Every five years, UCAP conducts a community needs assessment to make sure that we continue to provide services that are useful to the communities we serve. This assessment also helps us plan for changing needs. This page contains a summary of the findings from the 2018 needs assessment.
If you would like the full report information in another format, please contact us.
2018 Community Needs Assessment Executive Summary
Compiled by: Christa Otteson & Rhonda Otteson
Vela Strategy June 26, 2019
United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation established by merger in October of 2016. The two predecessor Community Action organizations were established under the Federal Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.
UCAP serves two geographic areas that cover a combined thirteen-county area in southwest Minnesota. The first of those areas is a nine-county region (Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Redwood, and Renville) where UCAP provides a comprehensive set of services. The second area covers four counties (Nobles, Pipestone, Murray, and Rock) where UCAP provides more limited services.
The people served by UCAP, or those who may access services provided by UCAP, face challenges that are similar to those faced by people living in poverty anywhere in Minnesota. Some of the difficulties are more pronounced due to the rural nature of the region.
Comprehensive Services in Nine Counties
- Services to Homeless Individuals
- Home Weatherization Services
- Transportation and Transit Services
- Rental Assistance
- Energy Assistance Program
- Food Shelves
- Free Tax Preparation Services
- Head Start and Early Head Start
- Housing Development
Limited Services in Four Counties
- Services to Homeless Individuals
- Home Weatherization Services
- Transportation and Transit Services
Many other services are provided in several counties and include:
- Health Insurance Outreach and application assistance
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Outreach
- Small Cities programs for residential and commercial properties
- Youth Development
- Refugee Services
- Child Care Aware
- Family Based Services
- Vehicle Donation Program
- Thrift Shops
- Home Ownership
- Property Improvement Loans
This Community Needs Assessment is based upon three key data sources:
- The Community Action Partnership Tool, which combines Community Action Program data, U.S. Census reports, and American Community Survey data and offers comparisons for a host of measures at the county, region, state, and national levels.
- A Stakeholder Survey, which UCAP conducted using Survey Monkey, to gain an understanding of the needs, priorities, and assets of residents in the entire thirteen-county area.
- Focus Groups, conducted in each of the agency’s nine comprehensive service counties to foster a dialogue among those served by UCAP’s programs related to community needs and resources, as well as the specific support offered by UCAP across the region.
Service Area Data
The thirteen counties in southwestern Minnesota is a large geographic area and it has had a declining population for the past 17 years with a poverty rate for children that is nearly 2% higher than the average childhood poverty rate for Minnesota. This has contributed to a total of 1,410 preschool aged children being eligible for Head Start services. There are also 86 children experiencing homelessness and nearly 583 children in foster care. In 2017, there were 1,573 preschool children with disabilities.
|Area||2015 Population||Square Miles||Number of Cities||Number of Unincorporated Communities|
|Nine County Comprehensive Services Area||185,011||6,519||85||43|
|Eight County Transportation Services Area||95,827||5,188||70||24|
|Combined Thirteen-County Area of SW MN||234,106||8,911||122||55|
The Shape of Poverty in Thirteen Counties of Southwestern Minnesota
The 2017 American Community Survey estimated that there were 10,600 households living in poverty in the thirteen-county area in southwestern Minnesota. Approximately one in four of those living in poverty in southwest Minnesota are children under the age of 18. There were 4,773 (or 7.6%) of the 62,941 households in the area that lived in poverty
The poverty rate for children ages 0-17 was 13.7%, which is lower than the national average of 19.5% but greater than the state average of 12.5%. There were 3,370 seniors, or 8.3% of the senior population, in the thirteen-county area living in poverty.
Overall, the thirteen-county area of southwestern Minnesota experienced an average 4.8% unemployment rate in February 2019, higher than both the State average of 3.9% and the national average of 4.1%.
Nearly 11% of persons over age 25 in the thirteen-county area do not hold a high school diploma. Another 34% have a diploma but no training or education beyond high school.
Overall, the housing in the thirteen counties is older than that of Minnesota or the U.S. with every one of the counties reporting a median housing age older than state and national averages.
The number of owner-occupied homes remained about the same, while the number of rental units increased over the same period. Due to the overall increase in the number of housing units available, the percentage of owner-occupied homes decreased by about 11% over a 17 year period from 2000-2017.
The total vacancy rate is significantly higher in these thirteen counties than in Minnesota overall and affordable, quality housing is hard to come by, especially for families living in poverty. The vacancy rate in some larger communities, such as Marshall and Willmar, is lower than in most of the smaller communities.
