Made possible by a grant from the National Center for Media Engagement, "That Could Be Me" is a series of special reports on the newly poor—those people who, for the first time, are finding themselves facing the hard realities of joblessness, an inability to meet their family's basic needs and, in some cases, a home foreclosure due to current economic conditions. Reporters from Boise State Radio's newsroom paired up to produce the segments, which focus on hunger, healthcare and the effects of such duress on the family and children.
In addition to the series, which airs all this week during "Morning Edition," Boise State Radio hosted a roundtable discussion last Wednesday night with leading social advocates, including representatives from the Idaho Food Stamp Program, the Salvation Army, Idaho's 2-1-1 Careline, the City of Boise's Charitable Assistance to Community's Homeless program and Genesis World Mission. Facilitator Marc Johnson of Gallatin Public Affairs centered the roughly hour-long discussion on the same three areas of focus as each of the special reports. The consensus: more needs to be done to educate those who affect policy change.
Rosie Andueza, director of Idaho's Food Stamp program, said at Wednesday's discussion that 149,000 Idahoans, or about 9 percent of Idaho's total population, are currently accessing food stamps. Alberto Gonzalez, director of Idaho's 2-1-1 Careline, told the group that his call center has fielded a record number of phone calls this year from Idahoans seeking help on everything from making the rent to getting school supplies for their kids. And according to Dr. Eric Maier, his office is seeing an increase in the acuity of patients arriving for appointments—that is, people are arriving at the doctor sicker because they're putting off the cost of a doctor's visit until they absolutely have to.
All of the panel members stressed that their organizations were seeing many first-time visitors, people who have never before been in a position to need public assistance of any kind, but who may be facing dire circumstances due to the recession. Many also pointed out that even though the number of people needing assistance has increased dramatically, the potential for further increase is likely given the number of people currently "on the bubble" between being fully self-sufficient and qualifying for public assistance. Neither Gonzalez or Andueza see the situation improving in the near future.
Simply put, "We've maxed out a lot of our resources," said Gonzalez referring to not just 2-1-1, but Idaho's overall ability to help an increasing number of people requesting help. It's what Johnson suggested was the worst possible situation with an increased need and decreased revenue to meet those needs. Senator Kate Kelly agreed with Johnson's assessment and later told the panel that in her opinion, Idaho's elected officials have not made social issues, like hunger, a priority because the state's political culture is one that favors smaller government and less intervention. Also, said Senator Kelly, the voices of those who use the state's social services—like single mothers working two jobs—are not well represented in the political process, unlike those interests who pay to have the "loudest voices."
In addition to the four segments produced by Boise State Radio's newsroom, an hour of the roundtable discussion will air uninterrupted Friday, Sept. 18, at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., as well as on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. Also next week, Boise State Radio will launch a Web site in conjunction with "That Could Be Me," with all of the on-air audio elements, as well as extra audio content, the full hour and a half-long roundtable discussion, a list of resources and links to those organizations and feedback.
And in an effort to be all action rather than all talk, Boise State's Public Policy Center will produce a white paper, based on elements of "That Could Be Me," that will be delivered to the state Legislature.