Charities See More Needy Than Usual This Year

Christine McNeil didn't make it to the Salvation Army here in time to register for one of the Thanksgiving dinners the organization is giving out this year.

Instead, Ms. McNeil, who is retired and relies on Social Security for income, is on the Salvation Army's waiting list with dozens of others in need.

"There's a lot more people than usual who need help out there," she says.

Experts say the economy is booming with low unemployment and inflation in check, but many charity organizations say they have seen a dramatic increase in people needing assistance.

"You'd never know that the economy is going well here," says Maj. Charles Deitrick of the Salvation Army. "The amount of people in need is absolutely incredible."

The rise in people needing aid is mainly due to the welfare-reform rules passed by Congress last year that have cut funds for many programs, Major Deitrick says. For example, people on welfare used to see an increase in their checks during the winter when the cost of living is higher due to heating bills. The new laws do not make up the difference.

The Martin Luther King Center in Newport, R.I., has had a more than 20 percent increase in people coming to them for help, says the center's executive director Elsie Goodrum.

"Although the welfare reform means people are going to get employment, a lot of it is just part-time employment," she says. "That's not enough to make ends meet."

Jane Hayward, an associate director at the state's Department of Human Services, says welfare reform has meant harder times - mainly for people who are trying to make the transition to find jobs to replace state assistance.

"They may not be making a high wage yet so they have a difficult time providing for their youngsters, especially during the holidays," she says.

The Rhode Island Community Food Bank has had to have more ambitious goals this year because more people have requested the group's help. The food bank is looking to collect 10,000 turkeys this year for Thanksgiving dinner, compared with 6,000 last year.

Chris Meehan of the food bank says so far about 7,000 turkeys have been collected and she is unsure if the group will reach its goal.

"The need is so much greater now," Ms. Meehan says. "The welfare cuts are hitting agencies from all levels."

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