Workers’ center extends ‘TEAM and ‘Changes’ to assist low-income Pinoys with utility bills

Dondi Mangan, service recipient, learns about the Changes Program  from staff Teresita Mercado.  PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza (standing) guides the briefing. Photo by Tet Valdez.

Dondi Mangan, service recipient, learns about the Changes Program from staff Teresita Mercado. PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza (standing) guides the briefing. Photo by Tet Valdez.

As Filipino American History Month comes to a close, the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) has continued its outreach to Filipino Americans and Latinos, based at Historic Filipinotown (Hi-Fi), considered to be in absolute poverty. Household income in this neighborhood is lower than the threshold established by the Census of minimal standard of living for the composition of the household.

“There is a myth that persists about Filipinos and Asians as ‘model minority,’ thus hindi natin kailangan ng tulong sa gobyerno (a model minority myth promotes the idea that Filipinos and Asian do not need government assistance),” PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza told TheFilamLA.

Versoza cited census results stating that: “5.4% of Filipino Americans are in absolute poverty (Jerry Park, on “Asians and The Model Minority”).

She said a couple of the current projects that is available to low-income residents of Hi-Fi is “TEAM” and “Changes.” A good number of those in poverty are seniors, relying solely on their Social Security payments.

“Limited ang pag-intinde ng mga seniors natin tungkol sa mga tulong na para sa kanila tulad ng assistance sa utilities like phones, gas, water. Complicated kasi ang mga brochures or representatives cannot clearly explain in plain English their utilities’ program ( Our seniors have limited understanding of certain assistances in utilities),” she said.

Versoza said this year, PWC has given workshops and direct assistances to some 1,500 clients at the Larry Itliong Village (where the PWC has an office), churches and community halls on Changes and TEAM projects. Through these projects, clients receive information about requesting their utility companies such as Edison, Southern California Gas , Department of Water and Power to install SMART meters in their homes or to help manage their bills; or for cell phone users to avoid unnecessary phone features such as three-way calling.

“When the clients come to our offices, they can sign in for us to become their advocates with the utilities company,” said Versoza. “We have Tagalog-speaking advocates who can call the utility companies. Tinutulungan naming sila na tumawag sa mga kumpanya para ma-check ang power or water meter nila. Maaari nilang dalhin ang bill nila sa kuryente o tubig at susuriin naming bakit biglang tumaas ang bayad nila.”
Teresita Mercado, a PWC staff and a former teacher from Manila, knows the difficulty posed by high bills on low income Filipino clients.

She said, “Minsan ang pambayad nila sa pagkain ay napupunta sa cell phones or phone cards that they use to call their families long distance in the Philippines.”

Dondi Mangan who immigrated in 2001 told TheFilamLa that his cell phone bill was reduced significantly after a PWC staff assisted him in getting a better plan.

“Lumiit ang bill ko at nagkaraoon pa ako ng better plan data with unlimited minutes and text,” he said.

He now volunteers at the PWC to pick up food at the Food Bank to distribute to his low-income compatriots.

“I have shared my experience with my friends; I hope this reaches others to learn more about these programs.”

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