Saturday, November 28, 2015

End-Of-The Year Charitable Giving & the Loss of the Local Economy

The Myth of the Local Economy (or “Brother, can you spare a dime?”)

 Been begging lately?  I have.

When I seek donations and contributions for a small, local animal shelter, I don’t call it begging, but that’s what is it. 

Hard work, begging – especially in this cold and especially in this economy.  Some shelters are experiencing up to 400% increases in the amount of dogs and cats left abandoned in foreclosed homes or given up by owners who have lost their jobs. Sometimes their poor pets are just tied to the front door when we get there.  

But what really makes finding money for food and medical treatment for animals such an uphill climb is the changed nature of the economic landscape in which we all now live.

The Middle Class is struggling to survive after the Great Recession. 

And if you are non-white, it’s been even more difficult.  Hispanics have lost nearly 37% of purchasing power as contrasted to whites since 1980. 
And African-American families?  They’ve lost nearly 200% of purchasing power in wages (from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability). 

There’s not much disposable income around – especially to help the voiceless & homeless. 

The business geography has changed too. 

“Too big to fail” an economic disaster also means many were too small to survive. 

At the shelter, we used to be able to depend on the many local shops and businesses to provide a few dollars or an item suitable for a fund raising auction or raffle. 

Not so anymore.  Not so local anymore. 

What used to be trickle down from our local mom-and-pop shops is no more.  Instead, it has become decidedly trickle up.

“Hi, I’m from Peoples Animal Welfare Society in Tinley Park.  We’re trying to solicit assistance in any way from local businesses like yours to help us pay for the thousands of abandoned animals we vet, feed, care for, and adopt out each year. Would your business, here in our town, be willing to help?”

“Sorry, you’ll have to go through corporate for that.”

Corporate will be in Idaho, Minneapolis, California, or somewhere else usually far away. 

And corporate, even in a closer place like Chicago, usually has a program of giving on a national not local scale.  It’s part of the boardroom budgeting process; FY16 is already in the hopper.  And, honestly, the last target (pun intended) for their obligatory corporate giving would be a small, local shelter. 

You see, giving on a national or international scale provides advertising, which is of value to corporations – it is revenue generating.  Even a thank you from a charity on a corporate level (like United Way) can assure a full page of company icons and solicitous appreciation in a newspaper like our Chicago Tribune.  In addition, in the lower corner it will read “With thanks to our media partner Chicago Tribune.”  See, more feel-good advertising.

Gregory Marcus
Of course you won’t believe who makes this full page spread in the enormous “thank you” and collection of icons in pages of the Tribune.  Here’s a partial list of the 24 corporate Samaritans fro last holiday season, and I’ll just highlight the companies with membership in the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of ChicagoNorthern Trust, Illinois Tool Works, AT&T, UPS, Deloitte, Exelon, Bank of America, Ernst & Young, Illinois Blue Cross and Blue Shield, KPMG, PWC, William Blair, Wells Fargo, GE, Nicor, Allstate, Kelloggs, Sargent and Lundy, HSBC, Harris Associates, Pepsico, Aon, Walgreens, and US Bank.  They all appreciate the spirit of giving on the mammoth scale to national and international charities because beyond the good citizen-type appearance…well, it pays back.  Helping people is profitable (except when they desire to bargain collectively).  Go to a movie this holiday season, and you'll see CEO Gregory Marcus pushing United Way as well as popcorn.  

Brian Gallagher
And this corporate giving and getting is a two way street, you know.  The CEO of United Way is Brian Gallagher, whose 2010 reported annual salary is $375,000, “plus so many numerous expense benefits it’s hard to keep track as to what it is all worth, including a fully paid lifetime membership to 2 golf courses (1 in Canada and 1 in the USA), 2 luxury vehicles, a yacht club membership, 3 major company gold credit cards for his personal expenses…and so on.  This equates to about $0.51 per dollar of income [going] to charity causes” 

In the case of corporations, the amount of bang for the buck isn’t nearly as important as the public fawning and media attention that comes with it. 

And let’s not forget the connections or the possibility of playing golf this summer, let’s say in Canada? “Hello, Brian, maybe I can fly up on your company plane?”

Abandoned animals?  How about abandoned local communities?   

Hey, have a great holiday season.  Gotta go untie some dogs.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rep. Kenneth Dunkin: Self-Anointed Strike Breaker?

"But…I did it for you…"
Rep. Ken Dunkin and Self-Anointed Strike Breakers

It was in 1803 the first persons to cross over a picket line of strikers were called black-leggers, probably in reference to the shoe polish that was integral to the Wisconsin bootmakers’ strike.  Of course, sadly, in past as well as current America, some historians propose the term to be possibly racist in nature.

The term “scab” was first used in England, of all places.  Europeans then and now seldom employed strikebreakers (or scabs) to continue operations; that was and is  more likely an action on the part of American factory owners and magnates. 

