It's beginning to be a challenge to accurately count the many ways in which we are telling the poor that they don't count in our society.
Take for instance the weather. That's right - the weather!
It is hot! And, if you live in Texas, you're pretty used to hot summers. Obviously this summer is quite an exception. This is a week in which only a few days are projected to be less than 105 degrees. All of us dread this months electric bills. Imagine if you're poor and you can barely afford rent AND food!
Utility assistance did you say? Well, there was money set aside for that - until the our legislature decided to use that money to balance the budget with it. That's right...
"During one of worst heat waves in state history, Texas is holding onto millions of dollars intended to help hundreds of thousands of elderly and low-income residents pay their electric bills."
"The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday the state has collected $130 million this fiscal year to help financially strapped Texas residents pay for the cost of electricity used for cooling, but has provided only $28 million so far to those who need it."
"The reason: State lawmakers have locked away the money to deal with the budget shortfall. The state is now spending only half as much as it did to help the poor and elderly get through the summer a decade ago."
"Texas isn't alone. Nationwide, states hit hard by the lingering recession and budget shortfalls have cut the size of programs aimed at helping people pay their electric bills, or have eliminated them entirely. In Oklahoma, for example, the state's program ran out of money in after only three days. Indiana has stopped taking any new applicants, while Illinois decided to get rid of its program all together to save money needed to pay for heating assistance in the winter ahead."
"Friday was the 28th consecutive day that it reached at least 100 degrees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The National Weather Service forecast called for the oppressive heat to continue through next week."
""When we have such extreme heat, where people's lives are actually in danger, it's like legal grand larceny," said Carol Biedrzycki of the consumer and environmental group Texas Ratepayers' Organization to Save Energy. "This is a misapplication of funds that is legal because the legislators who wanted to misapply the funds made it legal.""
""More than 100 people who could have used assistance from the fund lined up recently for help at North Dallas Shared Ministries. Dana Certain, 41, unemployed since October 2010, said she was desperate for help with her electric bill.""
""I'm either not gonna be able to pay electric or not gonna pay rent," she said."
"Natasha Brocks, 37, was seeking help to pay her July electric bill. She recently started a job as secretary as a secretary at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and is trying to catch up with bills that piled up during the previous three months she was out of work."
""I'm backpedaling, trying to pay all those bills," the mother of four said."
"Texas leaders have said that until the economy recovers and lawmakers overhaul the state tax code, they have no choice but to amass the dedicated-fee money for use elsewhere. Chief Senate budget writer Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the only alternative to holding dedicated funds would have been to cut more out of education, public safety and other key programs."
"The money for the energy bill assistance is paid by fees collected from more than 6 million households and businesses in certain designated utility markets, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. It is attached to utility bills and for the average residential ratepayer, it is about $1 a month."
"Gov. Rick Perry proposed ending the assessment four years ago because the money was largely being diverted from its stated purpose."
"The governor "continues to promote truth in taxation so Texans can be assured their tax dollars are being spent on their intended purpose," spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told the Morning News."
"In 2004, the state made changes eligibility requirements, causing more than half of the almost 800,000 customers who had enrolled for assistance to be cut off. The state continued to collect the fee, but kept more of the money to balance the budget."
You can read more about this here (you have to subscribe to the Dallas Morning News to read this).
Did our state legislature not think it was going to be, uh, you know, hot this summer?! This is one of the most egregious examples of marginalization of the poor that I've ever seen...
Oh, by the way, this month there will be a prayer meeting in our state this month. In air conditioned Reliant Stadium, in Houston. I've got a prayer request...could we pray for a heart?!