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A ridiculous waste of precious money

Monday, Dec 3, 2012

* I spent part of my teens living on a military base in Germany. My mom joined the US Department of Defense Civil Service when I was 13 and my dad joined later.

Back then, the military created a bunch of make-work summer jobs for teenagers. We were paid a couple of bucks an hour to do whatever we were told. Sometimes that wasn’t very much. Sometimes it was a bit dangerous.

One summer, we spent a week unloading truckloads of ammunition boxes, punching holes in them to drain the water, flattening them and then putting them back on trucks to be hauled away. My best friend at the time, Ralph Armenta, was hurt when somebody hit his hand with a hammer as he was passing an ammo box down a table.

But, usually, we were detailed to do mindless office work or other stuff they made up to keep us at least somewhat busy and put a few dollars into our pockets.

The idea was to make sure there weren’t roving groups of bored, unemployed teenagers on the bases. Most of us either didn’t qualify for jobs “on the economy” (in German businesses) so we literally had nothing else to do.

I learned some valuable lessons from that experience. First, it’s a good idea to make sure that teens are given something to do. Second, never, EVER work for the Department of Defense.

* So, I get the premise of this initiative by Gov. Pat Quinn, perhaps too well

On a chilly afternoon this fall, teenagers across Chicago’s South Side were busy at work, earning $8.75 an hour to hand out fliers with a message of non-violence.

“Our message that we’re giving out today is about being healthy,” said 18-year-old Lucia Eloisa. “One of the key pointers is about taking time to reflect and seek inner peace.”

Eloisa’s part-time job was paid for by an ambitious state-funded program to keep at-risk teenagers out of trouble. It pumped nearly $55 million into Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods and three of its suburbs to stem unrelenting gang violence.

A four-month CNN investigation found that not only did the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) pay teens to hand out fliers promoting inner peace, it also paid these at-risk teens to take field trips to museums, march in a parade with the governor, and even attend a yoga class to learn how to handle stress.

Wait. Kids got paid to attend a yoga class?

Look, yoga might actually help kids in crime-ridden areas. They could learn to relax and deal with stress. Setting up a yoga program could be a good idea. But paying the kids to take the class? What?

* The parade bothers me the most, however

The NRI also paid teens from the Better Boys Foundation to march in the 82nd Annual Bud Billiken Parade on August 13, 2011, with Quinn, according to records and video of the parade.

“Their job was promoting positive messages, etc., which is what the parade is about,” a spokesman for Quinn said.


* Apparently, too much money was simply spent too fast without giving anything much thought…

Examples of the apparent misuse of the program’s money don’t surprise Mike Shaver, whose organization, Chicago Children’s Home and Aid, received $2.1 million for its role as a lead agency for the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

He and others say the initiative was just too big, and providers were not equipped to evaluate which programs were working and which were not.

“We weren’t able to get enough information about what was going on in our own program to understand whether we were having the desired impact,” said Shaver.

* And the timing was questionable

In October 2010 — less than a month before the gubernatorial election — Quinn announced his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which he said would “take on the root causes of violence” in Chicago and across Illinois by creating “about 3,000 part time and permanent jobs for young people so they have a positive way to go.”

“And we mean business,” Quinn said at the October 6 news conference. “We really understand how important this is.”

Quinn’s political opponents have questioned the timing of his announcement.

“I mean, we’re in a budget crisis,” said Illinois state Sen. Matt Murphy, spokesman for the Republican state appropriations committee. “We were back then. We have since been in a violence crisis in Chicago, and you look at this, and you say for political purposes, you’re taking precious and limited taxpayer dollars and spending them on political purposes rather than solving the violence problem in the city of Chicago. And it was wrong.”

* So far, $55 million has been spent on the governor’s “initiative,” which is about the same amount of money Quinn vetoed from the Department of Corrections’ budget. Quinn said he wanted to use that cash to fund DCFS programs. But maybe he could’ve used that anti-violence money instead.

I mean, which is more important, funding much-needed DCFS programs or paying kids to take yoga classes and march with the governor in a parade?

