U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan returned to Turning Points at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center in Bradenton Monday to see what changes had taken place at the non-profit that provides services to the needy since his last visit two years ago.
Adell Erozer, Turning Points’ executive director, proudly showed Buchanan Turning Points’ expanded dental and medical facilities at 701 17th Ave. W., which Buchanan praised.
Buchanan learned Turning Points is getting help from medical students from Blake Medical Center and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and can now offer primary care throughout the day instead of just in the morning.
Turning Points also has added new specialty clinics, including a women’s clinic, along with stomach, pulmonary and hearing, in addition to the diabetes and hepatitis clinics already in place.
“You are doing very impressive work here,” Buchanan said as he met dentists and doctors and even patients.
But Erozer also took the opportunity to make a few pitches to the congressman.
She asked about getting cans of spray repellent for the homeless to protect them from the Zika virus that has already affected South Florida and threatens the rest of the state.
She asked him to look into recent changes in the federal food stamp program that she says are leaving Manatee’s needy population without aid.
She asked him to look into getting more affordable housing and rental assistance in Manatee County.
“Zika is one of our big concerns with all of our people living on the street,” Erozer told Buchanan after the tour was over. “We have a prevention possibility if we can supply them with repellent so they can be protected. They are living outside and they are exposed.”
What happens in Manatee County, and Sarasota County for that matter, is that people who even make $10 an hour or even $30,000 a year don’t have enough. When you have transportation, insurance, housing, food, child care, all of those coming out of it — it’s just not enough.
Adell Erozer, executive director, Turning Points
Although he didn’t promise repellent, Buchanan announced at Turning Points that he thinks the $1.9 billion funding he has long sought for Zika doctors, hospitals and researchers is on the cusp of getting approved.
“In terms of Zika, we are looking to get that done this week,” Buchanan said. “It has taken too long. I am very upset about it. I supported the president. I was probably the only Republican at the time for the $1.9 billion. We have been very strong about pushing for Zika.
“We are not going to leave Washington without getting it done,” Buchanan added. “The Centers for Disease Control is out of money. I met with the director who runs the CDC. It’s a real threat, somewhat in this area but mainly in Miami, which is the gateway to Puerto Rico and South America.”
In terms of screening for Zika, Buchanan said he was visited by Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week and Scott assured him that there is free screening available at Florida Department of Health locations for anyone who wants to be screened.
“I know $10 million was just put in a Zika fund but there needs to be a lot more,” Buchanan said.
Food stamp confusion affecting Manatee
The food stamp situation is very important to Turning Points’ clients, Erozer told Buchanan.
Erozer said changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps, is hurting local people.
The U.S. government is now focusing in on a group it as defined as Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents. This group now can only get food stamps for three months in three years if they do not meet special work requirements, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Participation in a state employment and training program is one way that people in this group can bypass the time limitation, according to the USDA.
But many Turning Points’ clients did not know of the time limit for food stamps because they don’t get mail, Erozer said.
“I just talked to a food stamp official and they said 200,000 people have been cut off from food stamps,” Erozer said. “People now have to register through CareerSource Suncoast. Some of them, obviously, needed to be cut from the program but we have lots of clients that for transportation reasons or notification reasons did not hear about this and were cut off.”
It has resulted in some people who are eligible for food stamps not being able to get them, Erozer told the congressman.
Buchanan asked his assistant to look into the numbers of people who may have fallen into this category in Manatee and Sarasota.
No easy answers for Manatee housing woes
There is no easy answer for Manatee’s housing shortage, Erozer told Buchanan.
“Anything we could do that would increase the funding for housing programs, including rental assistance, is greatly needed,” Erozer said. “Even here at Turning Points, where we have four case managers, we can only see 16 people a day. We are getting 30 and 31 daily calls and you can only see 16 a day so there are a lot of people out there who need help immediately.”
“They got a three-day eviction notice and now they are on the street because they couldn’t get the help,” Erozer told the congressman.
Erozer told Buchanan that it is much harder to help people get into a new place than it is to keep them where they are living. Rental assistance would help, she said.
“We need housing for people earning $500 or $600 a month,” she told Buchanan.
“How are they earning $500 or $600 a month,” the congressman asked her. “Are they working full-time?”
“They are working full-time at $8-an-hour jobs,” Erozer answered.
Buchanan told Erozer that he is currently working on housing projects with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Sarasota.
“We need to take a look and make sure we are doing everything we can here,” Buchanan told Erozer.
Buchanan seemed surprised that people who are employed and earning $8 and $9 an hour use Turning Points’ services.
“What happens in Manatee County, and Sarasota County for that matter, is that people who even make $10 an hour or even $30,000 a year don’t have enough,” Erozer said. “When you have transportation, insurance, housing, food, child care, all of those coming out of it — it’s just not enough. So a lot of those people come to the food pantry to help them through the month. They get food stamps. They even have two jobs a lot of them. They just need more income. It’s expensive.”