Joyce is a 61-year-old computer programmer. Up until a couple of weeks ago, she worked for a mid-sized manufacturing company in the Midwest. Despite the faltering economy, it was one of the few businesses in town that was doing alright. It was a privately owned company that had been in the same family since the early 1800’s. They owned the plant and had a fair amount of cash reserves and very little debt. This allowed them to weather the storm so far. Joyce had been employed there for almost 15 years. Two weeks ago, they handed her the pink slip.
With only a year or so to go before she would be able to retire, Joyce now finds herself in the position, like a lot of other employees, of wondering just how she’s going to survive. A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and suffered a heart attack and is on multiple daily medications.
She has a house payment and is now also facing a $450/ month Cobra payment if she wants to keep her health insurance in force. She’s sure that she won’t be able to pay both. And her prospects for getting a job at her age and with her somewhat outdated computer skills isn’t a very realistic possibility. She has applied for unemployment, but that’s only going to be a fraction of what she was making before. And a couple of days ago, she went down and applied for food stamps, something that she never thought she would have to do.
Her story, and others like it, are being repeated countless numbers of times across Missouri and the United States. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, (www.stltoday.com), nearly one million people have applied for food aid across the state. That breaks down to one in six people in Missouri that needed federal aid to keep food on the table last month.
The number of people in the state receiving temporary state and federal cash assistance also rose last month for the seventh month in a row, the longest sustained increase in years. And the state’s health insurance rolls rose for the fifth straight month in a row too.
Those numbers, released from the Department of Social Services, paint a rather bleak future for the state. The average amount of food stamps participants receive in Missouri is about $107 a month. This forces a lot of people to seek out other sources of food like food pantries and other charitable organizations, or they would literally starve.
The stimulus package recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama increases the food stamp allowance in April and relaxes some of the restrictions for the unemployed to get them. But Joyce, and a lot of others, still wonder if it’s going to be enough.