Is That All There Is?

By Patricia Cichowicz

          My friend June asked me to go to the mall with her last week.  She had a 25% off coupon and wanted to use it to buy a pair of tennis shoes.  She started talking about how the one pair that she wanted was $90 with tax that was close to 4100.  She said she would save a bundle with this coupon. Then she says how do I like her Gucci purse that cost her 4200?  She claimed that she needed a sturdy purse to take trips so she thought it was worth it.

            While June got her shoes, I got out the wrinkle cream.  Reaching the “Big 5-0” can be a traumatic experience.  The lady informed me that the cream was $35 and could not be used under the eyes.  The cream for under the eyes was 445, and I had better buy the cleaning pack that was on sale for ony$27.  Wow, $107 just to look younger!  I decided that I would use lower wattage light bulbs instead.

            Afterward, we stopped for a drink ($3.50 each), and June went to buy cigarettes.  She came back complaining about the price, saying that at this rate it will cost her $100 per month to smoke.  With that I had two thoughts – one was June should give up smoking and the other that $100 does not buy much these days.

            That is all that a person gets on General Assistance each month (until July when the program is eliminated).  That is the price of my drink each day for the month.  No, a person cannot live on 4100 per month, but it is a safety net for people who, for whatever reason, find themselves in a deep financial bind.  Governor Voinovich, with the approval of the legislature, will eliminate General Assistance July 31, 1995.

            Mrs. Gwen Hill, the deputy director of the Department of Entitlement Services, expressed a great concern for the 20,000 recipients of FA in Cuyahoga County.  As the program is designed now, children under 18 not covered by another program, pregnant woman, and those disabled but not eligible for social security will still receive the cash and medication, but the medically dependent will lose the cash while keeping the medication allotment.  The Office of Entitlement Services determines eligibility for General Assistance and Disability Assistance, and the food stamps program.

            The end of GA may bring ugly results.  Sharon Parks of Michigan’s League of Human Services conducted a study of five counties in Michigan one year after GA was eliminated there.  The local communities and their network of private emergency providers were not able to meet the need for services.  In short, they were overwhelmed.

            The average number of persons served increased by 17 percent.  The private providers had to be more selective in whom they helped and whom they turned away.  The homeless were much more visible in the streets of Michigan.  In those five counties, 20,000 former general assistance recipients were evicted, and 7,000 said they had to use a shelter for part of each month.  There was escalating demand for food at the meal sites, and 27,000 persons said they went for more than one period of 24 hours or longer without food.

            Emergency rooms reported caring for an increased number of indigents, because many of the older GA recipients have chronic health problems.  After one year only 12 percent found jobs, and those were generally temporary or part-time.  Many of those that found jobs had access to cars.

             A large percentage of the GA recipients in Ohio are 36- to 60- year old men or displace homemakers that would have fit into the semi-skilled unskilled general labor pool.  The migration of 85, 000-manufacturing jobs from the Cleveland area in the 1980s caused a great absence of these kinds of jobs.  Thus the need for GA increased at this time fourfold.

             Many GA recipients have characteristics that make them unattractive to employers; namely, lack of transportation, lack of education, and, on occasion, a criminal record.  Therefore, the governor’s proposal to replace General Assistance with some type of job program will have to take this into consideration.  Perhaps it would be better to offer tax credits to companies with general labor jobs for hiring GA recipients, thereby getting rid of GA one person at a time rather than the sweeping budget cut that inhumanely leaves many out on a limb without a safety net.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995