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Christina Cristan of PCS, left, talks about the role of churches in helping low-income Panhandle residents with Mike Watson, right.  Watson is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dumas, which hosted the meeting Wednesday.  Former Moore County Commissioner Milton Pax, center left, and Huthinson County Commissioner Chris Prock, center right, look on.

The large number of Moore County adults who have not earned a high school diploma is one of a number of challenges facing the county identified by Panhandle Community Services of Amarillo (PCS), the Texas Panhandle's largest social service agency, in the organization's latest Community Needs Assessment Report about the state of poverty in the Panhandle.  PCS administers a wide variety of federal and state programs designed to provide something of a social safety net for the population of the 26 counties of the Panhandle.

On Wednesday, PCS Executive director Magi York and several members of her staff were at the Calvary Baptist Church in Dumas for a luncheon meeting with a number of local government leaders and representatives of non-profit agencies to discuss the findings of the report and talk about meeting the identified needs of what is a large part of the population.  Among those taking part were Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades, Hutchinson County Judge Cindy Irwin, Moore County Hospital District CFO John Sharpe,  Assistant Director R20HP AmeriCorps Laura Seals, and others.

Among the challenges York said the report identified are a shortage of affordable housing and aging housing stock.  In Moore County, the median house is 43 years old.  That figure rises to 51 for the Panhandle as a whole.  Statewide, it is 32.  According to the report, "A lack of safe, affordable housing exists in all regions (of the Panhandle).  Homes are older and residents who qualify for assistance are in many cases unable to find a suitable home to live in.  Low-income individuals are working and still unable to afford a home that is safe and within their budget."  York added that many people struggle to maintain their homes.

Incomes in the Panhandle in general and in Moore County in particular are lower than state averages, according to the report.  The median household income in Moore County is $54,871, nearly $7,000 lower than the state average, while per capita income at $23,001 is almost $8,000 lower.

Education is a big factor in determining a person's income, and educational attainment in the Panhandle lags behind the state.  In Moore County, the 32.69 percent of residents without a high school diploma is more than double the figure for the state as a whole.  Only 9.2 percent of Moore County residents have a bachelors degree, less than half the number for the state.

Texas has the highest percentage of residents without health insurance in the nation: 18.10 percent.  Moore County, at 23.35 percent, beats the state average.

With incomes lower, many Panhandle residents, Moore County included, face food insecurity and homelessness, according to the report.  

Transportation in the Panhandle is another issue.  The only public transportation system in the Panhandle is Panhandle Transit, the system of buses run by PCS.  People often have to travel great distances to obtain services, groceries, health care, and other things, a problem for those without a car, something that especially affects the elderly.

York said the Panhandle had been hard hit by the COVID pandemic, which has increased demand for PCS services, but COVID relief measures have provided some welcome infusions of money to help meet those needs.

There was also good news in the report.  Unemployment in Moore County was 3.2 percent, lower than the state's 5.3 percent.  And the poverty rate in Moore County was 11.9 percent, which was better than the 13.6 percent for the states as a whole and 1.6 percent lower than it had been in the year 2000.

While the Panhandle and Moore County face challenges of poverty, a number of organizations and individuals, PCS included, work every day to try to make things better.  PCS staff on Wednesday talked about the programs they administer providing assistance with utility bills, rents, house repairs, transportation, and other things.  The have recently added some new programs to help qualifying people maintain their homes, avoid homelessness, and/or obtain health insurance, if possible.  Sharp talked about some of the steps the hospital district has taken to try to deal with the high number of uninsured.  The problem, especially with COVID, is keeping up with demand and trying to lessen it.  

York, her staff, and others seem willing to continue working to meet the challenges.  "I really want people to understand that we are constantly looking for money to help meet the needs of low-income people, and we will try our best in every situation to serve them," she said.

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