In the early 1850’s, the term SCAB was likewise a reference to “blacklegs,” for the latter indicated a severe infectious disease among British cattle that rendered the poor animals with necrotic skin and abscesses and, of course, oozing scabs.  Not a term of endearment if it were part of your job description.

And this somehow brings me to this last week’s dramatic kerfuffle in Springfield.

To look over Representative Ken Dunkin’s (5th District) explanation of his no-vote on SB570 – to overturn the Governor’s changes to the Child Care Assistance Program to his constituency is a script Capra-esque.

“That’s why I made a promise to fight Gov. Rauner’s child care cuts.  That’s why I spent countless hours on calls and meetings with the governor and his administration to demand these cuts be rolled back.  And that’s why I delivered for my constituents and reversed these cuts.”

Energetic and earnest young politician rolls up his sleeves, stomps by the smoke-filled rooms of the strategists and insiders, and flings open the doors of the hardheaded Governor to have an honest face-to-face quarrel in order to save the kids in his district and entire state.  Very Jimmy Stewart.

Here’s what happened.

Governor Bruce Rauner, using his administrative emergency powers to curtail or diminish human services to save money, had earlier cut the threshold for Child Care Assistance from 185% of the federal poverty level for families in Illinois to 50% of the federal poverty level.

Explanation:  Illinois’ median income for families is higher than most states in the nation; therefore, our historical threshold for various human services has always hovered well beyond the federal level. 

The Census Bureau on Median Income by Family Size shows Illinois families of three at nearly  $72,500.  (By the way, that’s between $5000 and $10,000 more than our neighboring states which are held as models for Illinois. )

The 2015 federal poverty level for a family of three is $20,090. 

So, it makes sense that Governors in the past and the Illinois General Assembly have provided an increase in the onset for assistance in the state. 

Prior to Governor Rauner’s lowering the threshold to 50% of the federal level, Illinois’ threshold for Child Care Assistance (family of 3 or more) was 185% of the federal poverty level…or…$37,166. 

A mother with two children making $36,000 would be eligible. 

Rauner’s earlier “emergency action” would have reduced that level to 50%.    In other words, that same mother and children would need make less than $10,056 to qualify for assistance.  Quite a devastating distinction.

Those many state resources devoted to caring for impoverished children and families were quick to react. 

“The unprecedented use of the Administration’s emergency rulemaking authority to restrict eligibility for child care assistance has resulted in the denial of 90 percent of applicants who would have otherwise been eligible for child care services through CCAP. That means approximately 20,000 children have been rejected from the program since the drastic restrictions took effect July 1.”

The Speaker and the Illinois Senate were likewise politically punctual, and SB570 was crafted to strike down the Governor’s draconian changes, reinstate the original thresholds, and prevent any current or future governor from making such alterations again without permission of the General Assembly.

 As you already know, the bill needed 71 votes in the House, but got only 70 as Representative Kenneth Dunkin once again avoided voting at all.

According to Rep. Dunkin, “Let me be very clear about what would have happened without a deal in place – what would have happened if the House or Senate passed SB570.  Childcare income eligibility would have stayed at 50 percent of the federal poverty level for at least another 60 days as we waited for the governor to veto the bill…The folks who wanted prolonged suffering to help their political agenda won’t be very happy with me.  But I don’t work for them.  I work for you.” (SJR)

Well, not all of you.  Rep. Dunkin’s sidebar with Rauner and his team resulted in a partial return to the original Child Care Assistance threshold of 185%.  Instead, it now will be 167%.  That will be nearly a $5000 drop in annual income in order to qualify. 

From $37,166 to $32,545.  In other words, a drop of nearly 5% in population numbers of families’ earnings.

According to the latest figures on the Illinois Child Care report, nearly 163.500 children require funding from Child Care Assistance.  That constitutes a probable change of nearly 5% less in children provided Child Care Assistance. 
Nearly 8000 children will be dropped from Child care Assistance after Rep. Durkin’s sidebar with Rauner. 

The collective group of Democrats in the General Assembly would have stripped Rauner of his ability to make such draconian cuts, rolled back the thresholds, and doubled down on the Republican attempt to use once again the marginalized as the scapegoats for the Democrats’ not coming to heel.

This and the likely blowback by senior members of his own Republican party gave the CEO Governor reason to change his original cuts to 50% of federal poverty level for assistance.

What to do?  Find a patsy?

In the Mohawk Valley Formula, a 1930's plan for strikebreaking and undermining collective bargaining usually credited to members of the Rand family, one important tenet is to find suitable puppets or "loyal" workers who can be co-opted to break solidarity.  Whatever it takes. 

But Rep. Dunkin argues he works for you. And he argues that without his timely intervention, all might have been lost.

A man of service, or a simply serviceable man?