community development needs. The governor used his office to speed up or redirect the delivery of some of this money to the Valley. He also asked Valley utilities and landlords to defer action on unpaid bills. Then he called for the collection plates to be passed. There have been complaints from Valley officials about the Governor’s failure to deliver immediately on his promises of emergency aid and to expedite grants made to the Valley before the freeze. A farmworker advocate said that after the first 10 days of state funding, the money stopped coming. According to Richard Montesdeoca, assistant to Hidalgo County Judge Santos Saldana, 18 pre-freeze applications for public works projects have been approved, but only one has been funded. “We need more flexibility in providing disaster assistance,” White told a February 9 press conference. There are very few mechanisms provided the state to deal with disaster relief and rehabilitation. When the last legislature passed the Temporary Emergency Relief Program, it provided the governor with, perhaps, his most flexible option. TERP specifies that state and county funds of no more than $5 million can be used to match emergency federal funding. The state budget provided close to $2.5 million for TERP, but most of this was depleted in the state’s response to Hurricane Alicia. The state’s other options, as well as most of those of the federal government, are geared more for situations in which property is damaged or destroyed. Rather than being faced with an unemployment crisis, such areas usually enjoy an artificial economic boom with the influx of state and federal funds for rebuilding. The freeze destroyed jobs, not buildings. ON JANUARY 7, President Reagan declared the four counties eligible for federal disaster relief. This opened up the possibility of assistance through such federal programs as Disaster Unemployment Assistance, the Administration. By February 1, $2 million in low-interest SBA loans had been distributed, mostly to nurseries and small truckers. Most growers will take several months to assess the damage they’ve suffered; they have until July to apply for assistance. The SBA says it will make loans to growers of up to $500,000 each. It expects 3,700 growers to apply. Another $92 million will be available for growers and businesses. The Farmers Home Administration expects to make low-interest loans totaling $18 million. Some large growers have predicted that it will take between four and seven years to return to pre-freeze production levels. Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance will be available to farmworkers through the Texas Employment Commission. The benefits will run from $29 to $182 per week for 13 weeks. 80 % of the farmworkers do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits for various reasons, including lay-offs between fall harvests and the citrus season and the failure of many farm employers or crew leaders to report wages or to pay unemployment insurance. The disaster assistance is, therefore, essential. The Texas Employment Commission, however, is hopelessly understaffed to meet the demands of this emergency. A TEC coordinator said they are working night and day and on weekends to catch up. As of February 1, only a little over 12,000 applications had been logged in at the Austin office with about 4,000 of these applications fully processed. The approximately 4,000 checks issued by that date totaled $178,000, a $45-per-week average, indicating that because farmworkers suffer low wages when working they must try to survive on a pittance during a disaster. Sister Carol Anne Messina of the United Farmworkers Ministry termed the federal aid a “disgrace.” She called it “despicable that the state has to go begging to the private sector when we have money at the federal level for bombers and fancy White House dinners.” Larry Norton, an attorney for Texas Rural Legal Aid, is critical of the federal government’s “lack of response to human needs.” “When the President declares an area a major disaster area,” Norton explained, “the federal coordinator [for the the federal, state, local and private programs. [The Valley’s federal coordinator] Greg Solovey has done next to nothing with respect to understanding, evaluating, and coordinating human needs. The federal coordinator can implement food programs. We had problems [with food distribution] the first three, four, five weeks. The federal coordinator did nothing.” According to Norton, Solovey has been more concerned with loans for farmers. The only federal response to human needs has been the empowerment of Disaster Unemployment Assistance, which is being handled by the Texas Employment Commission. Norton cites the situation surrounding the use of the Individual Family Grant Program, established under the Federal Disaster Relief Act of 1974, as an “indicator of the lack of response to human needs.” The program was designed for “emergency needs and necessary expenses for individuals and families.” It is only available when the state requests federal implementation of the program, which provides federal funds to match state funds three-to-one. It is generally used to assist families whose homes and possessions have been wiped out by a natural disaster. But Norton contends that there is nothing in the act prohibiting its use to address emergency needs and necessary expenses of farmworker families. The federal government, however, has argued against its use in this situation and has convinced the White administration not to request its implementation. \(There has been grousing among other farmworker advocates about White’s reluctance to request additional federal funds BUT WHY HAS this freeze been so disastrous for farmworkers? It is no secret that for the past several years the Valley has been suffering under the double-whammy of peso devaluation across the Rio Grande and recession on this side. Unemployment before the freeze ran from 10 % to 30% depending on the county and the season. 80% of the farmworker families had incomes below the poverty level, and the workers averaged 22 weeks per year in which they could not find employment. Most Valley farmworkers depend on the citrus and vegetable harvest in the Valley for their winter and early spring incomes, followed by fruit and vegetable harvests in other parts of Texas until May, after which they travel to Colorado, Wyoming, Michigan, and Ohio before returning to the Valley. The Valley freeze has not only ruined ,the only source of income for farmworkers for the thirteen-week citrus season the period to be covered by Disaster Unemployment Assistance it has also thrown cannery and sugar-mill workers out of work. According to TDA’s Ed Gutierrez. for the first crop of onions there will be three times the labor pool needed because those who never traveled will hit the roads looking for work, joining others who would still have been occupied in the Valley. He said he has already received warnings from officials in Florida, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, saying they won’t be able to employ as many workers as they had last year due to recession and weather difficulties in those areas. In addition, Valley workers will be arriving THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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