Monday, June 19, 2006

All of this FEMA business

So, it turns out that when given money following Hurricane Katrina, some folks chose to spend their debit cards in ways that FEMA doesn't like. Apparently, people spent the money on NFL tickets, champagne, and other "frivolous" items. Folks at FEMA are upset because they don't think that's what the money was for.

Now, I'm not too excited about folks spending relief effort dollars on NFL tickets when people were struggling to get food and some people still don't have homes.

That being said, I hope that there are no Republicans on the hill crying too loudly. I mean, isn't it the Republicans who say that government should get out of the way and allow people to have more access to their own money? That it isn't the role of government to tell people how to spend their money? That Americans know best how to spend their money? The only difference, as I see it, between this latest situation, and the drastic tax cuts propegated by the current administration is that this time, the expenditures of "the people" could be tracked. I imagine that if we were able to track the money given in "tax relief," we'd find some similar trends. Meanwhile, the national deficit counter is back on in New York City.

My main point here, is that this situation ought to be an eye opener for those who argue for tax cuts for the sole reason that Americans know best how to spend their money. If people who have just lost everything buy NFL tickets and stay in fancy hotels with their relief money, I can only imagine what the rest of us do with our tax relief money.


Rebekah said...

I think that the big difference is that tax cuts allow individuals to give less of their own money to the government. Disaster relief gives the government's money to individuals. Using money we earned however we want and using the government's money (or citizens' tax money, depending on your semantics) however we want are different situations. It seems to me the government was irresponsible in its stewardship of the money through its poor plan for disbursement of disaster relieft funds.

A connection I hadn't thought about....thanks! Hope you are well!

Anonymous said...

I think the real irresponsibility of the government has been how they handle disasters in general. Our state(TN) took in a huge number of people from New Orleans and Mississippi and the things they went through were ridiculous. Families waiting in line for six hours to get a $200 Visa card. These weren't people looking to buy alcohol or concert tickets. These were middle to upper income people who couldn't get money from the bank as all of the records had been lost. People who hadn't received paychecks because their company no longer existed.

Do we really believe that if the BIG ONE hits CA as they say is just a matter of time that the government will do a better job?

I do agree that there is a difference in tax cuts and money given to you by the government but the real probem is the system of corporate welfare that has gotten totally out of control under the current administration. Even in New Orleans it isn't the big oil companies (who made unheard of profits due to Katrina and government tax cuts) helping to rebuild. It is the UAW and other unions who are trying to go in and buy properties and refurbish them so there will still be some affordable housing left.

Personally, it upsets me that people took advantage of the government money they received. However, if I had lived through the hell many of them did and had nothing left I might have done the same thing. It is easy to for us to judge people if we have never been in that kind of situation. We all like to think we are above it but are we really?

Carrie said...

I think there is a bigger issue here. We (the middle class, wealthy) are operating under the assumption that all people know what to do with money. The problem, as I see it, with agencies like FEMA, the welfare system, any agency or organization that throws money at people, is the belief that money will remedy the problem. And, yes, in many cases, this makes a huge difference. But for others, there is more going on. I taught a little girl a few years ago whose mother received two welfare checks each month, totaling $1000, and she couldn’t pay her rent each month of $550, because she was buying beer and cigarettes, lending it to male friends, going out every night. She was evicted three times during the school year, and she was “borrowing” electricity from her neighbors because she couldn’t pay her bill. She couldn’t keep a job, her mother lived with them and did not work either, and I wanted to say, get a job, manage the money you do have, stay away from those people who are asking for your money. It is frustrating to think you have a good idea of how to help someone, but you can’t make them understand. An educator named Ruby Payne has researched this idea and written a book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. She educates businesses and schools as to the differences in class and why we react and behave in the way we do. In her book, she describes the “hidden rules” of each class, and she defines poverty not only in financial terms, but she says it is “the extent to which an individual does without resources”. Those resources include financial, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, support systems, relationships, understanding hidden rules, among others. She also makes a distinction between generational poverty, being in poverty for more that two generations, and situational poverty, a result of a particular event such as death, or in this case, a hurricane. The difference in the two is that someone in situational poverty brings more resources to help them move back into middle class than someone in generational poverty. Part of that is their understanding of the hidden rules of the middle class.

