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Report: 1 In 3 Illinoisans Living In, Near Poverty

"I never understood before how people say they struggled. I'd say 'go to work.' But what happens when you can't work?" Simmons asked.

Last week, Simmons was hired as a driver at another long-term care facility at $9.75 an hour. Now she's waiting to find out if she made too much money in her first week to keep her food stamps, even though she's not guaranteed full-time work.

If the aid is cut, she said she must decide whether to "stay at this job or leave it because I can't afford" to pay bills and buy food. "It's a never-ending cycle of trying to get ahead."

That's a story Mike Heath hears often as executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries.

The number of families seeking help at the Carbondale charitable group's food pantry increased by almost 24 percent between fiscal year 2011 and 2012. At the same time, its soup kitchen served 22 percent more meals, and the group saw a 32 percent increase in the number of people seeking short-term help for such expenses as car payments and rent.

"It's a bad situation," Heath said. "There's no two ways about it."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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