Many students rushing to complete GED test

By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press, November 07, 2013

WASHINGTON — Americans who passed part, but not all, of the GED test are rushing to finish the high school equivalency exam before a new version rolls out in January and their previous scores are wiped out. About 1 million people could be affected.

With the new version, test takers must use a computer instead of paper and pencil. The test itself will be more rigorous and cost more — at $120, the price in some states will be significantly higher than previous versions. Some places may subsidize all or part of the cost.

‘‘This is the thing that’s sort of putting the spur in the saddle,’’ said Lecester Johnson, executive director of Academy of Hope, an adult charter school in Washington. ‘‘People just don’t want to start over.’’

Test takers have been warned for more than a year about the approaching Dec. 31 deadline to complete the test. States and localities are phoning people, and thousands of letters have gone out — including to 32,000 Californians who passed parts but not all the test in the last two years.

‘‘We don’t want anyone to be caught off-guard and come in and test in January or February thinking they have their old scores, and they have to start over,’’ said Pam Blundell, who oversees adult education for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. She said Oklahoma sites have added additional test days and referred students to other sites.

Nicole Chestang, executive vice president at GED Testing Service, said the rush was expected. In 2001, the year before the last upgrade, there was a 30 percent increase in test takers, most toward the end of the year, she said.

She advised people to register for the exam now, even if they do not take it until later in November or December.

Some critics have challenged the price increases and the mandate that test takers use a computer — issues that affect many people living in poverty.

This is the first upgrade since for-profit Pearson Vue Testing acquired a joint ownership interest in the GED Testing Service. For 70 years, the service has been run by the nonprofit American Council on Education.

GED exam officials have said the changes will modernize the test and align it with new college and career-ready standards adopted in a majority of states. They say basic computer skills are needed in a modern workplace — even to apply for jobs at places such as retail stores and fast-food chains.

On a recent test given to adults worldwide of workplace skills including math, reading, and problem-solving using technology, American adults scored below the international average.

The test also will allow people to receive their scores the same day, rather than having to wait a month or more.

Frustrated with the changes, some states have opted instead to begin using other high school equivalency exams. One is Wyoming, which has adopted the use of two other tests.

Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, said officials are exploring whether students who have passed sections of the GED can apply that toward passing one of the other high school equivalency exams.

‘‘Our centers are really committed to trying to make this something that is workable for students instead of a kind of high-stakes, winner-take-all game in which if you don’t complete by December, then you’ve got to begin again, and that’s going to create a hardship for students,’’ Rose said.

In Washington, D.C., Antoinette Mitchell, a deputy assistant superintendent of education, says she feels some urgency. ‘‘We are trying in numerous ways to get the word out to get them to come back,’’ she said.

In a low-income neighborhood on the new campus of the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Washington, Principal Jorge Delgado said that instead of a last-minute rush, enrollment is declining as word spreads that the GED exam will soon be offered only by computer. The school, which has students from more than 20 countries speaking 40-plus languages, has added new computer literacy classes. Still, he said, many English language learners are intimidated by computers.

Delgado said many of the school’s students work in the hotel and restaurant industries and that passing the GED test will allow them to get a promotion to a supervisory position or enter a training program. Some are taking care of families and barely sleeping as they juggle responsibilities. He said he does not understand why the GED exam is not more flexible about allowing English language learners to take the test using a pencil and paper.

‘‘Why put more blocks in front of them? Why more obstacles when they are doing their best?’’ Delgado said. ‘‘What I’m seeing is students giving up already.’’

One student at the school who is not giving up is Natnael Gebremariam, 32, from Eritrea in East Africa. He goes to class in the mornings, works about 50 hours a week in the afternoons and evenings at a fast-food restaurant, then spends some nights doing homework past midnight.

The former teacher in his home country wants to work in information technology in the United States. He said the pressure he feels isn’t so much about the test changing, but wanting to pass the GED exam so he can take college classes.

‘‘All I know is I have to be ready by the end of this year,’’ Gebremariam said in an interview in between classes.

RCAP Featured in WBJ Article on Sequestration

RCAP Solutions President & CEO Karen A. Koller KollerWBJdiscusses the difficult impact that Sequestration has had on the organization and our clients in the most recent edition of the Worcester Business Journal.

Photo caption:  Karen Koller of RCAP Solutions: Sequestration cuts impact those who serve “people in need.”

