Growing numbers of poor people in Idaho Falls are straining welfare budgets and placing new demands on local churches and social service agencies.
Those who help the poor say they don't know exactly why the number of homeless and needy is increasing but say it appears there are more working poor in the city than ever before.Idaho Falls Community Food Bank coordinator Margaret Schwarz said she is seeing more employed people. She said minimum wage workers can't make ends meet.
"The rent is high, so even if you have a job at $3.85 (an hour), you have a tough time paying the bills," she said at a recent meeting of social-service workers and church representatives.
The Food Bank gave out 1,827 boxes of food between January and August this year, compared with 1,433 during the same period last year. Each box contains nine meals.
Bonneville County Welfare Director Jeanine Doney attributed much of the demand to the migrant worker population. She said farm workers from Mexico send money back to their families and often don't have money to pay their own bills.
"With the Hispanic population, it has just mushroomed in recent years," she said. "They send money home and the farmers are not taking care of their medical bills." This forces the county to pay the medical expenses of migrant workers, she said.
Compounding the problem are the new immigration laws, said Shirley Hansen, special projects director for Eastern Idaho Special Services Agency. She said workers who were given legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 no longer are eligible for financial assistance from the federal government.
"We could help them before - we could even help illegals with energy assistance and home weatherization - but we can't now," she said.
Hansen said poor Hispanics now must go to the counties, churches and charities for help.
Capt. Dillmond Lewis said the Salvation Army overspent its budget for the first six months of the year by $14,000.
The Salvation Army received $56,000 from the United Way this year. Lewis said from January to June it provided meals, clothing, transportation and lodging to 2,211 people.
To make sure it has money the entire year, Lewis said the Salvation Army has divided its budget into monthly allotments. When the money for each month runs out, it refers the needy to churches and other social-service agencies, he said.
"When that figure is exceeded, we no longer have the financial ability to meet the responsibilities of the community, and those are the times when we have said we can't do any more," he said.
The Salvation Army sometimes denies help to people it believes are abusing the welfare system, Lewis said.
Referrals from the Salvation Army have upset some local church leaders who say they are not prepared financially or emotionally to help the poor and homeless. They also have questioned whether the Salvation Army is using its funds properly.
The Rev. Richard Miller of St. John's Episcopal Church said it is inhumane to send the poor from one agency to another seeking assistance.
"In Idaho Falls, I have noted a breakdown of concern for the integrity of the individual needing help," he wrote in a letter to the United Way. "A number of times we have mentioned the Salvation Army and the inquirer has thrown up his hands and said, `I will not go back there.' "
Lary Larson, a United Way board member, said he has reviewed the Salvation Army budget and is satisfied with the way it is handling its money.