Page 4


“The priority should be on breaking the cycle of poverty. State Sen. Lloyd Doggett .9 Texas Alliance Is Formed A Block Grant Bill of Rights Austin Consider this: In a state that boasted a budget surplus prior to the convening of the 68th Legislature, 14.8% of the population lives at or below the poverty In 1980. 690,000 Texas households made less than $5.000 per year. While Texas is among the ten states with the highest poverty rate per capita, it places 49th among states in the amount of payments made per family in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Consider this: While the unemployment rate in Texas rose from 5.1% in December, 1981, to 7.4% in December, 1982, and while the number of food stamp applications increased by 60%, the number of food stamp recipients dropped from 1,259,035 to 1,189,855. While applications for AFDC funding climbed by 36% in Texas in 1982, the actual number of AFDC recipients fell from 338,841 to 287,275. In 1982, Texas cut public welfare funds by $87 million and medical care for the needy by $97 million. In 1982, Texas participated in six federal block grant programs, which provided for protective services for children and adults, care for the aged and disabled, employment services, family planning, home energy assistance, weatherization, alcohol and drug abuse programs, mental health programs, 52 community action agencies in 167 counties, maternal and child heath care, and preventive health care, including emergency medical services. In 1982, federal grants to Texas under the program were reduced 17% in three of the six grants, 26% in a fourth grant, 9% in the fifth, and increased by 1 % in energy assistance programs. As a result of the cuts, 9,000 childcare slots for working families were eliminated, 13,000 slots for By Geoffrey Rips battered women and children were lost, community care for 8,000 elderly vanished, and family planning, nutrition, employment, and child health services were drastically reduced. The creation of the federal block grant program as part of Reagan’s “new federalism” transferred responsibility for many social programs to state and local governments. In addition to the fact that many states did not have the bureaucratic structure or funding necessary to assume the work required to administer these programs, some states did not have track records as ministers of the public welfare that warranted their taking on such programs. Texas was among these states. In an attempt to make Texas bureaucracy more responsive to the needs of its citizenry, particularly in terms of social welfare, a statewide alliance of more than sixty organizations was formed to work for the passage of legislation to provide for basic human needs in the wake of the Reagan administration’s abdication of its social responsibilities. This Texas Alliance includes AFSCME, Austin’s AFLCIO Central Labor Council, Centro del Pueblo of Raymondville, the Department of Community Relations of the Houston Catholic Diocese, Gray Panthers, Houston Welfare Rights Organization, N .0.W . of Tarrant County, SEIU/1199, UAW Local 65, Texas and United Farmworkers Unions, the NAACP of Longview, and the Poverty Education and Research Center. Members of the alliance met in Austin on January 29-30 to chart a course of action designed to bring about a redress of wrongs perpetrated and perpetuated by Reaganomics. A BILL OF RIGHTS The Texas Alliance is particularly concerned with the passage of state Sen. Lloyd Doggett’s Senate Bill 117, called a “block grant Bill of Rights.” It provides what Sen. Doggett, D-Austin, terms “due process for citizens” in the administration and disbursement of block grant funds and is largely the result of hearings held last summer by Sen. Doggett’s subcommittee on consumer affairs. Texas currently can exercise an option for eight block grants, which provide a wide variety of services for the poor, elderly, and disabled. A number of additional block grants will soon be available. Doggett’s bill, along with H. B. 371 sponsored in the House by Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, provides for citizen participation in the allocation of block grant funds and safeguards against the misuse of these funds. It includes: public hearings during the planning stage for grant allocation; public information campaigns in English and in Spanish for eligible recipients of funding; a complaint procedure with investigatory capabilities; a hearing procedure to examine the denial of services or benefits to a person or agency; a procedure for judicial review of agencies; annual audits of agencies; and, perhaps most important, “priority to programs aimed at remedying the cause and cycle of poverty.” Doggett contends that, as federal funding is relegated to state control, ederal guidelines for that funding fall by the wayside and must be replaced on the state level. In addition, as the state picks up the responsibility for social programs, it is imperative that those programs be administered with the interests of the old, poor, and disabled uppermost. “We need to establish legislative intent in allocating block grant funds to maintain services,” says Doggett. “The priority should be on breaking the cycle of poverty.” “THE ORIGINS OF CHARITY” In offering his bill, Doggett has pointed to the reluctance of the Texas Department of Human Resources to take advantage of block grant options and to the problems encountered by citizens and agencies when engaged in DHR administrative review. These problems are best understood by considering former acting DHR Commissioner James C. Conner, appointed to the post by former Governor Clements on February 4, 1982. Conner’s appointment was returned to the Senate nominations committee for further hearings after Conner testified that Texas received too much 10 FEBRUARY 25, 1983