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Community Action Day: War on Poverty Getting Tougher For Floridians

April 19, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Record-breaking unemployment and skyrocketing food stamp enrollment are just symptoms of the growing number of Floridians falling below the poverty line. Community action agencies are trying to bridge the gap between payroll and poverty. Community action workers from across the state are meeting with their legislators Tuesday to paint a portrait of that poverty, and to share what they do to help.

The agencies were created in 1964 to "fight a war on poverty," says Florida Association for Community Action Executive Director Wilma McKay, but that battle is getting harder, and the faces of the poor are changing.

"The lines are a lot longer and the clientele are much more intellectual, educated and prepared to really go out into the job market and have decent jobs."

However, with unemployment topping 12 percent in Florida, she says many have to wait for a job and need assistance now, some for the first time. Although community action agencies serve as "one-stop shopping" for assistance services, she says there is never enough money to go around, especially during this tough economy.

All legislators should be concerned, McKay warns, because people on all sides of the political spectrum are dropping below the poverty level.

"Everybody, regardless of what party they are in, has to think about how they're going to help those citizens who are in poverty these days: how to help these people get jobs and save their homes. It all comes back to basic survival needs now."

She says the community action agencies rely primarily on federal funding, and while stimulus dollars have helped them provide for more people this year, the number of Floridians living in poverty continues to rise. Although the agencies do not have any state legislation pending, their employees want legislators to know the stimulus money is very important in helping their constituents survive, McKay adds.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL