Friday, January 28, 2011

Alan Jennings of CACLV Responds to President Obama's Proposal to Cut Community Action Programs

Posted by: Noël Jones

In the Poverty's Edge blog on the web site for Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), Director Alan Jennings speaks strongly against the President's proposed cuts to community action programs in his state of the union speech, the federal funding for which supports CACLV's many programs to alleviate poverty in the Lehigh Valley, like the Second Harvest food bank and the Safe Harbor shelter. 

Read Alan's blog post here. 

I'm very interested to get readers' comments on this, as I think we can all agree that poverty is a tremendous problem in the Valley. And we can all agree that our national debt and deficit are completely out of control and that we need to make some deep cuts. I know that some people do not want to see tax money go to poverty programs, and would rather see the community's poor helped voluntarily by charities instead. But the sheer numbers of homeless and desperately hungry that could potentially be displaced in our area calls for some serious problem-solving if this funding is to be cut. Do you think that it's possible to coordinate a ramp up of charity programs sufficient enough to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry in our area? There are churches in town that run food banks as well, but what will the reality be on the street if charities cannot support the large number of desperate families and individuals in our area?


David Caines said...

I lasted about a month in weed and seed, the waste, lack of forethought and general attitude (which I'm told is changing. Was just too disgusting to bear.
I remember sitting in a meeting and everyone is discussing how to keep some kid in HS through bribes and programs who's already fathered five kids on five girls, meanwhile I'm wondering how we get this sexual predator out of the school system?
We may all have been speaking English, but we were just diametrically opposed.
Jeanette left WWNP when a demand by codes made it appear that all of her work of the last two years was going to have to be undone. A waste of her time and tens of thousands of dollars. Particularly after I had personally asked questions about maintenance, right of ways and those annoying little things that make such programs work. To be fair, this was just as Esther was coming in, and before Dennis so we don't hold it against them.
Still, it is this sort of half assed less than half thought out "charity" that I think the president is talking about. And I for one salute him. What money we have left should go to those who have put the most work and thought into getting it and using it effectively.

David Caines said...

Since this is a topic we as a community desperately need to understand and address, I thought I'd make another attempt at starting a conversation here.
To quote the president, the rules have changed.
We're broke as a nation, the gravy train has been plundered and for sometime to come, we are going to have to triage the needy, kick out the illegal work force, cut out waste and tighten our belts. The changes for an area like ours are going to be sweeping and we're going to have to come to terms with that or be left behind, period.

David Caines said...

A last attempt, and I'll answer the questions posed-
Do you think that it's possible to coordinate a ramp up of charity programs sufficient enough to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry in our area?

No, I don't. Particularly in the west ward a big NO. We don't have the means or the co-operation, nor even the mindset. If we can at least admit to that then maybe something can be done.

-but what will the reality be on the street if charities cannot support the large number of desperate families and individuals in our area?

The truly needy will move to more affluent areas that can provide them with support as they always have. And those on benefits will stay on them I didn't read about any change in that area. We may get some more homeless, we may have poor people having to do more for themselves, and some may even be forced to find jobs...and or displace our illegals who currently hold those jobs.
Otherwise, I'm not sure...some within our bloated Community action programs may find themselves phased out, but by and large I think most likely we can look to the eternally needy going off to find some better, wealthier place to feed off of until the storm has passed.

Ken Sturzenacker said...

Brief response for now: Alan Jennings' defense of CACLV on the basis that it is a tiny portion of the federal deficit is comedy at its darkest.
"Deficit", Alan. Do you understand deficit?
'Deficit' = money the gov't does not have, must borrow and pay interest on. Alan, your piece defends the continued stealing from and further impoverishing future generations.
That may be wonderful for your employment prospects, but it will only worsen the very conditions you claim to want to alleviate.

Ryan Champlin said...


