Commentary by Eileen Benson
Lately, I’ve been discovering that the war on the poor in this country is intensifying, even at the city-wide level. I want to thank the benevolent, generous portion of the rich who support (street newspapers), for it is the selfish, malevolent, greedy, and insensitive portion of the rich that this vendor commentary is all about.
One of our country’s presidents, Republican Herbert Hoover (1928 - 32), once used the campaign slogan, "a chicken in every pot" to indicate good times were ahead for everyone. In the end, all you got was an empty pot of lies, and of course, the Great Depression. In usual Republican fashion, Hoover did not lift a finger to help. Nowadays, it seems as though history is repeating itself!
I recently fell victim (not by choice) to the Republican-sponsored/supported preemptive strikes against the poor in Illinois, where welfare cuts that took effect Aug. 1. What happened to me was that the "spend - down" portion of the QMB (Qualified Medical Beneficiary), the sum total of the medical services the state pays for, had been reduced to a mere $2.00 per month. Basically, what it amounts to is this: 1) I end up with a stack of current/future medical bills I can’t pay for, including the leftover portion Medicare does not cover; 2) now I’m forced to pay an extra $100 or more for a supplemental insurance policy to cover the unpaid balance; 3) I’ll likely have to pay for two separate policies once I become employed, because many employers don’t offer insurance. The reason given by Public Aid for the change: my current $504 a month from Social Security. Somehow, this figure makes me "rich" in the eyes of the rulemakers in Springfield. I say this keeps me at subpoverty level! Even though Franklin D. Roosevelt was rich, he had the decency and compassion to help the less fortunate when he was president with his numerous programs: the GI Bill, Social Security, and the Public Works Administration. His efforts also reduced crime and put people to work.
Roosevelt has been blamed for the formation of our current welfare system. While this is true, the original intention was to assist the aged, blind, and the disabled, not to let the deadbeats and the undeserving worm their way in because of a breakdown in the system due to corruption and incompetence. To me, it makes more sense to hire more fraud investigators to weed out the undeserving deadbeat leeches than to destroy the whole program, and thus cut the throats of the truly deserving who need it and have no place to go for assistance.
At this point, the rich are indeed winning in the following ways: 1) Buying up buildings (either from slumlords or finding empty, tax delinquent ones), totally rehabilitating them, raising rents to unaffordable levels and displacing current tenants. Owners say they are cleaning up these areas, but they are only helping themselves to get richer; 2) Causing the loss of decent paying jobs by means of changing the zoning in those areas and subsequently forcing out employers; 3) Raising property taxes; 4) Taking advantage of TIFs, a taxing device meant to help poor neighborhoods, by lining the pockets of the rich with ill-gotten gains; 5) How rich-backed institutions, such as hospitals and universities, have been getting free building permits despite the fact that poorer property owners have been (and still are) paying the full tab; 6) How for years, the rich have been getting subsidies (welfare for the rich), despite their resources.
Why would a rich person need welfare when he can borrow from a bank, find investors or another rich person to partner with, liquidate their own portfolios, and also borrow from their rich relatives and friends?
At the rate things are going, I see the following effects of the rich’s grand plan for urban areas: 1) Increased crime (including panhandling); 2) Increased activity in the "underground economy." Expect to see more peddlers out on the streets working for cash. 3) Exodus of more jobs heading out of state, overseas, and even to suburban areas.
I know it’s easy to complain about the rich, but I offer the following solutions to help beat the rich at their own game. Start up a business of your own. In fact, you can start one for under $1,000, plus you can get tax breaks connected with the business as well. Find out other facets of the same system the rich use, and use those too. Bottom line is if you can’t beat them, join them! Good luck, and see you on the streets!
Ms. Benson is a vendor for StreetWise in Chicago.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 25