It’s an embarrassing cattle call when the proof of a community’s poverty is exposed for all to see. Such was the case again as the Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council began its annual sign-ups for heating assistance.
This time, Thursday morning at 7 a.m., was supposed to be reserved for the elderly and medically infirmed. Somewhere along the way, some got word the assistance also was for low-income residents. It was not, and those mistakenly in line were not pleased.
It is unfortunate that we have become a “gimme society,” but this trend is not new -- particularly in Bibb County. The lines have been forming for heating and other assistance for years. After the Flood of ‘94, when the time came to apply for assistance, people from all social strata stretched the lines far and wide. Many, as we remember, had no economic loss from the flood.
It is understandable that elderly residents on fixed incomes, earning less than $1,000 a month, would seek help. For them it is a matter of survival. It is a line they do not want to stand in. Many -- and we dare say most -- had to swallow deeply and hide their embarrassment and push aside their pride. On the other hand, the line also was filled with what appeared to be able-bodied individuals who should not have been in this line or any line seeking help from others. The president of the EOC board, Lonnie Miley, summed it up. “It’s ironic that everybody becomes disabled in November. These same folks will be in line on Black Friday.” And unfortunately, they’ll be in every other line -- from the Kids Yule Love line to the lines of other agencies and churches that genuinely try to help during the holidays.
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Certainly the EOC could adjust its procedures. A better location would be appropriate so people would not have to stand in line outside in the elements.
As much as officials tried to weed out those who didn’t look like they could meet the qualifying criteria -- 65 or older, a life-threatening health issue, proof of citizenship, a driver’s license or state-issued identification card, a copy of their most recent energy bill or statement of service from the utility, a valid Social Security card, or printout, for all members of the household and proof of household income for the last 30 days -- that was made more difficult by the number of people clearly wanting what they wanted when they wanted it, requirements be damned.
If you’re in need of assistance, it might be better than standing outside in a line to let your fingers do the walking on your telephone keypad and call the Macon-Bibb County EOC at 478-750-8689 or 478-330-6272.