Priorities, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - western illinois - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 9:48 am:

    Yep and there is this corporate welfare. There is a nice little paragraph in yesterdays story about CATs CEO constantly complaining about Illinois spending while he has his hand out.
    This blog post has a database of the welfare handouts.

  2. - OneMan - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 9:50 am:

    The governor defended the program, saying that he had to do something to address the situation.

    Not something that made sense, just something…

    Really, yoga classes, I can almost understand paying for yoga classes, but paying to attend yoga classes?

    Also paying someone to march in parade? Now Pat every time we see someone marching with you we are going to wonder if they are getting paid…

  3. - OneMan - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 9:53 am:

    Western Illinois

    That is sort of like pointing on on a thread about how much better NIU is as football vs. U of I now that NIU’s basketball team is bad…

    Might be true, but does not change the fact that NIU is now better at football…

  4. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 9:56 am:

    I like the yoga classes and don’t even mind paying these kids to take yoga. The parade, however, is a bit much.

  5. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 9:58 am:

    Aha!Q I knew there was something about yoga classes in County:

  6. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:00 am:

    - but paying to attend yoga classes? -

    I don’t know anything about this program other than what I read in the article, but here’s a quote:

    “NRI participants were paid $8.75 an hour, first to receive mentoring from adults, and then go out to pitch positive messages and hand out fliers in their neighborhoods.”

    I’m guessing the classes were part of the mentoring portion.

    Not saying it was the greatest use of money, but perhaps it was worth a try.

  7. - Downstater - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:04 am:

    This is what is wrong with liberal policies. Spend money with little or no expectation of measurable positive outcomes.
    Let them work in a local food pantry or at a local library, or clean vacant properties. Something to see some benefit from.

  8. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:04 am:

    The sad thing is, there’s really a lot of work to be done out there, kids need summer work and they can learn a lot from it.

    This appears to be a very expensive press release — a bright, shiny, “new” thing that a politician can put his name to.

    If jobs, and learning job skills and a work ethic, and bettering neighborhoods were the real goals, you could run the money through any number of existing institutions — park districts, the schools, not-fot-profits — to subsidize the hiring of temporary summer workers to do real work alongside full-time workers.

    This kind of stuff goes on everywhere. It’s the flip side of every “new,” “job-creating program” in every state in the union. Very expensive, self-serving press releases.

  9. - Judgment Day - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:06 am:

    This certainly puts the whole concept of ‘Squeezy’ into perspective….

    “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…”

  10. - Soccertease - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:14 am:

    I keep hearing we can’t solve the State’s budget problems by cutting spending. That may be true but these types of spending abuses make tax and spend opponents go crazy.

  11. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    Downstater has it right. This “helping hand” only fosters more and more resentment among truly working people (CEO’s included), and fosters more contempt for liberals from those it supposedly ‘helps’. This Quinnenomics is self- boosterism and a healthy dose of condescension to boot, typical of mushy do-gooders.

  12. - Roadiepig - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:27 am:

    Paid to march in a parade alongside the Gov? Yeah, there really isn’t anything in the budget that can be cut to avoid closing prisons, cutting earned pension benefits, or to make sure vendors get paid on time.

    The $55 million figure spent so for on this feel-good initiative being almost the same as the amount Quinn cut from DOC’s budget is the saddest part to me. Priorities please, Governor Quinn. Unless the priority is making sure someone friendly surrounds you at public events, even if the taxpayers have to pay for them to be there.

  13. - langhorne - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:37 am:

    idiocy. handing out fliers is meaningless, pointless, make-work. cleaning up empty lots and painting over graffiti is actual work, with a positive result on the neighborhood, if not the individual doing it.

  14. - Huh? - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:45 am:

    Back during the depression, the US government has the WPA and the CCC. The point of the programs were to put people to work doing constructive activities. Among many other things, the government hired artists to paint murals in post offices. The CCC built the lodge at Starved Rock State park.

    I have nothing against yoga. My daughter is a yoga teacher, But paying kids to take yoga and march in a parade is a prime example of government waste. And our governor is crying that the state is broke.

  15. - Wensicia - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:53 am:

    The yoga I can partially understand, a little different from basketball camps. But the parade thing; pure PR for the governor? Ridiculous!

