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Katrina casts light on the other poor

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Willie Ulibarri knocks on the door of a small, ranch-style house set in the scruffy foothills of sagebrush-covered mountains. He greets Teakka Burton and her two children, one of six families of New Orleans evacuees who are getting fresh starts, thanks to Ulibarri's 50-member church. Ms. Burton tends her 1-year-old while filling out an application to cosmetology school.

"We wanted to help these folks get back on their feet and be self-sustaining after losing everything," says Mr. Ulibarri.

Minutes later, Ulibarri greets other new faces: poor members of his own neighborhood. "We've got to get you into language classes so you will be ready for job training," he tells Janette Flores, an unemployed woman living just doors away.

"Thank you, Reverend," Ms. Flores says. "With all the attention being paid to hurricane victims, we've been wondering when anyone might get around to helping us, too."

The two visits illustrate the cross- currents swirling around the issue of poverty. The devastating Gulf hurricanes whipped up an immediate outpouring of American generosity - some $1.7 billion so far for the storms' victims. They also laid bare the United States' longstanding and growing population (now 37 million people) that subsists below poverty level.

Now, in moving to help the former, Congress finds itself in a budget scramble that is likely to trim the very programs that are crucial to the latter. Thus, what many hoped would become a golden opportunity to address long-term poverty now hangs in the balance, say policy analysts, social historians, and those who study the working poor.

"In many ways, it has taken a natural disaster combined with a social disaster for many Americans to see something in their own country which they didn't already see ... namely widespread, grinding poverty," says Doug Hicks, a board member of the Virginia Poverty Law Center. "Now the question is how much momentum will accompany the public outcry ... and in what form for how long?"

At the local level, the lesson has become clear - as church groups such as Ulibarri's are learning.


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