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Co-chairs: Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rayburn House Building, Washington, DC; Linda Olson Peebles, President, United Community Ministries (UCM), Fairfax County, VA

Editor's Introduction

On October 12, 2001, Rev. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA, gave testimony to a congressional committee on the impact of the events of September 11 on the lives of children. Rev. Peebles spoke in her role as President of the United Community Ministries of Fairfax County, VA. She was accompanied by Rev. Richard Nugent, Interim Minister, Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation of Columbia, MD. Also testifying were the Executive Director of an adoption institute in New York City; a widow and her two young children from New York; the vice president of the National Mental Health Association; the director of the Center for Mental Health Services Administration; a representative from the Christian Children's Fund; the Assistant Secretary for Children & Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the legislative officer for the American Red Cross.

Address to the Congressional Children's Caucus Concerning the Impact of the Events of September 11, 2001, on the Lives of Children

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I am the President of the Board of Directors of United Community Ministries. This non-profit human services agency is in Fairfax County, VA, formed over thirty years ago by a coalition of churches and citizens who wanted to provide coordinated services to strengthen families and thereby ensure well-being for all children.

Our hearts go out to the individuals who lost family or friends in the September 11 terrorist attack and we commend Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and the other members of the Congressional Children's Committee for their efforts to highlight the needs of the children affected by those events. Just two weeks ago, I had the sad duty of officiating at the memorial service for a young man killed in the Pentagon, who left behind a wife and two children—age five and two. It is indeed a difficult time.

But also, I want to point out that the "shock waves" from that attack have rippled beyond the needs of the children who lost a parent to the attacks on the Trade Towers, Pentagon and associated flights. The financial fallout has been felt throughout the community as parents lose their ability to adequately provide for their children in the wake of the attack. I would like to share with you the stories of three families who live in our community and have been affected by these events. These stories detail the struggles these families are facing and their need for government assistance.

Then I will suggest how federal monies might be used to be effective in helping all these children afftected.


Originally from Pakistan, Ambreen moved to the United States twelve years ago. She applied for and earned her citizenship and, for the past six years, she has worked at National Airport driving the shuttle buses that take us from long-term parking to our terminal and back. As the head of household, she and her four young children depend on her paycheck to pay the bills. Last week, she came to UCM for food and money to pay the rent. She was particularly in need of diapers and formula for her 7-month old daughter. She has still not been called back to work by her employer and has not received any unemployment compensation.

To make matters worse, she is afraid to live in her own apartment. Her brother-in-law, who lives close by, has been the recent victim of a hate crime. Someone who could not separate the acts perpetrated by a minority of radicals fired bullets into his first-story apartment. Luckily, no one was injured, but all involved were quite shaken. Ambreen's apartment is also on the ground level, so she and her children have been staying with various relatives.

Ambreen fears for her safety and worries about providing for her children. With almost double the number of families coming to our doors each day, UCM worries about having enough to help parents like Ambreen provide for their children in the months to come. UCM relies on donations to its Basic Needs program. In the wake of the attack, we have seen our food donations drop 34% and our monetary donations drop by 67%. These families will need government assistance in the form of emergency food stamps, emergency unemployment compensation, and emergency rent or mortgage assistance.

Valentina and Jerge

Valentina laments, "We finally found a nice country and a nice job and now we have to explain to our kids why we can't give them things they need. I am really worried."

Valentina's daughter doesn't understand why she can't have a party with her friends for her fourth birthday. But since Valentina and her husband were laid off from their jobs at National Airport, they can't afford to pay the rent, much less spend money on a birthday party. Immigrants from Bosnia, they came to the U.S. in May of 1999. Soon after, they obtained employment at National. Valentina works at a coffee stand in the airport and Jerge works as a parking garage attendant. Although the airport has reopened, they are still waiting notice from their employers as to when they can return to work.

They have not received their unemployment compensation but even when they do, it will not meet their needs. Jerge was earning $10/hour or $400/week when he was working. He will receive only $152/week in unemployment and Valentina will receive only $71/week. Their rent is $695, leaving only $197/ month to pay for all of their other expenses including food for their two daughters.

They are trying to find other jobs, but according to Valentina, it is especially hard for Jerge because he has not completed his ESL class and his English is still quite rough. For her part, Valentina has enrolled in a typing and computer software class at UCM's Employment Center.

Their 4-year old daughter is enrolled at UCM's Bryant Early Learning (BEL) Childcare center. However, they cannot receive their subsidy from the county unless they are employed. So they fear that even if they do find alternative employment, they will no longer have childcare. UCM is working with them to temporarily waive tuition fees, but our resources will not hold out indefinitely.

Art and Melissa

You may have read about Art and Melissa in the "Mt. Vernon Gazette" or seen their story on News Channel 8 when Virginia State Senator Toddy Puller (D-36th District) made a special house call on August 17 to visit their 4-month old, David.

Like many young, first-time parents, Art and Melissa worry that they lack the experience and parenting skills they need to provide for their infant. Art is enlisted in the Army; thus they have the added burden of having no family or close friends in the area to support them. To address this concern, they enrolled in UCM's Route One Healthy Families Fairfax (HFF) program, a voluntary, ground-breaking program designed to help first-time parents develop those skills. One of the many positive outcomes of the Healthy Families program is that it allows for early identification of life stresses that might place children at risk for abuse or neglect.

Currently, Art and Melissa's family support worker, Maria, visits them once a week. She has become like family to them. As Art and men like him leave to fight the war against terrorism, mothers like Melissa will be under even greater stress.

Soon, Fort Belvoir and UCM will sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will allow for more military family referrals to the Healthy Families Program. Unfortunately, the need greatly outweighes the current resources available to fund the program. Due to the budget stalemate in Richmond last session, the additional funds so desperately needed for this program were not provided. UCM would like to open the program up to more families, to provide more intensive case management and to establish support groups for these isolated mothers, but without additional funding from the state, a vast need will remain unmet.

And so this brings me to my specific recommendation to your Children's Caucus to help make appropriations that are most effective. In addition to the assistance mentioned above, and for all the purposes outlined by our other speakers here today, UCM recommends that the Federal government make emergency grants available to community-based organizations (CBO's) like UCM who are seeing a dramatic increase in families affected by the events of September 11. It has been our goal to help families achieve self-sufficiency - it is now our job to sustain families in this time of crisis and we simply do not have the resources available. We are, however, poised on the front line, able to move quickly, unencumbered by red tape issues to slow us down. We are an efficient, cost-effective vehicle with only an 8.6% overhead cost for getting help where it is needed fast.

As this crisis continues to unfold—it is like peeling away the layers of an onion—as unemployment reaches the more closely linked areas of tourism, business travel, and entertainment, our ability to provide for children is jeopardized and may never be the same again. Retraining and job placement services must be expanded immediately to avoid a long-term crisis. Agencies like UCM are your best opportunity to get the job done and prevent the situation from further impacting our nation's children in such a negative—and preventable—manner.

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