A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

 

 

 

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Letter Number 39

I have tried my hardest to reach out to various Senators, Congresspeople and even the President to share my concerns and thank them for certain efforts. Yet, what I have noticed is the use of a standard response letter created by subject. Sometimes, I have received the same letter more than once.

Over the weekend, I was speaking with a neighbor who is an attorney. Since I know he is of a similar mindset, our conversations usually turn to our political frustrations and concerns.

I shared my effort to contact legislators and he said that is nice, but usually is unsuccessful. He told me he used to work with a Congressman and would write those letters. He laughed that he once created “Letter Number 39,” which they would use to respond to a constituent.

We still have to try and contact these legislators. I usually don’t ask for a response anymore, because of the form letter responses. But, I do call and leave voicemails and occasionally speak with staffers. And, I continue with emails.

My friend’s comment is a little disheartening, but we cannot let it stop the reach out. I encourage you to write letters to the editor and share factual information with folks. It is a way to combat the fake news purveyed in large part by the US President and his sycophants.

A few hard truths

In the land where entertainment and sports news get much more attention, a few hard truths need to be communicated. On the first Saturday of the new year, here are a few of those truths.

Our capable intelligence community is convinced with a high degree of certainty that Russian elements influenced the 2016 Presidential election and continue to sow seeds of discord to disrupt the US. This is a continuing attack on the US by a foreign entity that our President and this Congress have largely chosen to ignore. My suggestion is to ask your Congressperson, Senators and President what they plan on doing about it?

The US Tax Plan was passed to a lot of fanfare and chest beating under the guise of stimulating the economy, but it still needs a larger sales job on disbelieving Americans. Giving a lot of money to rich people and corporations is supposed to trickle down, yet do we need to add $1.5 trillion more to an increasing debt? Do we need to further stimulate an economy that has had 103 consecutive months of economic growth dating back to June, 2009? Do we need to stimulate an economy that just posted 2 million added jobs for the seventh year in a row, with a continuing run up of the US stock market? Nonpartisan economist groups have posed the same questions.

Let me get this straight, is the Republican Party for states rights or for federal rights? It seems to differ based on where the power lies. The White House has announced that 95% of coastal areas will be subject to offshore drilling to the dismay of governors who want to foster their tourism and fishing industries. Further, the Attorney General wants to crack down on states who are now selling regulated medical and retail marijuana changing an earlier Obama order to allow states to do this. Both of these decisions are getting heavy nonpartisan pushback from state leaders and it is my understanding the White House was asked not to do this.

Finally, the US continues to declare the cut in funding to countries that do not cooperate with us. This is not necessarily new, but we seem to be bullying others more and to what end? We are not the biggest funders to these places and China, India and Russia are easily picking up more influence as we decrease ours. The Pakistan PM basically said it is not a big deal if they lose US funding. The question to ask as we beat on our chest, is who are we trying to convince, the other country or a base of uninformed voters?

That is all I have for today. Unfortunately , the answers to these points can be summed up in one ugly word, “politics.” Have a great weekend and 2018. One thing is for certain is it will be interesting one.

If you give a mouse a cookie

The childhood book by this name reveals that some are never satisfied when you do them favors. I was thinking of this as I thought of the litany of things done by a self-promoted populist on behalf of his true benefactors, the wealthy mice. He started with cookies, but the list goes on.

If those onerous environmental regulations were getting in the way, he just rolled back a few of them. Plus, if those scientists and their data were problematic to polluting businesses, he just fired a few, ran off a few and deleted access to important research data.

If access to public lands and what lies thereunder was a roadblock, he just cut back on the national parks and gave easier access to developers. What is land, if it cannot be exploited for short term gain? As a rancher put it, when the developers come, the profits go to Houston and Calgary, but the degradation is left for them long term.

If paying taxes is preventing investment in employees or business, even though conpanies are sitting on cash, then he gave the mice more money. The key is how much will flow into investment and employees and how much will be used to make the executives look good?

Along the way, there are some photo ops to say look what is happening, but the mice seem to be the ones who are getting the cookies and added benefits. As one energy consultant noted, the President has done a lot for coal owners, but not much for coal workers.

I am all for making things easier, but we need smart regulations that protect Americans from short cutting and corruption. We must pay for things as well, and debt and environmental costs are dear. Saying they don’t matter is poor stewardship as our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price for our avoidance.

