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Nov-20-2007 09:53printcomments

Happy Holidays: Now Go Eat Your Bootstraps

The plight of this Nevada journalist is a reminder of how distorted the government's point of view has become when it comes to accurately assessing poverty levels.

Will write for food
Image: Special thanks to Lesley Speller

(CARSON CITY, Nv.) - A few years ago, I wrote an editorial about how nothing bad is supposed to happen on your birthday. It was about how when I was 14-years old, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on my birthday, November 22, 1963.

I have worked for 40 years of my life, as a secretary and as a writer/editor. I am a college graduate. And have always been able to take care of myself. I am approaching my 58th birthday on Thanksgiving.

In August, my dog was hit by a car. In order for her to have three surgeries to save her leg from a fractured femur bone, I had to come up with one thousand dollars immediately, the next day. I just happened to have a paycheck for that amount due and it went to pay for her first surgery. Now three months later, she has had three surgeries and the vet bill was over $3,000. The vet bills are paid off and now she needs canine rehabilitation which will cost another $1,500 approximately.

My resources are now depleted. I lost my income and earned $0 in October and $300 in November. Not only that but my rent is overdue and my car is gone. I am stranded in a rural area five miles from the nearest grocery store.

At a very low point last week, I reached out to the local Social Services department. I have never done this before. What I found is worse than I expected and I didn't expect much. Thought that my findings were important to share. Keep in mind that this is not about Nevada, it is about the state of our union. Many food banks across the country are running short of food because the demand has increased significantly.

There is a huge gap between state and federal and county poverty guidelines and Self-Sufficiency guidelines. To qualify for food distribution from the USDA in Carson City, Nevada, a single adult cannot make more than $18,889 a year, which comes to $1,575 a month, and $25,327 for a couple according to the Nevada Appeal (local newspaper, see link below). Yet according to Douglas County guidelines, "for a household of 1 with -0- income is $438. All income received within the past 30 days is counted as current income, therefore the $438 amount would be reduced in your case by $280 which would make you eligible for a potential rent payment of $158 for the current month," wrote supervisor Karen Goode. My rent is $800 a month. Does she really think that my landlord is going to accept $158 instead of $800 and sign a waiver? On what planet?

Federal poverty guidelines for 2006: the amount is $9,800 a year for a single adult, which comes to $817 a month for this county. And Self-Sufficiency guidelines in Douglas County five years ago was $1,500 a month for a single adult. What this means is that anyone earning $8 an hour or less, at 40 hours a week, earning $1,376 a month, is below federal poverty guidelines, above county guidelines and yet qualifies for USDA food distribution. A single adult would have to earn $10 or more an hour to be considered above the federal guidelines poverty line.

Let me say this another way. The federal poverty guidelines for 2006 is $817 a month yet the county's guidelines allow $438 a month to cover rent, food and other basic expenses and the USDA and Self-Sufficiency guidelines are $1,500 a month. What this means is that people who come to the county can receive a whopping $438 a month and are basically left to their own limited resources if that amount does not cover their basic living expenses, rent and food and other expenses. How come the county's guidelines are half the federal poverty guidelines and one-quarter that of the Self-Sufficiency guidelines? Who makes up these guidelines?

According to the cost of living average in Douglas county, rentals alone are $780 a month here. How is a single adult supposed to live on $438 a month and why does the County penalize people for working?

Because I received $300 for two months (October and November) that amount was deducted from the $438. If I had earned NOTHING, then I would have received the entire $438.

In 1974, I earned $450 a month. My rent was $150 a month; food and gas and insurance cost another $150 a month and my car payment was $50 a month. I had about $75 a month discretionary income. But it is now 2007, 33 years later and $438 hardly qualifies as sufficient income for a single adult.

I am able and willing to work and have applied for numerous jobs and am waiting to hear about several. I have done everything that I know how to do and I am pretty resourceful. But right now today, where else am I supposed to go for assistance? Churches are stretched beyond their limits. And if a person, like myself, who does not have relatives able to lend a hand, because they are all deceased, and without a support system in place, me and my dog are left to our own devices. Which means by my birthday and Thanksgiving, we should be out in the cold without food and shelter unless some miracle occurs. If anyone is willing to help us, please let us or the Salem News know.
Thank you.

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Henry Ruark November 20, 2007 1:13 pm (Pacific time)

Neal et al: The very attitude you outline so neatly was part of the "welcome" given to the basic legislation when it was first intro'd in noted in neocon literature now available...and shapes much of what has been done since. States can work around most such situations, given the will to do so.

Neal Feldman November 20, 2007 12:12 pm (Pacific time)

This is a perfect example of what I call "If those who made the rules had to live by those rules the rules would be quite different". So many complain about 'entitlements' but when will average jobs pay enough to get folks above the poverty line? Worse still if you are disabled and qualify for in home services (intended to keep you self sufficient and out of expensive nursing homes) and actually worked for a living so that you get SSDI payments instead of SSI (SSI being about 3/4 the poverty line) you are required to 'pay in' for your benefits... reducing your income down to SSI level, to get the services. So if you have an income above poverty line, or even just below it, you are expected to pay in to the point of making yourself destitute and unable to remain self sufficient so that you can receive the services that would allow you to be self sufficient. This bears repeating - to get the services that would allow you to be self sufficient you are required to pay in enough of your income so that you are financially unable to be self sufficient. In an example case SSI is $620 or so for a single adult and a single adult who worked before being disabled gets $800 or so on SSDI. It is hard enough to live on $800 a month but somehow they are expected to pay around $180 a month as a 'pay in' to get the in home services deemed necessary. To those who make these cruel rules i ask "Can YOU live on $620 a month? Can YOU survive at an income below the poverty line? If not then how come you demand that others, who EARNED a higher income, to do so?" I have asked Sen Courtney and Rep Clem in the past session and again for this February system to fix this... to change the pay in line from SSI to instead the federal poverty line. It is cruel to force someone above poverty to descend below it, or if they are already below that line to pay in more, to get needed services aimed at keeping them self sufficient. Isn't it self defeating to require them to make themselves fiscally unable to be self sufficient as a requirement for them to receive needed services to allow them to be self sufficient? I find the question so obvious it is clear why politicians want to avoid it. They want to avoid it because there is no answer that makes any sense other than the right answer... to change the line to the poverty line instead of SSI line but they for whatever reason refuse to do so. Ah well...

Henry Ruark November 20, 2007 11:10 am (Pacific time)

To all: Awaiting Jeff et al response to direct demanding questions set forth here in heartfelt way by hardworking writer reduced to despair via our national II-Bush/driven retreat from realities. Check out huge slashing attack on every possible human rights area for further facts,including open attack on Constitutional role of our governmental segments. Can appreciate Celia's plight having faced-same in Chicago after long-continued set of circumstances, taking two years to remedy, after bounce-from-bottom aided by friends, then clients by continued confidence in work.

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