Havre Daily News
About nine out of 10 Montanans think keeping and attracting businesses with good-paying jobs and reducing health care costs are their community's most important issues, according to a survey commissioned by the Northwest Area Foundation.
The national survey of 2,400 included a sample of 204 Montanans, foundation spokeswoman Sylvia Burgos Toftness said.
She said the survey was conducted to make the public and elected officials aware of the communities' priorities and the need to help those struggling to make ends meet.
“The survey shows that people are aware that there is poverty in their community and have a real desire to help those in need,” Burgos Toftness said Tuesday.
The Minnesota-based foundation was established by the descendants of railroad magnate James J. Hill. The foundation has invested about $150 million in the last seven years to help communities in its eight-state region reduce poverty, Burgos Toftness said.
Locally, the foundation has partnered with Opportunity Link, a Havre-based organization that covers 11 counties and the Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations.
Northwest Area Foundation has agreed to give Opportunity Link $12 million over a 10-year partnership that began in 2004. Opportunity Link's mission is to involve both those living in poverty and other community members, including all levels of government officials, business people and faith leaders in efforts to reduce poverty.
A list of goals created by the organization includes: researching the cultures and customs of the regional community, improving the health of those living in poverty, ensuring affordable housing is available and making transportation accessible to low-income individuals.
The counties and reservations are represented by two elected members on the board of directors. It is the board's job to act as leaders and direct the implementation of the group's 10-year economic development program.
Opportunity Link executive assistant Leah Noel said the representatives are “the link to the organizational staff and the voice of the people.”
Burgos Toftness said the role of Opportunity Link is to bring together the public and elected officials and reach out for the aid at the state and federal levels. About 87 percent of Montanans surveyed said it's important for local elected officials to help those who are struggling with finances.
“More Montanans say they trust local government than do Americans as a whole, and Montanans give higher marks to their communities when it comes to effectiveness at problem solving,” the foundation survey reported.
Noel said the organization does community surveys periodically to evaluate needs in the 11-county area. She said Opportunity Link staff has been working on a new brochure to inform the public of its efforts.
“Nearly one-third of Montanans say ‘a lot' of people are working but still struggling to make ends meet in their community,” the survey said. According to the survey, about 50 percent of state residents surveyed said they know someone who is working two or more jobs and has trouble getting by.
A large gap exists between the federal government's cost-of-living estimates and those of community members, the survey said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a family of four needs $19,806 annually.
Nearly half of Montanans reported a need of $40,000 a year for a basic standard of living in their community.
Burgos Toftness said she was pleased with the survey.
“The reactions to the survey's results I have received so far includes e-mails I got that said ‘Wow, this is really good stuff,'” she said.
When asked how satisfied they are with “the way things are going in your own community these days,” 85 percent of Montana residents answered very satisfied or somewhat satisfied compared to the national average of 78 percent.
Burgos Toftness said the results show optimism that the community can reduce poverty. About half of Montanans said they would be willing to pay more in taxes if they knew the funds would help those in need.
Opportunity Link's main office is located in the District IV Human Resources Development Council building in Havre.
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