Thursday, March 12, 2009

South Carolina don't have a pot to piss in, but does their governor care?

Governor Mark Sanford has been leading the crusade against the stimulus bill. Sanford will refuse money to extend unemployment in his state and deny unemployment for part time workers. South Carolina is one of those southern states that is at the bottom or scraping the bottom of the barrel in just about everything, especially education. Remember, the young African-American girl, Ty'Sheoma Bethea of Dillon, South Carolina? She was featured during President Obama's Joint Session of Congress speech. She is a young woman who attends a school over 100 years old in South Carolina. This school has no air conditioning, the building shakes when the train goes by, total disrespect to the students, parents and the faculty that have to teach in such abominable conditions. Young Ty'Sheom wrote to President Obama asking that some of the stimulus money go to her dilapidated school. But South Carolina has the "holier than thou" Governor Mark Sanford to deny stimulus money. He does not think the state needs any stimulus money, especially when the education of his people is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Sorry, rolleyes here, but the man don't have a pot to piss in, nor a window to throw it out of. His state is at the bottom for practically EVERYTHING in comparison to other states. Turning this money away for possible higher political aspirations, to have the tag "the most conservative" is the most selfish thing Sanford can do. But this is on South Carolinians, it is up to them to ask when is enough really enough.

Sanford and the Republican-led General Assembly have cut the state's budget three times since last summer by a total of $871 million, or 13 percent -- among the deepest reductions in the nation.

The cuts have limited state agencies' ability to help the growing numbers of people in need. The state's Medicaid program, for instance, is reducing mental health counseling, cancer screening and dental coverage.

The reductions are constricting the private sector's capacity, too. The Department of Social Services has pared its contracts to nonprofit groups by an average of 10 percent, reducing funding for emergency shelters and employment training programs.

While other states have looked to Washington for assistance, Sanford has been a foremost critic of the federal economic stimulus package. Yesterday, he challenged the law's intent, announcing that he will ask the White House for a waiver to use $700 million -- the part of South Carolina's share of the money over which he has direct control -- to lower the state's debt, instead of putting it toward new spending.

Asked whose mission it is to help the widening pool of people in financial pain, the governor said that such aid "has to be leveraged through church, civic and private hands. . . . If you take care of the need in government circles, you dissipate the ability of civil society to take care of that need."

Timothy Ervolina, president of the United Way Association of South Carolina, worries that the web of philanthropic and nonprofit groups may not be able to fulfill the governor's expectations. Ervolina has watched fundraising fade at United Ways across the state, even as calls pour in to their crisis hotlines.

"Policymakers have said, 'You guys are just going to have to step up to the plate.' I hear that," he said. "But when I step up to the plate and no ball even is coming at you, it's pretty hard to make a hit."

He added: "We are increasingly taking on the role of a community grief counselor. Something has got to give, and that something is going to be people's lives."


As in Washington, residents of Columbia have viewed their city as recession-proof -- aside from the state government, it is home to the main campus of the University of South Carolina; big banks, insurance companies and hospitals; and Fort Jackson, the Army's largest basic-training site. So they have been stunned as Columbia's unemployment has rocketed up -- 11.7 percent in November, 13.1 percent in December, 14.1 percent in January.

Amid the job losses, lives are coming unglued. Sheila Turman turned to Columbia's largest food bank, Harvest Hope, a few weeks ago -- the first time in her 52 years she had ever asked a nonprofit for help.

"I was hungry," she said. "You don't know how I wanted a glass of milk."

Turman had worked steadily since she was 15, until she was laid off from her job as a leasing agent at her apartment complex before Christmas. Two weeks after she missed her February rent payment, an eviction notice came. She borrowed a neighbor's car to go to the Department of Social Services to try to get food stamps. But after waiting more than 2 1/2 hours, she had to leave to return the car.

"That wasn't even to apply," she said. "That was to get an appointment to apply."

At Harvest Hope, she was given bread, milk, lettuce, six eggs, sugar and a big box of hot dogs. Staff member Cheryl Davis also handed her a list of nonprofit groups to call for more emergency assistance.

"I called every one," Turman said. One group couldn't help because it serves the working poor and she doesn't have a job. An organization that helps pay utility bills said it was out of money.

She tried the Salvation Army. Overwhelmed by requests, the charity now sets just one day a month for people to schedule appointments. Turman was told to call back on the designated day. They weren't giving out appointments at the moment.

Unlike in Rust Belt communities, where economic erosion is an old story, or in towns where a dominant employer has shut down, the loss of jobs here in Columbia and across South Carolina is diffuse, a sagging of a broad swath of the local economy. According to the state's Employment Security Commission, the nearly 43,000 jobs that vanished from South Carolina in January included almost 12,000 in retail, and about 6,000 each in manufacturing, hospitality, and professions and business.

For more than a year, Sanford has had a public spat with the commission. The governor contends that unemployment is not as severe as the official statistics show. He says the commission has refused to examine questions he has raised: the impact on the figures, for instance, of retirees who work part-time. "Do you guys," he said rhetorically of the commission, "have any clue of what your numbers are?"

Still, Sanford said that, in his state, "there absolutely are people in pain, and absolutely empathy with those people." To help them, he said, "there ought to be a social compact" that is defined "more broadly than simply government."

It is that view that guided his decision to ask the White House to use $700 million of the state's federal stimulus money to retire debt rather than on fortifying social programs or on other state spending -- and, if the administration refuses, to reject the money altogether. "We believe it is . . . financially reckless," he said in announcing his decision, "to borrow from future generations to attempt to address today's economic problems."

Not all state legislators like what South Carolina is doing. "Nonprofits have felt the hammer, because we do not have the money to give them," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D), a social worker by profession who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. "The private sector can't do it. In a lot of cases they are suffering as well."

Sanford wants to use the federal money from the stimulus bill to pay his debt down? While his people are hungry, unemployment has skyrocketed? Anyone got a WTF pill laying around?


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