When 63 percent of Sussex County voters cast their ballots for the Trump-Pence ticket, they were endorsing a party platform that promised to dismantle programs that provide not only relief for the poorest of the poor, but also interim help for those who struggle when economic conditions beyond their control—the Recession of 2009 being the most sweeping recent example—that threaten to pull the floor out from under them so thoroughly that they can never recover.
Now we know, of course, that if President-elect Trump has his way, cabinet positions that oversee some of the most important “social” programs, such as health, food, housing and education, will be held by people who believe these programs should not exist.
And so Sussex County may be in for a rude awakening. Because despite a widespread perception that government safety nets are a boondoggle to coddle urban minorities, the fact is that rural counties such as Sussex also depend on federal funding, and the county’s overwhelming whiteness (93.9 percent) won’t make it immune when the axe falls.
Although the county’s median income, variously estimated at between $84,000 and $99,000, is relatively high, pockets of very high-income residents skew those results.
In fact, 7 percent of the county’s households live below the federal poverty line (a paltry $23,000 per year for a family of four), and the United Way estimates that an additional 30 percent of county households are struggling.
A little more than 15 percent of the county’s householders rent, with the median rent being $1,200 per month. Some live in the 277 units that provide rental assistance (these are largely for seniors); 57.7 percent are considered to be “overburdened,” meaning they pay a disproportionate share of their income on rent and don’t have enough left for other needs.
A total of 4,414 individuals, including children, rely on the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, to meet their needs: That program assumes a daily food budget of $4, and monthly grants can be as low as $16 for a single individual. The county is also home to 9,070 veterans who currently have to travel at least as far as Morris Plains to access a VA clinic, and an additional 8.8 percent of residents who have no health insurance at all (and thus have to use hospital ERs for routine health care).
It’s obvious, then, that the impact of implementing the Republic platform will have serious, if unintended, consequences for a small county that can’t afford to have even 10 percent of its residents floundering.
The need for Democrats at every level of government, from a municipal housing authority to county boards to the State House to Congress, has never been more critical.