#107 Sep/Oct 1999

Shelter Shorts

Journalism of Note Following Up on Welfare Reform An extensive article series by Donna McGuire in The Kansas City Star (August 8-9, 1999) followed up on those who have left […]

Journalism of Note

Following Up on Welfare Reform

An extensive article series by Donna McGuire in The Kansas City Star (August 8-9, 1999) followed up on those who have left the welfare roles in Jackson County, Missouri – and those who haven’t. Knocking on doors to reach those without phones, The Star found a complex picture. The stories of those who had successfully left supported both the welfare reformers and the advocates who say welfare reform is leaving people out in the cold. Many former recipients who had secured work were somewhat better off – taking care of their families, feeling better about themselves, moving forward with their lives. However, many also remained living in less-than-adequate conditions, struggled to pay basic utility bills, regularly scrimped on food, and depended on cash from friends and family to make it through.

Among those who remained on or returned to welfare, The Star found that many had been through job training programs and had been eager to work until lack of education, childcare, or transportation got in their way. Others found that very low wages or increased public housing rents made working less than worth it. Another disturbing trend The Star documented was whites having an easier time leaving the rolls than people of color. Living in more concentrated poverty and lack of education seemed to be two of the biggest obstacles.

The Kansas City Star: 816-234-4110; www.kansascity.com/newslibrary/

Corporate Welfare Creates “Economic Civil War”

This fall, Jay Hancock of The Baltimore Sun (October 10-13, 1999) took an in-depth look into a kind of welfare that’s far less often discussed – and one he finds in desperate need of reform. Tax breaks and other “incentives” offered to lure businesses into a state, or encourage them to stay, are usually both unnecessary and unsuccessful, Hancock found. “By demanding incentives with the threat of moving jobs elsewhere, companies have learned to do what you can’t: Haggle over their contribution to the public purse,” says the first article in the series.

For example, Maryland’s $1.1 million in incentives to Avesta Sheffield in 1995 went with the company when it closed shop in 1998, getting a hefty incentive package from Indiana for moving Maryland’s jobs there. A contrived bidding war between Maryland and Virginia led to a $7.1 million package, including redrawn Enterprise Zone boundaries, for RiteAid to locate a distribution warehouse in Maryland – though by all accounts Virginia was never truly under consideration. The Sun also found that consultants who negotiate these lucrative incentive packages for corporations have also been hired by governments as economic development consultants. They recommend offering more incentives. Should we be surprised?

The Baltimore Sun: 800-829-8000; www.sunspot.net/search/

Is this where “Compassionate Conservatism” is Leading?

Unemployed? Squint

While 11 million people in this country under the age of 19 lack health insurance, it seems that the American Optometric Association believes only the children of the “worthy” poor deserve eye care. VISION USA, a national nonprofit program administered by the association, matches low-income people with local optometrists who provide free eye exams. While the program is open to people of all ages, it is shifting its emphasis to youth in conjunction with Colin Powell’s America’s Promise organization. To qualify, children or teens must not only meet a maximum-income threshold, have no health insurance for eye exams, and have had no eye exam in the past two years, but must also live in a household with “at least one working member.” Information: Harold Zinn, American Optometric Association, 314-991-4100 x215; [email protected]

Need Housing? Donate an Organ

An Alexandria, VA, homeless woman finally got the help she needed, after donating a kidney to a 7 year-old boy she had befriended. Forty-year-old Marian Neal moved into a homeless shelter after being evicted from a friend’s public housing complex for living there against the rules, The New York Times reported (9/6/99). A former Federal Express employee, Neal says she has been unable to afford her own place because a back injury has kept her out of work for four years. Neal was number 60 on Alexandria’s public housing waiting list. When local and national media publicized her plight, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo instructed his staff to cut through red tape and find her a house, a recently renovated townhouse in the James Creek Complex in Southwest Washington, DC. “As long as I can put a key in my door and not have to worry about someone saying I can’t be there, I’m fine,” she said. “I just feel blessed.”

One can’t help but wonder, however, whether Neal’s story will start a trend among the millions of others in desperate need of housing.


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