I'm not sure you understand deficit. Deficit refers to how far in the red we are taking into consideration all of our revenues and expeditures since the beginning of national financing in this country. This year's debt is part of the deficit, and this year's debt... about $1.5 Trillion... is made up of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Debt, and Discretionary spending (which makes up only 24% of all of that). In 2011, out of total budget of $3.8 trillion, Community Action funding represented .04% of the budget. Social Security represented 21% of the budget, Medicare represented 23% of the budget, and defense took up 24%. To tackle a multi-trillion dollar debt and deficit, you don't go after the .04% program that actually creates wealth. You go after entitlements, which are no longer sustainable in their current forms.

The irony of what you said is that community action agencies aim to help people lift themselves and their families out of poverty while charging the American people about $3 per capita per year, while entitlements and the interest borrowed to support them are costing Americans $10,000 per year and growing. Now, which one of these options is impoverishing our future?

Ryan Champlin said...

Or, look at it this way... our national debt of $1.5 Trillion is $600 billion more than our total discretionary spending. We could eliminate Community Action funding and all other domestic and foreign aide and we'd still be in a deep hole.

David Caines said...

wow, always fun moving into the area of half truths.
For those with an interest in following the budget and all of that fun stuff -
Provides an option to sign up for daily alerts and email alerts and the like.
But as I haven't been able to find them, I'll ask Ryan if he can put up the demographics as they relate to how many people these programs have aided, cost per person and any sort of long term (say five years) data . I'll also ask him to list sources.
I know from personal experience that weed and seed for example at least as of two years ago kept absolutely no verifiable data. So I'm curious, seriously. Lets have a break down. Fine, you're asking me personally to invest 3 dollars (though I've read the budget and that number is complete BS), so what's my provable ROI on that?
Hard facts and figures not some vague it helped ....many poor people.

David Caines said...

I do agree however that we should utterly kill all foreign aid. A nation that cannot feed, clothe, educate, shelter and employ it's own people sure as hells should not be feeding the neighbors kids and letting their own go hungry.

David Caines said...

since we're willing to ask it of teachers, cops, and pretty much anyone in a public service field, I'm wondering if Alan or any of our other noble charity folks have offered to take a pay cut or even wage freeze?
How much do our NFP leaders make per year anyway?
Caclv is a pretty big bunch so I'm guessing low six figures- 100k / yr plus benefits and such. Does anyone have those numbers?
seriously curious.

David Caines said...

From LVR- He's been called the Poverty Pimp and Prince of Poor. I was told a long time ago that he tools around in a red Jaguar convertible and pulls down a hefty salary.

I'm speaking, of course, about CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings.

What ever his earnings might be, they can't be easily found. Is he willing to take one for the team or just ask the rest of us to do so?
If so, great, if not, why not?

Dennis R. lieb said...

I could get into this whole local personality conflict/non-profit legitimacy argument hot and heavy if I wanted to but it's counter-productive. I just want to make a few clear points.

First let's be careful about language. What is a deficit? Ryan did a great job but I'll put it plainer: if I make X and spend X+1000 so I can have a new TV, the 1000 is the deficit. This does not mean I get to go back into the books, revise history and pull out everything I was spending money on responsibly and call that the deficit so I can keep buying TVs and other junk. Who gets to arbitrarily decide what part of the within-budget spending now gets designated as causing the deficit? The President? Congress?

I think we do, and the way we do it is to stop being distracted by bullshit sideshows like the national politicians constantly want to engage us in - like flag burning amendments, the fear of immigrants crossing the border or gay and abortion rights battles. These may all have some relative importance to many individuals - and they can all be reasonably worked out over time - but they are not issues threatening to destroy this country. What is the 500 pound gorilla in the room then? Well, how about $855 billion of direct defense spending in 2010. We aren't even going to include free military aid to Egypt and other far-flung dictatorships or all the medical expenses of putting back together the broken minds and bodies of the people we send overseas to do our bidding.

