Page 11


pally the Aid to Families with Dependent her morale and kept her from obtaining a good job. It is apparent that when Stewart made her preposterous request for money at the Belton Bank, it was an act of desperation. What is less apparent is that her action has more the character of a “Christian witness” than an attempt to surmount material privation. For Stewart felt she had to prove to herself and her children that she was a good mother, and she demonstrated it by risking her life and liberty. Moreover, she could no longer contain her outrage at what she calls “the system.” Objectively, Stewart and her family are victims of the cynicism that has subverted America’s most nobly-conceived institutions -public education, housing assistance, the dole, the legal system. Dependent on Texas A.F.D.C. payments and food stamps for her survival, she is not grateful. “Welfare is nothing but a trap to keep you down,” she says. Under. AFDC, a woman like Emma Stewart can do better collecting state payments than taking a job. According to the Texas Employment Commission, Stewart could work for $2.50 per hour as a cook, which would bring in about $150 per week. But that doesn’t include health insurance, which to a mother with ten children is more important than wages. That leaves Medicaid, but to qualify for Medicaid, an indigent Bell County resident must first qualify for AFDC. And to receive AFDC, you can’t hold a job that allows private health insurance payments. “What would I do if somebody got pneumonia twice,” Stewart explains. “She’s just two years old. She’s had I don’t know how many asthma attacks. was just 3 pounds 71/2 ounces. Judy blood \(from the flaking paint in the house tonsilitis.” In the end, Stewart opted for AFDC. She receives a total of $721 monthly from the state, plus food stamps. That makes her annual income about $8,600 for herself and a daughter and their eight dependents, a working of poverty by any contemporary standards. Moreover, AFDC does not make it possible to buy an automobile, which is a prerequisite for seeking employment and holding it. Like most small Texas towns, Belton affords no public transportation. As with Medicaid, there is a “catch 22” in employment and transportation: no car, no job; no job, no car. 4 JANUARY 16, 1981 Above, Emma Stewart outside her $50-a-month house in Belton. The October water bill was $175.40. There is a similar contradiction in the way housing assistance is allocated, because its purpose is not to assist those who need it, but to encourage cheap labor to move to rural areas. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development allocates to the Central Texas Housing Assistance Payments Program a definite number of available payments for each of several types of housing in each of the seven counties served by the program. The CTHAPP housing secretary explains: the amount of assistance with rent and utilities for which each indigent family is eligible is based on its income. The type of housing size, number of bedrooms for which each family is eligible to receive assistance is based on the size and composition of the family. But the number of housing units of each type in each county for which aid may be provided is “not based on need.” Thus, in Bell County, there are many more applicants for assistance than there are payments available. The houses are there, but CTHAPP cannot assist applicants in renting them until already assisted families in the same categories release their allocations for use by the waiting families. Especially for aid with large houses, families ordinarily must wait three to six months. Stewart applied for assistance in July, according to her landlady, and is still waiting. \(In the more sparsely populated counties served by CTHAPP, however, there are many openings for housThen there was schooling. Stewart enrolled some of her children in the Temple middle-school, but her children lost their books, and Stewart could not pay. Consequently, she says, the school secretary told her the school could not release the children’s records. Without the records, the children were prevented from enrolling in school when the family moved to Belton. An acting administrator at the Temple school says that a student’s records “would not be able to leave the school district” until all the fees are paid. The principal, however, states, “It’s against Texas law to withhold student records because of a fine or a fee or anything like that.” At any rate, Stewart did not enroll her children at the beginning of the current school year because, she says, she believed it could not be done. Just Deserts Locked in a cycle of poverty and ignorance and shunted around by state and local agencies too hamstrung by governors and legislatures to help Texas’ more than four million persons below the poverty line, Emma Stewart became desperate and scared. Her every’ action, even going to the store to buy food, was a humiliation. “When I would get my food stamps, 1 would take my kids to the store with me and buy groceries. But I quit, because when you got in line and you have to tell the clerk that this was food stamps the people, it look like that they would hate you or get mad at you or something. “You just start feeling lower and lower, til it look like you’d just want to crawl into the concrete, something that .