Now, if I had to guess, if you looked at those who bought NFL tickets, etc, you would find that most of those people are living in generational poverty. Dr. Payne’s definitions of the hidden rules of poverty help me to understand why they made this choice, why my student’s family made those choices. She says that people living in poverty view money as something that is to be used, spent. For them, the present is most important, and their decisions are made for the moment, not long term. Their driving force is survival, relationships, and entertainment. This is why I love to hate rent-to-own and fast cash places. They perpetuate this cycle of poverty.

Sorry this is long. This is not an excuse for people to do whatever they want with money, but maybe it gives an explanation as to why there are problems with the way we choose to “help” people. And, of course, these are patterns Dr. Payne observed throughout her research, there are always exceptions. I think if we take the time to understand where people are coming from and why they make the choices they make, we (those who want to help create long term change) can do a better job of meeting needs of people, whether we are talking about our brothers and sisters here in the United States or around the world.

Rebekah said...

Carrie, your point is exactly what I was getting at when I mentioned a "poor plan for disbursement of disaster relieft funds". Don't expect those who have never been able to manage money large sums of money and expect them to suddenly know how to use it wisely.

The funds were to help people get back on their feet. The underlying (and overwhelming) problem is that too many people were not "on their feet" before Katrina came.

I think that the government should do something to address that problem, but I am not impressed with the way they throw the money that I am required to give them at a problem which is not getting better. I could give that amount of money to a local homeless shelter, food bank or emergency assistance ministry and see it do much more good.

And that is what I think that some mean when they say that people know best how to use their own money. People who can manage money wisely (and therefore end up paying income taxes and benefiting from "tax relief") want to see money we have earned used well. I would choose to use my money someplace where it would make a difference rather than a mess. Maybe the government sould require charitable contributions rather than taxes!

Alan Bancroft said...

Wow! this is what I want for Renderings. Thank you to Carrie and Rebekah for "firin' it up" in response to my post. Thank you to both of you for your comments. PC has much to be proud of if this conversation is any indication.

Rebekah-Thanks for helping me see the difference between tax cuts and this debacle in LA and MS. I"m still not in favor of big tax cuts as we increase our federal spending, but I can see why there's a difference in this situation.

Carrie-I think you've hit the nail on the head when it comes to dealing with money. AFter reading your post, I wonder if the debate should veer away from simply tax cuts or not, and be more directed toward education for those who live in generational poverty. It's people who make such poor choices but have been given no opportunity for knowing any better that keep me in favor of government programs. I think that the ideal for those of us who are democrats is that people who are wise about money would take taxes and really make them work for those who are in the most need. Now, I know that that ideal is far from being realized. However, is the answer to cut taxes or to revamp the current system? Or, is it to use some of the tax money to target those in generational poverty and help them understand the basics of saving vs. spending.

OK, it's dinner time at Montreat West and the planning team is leaving. Thanks for your comments. Keep em coming.

noell said...

carrie- awesome comment, not too long- informative!

am i the only one who connects this to homeless folks begging on the streets? there are a couple of schools of thought as to whether or not you should give beggars money because they might use it to buy drugs, beer, etc...

maybe they do... but then, what do i do with my money? i'd be lyng if I said I didn't occasionally drink more than i ought too... i have a ridiculous amount of clothing, i stockpile food in my kitchen, i have eight different kinds of hand lotion, i love car and computer gadgets, i go to concerts, buy cds and songs off itunes... i think we'd probably find that if we were more concious about our spending, we'd notice very little of what we buy actually fulfills a need.

and i don't see any difference between money from tax cuts or relief work... technically none of the money is ours...

i think we have this obsessive idea of the hard earned dollar in america... Does the businessman who schmoozes folks and uses exspense accounts on dinners, golf games, and social events really work that much harder than the guys who stocks the products at the grocery store or the girl flipping burgers at mcdonalds?

sorry my comments are rambly, mostly just quick thoughts i have from reading this...