Jesse Helms

Dear Senator Helms:
I live in San Diego in a small house in a quiet neighborhood. Although I work very hard, my pay is bad (I work for a government contractor). They are laying off my co-workers right and left, even people who have worked for twenty or thirty years, and the word is that soon enough there will be no benefits whatsoever.

Because of this, I often worry about my future. What's going to happen to me, Senator, when I grow old and can't work anymore? I am forty-seven now, but I have a backache from my job, and even though I have been with them for fifteen years, the company won't compensate me for my back, and I worry all the time, can't sleep well at night, etc.

For that reason, I have decided to farm my property here in North Park. I have a 1,000 square foot house on 18,000 square feet of hillside, which means I have about 1/3 of an acre to dedicate to crops.

I've heard that there are special subsidy programs for tobacco growers, and I understand that you help fund these programs, so I have ordered some organic tobacco seed from "Seeds of Change" and will plant it soon ---which means I can have a crop coming along by next fall. Here are my questions:

  1. How much money will the federal government give me to grow tobacco? Is it based on size of farm, or on the number of plants? (My land is small, but using Japanese techniques, I could really pack the tobacco plants in there on the hillside).
  2. Will you pay for my fertilizer, and for the time I dedicate to planting the crop (I make about $10 an hour in my present job. They say that the federal government pays as much as $100 an hour...or is that only for people with larger farms?)
  3. Do I get any extra benefits for being organic --- that is, using no chemicals to hurt the birds and animals in the neighborhood.
  4. If I have to hire someone to do the planting and watering of the crop, how much will you give me for that?
  5. Does he have to be an American citizen? (Many growers in this area use workers from Mexico and they always work for less, don't complain about pesticides, are willing to work all hours, etc. They say that all you have to do is to hide them from La Migra. This is not a problem on large farms, I know, but how about my place? I couldn't hide a stinkbug on my land.)
  6. I also have heard that under one of your programs, you will even pay me not to grow tobacco. What is the amount that I get to not plant the seeds and not harvest the crop? What sort of proof do you need to know that I am not farming? Is it allright if I plant Sweet William, organic cauliflower or mint instead, while I am being paid not to grow tobacco? (I have this weakness for mint julep, which I am sure you will understand.)

Please give this letter your earliest attention, as my former boss has said in the newspapers that there will soon be a merger sponsored by the federal government and he will be cashed out. The rest of us, he says, will be downsized --- so I am going to need all the help I can get to survive. I pray every night, but as you may know, the ways of the Divine can be strange, so I would like to have some sort of a backup from you. I have no one to support me, and have to depend on my cat and my two African Grey parrots for companionship.

Most of all, I don't want to be poor when I get old like so many of the senior citizens in this neighborhood. Sometimes I can hear them outside my bedroom. They think I am asleep, and they are going through my garbage can. I know they are looking for bottles to sell, or clothes to wear, or food to eat. They are ashamed to be doing this, which is why they do it late at night. They try to be quiet, but I can hear them, hear them whisper. I don't say anything, or try to drive them away, but I know they are there, and I know, too, why they are there.

I don't want to have to do the same thing when I get old, Senator. Please help.


Carlos A. Amantea

P. S. I am sending along with this letter a picture of my Mom and Dad and Granny. They lived very poor. Maybe that's why I am so scared of growing old, and not having anything. I learned from them how much it hurts.


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