Race for Governor: Urban Agenda Analysis Part III

This week we’ll share Part III of the Community Party’s urban agenda analysis, our response to the inadequate urban policy plans of Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley. Mary Sanders will present her reform recommendations for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). Mary wrote the language for CP’s 2015 Trayvon Martin Act. Check out our Resources section for the link to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Jackson Plan, which we will continue to discuss in the coming months. A key component of the Jackson Plan is the creation of worker owned cooperatives. MXGM described the objectives of the Jackson Plan in their policy paper.
“The Jackson Plan is an initiative to apply many of the best practices in the promotion of participatory democracy, solidarity economy, and sustainable development and combine them with progressive community organizing and electoral politics. The objectives of the Jackson Plan are to deepen democracy in Mississippi and to build a vibrant, people centered solidarity economy in Jackson and throughout the state of Mississippi that empowers Black and other oppressed peoples in the state.
The Jackson Plan has many local, national and international antecedents, but it is fundamentally the brain child of the Jackson People’s Assembly. The Jackson People’s Assembly is the product of the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition (MSDRC) that was spearheaded by MXGM in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of Gulf Coast communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. Between 2006 and 2008, this coalition expanded and transformed itself into the Jackson People’s Assembly. In 2009, MXGM and the People’s Assembly were able to elect human rights lawyer and MXGM co-founder Chokwe Lumumba to the Jackson City Council representing Ward 2.”
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                                                 Poverty and the Need for TANF Reform in Connecticut
Back to TANF; in spite of all the spending that goes to meet the DSS goals, pending cases sit on piled- high desks waiting for review, clients have no way to pay rent, buy food, get medical care, get childcare assistance, etc.  Applications are frequently lost, and it’s almost impossible to reach workers by phone. Caseworkers are overloaded and cannot provide the services they would like to for their clients.  Restrictions on what type of supports, training opportunities, and other services can be provided tie the hands of workers. On top of all the restrictions and the time limits, due to former Gov. Rowland’s privatization of the Jobs First program, state workers are no longer doing the case management they used to.  Now it’s up to private nonprofits, who are charged with getting X number of participants off the rolls each year. Get out there and prove you went to see 25 potential employers, filled out applications and got the names of the people you saw. Recipients must attend the workshops on how to fill out applications, how to interview, how to dress, etc., whether you’ve never worked or have an extensive work history and just need a decent job.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaM6iI-eCdk
The benefit of 1 or 2 years of schooling would raise recipients’ potential earnings.  If people could get the proper supports and enter training paid by the Department of Labor or DSS, they might have a decent chance to become self-sufficient but those opportunities are few and far between.  It’s no wonder so many low-income people are lured into student debt trying to attend ‘private educational institutions’ that offer high cost trainings to anyone that will sign the loan notes.  Unfortunately, many people are falsely led to believe their training will be subsidized then all of a sudden they are signing off on loan applications. Many of them are unprepared and not able to complete successfully; they still owe thousands of dollars. Someone needs to do something about these for-profit schools and those that have changed their status to non-profit are no better. Lives are ruined and children are even more deprived when these predators take advantage of low-income folks seeking training opportunities that they’ll be repaying for the next decade or so.
For those TANF clients who have found employment; how about not terminating people’s benefits as soon as they become employed and letting them put a little something away for a rainy day? Clients are afraid to accept any job that will cause them to lose their benefits because these days jobs are temporary, do not provide benefits, and most do not pay livable wages.  Don’t say, “Well they can get back on assistance if they need to”. It’s not that easy!  If an individuals send their application in by mail, it’s frequently misplaced and needs to be done again. Forget about getting through to DSS workers by phone; clients can be on hold 30 minutes to 2 hours and may get to speak to the right person.  Most low-income people have free government phones with very limited monthly minutes.  Those could be used up in a couple calls to DSS.  I know the department is overwhelmed by all the new cases being opened, but there has to be a way to process people’s redetermination forms so that they do not constantly have their benefits cut off.  Many of them end up at our food pantry asking for groceries and the toilet paper we purchase for distribution. It’s a damn shame that in our wealthy state, we cannot properly administer mandated entitlement programs that provide for the basic needs of our residents. Apparently, the computer system in place is programmed to automatically terminate people’s benefits on certain dates, if a worker does not physically enter data to stop that from happening. That means that if the worker is behind, and has 100 redetermination forms piled up on a desk, whose due dates have past, all those cases will automatically be closed. People who were expecting to receive their cash or food benefits are then in a crisis situation, and when told they did not send in their redetermination forms, will just send them over again, creating an even bigger pile. More people comply than do not; therefore, it would make sense to de-program that automatic cutoff feature and have workers physically enter data to close any cases that warrant termination, either for noncompliance or eligibility reasons.
