Coping with Financial Crisis
Long before the experts were emphasizing an economic downturn, the average American was already feeling its effects. Higher prices on food, clothing and everyday staples, along with sticker shock at the gas pump, means that it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet. With unemployment rates at their highest, we may have family members who are out of work and depending on us to help out. Many will be forced to withdraw their entire savings accounts or overextend their credit just to get by. At a time when finances are already extremely tight, even one unexpected family emergency can become the proverbial straw on the camel’s back – leading to full blown financial crisis. In the hardest hit communities, hard-working families are facing financial ruin and home foreclosure.
When it Rains, it Pours
Financial crisis wreaks havoc on everyone in the family. Husbands and wives tend to argue, no matter how much they love each other. Children often react to the household tension by becoming more aggressive or demanding, or behaviorally “acting out” to get attention. Fears about coping in the here-and-now and worries about the future can cause sleepless nights, anxiety and clinical depression. Sometimes, these pressures can be so overwhelming, that it is hard to know where to turn for help.
Help is Available
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in seeking help to resolve financial crisis is getting through the “red tape” to connect with whatever help might be available. For hard working families who are used to being economically self-sufficient, it isn’t easy to talk to a stranger about the intimate details of a personal family financial crisis. For families who have never sought help before, the idea of applying for social services or welfare can cause embarrassment. Sadly, the stigma that accompanies financial crisis can prevent families from reaching out for the support they so desperately need and to which they are entitled.
The union has developed a number of programs and services to make it easier for union families to navigate the maze of financial resources. Here are some general guidelines about how to go about seeking help:
Begin with your Union Benefit Programs
Your Union has developed a variety of programs and services to assist union families in need. Many of these programs provide telephone access to financial counselors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information and resources are also available online at www.unionplus.org. Information kits are available online in English and Spanish.
Specialty programs available though Union Plus include:
- Foreclosure prevention – contact the “Save My Home” hotline at 1-866-490-5361 24 hours, seven days a week.
- Credit counseling – call 1-877-833-1745 24 hours, seven days a week.
- Credit and loan applications – information and applications are available online, or call customer service at 1-800-622-2580 24 hours, seven days a week.
- Credit counseling – information and applications are available online, or call 1-877-833-1745.
- Member Assistance Program (MAP) – speak privately and confidentially to a licensed clinical social worker from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST at 1-888-880-8222. The social worker can assist you in locating community resources as well as professional mental health counseling.
Connect with Community Resources
While most communities have felt the pinch of budget cuts, limited community resources are sometimes available to assist families in need. Your local United Way office, which is accessible in the phone book yellow pages or on the Internet, can provide a variety of referrals to charitable organizations. United Way keeps information current on utility, rent and mortgage assistance, as well as referrals to food banks, and other community services. There are a wide range of resources specifically designed to assist children and seniors, in addition to families.
Another option involves contacting your local social services office. These agencies provide financial help including food stamps, rental and mortgage assistance, and health coverage to those who qualify. These agencies are often difficult to reach on the telephone, and it is generally best to apply in person, preferably in the morning. Some communities offer one-time emergency assistance programs designed to prevent home foreclosure. Your union social worker (Member Assistance Program) can assist you to locate the social services office nearest you, and to advocate on your behalf.
It is important to remember that the sooner you connect with agencies, the more quickly assistance can be provided. While financial crisis can be embarrassing, it is important to remember that these agencies have been created for the purpose of assisting hard working families in crisis. Agency staff understands that financial hardship is impacting more and more families every day, and that crises sometimes occur without warning.
Stress Management Tips for Managing Financial Crisis
- Try not to argue. Family disagreements are often inevitable during financial crises, but it’s important to try to keep arguments from getting out-of-control. Emotional disruptions only serve to make matters worse. Avoid criticism and blame, as these do not help to resolve the immediate crisis. When the crisis is over, the family can hold more productive conversations about how to manage finances differently in the future. In the midst of the crisis, however, time is better spent actively working to connect with help.
- Share feelings and ask for support. A far better strategy is to express the anxiety or sadness that often coincides with extreme financial pressures, and to reach out for emotional support from family and friends. While someone may not be able to assist financially, they may be able to provide other practical or emotional supports. Perhaps having a friend babysit or help out around the house would allow more time to job search or connect with community resources. Sometimes, the gift of a listening and offering a hug can provide the encouragement needed to keep keeping-on.
- Fight Stigma. Try to avoid self-criticism or feeling humiliated by recognizing that the current economic downturn has negatively impacted families across America. You are not alone in this crisis, and help is available. Focus instead on connected with credit counselors who can help you learn about money management and strategies to reduce your debt load and better manage credit.
- Take Care of Yourself. When under stress, it is extremely important to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise and make time to be with family and friends. While money may be tight, it doesn’t mean that the family can’t still enjoy a low-cost or free outing to the park, picnic or other activity. Children need to know that “life goes on” despite crises, and making time to have fun can provide them with reassurance.
- Don’t Abuse Alcohol or Drugs. It’s human nature to reach out for something to dull emotional pain, but be especially careful about to avoid drinking too much. And, if you are already in recovery for alcohol or drug abuse, it is critical to recognize that the stress of financial crisis can cause a relapse. Recovering alcoholics and addicts should consider reconnecting with support groups or professional treatment to keep themselves healthy and drug-free.
- Recognize the need for professional mental health counseling. If you or a family member is not coping well emotionally, and these feelings continue for more than two weeks, he or she should seek professional mental health counseling referrals (available through your union MAP). Symptoms of depression include problems with sleeping and eating too much or too little, poor concentration, low self-esteem, taking no interest or enjoyment in fun activities, experiencing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or thoughts about suicide. For 24-hour crisis assistance, contact the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.
- Don’t Do It Alone. If you are experiencing financial crisis, don’t lose hope. Remember that you are not alone, and help is available. While it’s hard to be assertive when you are stressed, remember that most of us are only a few paychecks away from financial crisis, and that this is a financial problem not a character flaw. Reach out for help by contacting your union programs and community resources.