U.S. Census data shows 411 housing units in the thirteen-county area were without plumbing in 2000 (0.44%) and the ACS five year estimates show 172 (0.18%) housing units in the report area were still without plumbing in 2017.
For the year 2016, the Eviction Lab reports that 39 of the 190 eviction filings in the thirteen-county area ended in an eviction. Their calculations show an eviction rate in the thirteen counties of southwestern Minnesota at 0.16%, which is lower than state rate of .59% and the national rate of 2.34%.
Two common measures of income are Median Household Income (MHI) and Per Capita Income (PCI). The thirteen-county area – taken as a whole – has 84% of the statewide PCI. PCI ranges from a high of $31,010 in Jackson County to a low of $24,935 in Nobles County.
Community Resources & Strengths
Several resource and strengths were cited for the communities in the area.
- High Rates of Employment
- Community Connectivity
- Informal supports
- Faith-based Supports
- Formal Support Services
Infants, Children, & Youth
When survey respondents were asked to rate the level of need for children in their community, all measures were ranked as “high need” by nearly half or more of respondents. All options presented were identified as high needs, and high quality childcare was identified by the greatest number of respondents.
When asked to rate concerns related to youth in their communities, survey respondents identified the following with the greatest frequency: no place for youth to “hang out” (63%); tobacco use/vaping by youth (49%); other drug use by youth (not alcohol) (42%); and not enough after school programming for youth (41%).
Housing & Homeownership
The people of southwestern Minnesota struggle to find safe, affordable housing in the area, they also find it difficult to make the required security deposits and find housing that is large enough for their family.
Before a family can purchase a home, they need to be able to secure financing and may lack down payment funds, in addition to having trouble finding a home. Even when they become homeowners, it is a struggle to pay for necessary repairs to their homes.
Housing stock in southwestern Minnesota is considerably older than that of Minnesota or the U.S. overall, with every one of the counties reporting a median housing age older than state and national averages. The oldest median age of housing stock is found in Pipestone County, with a median year built of 1954.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 77.54% of the homes were owner-occupied in the report area for the five year period from 2013 – 2017. This represents an 11% decrease in owner-occupied homes over a four-year period, even while there was little change in the overall number of owner occupied homes. One can deduce that this corresponds with an overall increase in rental occupancy.
Survey responses from people with household incomes of $40,000 or less included comments about housing challenges that included the need for assistance with: obtaining damage/security deposit funds; finding affordable housing that is safe; finding housing that is large enough for their family; assistance with home repairs; and assistance obtaining a loan to buy a home or down payment.
Transportation is a significant barrier for many participants, particularly those living outside regional hubs. In smaller towns, transportation options for those who do not drive is extremely limited and often requires planning well in advance. This is especially problematic for youth and elderly when it comes to getting to and from medical appointments and extracurricular activities.
While private transportation is an essential method of getting around for many in this rural region, having a reliable vehicle is an expense that many cannot afford. One in four survey respondents (22%) reported missing work or a medical appointment due to the lack of transportation.
Nutrition, Health & Wellbeing
Concerns about health care included a lack of providers for mental health services and the length of time people need to wait for dental visits. The high costs of medical emergency services, prescription drugs and birth control and of medical visits were all cited by participants.
When asked about needs related to food and nutrition, survey respondents identified needs that included limited opportunities to learn about shopping for or preparing nutritious meals on a budget; access to well-balanced, nutritious meals; free or reduced price school lunches for children at all times of the year; free or reduced prices lunches for seniors; and limited hours at food shelves.
Support for People Struggling Financially
The top five solutions to helping people struggling financially in the community included access to childcare; more affordable and safer housing; more jobs; more affordable healthcare options; and help reducing debt.
The observation was also made that basic needs, such as food assistance, transportation, and energy assistance remain very important, but sometimes program requirements get in the way of common-sense decisions about how to help those in need.
Observations and Recommendations for Subsequent Community Needs Assessments
- Maximize the community needs assessment process through ongoing assessment and more rigorous community engagement.
- Communication and outreach should include broad-based social media outreach and engagement as well as highly participatory, adaptive and accessible outreach to tap into the perspectives of underrepresented groups.
- Advance policy and advocate for changes that address the gender pay gap and support affordable, quality early childhood experiences.
- Demographic changes require rethinking old approaches, specifically working hard to reach men and people of color.