communities developed expressly for the poor. Free of the jurisdiction of local municipalities, realtors have simply subdivided pasture land into small parcels by bulldozing “streets.” Because they don’t install water, sewer and gas lines and don’t pave the streets, developers can sell such lots at low prices and still make a killing. But buying beats renting. Not only is low-income rental housing in Hidalgo County as bad as one would expect, but it is scarceespecially for large families forced to migrate in search of work \(75 percent of Hidalgo’s farmworkers migrate out of the county during cheap lot in a colonia are at least assured of a homeplace when they return at the end of the harvesting season. Some Valley residents say that conditions in the colonias have improved, but the statistics don’t support such claims. Residents of more than 20 of the 65 colonias have no access to water and must haul in supplies for drinking, cooking and bathing from irrigation canals and even golf course sprinklers. Fifty-seven percent of the houses have no treated water. Fifty percent of colonia houses have no indoor bathrooms. None of the communities have public sewage systems. The lack of proper drainage causes colonias to flood and stand in water for days after a hard rain. It all makes for the easy spread of communicable disease. Why the failures? Considering the money spent and the net results, it would seem that a great disappearing act has been performed with a quarter of a billion dollars. But hindsight reveals the trick. Manpower strategists who wished to divert workers from the declining agricultural labor market failed to consider that more than half the household heads in the target population had less than one year of education. Vocational training programs, moreover, have usually been reserved for those with at least a fourthgrade education. Additionally, Hidalgo County training programs have been limited to the younger age groups. The Governor’s Office of Migrant Affairs estimates that nine out of ten household heads have thus been excluded from these formal training programs. Their exclusion, in turn, has had a direct effect upon the children who were the targets of the public school migrant programs. Migrant children, typically missing two or three months of instruction each year, have continued to fall behind their classmates and drop out of school at extraordinarily high rates. In migrant families, able-bodied adolescent children as well as parents work seven days a week through the spring, summer and early fall. All work at the same piece-rate, and all the earnings are entered under the father’s social security number. When a family is new and the children still infants, earnings are low. As a family grows and adolescent children begin working, earnings increase, and there is money to pay off accrued bills, house loans, and so on. \(South Texas farmworkers comprise one of the last segments of society in which it conThen the children grow up, marry and begin to raise their own families; earnings for the original parents drop as they age. As a rule, migrant families try to get through the winter months on their savings. Food stamps, small commercial and, sometimes, unemployment insurance help stretch funds. Harvest work in Hidalgo County pays so poorly that it is a family’s last option for ready cash. By spring, accumulated bills and loan payments leave a family no alternative but to migrate. Migrant farmworkers do not fit easily into aid program categories. Their mobility, language and culture hinder the delivery of available social services. Fewer than half of those eligible were actually receiving public assistance in 1976, ac cording to GOMA, and only a little more than 20 percent were certified for food stamps. Most agency administrators report that recruitment of those eligible is difficult. They should not be surprised. Welfare stereotypes to the contrary, farmworkers are proud, hard-working, independent-minded people who try to make a go of it against odds far greater than any faced by most Americans. People willing to travel thousands of miles a year, suffer great indignities, and do backbreaking work for very low pay are not the sort eager to take government handouts. In response to such abysmal performance statistics, many agency heads reply that their successes simply don’t register: farmworkers who “make it” shift into more profitable occupations and move to more prosperous regions they no longer figure in the profile of Hidalgo farmworker life. There is something to this claim, but not as much as the bureaucrats wish. It is certainly true that without federal help, farmworkers’ lives would indeed be more miserable, escape practically impossible. And there is no quekion that federal aid has eased the transition of some from Hidalgo County drudgery and poverty to something approaching a better life in, say, Houston. But there are many, many more left behind. The 1970 census reported 44,000 farmworkers living in the county \(an adtimate is 77,000these are not the kind of figures that suggest much in the way of success. After ten years of massive federal spending \(and after 15 of migrant health County Health Department said the only improvement she sees is that with farmworkers and their families eating better because of food stamps, there are fewer cases of malnutrition. That is something. But it is not much, and it is no answer. Farmworkers don’t need food stamps they need a fair wage so they can buy food like everyone else. Not only would a decent wage be fairer to them, it would be fairer to taxpayers and make for a healthier economy. How to get there? By allowing farmworkers to organize themselves into economic units that Estimated Expenditures of Federal Funds To Aid Farmworkers in Hidalgo Coun ty 1967-1977 Migrant Education S 57,892,887 Xs Bilingual Education 10,434,859 Title I Disadvantaged Children 43,082,441 High School Equivalency Program 1,515,000 College Assistance Migrant Program 1,101 ,000 Programs to retrain and relocate farmworkers* 43,000,000 81,210,163 Migrant Health Projects 5,922,500 Loans to Farmers for Farmworker Housing 7,560,070 $ 251,718,920 includes support services such as health and child care THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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