Thursday, May 22, 2003

Welcome to the Bush Economy

I think it's time to downsize your lifestyles, folks.

ALLEN – Mary Ann Knight thought she had seen and heard it all in the eight years she has worked at Allen Community Outreach, helping people make ends meet.

That is, until former upper-middle-class residents, hit hard by corporate layoffs that have rocked North Texas the last three years, began walking through the agency's doors, seeking help paying bills.

Mixed in their stacks of monthly bills that cover life's necessities are those that also cover lives the clients don't want to leave behind: $800 car payments, private school tuition that ranges from $1,200 to $2,000, mortgage statements up to $4,000, cable TV bills in the hundreds of dollars and country club dues, to list a few.


"It's not like we don't want to help. But it's just that there are no funds for folks like that. They're just living way above the level in which we can help them."


Since January, the Assistance Center of Collin County in Plano has helped 2,292 residents by paying for prescriptions, utilities, mortgages and rent. About one-quarter of such charitable agencies' clients are previously unserved middle-class residents who request assistance of $4,000 to $8,000 a month, agency officials say.

Agency directors call folks new to being needy "the situational poor." They've depleted their savings and retirement accounts and struggle to cling to a lifestyle they no longer can afford.

"Our clientele has changed so much," said Kimberly Girard, program coordinator at Frisco Family Services. "We used to serve the working poor. Now it's the CEOs and former executives of companies. They've tapped out their bank accounts and borrowed from family members."


At the Assistance Center of Collin County in Plano, Jackie Hall said cash-strapped homeowners today seek twice to three times as much in mortgage assistance than they did two years ago. Some are seeking as much as $4,000 in mortgage help a month, far exceeding most agencies' emergency assistance budgets for all their clients that range from $3,000 to $5,000 per month.
through the door.


"I've had people who paid rent that was almost $1,200. I had a gentleman that wanted us to help pay $4,000 in bills. Our measly $300 assistance wouldn't get him anywhere."

All those who voted for Gore have my deepest sympathies.