  16. - Mike Huntoon - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:39 am:

    In terms of ethics and government, I honestly thought parades were considered to be campaign events . . . And now I am hearing that taxpayer dollars were spent to pay youth to parade with Quinn . . .

    at the very least there should be some kind of ethics investigation to determine if taxpayer funds were used to support the governor at a campaign event . . .

    Quinn has always been a self-aggrandizing sort of guy . . . why are we surprised that he’d pull a stunt like this?

  17. - Anon. - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:43 am:

    At the basketball camps my kids went to; we had to pay for the, they didn’t get paid. Same with most yoga classes. Obviously Illinois has shifted into Bizzaro World.

  18. - Just Saying - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:52 am:

    Don’t forget the Illinois Tollway Christmas Extravaganza. No wonder they raised the tolls!

  19. - vole - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:53 am:

    “so we literally had nothing else to do.”

    school, sports, movies, libraries, extracurricular activities … ganja (better find these kids sumpin to do before the base commander and the CIDs pull the old man in for a chat about the boy)

  20. - Yahoooz - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:54 am:

    My thoughts are that if they were offered productive jobs, say cleaning up the streets of litter, the unions would be out in force to oppose it.Have to pay a living wage blah blah…
    Just sayin…

  21. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:56 am:

    ===school, sports, movies, libraries===

    The base libraries were awful. I went to college at night. Summer sports were very limited.

  22. - Poolside @ Hotel Ibiza - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 11:59 am:

    Consultants spare no expense wining and dining the Illinois Tollway Executives.

  23. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 12:44 pm:

    I still remember when FatCat Big Jim Thompson ordered flags to half-mast when one of his cronies from the Toll Way died (RIP). What a blatant and onerous misuse of power.

  24. - Irish - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 12:53 pm:

    Evidently the GA must have appropriated the money for this, so they were aware?

    I am assuming this, since it is their fault some employees did not get their raises last year because according to Mr. Quinn the GA didn’t appropriate enough money for them.

    So money is appropriated for kids to march in a parade to demonstrate the Governor has some people who like him and for kids to take yoga classes, but money isn’t appropriated to meet obligations already contracted for.

    Hmmmmm. I wonder if the judge deciding the raise issue has read the CNN report.

  25. - Irish - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 1:10 pm:

    If we are going to pay these kids, then take the time to plan a good program. A program that would instill some pride and values. Pay them to eliminate graffiti, clean up empty lots, cut grass in empty lots, or forclosed homes and then bill the banks for the work done to keep the fund going. Paint playground equipment. Spread mulch around trees in parks. Etc.

    Pay them to come up with a better campaign than Squeezy to explain why and how we really got to where we are with the pension crisis. And get rid of the ones who came up with Squeezy, take their salaries and put it in the fund to kep it going.

    In other words do something right and beneficial instead of harebrained and half$$%%#.

  26. - anonymous - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 1:42 pm:

    This isn’t the only example of this administration’s dubious teen jobs programs. DNR administered a $10 million teen jobs program with similar “results”.

  27. - Emily Booth - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 2:32 pm:

    The state minimum wage is $8.25. These kids are being paid more than some adults working part-time.

  28. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 2:34 pm:

    See how many of the so called jobs went to politicians relatives or supporters or ’soon to be’ supporters

  29. - Howard Lauther - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 2:48 pm:

    Mr. Miller: In your editorial, you wrote when you were young “the military created a bunch of make-work summer jobs for teenagers,” and that you and your co-workers “were paid a couple of bucks an hour “to do whatever you were told. That it was often mindless office work or other stuff they made up to keep you busy and put a few dollars into your pockets. Now, I don’t know when you were a teenager, but if it was around 1960, that two dollars you wrote about was worth about $15 in today’s money. If it was in, say, 1970, that two bucks was worth about $12 today. And yet here you are, complaining that some impoverished Chicago kids today are getting $8.75 to hand out fliers, as well as attend museums, take yoga, etc. From your point of view, apparently, you’d rather occupy their time by having them process ammunition – and at a wage rate, factoring in inflation, that would be lower than you used to receive.

  30. - Anon* - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 2:53 pm:

    Howard gets the “missed the point” award for today.