This country's success record of militarily intervening in foreign affairs is a pretty sad one over the past sixty years. Anyone want to defend the ROI on that? And I want hard numbers, not some vague "we helped some people in other countries build democracy". So when do we openly and candidly get to the meat of the issue; stop being distracted by political red herrings and stop the flushing down the toilet of our national wealth on dead-end military escapades? How many hundreds of billions do we want going into dead-end military industrial production that creates no growth or productive innovation and only ends with either someone dead or the material destroyed, wasting away in a ditch or waiting silently to kill innocents after we've moved on?

When we have the balls to tell the president, congress and the deer-in-the-headlights national media that enough is enough; when we demand they cover the real stories; when we cut that spending to levels of what it is supposed to be for: DEFENSE of this country. Then we can start talking about looking at the $900 million "deficit" of a CDBG program that is breaking the back of the budget. Until then we're just hypocrites, playing right into the politicians hands.


David Caines said...

And this Denis is why I voted for you.
Though we disagree about the illegal immigrants, we agree about pretty much everything else.
To use the same argument I posted earlier, what right does a country that can not feed, clothe, etc.. it's own people have to go around forcing it's own failed values on others.
While I support our troops, I utterly oppose the war, the military budget, the occupation of foreign nations without just cause, the whole nine.
1 percent of that money spent on internal security and border security would leave us far safer and with a far more sustainable govt.
The ROI on this war and most since WWII is distinctly in the negative and I have no interest in throwing good money after bad nor do an amazingly high number of fellow veterans who are really rather sick of this whole mess.
But we digress.
Comunity action funding?
I want accountability, I want public reporting and verifiable figures, and with them I can know which funding I support and which I don't. Without them, someone is just stealing my money.
Ps- I have faith that you can bring the WWNP a certain sassy honesty, I look forward to it. Happen to like Alan as well, and Sophia has been the glue that holds a lot of this mess together. Don't really know Esther, and have heard only good things about Laura. Still, without questions we don't get growth and change, and we need both.

Ryan Champlin said...

Okay, well... where do we begin. First of all, I'm not sure what kind of verification you want. I could give you our numbers that are backed up by our records, but we sure as heck can't show you our confidential records... so I'm figuring that no matter what numbers I give you, you're going to be skeptical.

Secondly, I just want to explain what the community action funding does for CACLV. It comprises about 5% of CACLV’s total budget. This sounds like nothing, but without it, it is nearly impossible to find funding for administrative functions, which are necessary to operate a legal nonprofit, and especially one that accomplishes as much as CACLV does. It does provide funds for certain emergency services, such as salaries and fringes for case workers and a few operating costs at our various shelters, as well as staffing for our community development corporations in Allentown and Bethlehem. But it also provides a very large chunk of funding for our administrative staff. You should know that our administrative spending is not quite 7.5% of our total budget. You’d have to look to the Red Cross for a comparable rate. Also, no one’s salary at the agency is over $100K. In fact, only Alan’s salary is anywhere close, and he is making at least half of what he could make at almost any other nonprofit with his experience and expertise. Personally, if I were living on my salary alone, my wife and I would qualify for a good portion of CACLV’s programs. So, sorry to burst your “Poverty Pimp” bubble.

Okay, now for what is probably a big waste of my time. Over the past year, CACLV has:


Ryan Champlin said...