Click here for full article:  Central Mass. Firms Feel Sting Of Federal Budget Cuts

Heat, rent subsidies in danger if shutdown lingers

From The Associated Press:

BOSTON — As winter approaches and the federal government shutdown lingers, millions of low-income Americans face potential delays in receiving help with their heating bills and monthly rent.

Among the programs that could be impacted as of Nov. 1 are the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, and a voucher program that allows poor families, seniors and the disabled live in private rental units, according to local agencies and state officials who administer the benefits.

The heating program, which last winter provided heating assistance to nearly 9 million income eligible people nationwide, is in limbo until the budget impasse is settled, said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association.

“We don’t have an appropriation yet. We don’t know when we are going to get it. We don’t know how much it will be,” said Wolfe. “And we are already at the beginning of the winter heating season.”

In states like Massachusetts, heating assistance benefits typically begin to go out Nov. 1, but many of the 20 nonprofit agencies that administer the program have not even started accepting applications and one has been forced to close without the federal funding, according to Joe Diamond, head of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action.

The state received $133 million in LIHEAP funding last year, with the typical seasonal benefit ranging from $675 to $1125 for individuals and families who heat their homes with oil, said Diamond.

“The shutdown really has to end,” he said, for heating assistance to beat the arrival of cold weather.

But even if President Obama and congressional Republicans were to come to terms immediately, Wolfe noted that it still could take several more weeks for funding formulas to be determined and money allocated to states.

Nationally, LIHEAP funding was just under $3.5 billion in the last fiscal year, a 30 percent decline since 2010.

Some states could take action to fill the void.

Diamond said he was hoping the Massachusetts Legislature would appropriate $20 million, both to cover emergency heating needs if the federal shutdown continues and to offset the recent funding cuts, particularly with forecasts pointing to higher heating costs this winter.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, administered through funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, pays up to 70 percent of rent for low-income families and individuals who live in privately-owned housing but cannot afford the market rents. The funds are paid directly to landlords.

Aaron Gornstein, Massachusetts undersecretary for housing and community development, said the state was able to pay October rent for its 20,000 vouchers, but would be unable to meet November rents unless the shutdown ends and funds can be obtained from HUD.

The problem would impact both tenants and landlords, he said. Understanding the situation, many landlords might hold off until the government reopens and the payments can be made. But even if landlords chose to pursue eviction, the process would take several months.

“The tenant won’t be immediately displaced,” said Gornstein.

Health Foundation of Central Mass Grant Allows RCAP to Assist Rural Communities With Septic Repairs

UntitledLast year, RCAP Solutions received a $56,000 grant from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, which allowed allow the organization to provide no-cost technical assistance to several local communities.

RCAP Solutions has completed work to develop and implement Community Septic Management Plans in the communities of Groton, Hardwick, Harvard, Orange and Westminster. These plans help towns manage their community’s septic needs in a comprehensive way and gives the town a guide to loaning out the funds to the areas which will have the most beneficial impact from an environmental prospective, resulting in vastly improved local capacity and providing homeowners with a sustainable solution to their failing septic systems.

Community Septic Management Plans help municipalities ensure they have sanitary wastewater disposal and safe and sustainable drinking water. Across Massachusetts, failing septic systems and cesspools are a leading cause of contaminated drinking water and polluted streams and swimming areas. In Worcester County, it is estimated that approximately 280,000 people live in communities that depend on septic systems for their sewage disposal.

These Municipalities now have funds approved through the Water Pollution Abatement Trust, and are eligible for $300,000 or more in no-interest funds allowing communities to lend funds to homeowners, making it possible for families to make badly needed repairs to their septic systems.

RCAP Solutions works with each town develop a way to administer their loan program at the local level. Communities are given the necessary tools and technical assistance to start their programs at the local level, which includes needed documents and public notification tools. Our Technical Assistance also ensures their local programs will run smoothly and continue under our federal grants.

RCAP Solutions plans to expand this program to include additional municipalities in Central Massachusetts. For more information about RCAP Solutions and how Community Septic Programs can be developed to meet your community’s needs, town officials should contact James Starbard, Program Resource Specialist at (978) 502-0227 or email

Important Information For RCAP Solutions Clients

As of September 20, 2013, all RCAP Solutions Housing Assistance and Client Service Program Representatives will be located in our Worcester office at: 12 East Worcester Street, Worcester, MA 01604.

With our recent headquarters expansion in the City of Worcester, RCAP Solutions is consolidating its Gardner Corporate Office to one floor.

