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Former Minnesota Businesswoman Of The Year Now Collecting Food Stamps

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As part of its Bearing Witness 2.0 project, the Huffington Post is rounding up compelling local stories about the victims of the recession.

In 2006, Ini Augustine was given a Congressional Medal of Distinction and named a businesswoman of the year by the National Republican Congressional Committee for building a highly profitable temp agency. But Jim Spencer reports for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune that her business collapsed along with the job market:

These days, she works 70 hours a week trying to sell insurance and do various human-resource chores on commission. She can't find a salaried job that makes ends meet. She's trying to modify her mortgage to save her four-bedroom home in Lino Lakes from foreclosure. She battles to keep the heat on and the lights burning. In October, the divorced mom finally broke down and applied for food stamps for herself and her young daughter.
"Before, I thought people on food stamps just didn't feel like working," said Augustine."Now, it's exactly the opposite. There are people who want to work. But there are no jobs."

State and county officials say they're now dealing with families who aren't used to depending on government programs. A county official tells Spencer that the "solidly middle class have fallen into the safety net."

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Manuel Lino-Rivas immigrated from El Salvador in 1980, and worked as an independent trucker for decades in Oakland, Calif., until his 20-year-old truck broke down this summer. Rivas, a widower and father of two, cannot afford to have his truck fixed and bring it up to new environmental codes required by the Port of Oakland, report Sandy Kleffman and Suzanna Bohan for the Contra Costa Times. Nor can he afford to buy a newer truck, which would cost over $60,000. "I have 22 years working in the port -- half of my life," he told the Times. "I go to any factory, and they don't give me [a] job."

Rivas, 56, made about $24,000 per year when he was driving his truck, but as an independent contractor, he had no health insurance. When he developed a gall bladder problem over the summer, he flew back to El Salvador for treatment. Even thought the flight cost $450 round trip, he figures he saved himself several thousand dollars.
"That's the only way I can take care of my health," Rivas tells Klefffman and Bohan.

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A surcharge the state of Michigan began applying to delinquent child-support payments in 1996, though designed to encourage parents not to skip them, is pushing some parents into such a deep hole they can't climb out, reports the Detroit News's Catherine June.

Jeremy Deron, 38, faces a felony charge if he does not pay $5,000 in back child support by January, June writes. The former bricklayer from Westland, Mich., has been out of work for a year and a half, and stopped receiving unemployment checks months ago. "I don't have the five grand," he tells the News. "With a felony, I'm never going to get a job now...That doesn't help out my children one bit."

Michigan has a nation-high 15 percent unemployment rate.

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A homeowner facing foreclosure in Orlando, Fla., asked a homeless stranger to come live with her after learning of her plight on TV, reports NBC affiliate WESH TV. The homeless woman, Naomi Nixon, is a college graduate, but was unemployed and living in her car last week when TV cameras found her and told her story. Darlene Brayton saw it and wanted to help. "Something just compelled me to call," she told the station.

The two women are now roommates, living in Brayton's home, and have pledged to help each other find jobs and get through hard times. "We feel like this too shall pass," Nixon told the station. "We will get through these situations as well."


HuffPost readers: Seen a compelling local story? Have a neighbor going to bizarre lengths to get through the recession? Tell us about it! Emailjmhattem@gmail.com.