blacks are its principal victims, with ever-growing numbers of Hispanics, Vietnamese and elderly whites not far behind. Here, the food stamp roles would swell even more whenever there was a major strike, but for union members that benefit is now over. Striking union members are no longer eligible for food stamps unless they can prove “extreme need,” whatever that means, under one of the many new restrictions imposed by the Reagan Administration. That issue, bad as it is, is still only peripheral to the ongoing issue of the life-long victims of poverty in this area and the effects more food stamp cuts will have on their ability to survive. Fred Guarnere, head of this region’s Department of Human Resources, believes that the effects will be felt first by the “socalled working poor,” those at the “upper-levels” of the poverty income scale. They will be hit hardest, Guarnere believes, because they are marginal now, and they nearly all are trying to raise children. Guarnere says, if he understands the new regulations correctly, that a working mother drawing some welfare, with one or two children, will no longer be eligible for food stamps. Her choice will then be: either continue to work and struggle to feed her family on a severely reduced food budget or quit and go back to welfare full-time. “What would you do?” Guarnere asked. In the triangle area, there are about 2400 people who have been dropped completely from the food stamp rolls or who have had their food budgets further reduced. Many are elderly SS recipients who have turned more and more to food stamps as a way to survive most particularly widows who have seen their SS income cut to half or less when their husbands died. \(An interesting note: while the three cities have a large number of poor Vietnamese and while some are receiving food stamps, Guarnere says that the Vietnamese community discourages welfare and has been “fairly successful” in taking care of its Another problem which will have considerable impact here, according to staff members in the DHR, is the near total elimination of funds from Emergency Family Services, which handled transients and walk-ins and made referrals to private agencies. The numbers of transients, especially single men, have always been high in this area of seaports, refineries and off-shore oil rigs. Now they will be without not only temporary help but aid and counsel directing them toward a private agency. Already, a Reagonomic irony is emerging. Even though the budget cuts were designed to reduce staffing and therefore the bureaucracy, Guarnere says that his staff will probably remain the same. Due to the tightening of eligibility’ requirements, he will need the same number of people to implement the new rules. The case loads will drop, but the paper work will increase. And one of the more confusing regs is the $1000-in-assets limit for public assistance recipients. Will an old color TV be included? Refrigerators? Stoves? What if the fine old antique chifferobe was a gift from a long-time employer or inherited from a mother? Must assets be liquifiable? Who will decide? How many appraisers will the DHR have to hire? Will the poor be allowed merely to declare or will there be investigations of each and every home? In order to make his policies work or appear to work Reagan is floating a new catch word for his administration: Volunteerism. Granted its better than Vietnamization, but will it work any better? Some Other Place, an “ecumenical mission” here, run by Gary Pinkerton, is supported by 26 local protestant churches. Opened in a store-front 13 years ago by a local Methodist Church, it has survived as a kind of inner-city haven on foundation money, church and individual donations and volunteers. It provides food, meals-on-wheels, clothes, transportation and general help for emergencies. Through all of 1980, Pinkerton’s mission handled 1850 people. Through June of this year, Some Other Place had already seen 1100 people, and Pinkerton expects the figure to go over 2500. He is worried about the increase and how he and the few others in town can manage to cope with it. His volunteers will now be handling many of the cases that the government social workers had screened in the past and they “just aren’t trained for it,” he says. There is the burn-out factor, he points out, that volunteers must contend with, fired by the constant frustration of not being able to help enough. One thing Gary Pinkerton is sure of: “We’re no longer back-up,” he says. “Now, we’re it.” Clark Moore, head of Mid-Jefferson County’s United Board of Missions, headquartered in Port Arthur, is expecting a large increase in food assistance re quests and says that his group, a conglomerate of 41 churches, will try to meet the need, but cannot hope to meet it “100 percent.” The UBM, which has been providing emergency services for the past 14 years, does have a food program in place \(a two-week supply of meat, fresh fruit, milk and staples for a budget, feed around 3700 persons a year on a one-time basis. The mission will normally provide food a second time, but then the volunteers \(14 in the food proknows that the long-term problems of hunger will be difficult, but he believes that his mission, with its built-in program and resources from 16,000 members will be able to cope. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, located in downtown Beaumont close to the docks and the shipyards, the other major emergency food supplier in the county, has a monk’s program which keeps the church open 24 hours a day. When there is no Episcopal monk-in-residence, the church members man the store. St. Mark’s can provide food, a kind of “care-pac” for a family of four for five days. They also provide a smaller package for transient men. But like Some Other Place and the United Board of Missions, St. Mark’s is now only a temporary haven. And what about Texaco, Gulf, Mobil, DuPont and all the giants of industry which have made their fortunes here? How much are they willing to give? Will they contribute to the struggling missions so that the food programs can be countywide and well stocked? Are they willing to become the community volunteers that their man Reagan loves to talk about the oldtime “barn raisers” of yesteryear? Will they be willing now that “government is off our backs” to look in their community and see how many backs are still broken by poverty? The question of who will be there with a new safety net for Sylvania Brown and her thousands of brothers and sisters in trouble in this community is still unanswered, of course. But, Mrs. Brown has one natural resource she can be grateful for. One that has probably helped her survive all the other crises in her life: a healthy sense of humor. Her idea of a solution to her own very real problem of hunger is to have her doctor put her in the hospital every so often. “That way,” she grins, “I can at least get me three hots a day from time to time.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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