New Year’s Resolution for the President

Dear Mr. President, please do all Americans a service and tell the truth more in 2018. With 103 measured lies in your first 10 months vs. only 18 in eight years by Obama per the New York Times, you have been the biggest purveyor of “fake news” in the country. Moreover, Politifacts has measured you as making “mostly false” and worse statements 69% of the time. Our global reputation and trustworthiness have declined under your tutelage and it is harder to solve problems as a result. Please begin the new year with a resolution to be more truthful. Quite frankly, you owe it to us. All politicians do.

Note to Readers: Please feel free to use this language in letters to the editor or others.

Side of the Angels

A CFO once said during a meeting I was involved with “at least we are on the side of the Angels.” He was referring to a decision a Committee had made which was a conservative reading of the law. If they were wrong at least they would not be at risk.

I use this example as many decisions are made these days that run counter to what experts using data and analytics might say should be done. A good example is happening as of this writing in the US Congress. A law is being passed which goes against what several nonpartisan economic and budget organizations are saying will happen. It is also being sold as more than it is, which is a windfall for wealthy people and investors. These lawmakers are not on the side of the Angels on this issue.

Earlier this year, the President of the United States decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. As a result, our country was not invited to a conference last week to plan ahead. We are the lone country in the world that will not be in the accord. Ironically, the accord permitted flexibility to reshape how we comply, so leaving was merely a political statement. Being a lone wolf on one of the two most important topics in the world does not leave us on the side of the Angels.

We must do our homework and make decisions based on data, analytics and nonpartisan opinions of experts. Making decisions off rhetoric and lobbyists’ wishes   tends not to be on the side of the Angels.

 

 

Note to young folks – Republicans are leaving you holding the bag

As a former Republican, now Independent voter, it is very hard to defend what my former party stands for. What used to be a party that boasted fiscal stewardship with a little heart, now is fiscally narrow-minded and mean-spirited. There are three major themes that have emerged during the Trump version of this party, all of which are leaving young people holding the bag.To summarize, they are:

  1. ignoring a huge debt problem, making it worse with the Tax Bill,
  2. ignoring the impact climate change is having and will have on our planet, and
  3. ignoring the wishes of young adults eliminating net-neutrality, demeaning civil rights of those who are not white heterosexuals, and denigrating free press.

Note, I placed three separate, but related issues into the third basket, as I see each in a composite context to restrict the rights of information to the masses.

On the debt problem, we are currently at $20.6 trillion US debt. But, that is only part of the problem. In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017, we had a $666 billion deficit with $3.3 trillion revenue falling short of the almost $4 trillion in expenses. The Congressional Budget Office projects the debt to grow by $10 trillion over the next ten years without the impact of the Tax Bill. That would put us at over $30 trillion in 2027. When the Tax Bill impact is thrown in, the debt could be as high as $32 trillion. Note, with a $3.3 trillion annual budget, it would take us ten years to pay the debt if we spent no other money and there was no interest cost on the debt. What this means is there will be a reckoning that will come in major tax increases and major spending cuts which will hit young adults,

Ignoring climate change is a fossil fuel industry funded requirement placed on Republicans. In the book, “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn, these hard-working folks see what climate change is doing everyday, yet they have to tiptoe around Republican politicians in their states to explain what is happening to water, crops, topsoil, fisheries, bayou, etc. without using the word climate change. Even though we have many great things going on to combat climate change in the US, our country was not invited to the most recent climate change planning event with other major leaders. Fortunately, our business, city and state leaders don’t necessarily need Washington to make a difference, but it would be great to see what we could do when DC is not putting up roadblocks.

The net neutrality issue is frustrating, as with the Tax Bill, it favors those with money and not those folks the President promised to help. What will backfire on the GOP, is young folks are passionate about this issue and know Ajit Pai’s name as the demonized head of the FCC. Yet, it goes part in parcel with the restriction of flow of information. The media are demonized because they dare criticize the President. Civil rights are being squashed unless you look like the President – what he said about Charlottesville is insulting and distasteful. And, communication companies like Sinclair are being greenlighted to buy even more local stations and influencing their content.

None of us can sit on the sidelines and let this happen, but especially our younger voters. If we do not demonstrably deal with the debt and climate change, these failures will come home to roost. But, the attack on the free flow of information by this President and his party is also dear. It is a way to combat the changing demographics in America that do not support the GOP. Instead of wooing new voters, the strategy is to step on others. This observation comes from a former Republican who left the party ten years ago.

Please lend your voice to fight for better stewardship. These leaders are not even talking about issues that are of import, such as our infrastructure, water and healthcare needs, in addition to the three problems noted above.