Representative of the Poor

For the past twelve years I have served as an elected Representative of the Poor on the Community Action Advisory Board in the city of San Antonio, Texas. The board, made up of fifteen members, five of whom are elected Representatives of the Poor, advise the city on poverty related issues and provides oversight of the Community Action Programs run by the city’s Department of Community Initiatives. The work is meaningful and as one Congressman once put it in regards to my rather obscure elected position, it is the most important political office in the city that no one has ever heard of.

This is true, I have been through several elections for this position and except for the first couple, my elections have been uncontested. Even in those early elections when there were opponent, very few people have voted. To be honest, I have been term limited from running again, but due to a current lack of interest, I am a holdover for the position.

During the last twelve years, a lot has happened and changes as Community Action in San Antonio and in our nation moves forward. As some may know, Community Action was the only agency targeted for cuts in President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address. This is unfortunate but this program, dating back to President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, has often been the target of cutbacks and elimination.

The role of Community Action is simple, helping low-income families help themselves out of poverty and into self-suffiency. This is done primarily through emergency and transitional assistance. For my part, I have tried to be an voice for the poor in a part of town that often forgets that poverty can and does affect everyone in both small and big ways. I live in and represent the north side of San Antonio, for the most part a part of town economically better off than the rest of town. This has caused my share of occasional frustration as I voice concerns over poverty and current and effective ways to address the issue and improve that quality of life for the entire community I call home. Poverty is not talked about where I live, for many neighbors it doesn’t exist. It in fact, does but that is getting harder to community, even in these tougher economic times as we push forward with our lives out of a deep recession.

This will likely be my last year on the Community Action Advisory Board. In my final year I have taken on the role of Vice-Chairman of the board and will now look for ways to communicate the work of Community Action where I live and in other neighborhoods and communities throughout San Antonio.

May is National Community Action Month

What is National Community Action Month?
National Community Action Month in May was created by the national office of the Community Action Partnership to highlight Community Action Agencies’ role helping low-income families achieve economic security.  Each year, Community Action Agencies serve 20 million people in rural, suburban, and urban communities across the country through a variety of targeted programs, such as Head Start, Weatherization, job training and placement, financial education, housing, energy assistance, and transportation.

During National Community Action Month, Community Action Agencies truly make the Promise of Community Action—to help people and change lives—come alive by hosting events that help put a “face” on the families living in poverty and the dedicated Community Action staff and volunteers who are helping them achieve economic security. Success stories are honored and personal achievements are recognized. Many governors, mayors, and other elected officials proclaim May “Community Action Month” in their states, cities and counties.

Community Action Agencies also use National Community Action Month to call attention to poverty related problems and solutions. As Community Action Agencies are showcasing their programs, they are also giving local residents—many who are unaware of the poverty in their communities—a firsthand look at the struggles low-income families face and how Community Action programs help them.

Celebrating National Community Action Month 2011 Amid Community Action’s “New Realities”

This year’s National Community Action Month theme is:
Community Action 2011: Working for Opportunity and Economic Security in America. This theme was selected prior to Community Action being the sole program singled out for budget cuts during the January 25 State of the Union address.

These “New Realities” also mean that we will have to, unfortunately, try to do a lot more with a lot less—because budgets and resources are being cut while at the same time, demand for services has soared.

The poverty rate is also growing: 2009 Census Bureau figures indicate that nearly 44 million Americans have incomes below the poverty level. And it gets worse: unemployment hovers near 10 percent, one in seven Americans is on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), home mortgage foreclosures have reached epidemic proportions in many states; and home, commercial energy and food costs are up.

Now more than ever, we must show that we are part of a strong network of Community Action Agencies across the country with a unified voice and message: for the last 47 years, we’ve had a proven track record of ongoing effectiveness helping America’s low-income population— seniors; children; military veterans; families; and workers—in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country—achieve economic stability.

We’re proactively responding to our communities’ ever-changing needs—especially during the Great Recession, which brought several new faces to our agency: people who have fallen on hard times and never thought they’d have to ask for assistance. We develop and tailor our programs based on the individuals and families we serve in order to maximize opportunities for them to become economically stable and live a better life.

We need to maintain and enhance funding and resources on the local, state, and national levels for programs like Community Action that are helping low-income residents across the county achieve economic security.

Even as the economy and budgets remains uncertain, Community Action is and always will be committed and dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens.

I am not certain who wrote this memo, it was handed to me by an official with Community Action here in San Antonio. I wanted to post it because much of the work that Community Action does in San Antonio and throughout our nation is not understood or even known by most citizens.