Posted on 17. Jun, 2009 by admin in Uncategorized
The following is the first of a threepart series on the impact of corruption on taxpayers in Illinois and in Chicago as Americans face tough economic times. This week, the Citizen focuses on how minority communities suffer when corruption occurs, particularly as it relates to social programs that help strengthen communities. In part two, we’ll examine corruption in higher education and focus on what happens when minority applicants are shut out of the admissions process when getting accepted into a college or university is based on power and clout. Finally, an analysis of political corruption and the price local communities pay in urban areas will encompass part three of this report.
Instead of using funds appropriated by the state to pay for important social programs that help build communities, taxpayers are paying millions of dollars annually for the price of corruption.
A recent Chicago Sun-Times article pointed out that $2.7 million was reportedly wasted in state grants that could have gone towards helping communities with social programs including job training services for homeless men, youth services for African-Americans and literacy training for others.
While a Chicago Coalition for the Homeless report recently noted that Illinois should invest $2 million in transitional jobs programs with a therapy focus for people living in supportive housing facilities to help them move out of poverty and homelessness, Thomas J. Gradel, the coresearcher of a study entitled, Curing Corruption in Illinois: Anti-Corruption Report at the University of Illinois said, “You’re not only ripping off the taxpayers, but the homeless people that could have got the training. The people who were supposed to get the training, [didn’t receive] access to a job. The businesses would have benefited from the trained employees. So there’s a whole ripple effect caused by taking money to provide training and not providing it,” Gradel said. According to the Coalition’s report, less than one percent of the $270 million spent on workforce development in Chicago in 2004 targeted the homeless. The report pointed to another UIC study in 2001 on homelessness in the city and stated that of the 1,300 homeless adults in the collar counties, 19 percent were military veterans; 31.4 percent had been incarcerated, 46.3 percent were substance abusers and 13.8 percent were mentally ill.
In addition to groups like the homeless, it’s the children who end up paying the price through school dropouts and incarceration when funds fail to reach the people it was supposed to help, said Marrice Coverson, founder of the Institute for Positive Living, a non-profit organization that helps families solve educational, social and economic problems.
While 63 percent of Black male students in the Chicago Public Schools failed to graduate in 2005-2006 according to a study conducted by the Schott Foundation for Public Education based in Massachusetts, Coverson said, “We’re going to look up and we’re not going to have quality people to run our hospitals or banks.”
But the cost on taxpayers is just as high than it is on society overall. In the report Curing Corruption in Illinois, UIC researchers found that taxpayers have paid an estimated $500 million a year, tallying scandals that have included:
*Gov. Blagojevich’s well-publicized corruption case that lowered the state’s bond rating and cost more than $20 million extra for the last state bond; *Unused hired trucks that cost the city $42 million in the 2004 Hired Truck Scandal;
*Sale of truckers licenses for bribes in the 1994 “License for Bribes Scandal” at a taxpayer cost of almost $5 million and; *Silver Shovel of 1996 cost $5.4 million in taxpayer dollars. The investigation involved public officials misusing their offices by allowing illegal landfills and other environmental abuses to occur.
“The cost of these scandals is not funny and it’s not free,” said Gradel, who added corruption pushes the price of everything up from food and gas to other services while citizens end up paying the price if they want to receive basic services they need just to live in the city. In turn, they receive less of a benefit for their tax dollars than they actually deserve, he said. For the people who are caught up in these corruption cases, “it’s going to cost [them] more than what it’s worth,” Gradel added.
But Coverson said indirectly, other organizations that are trying to do the right thing, also suffer when their organization’s reputations are jeopardized as a result of unethical behavior. “People make a general assumption that the majority of nonprofits are not doing what they are supposed to be doing with the funds and that is not true,” Coverson stated. When non-profits get funding, Coverson suggested that they should be prepared to be monitored and evaluated.
Although Gradel believes that some operators do what they say they are going to do with state grants, it’s also a question of oversight, he said. The city doles out so many grants per ward and no one pays attention to how effectively the programs are being run, he added. Minority communities are susceptible to being, “ripped off,” by operators because the majority community, tends to look at distributing grants in these areas as a way to win favors with the community. So in turn, “There’s no real effort to scrutinize it closely to make sure its working,” he continued.
Accepting the evidence of corruption, Gradel believes will lead to the reality that changes need to be made. Some of those efforts have included the City of Chicago Inspector General and the Office of the U.S. Attorney General investigating cases that have led to the arrests of numerous elected officials. Once citizens become informed about corruption activities, Gradel said that they have to make sure wrongdoers get “caught” and punished for their actions. “As soon as the players realize that it’s going to cost more than it benefits, then the behavior will change,” he said.
Efforts to reduce corruption have been passed by the Illinois legislature that involve a series of ethics reforms including new requirements for quarterly reporting of contracts greater than $25,000; the right for the state to audit programs receiving grants; and the ability to suspend grants for noncompliance. This measure is currently awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.
Additionally, since January 2009, the state has obtained nearly $2 million in wasted grants, according to Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokesman Ashley Cross. “Anytime that we learn that taxpayer money wasn’t spent appropriately, we take that seriously and [take] whatever steps [necessary] to get that money back,” Cross said.
John Paul Jones, an Englewood community resident, said that ethics reform is not going to be a “quick fix” because the challenge lies in broadening the communication between elected officials and knowledge about how government works. “Those issues are not discussed in community settings. Until we get to that point where people can be comfortable talking about those things with their state officials without being blackballed, we’re going to have a disconnect of having state reform,” he said.
Lisette Livingston contributed to this story