are. We see this as a very positive positive for families. People want to pay their debts. We very, very seldom see anyone who does not want to pay their debts."
The process starts with a group informational meeting where the budget counseling program is explained. Clients each receive a packet with forms for them to give information about
monthly income, expenditures and debt.
When an individual or family returns for one-on-one counseling, the first session is 90 minutes, Ruck said. After they review the forms, the counselor helps the clients create a spending plan or budget.
They look at "wants versus needs" and set spending priorities. The client and counselor each have a copy of the plan. At subsequent 45-minute sessions they talk about how the plan is or is not working.
People stay with the counseling at least three months, but many clients are in the program for a year or more.
These services are free. The Bishop's Appeal "subsidizes a great deal of budget counseling," Johnston said.
If people choose to go into a debt management program, the set-up cost is $25 with a $10 monthly fee for as long as clients are in the program. A program can last as long as four years, Ruck said.
She and Lison described the money management classes:
"Mastering the Money Maze" teaches the development of spending plans, the cash envelope system for covering expenses and approaches to savings.
This class will meet from 6 to 8:30 p.m. March 31, April 7 and 14 at the Salvation Army in Appleton; and from 9 to 11:30 a.m. April 26, May 3 and 10 at Bona Hall in the diocesan offices in Green Bay. Cost is $10.
"Credit When Credit is Due," a "budget repair program" offered monthly. It consists of three three-hour sessions. Fee is $35.
"Get Checking," a class on the ins and outs of checking and savings accounts for people who have never had checking accounts or who cannot get them because of problems. It will meet from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 30 at Bona Hall in Green Bay. Fee is $35.
"Rent Smart," on tenant-landlord relationships. It is free.
Money management classes also are available for children and teenagers and may be taught in schools.
The budget counseling program has had many success stories, Ruck said. "We see it as helping people increase their self-esteem. It helps them with a better understanding of their finances and to plan for the future. We hopefully are teaching new concepts in regard to
money management and savings. We really encourage savings and not living paycheck to paycheck as much as possible."