~graduated 72 entrepreneurs through Start-Your-Business classes with 46 business plans completed
~provided start-up or business improvement technical and marketing assistance to 163 entrepreneurs
~helped start 23 businesses
~provided small business loans to 8 new and 7 existing businesses
~retained a loan portfolio with less than 10% of loans at risk of default in the worst economy in decades
~created 53 jobs and retained 24 more through start-up and technical assistance and funding
~developed a support network of over 100 local businesses
~completed 8 commercial and 5 residential façade rehabilitations
~assisted 5 businesses with obtaining more attractive business signs
~7 foreclosed or abandoned properties have been purchased and are in the process of being rehabilitated and sold as energy-efficient, permanently affordable, owner-occupied housing (which stabilizes the home prices of neighbors)
~provided first-time homebuyer counseling to 208 heads of households
~provided budgeting and credit counseling to 47 individuals and 37 business owners
~provided pre-settlement counseling to 56 families
~helped 56 families purchase their first homes
~helped 255 families negotiate a work-out with lenders to avoid foreclosure
~prevented 122 families from foreclosing on their homes
~refinished 11 sidewalks
~planted more than 300 trees
~assisted residents in the creation of 5 community gardens and 30 backyard vegetable gardens
~educated 1,010 tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities
~helped 66 families save for a home, car, education, or other large purchase through matching funds
~prepared 1,023 free tax returns for low-income families to save them over $1.7 million

(wait... there's more...)

Ryan Champlin said...

~provided weatherization and emergency energy services to 1,623 low- to moderate-income homes
~provided energy conservation education services to 1,435 low- to moderate-income homes
~served 469 youth in recreational, educational, or community-building activities
~placed 30 additional youth in skills-building, job-readiness programs
~taught 15 single mothers how to cook nutritious meals with low-cost ingredients
~distributed 5.1 million pounds of food to 63,000 individuals
~provided 282 children with food for weekend meals
~raised almost 350,000 pounds of food from food drives
~sheltered 346 individuals in addition to 115 families
~provided case management for 298 homeless individuals and 115 families
~provided drug, alcohol, and mental health counseling to 223 homeless individuals
~served 46,340 meals to homeless individuals
~assisted 502 uninsured individuals with basic healthcare needs
~helped 34 homeless individuals enroll in employment training
~assisted 173 individuals in finding employment; 39 of them stable full-time employment with benefits
~assisted 123 former shelter residents and 24 families find stable places to live

This is by no means a comprehensive list as it does not include the countless hours that Alan spends with bank executives and other high-profile people convincing them to invest in the area, and I simply don’t have the time to give you a 5-year report. If you think we are fudging the numbers, do the census and other research to find out what the needs actually are in the Valley. You will find that we are not able to reach a good portion of the need, not to mention help start the numbers of businesses necessary to fully revitalize our cities, because we have a lack of funding. We are all stretched thin.

Any questions?

noel jones said...

Ryan--thanks for the stats.

David Caines said...

Ryan, thanks, but those statistics I have, what the gain, long term price vs effect is what no one bothers to follow.
lets just pick the first one-
~graduated 72 entrepreneurs through Start-Your-Business classes with 46 business plans completed.
Great- how many of them started businesses?
How many people do those businesses employ?
How many succeed ?
For how long?
What is the cost per person to the tax payer ?
Though to be fair, this program is redundant as are a good number of others as it mirrors a program already in place through the SBA (Federal Small Business Administration
other questions would be is the course accredited and through who?
These are some of the questions posed in the new state rubric that came out about 2 years ago and groups that can answer them will get more funding than groups that can't.
Sadly, we don't have the room to get into the rest of the list in this format.
But yes, the question is was, redundancy and that sort of thing. You've provided weatherization, great what other programs do the same? how many of those getting that work receive heating assistance from the state of fed directly?
What's the cost per person?
How long does it last? how many of these people are getting the same work every year, every other?
How much are we wasting?
And you don't answer that, and at least locally it seems as though no one can.
I don't debate that we have needy folks and that they should get aid, I debate possibly doing $20 worth of work to provide a $3 solution.
In the end you've told me what I asked you not to. "We've helped...number of poor people".
sorry that's just not an answer.
nice try though on the if you can't win bury them with figures style of argument.

David Caines said...

And I'll ask a side question here as well, why cant CACLV's P+L statement be found online like that of any other corporation?
That at least would give some of the answers we need to get some idea of what is actually going on with all of this.
How about a simple, we spend this much of every dollar on administrative costs.
I know for myself that the last major NFP I worked for it was 80 cents on the dollar.
I guess we could start there in the spirit of transparency.
Why should we look at CACLV any differently than any other business asking for investments?

noel jones said...

