Amanda and Ryan Velivlis, of Parkville, like millions of families rely on government aid to make ends meet since the recession began, said Diana Pearce, author of the 2012 Self-Sufficiency Standard report for Maryland.
Thrift stores. Generic brands. Cash, not credit. And government assistance. This is how the Velivlis family is staying afloat in a time when wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living.
"It would be nice to be able to have that lifestyle where you can go to Baby Gap and spend $60, but we make it work," said Amanda Velivlis, 25, who lives with her husband, Ryan, 37, and their 18-month-old daughter, Evelyn, in a rented Baltimore County townhouse.
"We're making it on our own. It's tough, but we're doing it."
Except that the Velivlis family is not making it on its own. They get help from family, friends and the government.
And in that way, Amanda and Ryan Velivlis, of Parkville, are like millions of families who have turned to government programs to make ends meet since the recession began , said Diana Pearce, director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
"One thing to think about is what is becoming the 'new normal,'" Pearce said. "The ordinary young family often cannot in fact make it 'on their own' anymore," in the strict sense of that term, Pearce said. So, instead, many must now turn to the help of subsidized community colleges, financial aid, child care and health care in order to make ends meet, Pearce said in an email interview.
Pearce is the author of the 2012 Self-Sufficiency Standard report for Maryland, which measures how much income families need to cover basic costs without using public or private assistance.
That study estimated that the annual wage required to pay for the basics —- including housing, child care, food, transportation and health care — for two adults and one infant in Baltimore County, is $61,132.
That's nowhere near the Velivlis family's income. The family depends on Ryan's $34,000 salary as a restaurant manager. And the couple's second child, a son they plan to name Kellen, is due in July.
They are frugal. They are planning for a more affluent future. For now, they fill the gap between their income and their costs by relying on help from family and friends and taking advantage of government programs for food, tuition and health insurance.
Using the resources
The family pays about $1,200 for rent, $100 for cable and Internet, $100 for cell phones and between $75 and $150 for utilities each month. To save money, they do not have a house phone, and they each bought their used cars outright for a few thousand dollars each. They rarely go out to eat, and if they do, they eat at a discount at the restaurant where Ryan Velivlis works.
Amanda Velivlis recently gave up her waitressing job to go back to school at a community college to improve her job prospects. She has a Maryland Pell Grant and a small federal student loan.
Evelyn and Amanda Velivlis qualify for health coverage through the Maryland Children's HealthProgram, which provides coverage for pregnant women and children up to age 19 with income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The new baby will automatically be covered, and Amanda Velivlis's bills will be taken care of until six weeks after the birth.
The insurance her husband's employer provides is too expensive to provide for the whole family, she said. The state plan covers co-pays, prescriptions and the costs of childbirth. Velivlis said she appreciates that the program allows her privacy. She has an insurance card with no special markings, so she is not singled out as someone on medical assistance.
The family receives a check for $130 each month through WIC, the federal supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children whose income falls at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. The check can only be spent at the grocery store on specific healthy foods, including milk, eggs, bread, fruits and vegetables.
The Velivlises fall just below the threshold for both programs, which cap assistance for families of three just above $34,000 for WIC and $38,000 for the state insurance.
Even with government help, Velivlis describes her family as "middle class." She said she sees no difference between those who use medical assistance and those who use student loans — and no one seems to condemn Pell Grant recipients.
Besides, she said, so many people need a little help today that there is less of a stigma in accepting it.