The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas publishes an annual "Community Needs Assessment" that informs its organizational and funding strategy for responding to community reality.
Thumbing through the latest report provides much cause for concern about the quality of life among the urban poor who call Dallas home.
During 2003, 16.4% of Dallas County residents were living in poverty--up from 13.4% in 2000. Data for the City of Dallas would reflect an even higher percentage of those living at or below the poverty line.
Families with children reported a poverty rate of 22.8% for 2003--up from 18% in 2000 in the county. Again, the city would report even higher rates of poverty among families.
In a section titled "Priorities By Impact Area," the United Way reaches a number of sobering conclusions.
- The Government has reduced its role in meeting health and human services needs across the board since 1996--this is the given with which we work--some of the implications are horrific.
- Funding for mental health services have been scaled back drastically.
- Recent policy changes--at federal and state levels--have led to stricter eligibility and enrollment requirements resulting in fewer benefits and more individuals and families going without services or care.
- There is a grave shortage in affordable housing for very low-income individuals and families.
- An increasing percent of homeless citizens are women and children.
- With one of four residents without health insurance, our state and our community leads the nation in this negative category.
- Race matters when it comes to health care coverage: 13% of Anglos have no health insurance compared to 39% of Hispanics and 24% of African Americans who have no coverage.
- The rising cost of our "market-based" approach to health care coverage has placed health care beyond the reach of a growing number of low and moderate-income families in Dallas.
- Growing numbers of low-income citizens of Dallas resort to Emergency Departments at local hospitals for health care--the most expensive and least effective place from a preventive perspective to obtain routine care. Both patients and hospitals suffer as a result.
- African Americans continue to report a higher prevalence of chronic illnesses than other racial/ethnic groups--heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
- The number of health care providers who accept Medicare (the federal insurance coverage for the elderly) is steadily shrinking, making access to health care harder to locate.
- The cost of prescription medicines is increasing, making it difficult for low-income seniors to fill their prescription drug needs.
- The number of child care centers meeting high quality standards is declining.
- Child care costs in Dallas County range from $73 to $200 per week--paying for child care is a growing challenge for low-income families, especially those with more than one child.
- Early childhood and pre-kindergarten educational programs have proven their value in the development of long-term educational and social capacity of children--funding for many of these programs has been cut with further cuts threatened.
- Texas still has no equitable, comprehensive and aggressive funding strategy for our local public schools that server the majority of our children.
The U. S. Congress is currently working to finalize plans for the FY2006-2007 appropriations legislation. What happens in Washington, and every other year in Austin, affects what occurs here in Dallas.
A combination of massive tax cuts for the most affluent Americans and the continuing war in Iraq (currently counting costs so far and forward from $203 billion!) translate to cuts in funding for our poorest, weakest, youngest and oldest fellow citizens.
As Jim Wallis often says, "Budgets are moral documents."
In addition to serving and working with the poor, we also need to speak out for those who suffer with little or no voice in the process.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8-9)