David's questions:

"~graduated 72 entrepreneurs through Start-Your-Business classes with 46 business plans completed.
Great- how many of them started businesses?
How many people do those businesses employ?
How many succeed ?
For how long?
What is the cost per person to the tax payer ?"

...are good ones. It would be great to have these stats as far as "outcomes" go. Ryan--or anyone else that knows--it would be great if you could post these--thanks in advance.

David Caines said...

To all and sundry, please don't take my comments as a personal style of argument is a bit well...confrontational...but I've found that it works.
Ryan, I'm sure that you are a good egg and mean well, but the country and the rules are changing.
We need to know what we're buying.
I raised this point over the Rubric with Nadine two years ago..and received a fifteen minute rant. Gods grant her peace.
Still, what is being asked is accountability, sustainability, and all that.
I feel that my ideas for things like "Summer nights" are still valid...I welcome questions, and would like answers.
I don't question the heart of morals of you all...just the means.

Ryan Champlin said...


Unfortunately, answering these types of questions would require a team of research staff that we simply can't afford because we spend a little more than 7 cents on every dollar on administrative costs. As a matter of fact, I would love to answer those questions, but that takes time and money, and we have neither.

Redundancy isn't much of an issue. If anyone is providing food or weatherization or housing counseling or business start-up help, or any number of other related services in the Valley, we are likely behind it. There is a private market for some of these things, but obviously not enough of one or else we wouldn't have to do it. We certainly don't do it for the lucrative income.

Here is one thing that I can tell you that may satisfy a little piece of your skeptical stance on the value of what we do. As I said, we do foreclosure counseling and mitigation work. Many people see this as a waste of money because people going through foreclosures should pay the consequences for their poor decisions. Fair enough for some, but I could argue against that for many. Anyway, it is very shortsighted to think that a foreclosure of your neighbor (or even someone across town) doesn't affect the value of your home. So, we not only try to prevent foreclosures for the benefit of the person experiencing financial issues but also for the stabilization of that person's community. So, we have provided this service to over 455 individuals over the past couple of years. Guess how many of them received our homeownership counseling before purchasing their homes? 2. What does this mean? It may be circumstantial, but it speaks volumes about the ability of our homeownership counseling program's ability to build financial literacy capacity. We build value by training sustainable homeowners.

David Caines said...

As I said, you seem like a good egg, but all that is needed to get the answers I and the state are asking for is to make follow up statistical information a requirement to receive services. It's pretty regular practice in many areas.
I don't as a matter of fact question the value of CACLV, just whether or not it's the most effective and cost effective means.
With no follow up statistics, you have no way to quantify price vs effect and that's utterly wasteful. In short we're throwing money at what we think might be mos effective with no way to tell if they've worked.
we agree on the wholistic nature of a community that what affects one affects all. Still I have questions.
Are your foreclosure aids certified in the field?
Do you do bankruptcy counseling?
How many who received your councelling have kept their homes, for how long?
this is nothing a simple spread sheet program could keep track of, if you made reporting a requirement.
Great surprise, the country is running a bit low on cash after the greatest bank robbery in world history, things are changing.
Are any of your programs sustainable- do they or can they be made to -pay for themselves?
If not, why not?

David Caines said...

so, we're below the fold, in SEO no man's let's fess up. 7% is utterly unlikely and somewhat unhead of,even the hyperion foundation which is the touchstone of nfp's is 20%. and they are hated by american nfp's. you'll forgive me but i blog both nationaly and inter...i'm involved in one argument that is on it's second year, well over 5000 posts and side lines.So, I'm prepared to follow this.
you don't follow your work, not because you can't , but because it does not serve.
Lets go hard core, and by all means i hope that you prove me wrong, i'd rather be happy than right and currently I am not happy.