Andrew Dys

York Co. poor face uncertainty while politicians fight over fiscal cliff

Friday at the Fort Mill Care Center, not a single politician who will decide if the nation falls off the “fiscal cliff” was present. There were more than a dozen volunteers, however, doing intake applications and parceling out bags of food for the poorest and neediest in York County, who each face a singular fiscal cliff.

If a budget deal is not reached, taxes will go up on almost all Americans. Some of the money that honest, hard-working people give to charities and non-profits will instead go to taxes.

The food pantries themselves could fall off the fiscal cliff.

If rich politicians of both parties - who blame the other side yet have been on vacation for weeks - cannot compromise, the programs that keep the lights on and roofs over the heads of the poor and the old could tumble, in part, off that fiscal cliff.

The waiting room at the Fort Mill Care Center had as many fiscal cliffs as chairs.

A grandmother and granddaughter needed food.

Three sets of Hispanic families - the construction jobs gone to an economy that is supposedly getting better - waited for food.

A single mother wrapped her arms around herself and prayed for help.

A lady asked for food as a man with her, in the parking lot, asked to wash cars in the 43-degree cold to make enough money to pay the light bill.

A man in a flannel shirt named Horace Anderson spoke up.

“Nobody in Washington will ever look in this room,” Anderson said. “We don’t matter to them. They don’t know about us.”

The Fort Mill center received many donations through the last two months, so the food pantry is in good shape, said Jeane Cassidy, who runs the pantry. But 2013 is “filled with uncertainty,” Cassidy said, as no one knows what programs might get cut and what taxes will go up, which could affect donations.

If a political deal is not made to save federal programs, the Carolina Community Actions service that gives out federal dollars of emergency assistance for heat, utilities, rent, medications, and more could be cut by double digits.

The executive director, Walter Kellogg, said he has to wait to find out if staffers will have to cut services to the poor and old. Carolina Community Actions serves thousands each year - including hundreds of elderly with no alternatives. The waiting room at the intake office for Carolina Community Actions each weekday is filled with the elderly, many of them women, who carry “disconnect” notices from a utility company.

Every notice is a fiscal cliff.

In Rock Hill at Pilgrims’ Inn, another food pantry/charity, federal indifference to making a deal means grants could be cut that help with transitional housing, day care for working mothers, emergency assistance and more. The donations from the public - the bulk of the money at Pilgrims’ Inn and all local food banks and charities - could be harmed by people not giving after taking a pounding in tax increases.

“We have anxiety over this because no one knows what will happen,” said Susan Dean, executive director at Pilgrims’ Inn. “The people who receive the help have even more anxiety.”

Certainly among Washington politicians there will be a festive party somewhere Monday evening, and as the clock ticks toward 2013, a political man in a tuxedo and a woman in a ball gown will embrace and kiss and call out, “Happy New Year!”

By Wednesday Congress will re-open. Planes carrying politicians flying on taxpayer-bought tickets will land. The U.S. Capitol and White House will be filled with heat paid for by taxpayers, and the hot air produced by hundreds of politicians.

That same Wednesday all the places that serve and help the broke and broken among us will re-open after the holiday on Jan. 1. The people will shuffle in, filling the chilly waiting rooms with the quiet faces facing an even more uncertain 2013.

The volunteers will say: “Happy New Year!”

Those in the waiting room chairs will then pray that the volunteers are right.