Citizen pain 


A court case reveals what can happen: Between 1986 and 1989, D&S and Iori Farms in Homestead employed 612 workers to pick beans. They were promised $2.50 per bushel, or at least the minimum wage of $3.35 an hour. But they actually were paid about $2 an hour, before taxes were taken out and before their work crew leader charged them for transportation to the work site.

Last year, for the first time, the labor contractor's negligence was judged in federal court to be the farm owners' fault, and the farms were held liable for perhaps $1 million in back wages. The farm owners have appealed the verdict.

José Prado sits at a picnic table at the Bridges Center, a park maintained by the Apopka Department of Recreation. His grandson and great grandson, Luis and Mauricio Castro, sit across from him. Luis is 30 and runs a small lawn service; Mauricio is 5 years old and looking for something to do.

The occasion is a workshop on "welfare reform" sponsored by the Farmworker Association. There are several hundred people here wondering what is going to happen to them, and Tirso Moreno is trying to help.

Another couple at the table, Pedro and Maria Rafugio Orona, ask Tirso about their eligibility. He is 60 and has been picking vegetables here since 1957. He injured his back on the job a month ago. She is 58, and injured also. Their children, truck drivers in other states, send money. The Oronas never took welfare and have never used food stamps -- although someone got food stamps a few years ago using Pedro Orona's identification. He had to show some officials pay stubs from his job to prove he was in the Midwest when the fraud occurred.

Inside the Bridges Center someone is showing a movie, "Harvest of Sorrow," to 25 women who have similar marks on their bodies to the ones shown in the film, which is about chemical poisoning.

Tirso is talking to Prado in Spanish. Prado received a letter recently from the Social Security Administration telling him he's earned $135,000 during his lifetime of work. Divided by 33 years, that comes to $4,090 per annum. Probably a bit of an undercount.

Fortunately, Social Security counts any $2,680 earned in a given year as four quarters of work, so it is likely -- not certain, but likely -- that Prado will continue getting his checks. "But we still don't know if he has 10 years in a row," Tirso says. Prado maintains his seen-it-all smile.

In the building a woman from Tallahassee tells three African-American women how the state welfare reform law, called WAGES -- for Work and Gain Economic Self Sufficiency -- works. And why their children age six and over are not eligible for daycare assistance. "But if you leave a 6-year-old home alone," one woman protests, "they come after you."

And if you quit your job to take care of your child, they cut you off welfare.

The woman conducting the workshop agrees that the situation is not optimal, from the standpoint of women who work in packing houses. She seems at a loss to defend the logic of reform. What is needed here is a Republican congressman, or perhaps the president, to explain the larger issues at stake. You people, they‘d say, must be weaned from your dependency on government. The New Deal introduced by Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, just before José Prado arrived, was a socialist fantasy. The Free Market demands a balanced federal budget. Think of the savings, they might say, that will accrue to tax payers.

Welfare Index (with apologies to Harper's)

Amount of federal money spent on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps and Medicaid annually: $85 billion

Amount of federal money spent on corporate tax cuts, incentives and bail-outs according to the Center for the Study of Responsive Law: $167 billion.

Amount of federal money spent on the military: $282 billion

Average annual welfare payment for a mother with two children: $6,000

Average amount an American earned in 1995: $27,845

Percentage of the population that received food stamps in 1995: 10.1

Average amount per month: $71.30.

Percentage of the population that received AFDC: 5.2

Average monthly amount (for a family of three): $422

Percentage of the population below the poverty line in 1995: 13.8 percent

Percentage of women who receive AFDC who are under the age of 20: 6

Percentage of the national budget spent on welfare: 1

Percentage of the national budget spent on welfare if you factor in food stamps: 3

Percentage of Americans, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Policy Attitudes, who think welfare funding should be cut: 21

Percentage of Americans who think government should pay welfare recipients more: 29

Percentage of women who worked full time in 1994 but didn't receive health benefits: 75

Percentage of federal outlays that welfare spending comprised from 1964-1994: 1.5

State with the lowest current welfare allotment: Mississippi

State with the highest: Alaska

Chance a teen-age mother who drops out of high school has of getting off welfare by working: 1 in 100

Chance a teen-age mother who finishes high school has of getting off welfare: 1 in 5

Sources: Taylor Institute; Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law; 1995 Statistical Abstract; LA Weekly; government agencies; Journal of Family Issues

10 Proactive Welfare Strategies

1. Return fund-raising letters for party organizations, PACs and politicians who support the new welfare law with a note telling them you're now sending your disposable dollars to social welfare organizations.

2. Support local food banks and social-service organizations with your dollars and volunteer hours to help them meet increased demand.

3. Support national organizations such as the Stop Corporate Welfare Coalition (contact Adrien MacGillivray at 202-226-7270), which is targeting a "Dirty Dozen" list of "corporate welfare" programs costing $11.5 billion.

4. Lobby the office of Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and other legislative officials for full funding of existing low-income and poverty programs such as General Assistance, Head Start and Women, Infants and Children that might fill gaps left by welfare cutoffs.

5. E-mail the White House (through www.whitehouse.gov) or President Clinton (president@whitehouse.gov) with your thoughts about the new welfare reform act.

6. Publicly challenge misleading stereotypes about those on welfare.

7. Urge local and state representatives to look into positive welfare initiatives being undertaken in Oregon, Minnesota and Vermont.

8. Volunteer five hours a week of child care so that the parent may run errands; attend school, literacy classes or counseling; or look for a job.

9. Organize protests or teach-ins to raise the community's awareness of welfare reform when specific provisions take effect.

10. Contact the mainstream daily and weekly newspapers and television stations to urge them to cover the real effects of welfare reform, not just the political party line.


More by Ericson, Edward Jr.

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