While our Gardner office will remain open, there will no longer be any client intake or housing representatives available for counseling for walk-in assistance at this location. As this location will now house administrative staff only, we ask that all visitors please make advance plans as all guests will be seen by appointment only. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

Please note, all program representative’s email and phone numbers have not changed.  For more information and directions to our Worcester Office, please contact your Program Representative directly or visit the Contact Page on our website.

If you have a need for special accommodations, please contact your program representative directly.  There is a designated RCAP Solutions dropbox located inside the front door of the Gardner entrance for your convenience for paperwork and other communications needs.

For more information, please call 800-488-1969 or visit


One in Five Households Unable to Meet Basic Needs

logo-topA new U.S. Census Bureau report finds that the overall well-being of U.S. households has improved since 1992, as measured by a broad range of categories. At the same time, the percentage of households experiencing difficulty meeting basic needs, including housing, rose from 14% to 16% between 2005 and 2011.


Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States summarizes findings from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which compared 2011 data to earlier years. SIPP probes households’ well-being across five broad areas: possession of household goods; housing conditions; neighborhood conditions; ability to meet basic needs; and expectation of help from family or friends.

According to the report, 22% of households had difficulty meeting at least one basic need in 2011. To make this determination, the survey took nine indicators into account: inability to meet basic expenses; inability to pay rent or mortgage; eviction; not paying utilities; cut off utilities; cut phone service; lacking access to a doctor or dentist; and food insecurity. In 2011, 9% of households had one hardship and 6% had three or more.

Households in the lowest income quintile were three times more likely to report one difficulty—and five times more likely to report three or more—than households in the highest quintile, measured by monthly reported income. Overall, householders who owned their homes had higher levels of well-being across all five measures, when compared to renters. In total, 92% of homeowners reported no difficulty meeting basic needs; the percentage fell to 80% among renters.

Housing conditions and neighborhood conditions improved from 1992 to 2011, according to the survey. Yet the percentage of households with unpaid rent or mortgages increased in recent years, from approximately 6% to 8% in 2005 and 2011, respectively. This change represents 2.7 million additional households, reflecting shifts during and following the economic downturn.

Original link from the National Low Income Housing Coalition:

Read Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States:

Senator Eldridge Visits RCAP Solutions

Massachusetts Senator James B. Eldridge from the Middlesex and Worcester District, visited RCAP Solutions today to tour the new Worcester headquarters, receive an overview of our programs and services with an in depth discussion around the work we do in our Community Resources division, specifically water and wastewater programs.

SenatorEldridge 002

Senator Eldridge tours the RCAP Worcester offices.

Pictured from left: Paul Teixeira, Vice President & Chief Program Officer; Brian Scales, Chief Development & Governmental Affairs Officer; Karen A. Koller, President and CEO; Senator James Eldridge, Tunde Baker, Regional Lead for Ma/RI/CT; and James Starbard, Environmental Water and Wastewater Technician.




Senator Eldridge meets with staff members and receives an overview of RCAP Solutions programs.

Our HCEC Counselors Receive New Certifications

HCEC in Training

Congratulations to the members of our Housing Consumer Education Center Team on their recent certifications!

Pictured is Robert Ochoa, Housing Counselor Specialist; Madeline Cotto, HCEC Coordinator and Pam Moshier, Chief Consumer Education Officer and Director of HCEC at the NeighborWorks Training Institute in Philadelphia PA.

Robert and Maddie are now certified in Homebuyer Educaton Methods as Trainers and Pam received Certification in Homeownership Counseling for Program Managers and Executive Directors.

For more information on our Housing Consumer Education Center, please visit our HCEC Page on our website.

About NeighborWorks Center for Homeownership Education and Counseling:  NCHEC promotes sustainable homeownership by supporting the industry’s educators and counselors. Through its training programs, professional certifications and other tools and resources, NCHEC increases the number of qualified homeownership professionals who are prepared to help people realize the dream of lifelong homeownership.  Visit their website for more information.

And The Winner Is…

August Fun

Damarya Kumah Humphries

Congratulations to Damarya Kumah Humphries who won $9.11 today!

In anticipation of a large number of clients during the month of August, with the start of the RAFT Program (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) a “guess how many” game was set up at the front desk of both the Gardner and Worcester offices.

Clients could guess how many jelly beans, gumballs and pennies were in ball jars at the reception area. The person who had the closest guess  won the jar.

Out of 500 participants, she came the closest to guessing that there were 911 pennies in the jar.

When asked what she will do with the money, she said that she is not going to cash it, she’s going to save it!  Smart girl!