Thursday, February 10, 2005

Kids in Fake Pundit Suits

"Illini Pundit" is a pretty epic political blog out of downstate where I am from in Champaign-Urbana (or Urbana-Champaign depending on which side of the border you pledge your allegiance to).

He puts out a ton of content from a very conservative slant. That's wonderful--both sides of the political spectrum need more content--as long as that content incorporates different perspectives respectfully, it deepens the discussion.

The problem I have with many of the politically minded on both sides of the spectrum is the "What? Are you stupid?" mentality. Reactionaries accuse their detractors of this all the time. They say that disdain for Bush is blind and therefore illogical and worthless.

It is true that Bush bashing has become a sort of pastime for some quasi-liberals. For upper-middle class, white political wannabes on either side of the spectrum, it's always been more about the trendy positions rather than the support for those positions. But this idiocy doesn't make any critique of the current president dismissible. I mean if Jeffrey Dahmer hates Bush and eats people, that doesn't mean that anyone who hates Bush likes to chop on other people anymore than Jerry Falwell being a shallow-thinking hatemonger proves that right-wing people have nothing good to share.

Recently, Illinipundit posted this piece mocking Urbana Democrats dealing with the issue of giving the indigent vouchers for food and clothing.

When you disagree with someone or don't understand them, what's you first response? Ask them to clarify? Do research on this position? IlliniPundit decided to mock them as having "lost their friggin' minds" and implying that any town that provided cash to indigent was foolish.

I'm wasn't sure one way or the other, but I was willing to entertain the possibility that Prussing may have not lost her friggin' mind, so I dropped her an email.
She forwarded me a write-up of the reasons to support vouchers put together by Esther Patt, another local politician who supports vouchers:

I am writing to all of the candidates for whom I have an email address after reading the coverage of last night's candidate forum in the Gazette. I urge all of you who win election to please reject the
suggestion that Cunningham Township return to the use of vouchers for township assistance.

Cunningham Township stopped using vouchers about 22 years ago for several good reasons. When Linda Cross ran for City of Champaign Township Supervisor in 1989 she pledged to get rid of vouchers but never followed through on the promise. Here are some things to consider regarding vouchers:

1. Cash grants, not vouchers, are used for all other forms of public assistance such as Transitional Assistance to Needy Families (TANF -- the replacement for AFDC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

2. The monthly cash assistance for general assistance paid by the Township is $204. Do you really think people move to Urbana to get $204 a month? City of Champaign's grant is $212 a month! Considering that this amount is not enough to pay rent anywhere, it's likely that people receiving General Assistance from Cunningham Township either already live in Urbana or moved here to live with a friend or family member willing to take them in.

3. The use of vouchers cheats General Assistance clients out of a portion of their tiny $204 monthly assistance in many ways and often prevents their use of the grant to meet basic needs. Here are some examples:

a. A City of Champaign G.A. client was given a $20 voucher for Penny's
and a $20 voucher for Target. The purchase at Target cost $16.89 and with a voucher, the store cannot give the client the change. So this impoverished person lost $3.11. She didn't need new underwear and $20 wasn't enough to buy anything else at Penny's so the township saved $20 because the woman couldn't use the voucher. But, if she needs a quarter to put into a tampon machine in the women's bathroom, too bad. Since she's poor, the voucher system doesn't trust her with money.

b. With a cash grant, a G.A. client can do his or her laundry in a coin-operated machine at a laundromat or in an apartment building. With a voucher, the client has to pay the laundromat to provide cleaning service which costs much more than just putting quarters into a machine. When Ken Zeigler, the former Cunningham Township Supervisor got rid of vouchers, this was one of the examples he gave to explain why vouchers were not a good way to provide assistance.

c. A voucher for rent would have to be paid to the landlord. Most landlords will not sign a lease with someone whose only income is $204. Check with Carol Elliott to be sure, but I believe that the only G.A.
clients actually on a lease are either living in subsidized housing or they are people with roommates who were already on a lease before receiving assistance. The others are staying with friends or family. With a cash grant, a G.A. client can give a friend or family member a little bit of money to delay the point at which the person may overstay his or her welcome. With a voucher system, the G.A. client cannot get a voucher to pay someone else's rent or water or power bill so the person has no way to contribute to the household expenses. This increases the risk of the G.A. client becoming homeless.

d. A few years ago, I had a client who became homeless while on City of Champaign township assistance. When she became homeless they wouldn't give her most of her grant since she didn't have housing costs that month. The township saved the money, but the woman was homeless (and Center for Women in Transition was full).

If you share the belief that poor people are poor because they are bad and deserve to suffer, then you might like the idea of vouchers being a mechanism for legally cheating people out of their statutory entitlement to General Assistance, thus saving the township money.

Instead, please think about how many people receiving General
Assistance are disabled and waiting the 2 -3 years it takes for social security to acknowledge their disability (Cunningham Township has had clients die of their disabling disease while waiting to be designated as disabled by SSA). Please think about how many of our G.A. clients are just down on their luck and not harming anyone. Do we need to go back to the archaic system of vouchers? I think not.