CT was already cited by the feds for their inability to get SNAP applications processed quickly enough and for disqualifying too many who actually qualified.  People should not be going hungry, especially the kids. Their parents should have decent employment but if they do need assistance, their food stamps also shouldn’t run out mid-month. In another case, the young mother with a 4-year-old shouldn’t have been cut off of her cash benefits after 21 months when she hadn’t finished preparing for her HS exam. Now she sleeps on the couch at her mom’s house with her son on a cot near her.  Someone should give her a housing voucher, daycare, a good educational/vocational program and help her, not punish her for missing an appointment and denying her extension. I opted our agency out of participating in the Jobs First model; I didn’t want to be part of that because I knew that most people needed more time. We run a food pantry and have a social worker but we also have English and GED classes and help people go to college. I don’t want to send people out to look for work if they have education and training needs.  Some of the regulations have eased up a little, allowing people minimal training & education opportunities, but the majority of recipients of public assistance are still denied real vocational training or college, which would truly help towards self-sufficiency.
Tell our public officials that money needs to be allocated for the hiring of additional caseworkers to handle the backlog; we need timely processing of applications for assistance. We also need to be able to speak with caseworkers directly and not be relegated to a phone system that routes calls to full voice mailboxes. Tell them that more time needs to be allowed on public assistance while folks are going through adult education and vocational training or higher education so they can reach self- sufficiency (New York City recently implemented reforms, see our Resources section below). SNAP benefits also need to be increased, as food prices continue to climb and more housing vouchers need to be issued for all municipalities, not just urban areas. Those becoming homeless or jobless are flocking to the cities in search of services that are already stretched thin.  Additionally, a committee of diverse stakeholders should meet regularly to assess the progress the department is making towards the goal of true client self-sufficiency. The department should not take credit for reducing welfare rolls when half of those exited simply were deemed non-compliant and were therefore removed. There are hungry children out there whom the department has forgotten about.
At the federal level, we already know that poor people are not a priority, and military and corrections systems are more fully funded than education, health and social services. Government officials believe it is more important to avoid taxing the rich and corporations, than to make sure kids have their needs met.  It is time we rethink our priorities and come up with ways to protect our most vulnerable. There have been a few active grassroots community groups and non-profits trying to improve the lives of families living in poverty, a couple of them in Hartford have been around for years, organizing and meeting with legislators. The Community Party is also part of the discussion and we have some ideas on how to come up with the money needed.  Plans to address hunger, affordable housing, healthcare, and education for low-income CT residents are the topics I want to see on the candidates’ platforms. Why aren’t they discussing these critical issues?  Why are they afraid of the “P” word?
Mary L. Sanders, member of Community Party & Executive Director, Spanish Speaking Center of New Britain
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Follow CP on Twitter @CommunityParty1 for state, national and global headlines and updates on the Trayvon Martin, Safe Work Environment and Jane Doe Acts. Visit our No Sellout blog for the archive of CP Hartford News columns ( https://hendu39.wordpress.com/) and Northend Agent’s for selected columns. http://www.northendagents.com/  Check out the CP Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/CommunityPartyAction Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for CP’s public service announcement on our social justice platform. Contact us at 860-206-8879 or samuelssloflo@aol.com.
Resources
Super Fly 1972  –  Eddie (Carl Lee) articulates the hopelessness of many Black males in low income communities of color, as he tries to convince Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal) to abandon his plan to stop selling drugs:
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Jackson Plan:
United for a Fair Economy urban policy plan:
 .
David Samuels
Founder
Community Party
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