Urbana's crime rate is up and some people immediately blame the poor. For example, last week, a woman who was a crime victim at Osco on Philo told Tom Kacich that crime has risen recently because of the new Section 8 housing built in SE Urbana. But, there has been no Section 8 housing built in SE Urbana for the last 25 years. She was talking about Sunnycrest II which is tax-credit, not Section 8 and it was built more than 7 years ago in 1997.

She was hurt and is afraid so she has to blame someone. How about blaming criminals for crime, rather than blaming everyone whose income is low?

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of the voucher
question.

Esther Patt


What do you think? Are these the ravings of a madwoman? I'm sorry, but if I have to choose between the name-caller and the person with itemized arguments with supporting situational data, I'd having to side with the latter.

I sincerely would love to hear explanation for what's so wrong with Patt's reasoning. Also, the empathy gap bothers me. It's possible they have done so, but it sure seems the critics of vouchers have never had to live on $204 dollars a month in cash or vouchers and don't seem to have put much practical thought into the realities of trying to do either. The reasoning seems to be, "If you are poor, go make more money!" To have never been poor and consequently have trouble understanding the realities of being poor is not a crime, simply a lucky privilege. To use that ignorance to cynically attack others and hold up oneself in a self-righteous manner is entitlement thinking at its worse. It does nothing to deepen discussion. It does nothing to improve our community, state or country.

In the end, just like Illini Pundit's namesake, a white guy in a fake indian suit, Illini Pundit is a person in a fake pundit suit.

7 Comments:

Blogger IlliniPundit said...

Hey, thanks for the links. I think.

I respect Esther and Laurel for actually responding, and the amount of research they put into their response shows their passion. I got nothin' but respect for that.

But I don't understand why Champaign gives vouchers to the indigent. And I certainly don't understand why Urbana gives cash, even if it's just $200. There are numerous wonderful charities in town (Times Center, Center for Women in Transition, YWCA, YMCA and Crisis Nursey, for example) targeted specifically towards providing assistance to the homeless and/or indigent.

I don't think that this is or should be a responsibility of our municipal governments. I think private charities can and are doing a better job of providing assitance. To provide a cash disbursement from our financially struggling city government to me seems insane and a gross misplacement of priorities. Esther, Laurel, you and I disagree about those priorities, certainly. And in Urbana, my views will never carry the day.

And perhaps I shouldn't have asked if anyone had "lost their friggin' minds." But that was my first reaction upon finding out that the broke City of Urbana passes out cash to homeless people. I'm still astonished by it.

Does Chicago or any other city have a program like this? Is it mandated by some State or Federal law? I just think it's bizarre (which you would attribute to my lack of empathy, probably.)

You have a fine blog, and I'm going to add you to my blogroll.

11:33 PM  
Blogger xian said...

Thanks so much for reading. I'll try to research some of your questions. I owe you for responding to a critical perspective of your hard work with such a civil response.
Thanks, and I'll try to do a decent job answering your questions.

11:55 PM  
Blogger IlliniPundit said...

Hey, no problem. It's been a long, long time say anyone referred to me as a "kid." I'll take it any way I can get it!

11:00 AM  
Blogger IlliniPundit said...

Oh, and if you're going to research it anyway:

How much does Urbana spend yearly on these cash payments? And where does the money come from (i.e., is it a grant from the feds, or local general revenue, etc.)

Since you seem to have the "inside track" with Esther. :-)

11:01 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I don't really see where it should be Xian's task to research it (even though he's offered to).

IlliniPundit has a habit of knee-jerk reactions. He then posts this on his blog as gospel, and then when someone either counters or, indeed, corrects him on it, he kind of calms down, but then wants them to do research for him (and in this case, Xian has already done some research, so I don't see why he should have to do more, since it was IlliniPundit's ill-conceived post which started the whole thing.

It's really not the way to run a blog, you know.

4:55 PM  
Blogger IlliniPundit said...

It's not my "ill-concieved" post, and I really haven't "calmed down" any. I still think it's insane that Urbana offers cash payments to the indigent. Heck, I think it's insane that Champaign offers vouchers.

Since Esther seems willing to defend the program here, and since he volunteered to do some more digging, I suggested some questions that popped into my head. If he doesn't want to ask them, fine. But I think his post in response to mine effectievely moved the debate over here, so that's where I posted my questions. I could write another blog post about it, but why?

Regardless of the answers that he finds, it's still absolutely insane that Urbana offers cash to people just because they're poor. See, I haven't calmed down any. :-)

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Steph said...

There are numerous, wonderful charities in town. But frequently, places like the Times Center are full. Where do they go then? and how can they get tires for their bike, if their lucky enough to have one, to get to their job interviews? or a dollar for bus fare?
If two hundred bucks gets someone through a month and saves their life, then great.

((by the way, if anyone's got extra books, the Times Center could use 'em. They have a lot of Reader's Digest novels and a ton of Bibles)).

11:58 AM  

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