  31. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 2:59 pm:

    ===Now, I don’t know when you were a teenager, but if it was around 1960===


    I wasn’t even born in 1960.

  32. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 3:08 pm:

    Howard, it was actually less than $2. I think it was $1.65 an hour. But let’s just say it was $2. And it was in 1980. So that would make it $5.61 an hour in today’s money.

  33. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 3:28 pm:

    Great stuff. reminds us of Blinky Jim Edgar and his “literacy” grants while at SOS….then there was the cash handed out to Cease Fire by Blagoof.
    Who says all the waste should go to payrollers who spend all day reading Capt Fax’s blog or vendors padding their bids
    BTW is there a reason CNN and New York TImes are doing readable stories while Gatehouse tells us IL pols are not the highest paid and give some disrict cash back?

  34. - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 3:52 pm:

    ==Downstater has it right. This “helping hand” only fosters more and more resentment among truly working people (CEO’s included), and fosters more contempt for liberals from those it supposedly ‘helps’. This Quinnenomics is self- boosterism and a healthy dose of condescension to boot, typical of mushy do-gooders.==

    Apparently you slept through every previous administration, or you just choose to naively belive this type of stuff is strictly a “liberal” or “Quinn” concoction.

  35. - Bill - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 4:01 pm:

    ==I wasn’t even born in 1960.==
    Go ahead. Rub it in, young blood.

  36. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 4:53 pm:

    Good one, CFS. Put those mopes in their place.
    Hey, did I see you last Thursday afternoon at Sam’s in the liquor dep’t?
    Wasn’t sure, and I was wrestling a 40 lb bag of dog food.
    Happy Holidays!

  37. - Maxine on Politics - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 5:23 pm:

    Good write up Mr. Miller. It was a waste of taxpayer money. Huh? - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 10:45 am: had the right idea. This is what these kids need. Lived in Germany Rich? Was it Sembach?

  38. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 5:59 pm:


  39. - one of the 35 - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 7:32 pm:

    My favorites were Illinois First grants during the Ryan Administration. 1. which provided $200,000 to improve the self esteem of 40 disadvantaged Latino youths. and 2. A $100,000 grant to replace the real plants in a Chicago school library with artificial ones.

  40. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 8:11 pm:

    Every day, all day long, governments prove Milton Friedman right; Governments waste money because it is not their money.

  41. - Rich Miller Sr - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 8:29 pm:

    Rich, The Army announced last week that are going to cut 160 civlians (out of 4,700) from their Army civilian workforce in Europe! Your job was probably filled by a contractor being paid $150K per year! They do not track the number of contractors working for DOD anywhere!

  42. - Rich Miller Sr - Monday, Dec 3, 12 @ 8:48 pm:

    BTW Rich, You were really punching holes in the container to identify that they had been inspected and certified as “ammunition free,” I guess you didn’t have “a need to know” at that time and that is the rest of the story!

  43. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:18 am:

    Right before Japan–the country admired most for its manufacturing and quality processes and most committed employee/employer relationships hit rock bottom, they began touting their on-site employee aerobic programs.

    Just sayin.

  44. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:19 am:

    Sorry: “…they began touting their on-site employee aerobic exercise programs.”

  45. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 9:30 am:

    “I like the yoga classes and don’t even mind paying these kids to take yoga”. (Cheryl44)

    “Not saying it was the greatest use of money, but perhaps it was worth a try”. (Small Town Liberal)

    Breathtaking, simply breathtaking. For the rest of us who are ignorant of the social engineering aspect of this program, please cite 1 research source, just 1 sociologist or a type of known and accepted theory of human development that has been placed into practice that has had a result that came even close to that hoped for in this boondoggle.

    Perhaps it was worth a try.

    55 Million dollars.

    Can you REALLY say that with a straight face?


    It’s easy to promote such a program when someone else is paying for it. That’s the trouble with gov’t. The people are a captive payor to the whims of folks who think such programs do anyting more than make those folks feel good - “well, at least we did something”

    Oh, Prunella.

  46. - Casey - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:08 pm:

    I agree with Howard. No difference in the featherbed work done in Germany, than the make work things done here. Rich is doing a Kerry, for it (when he was the beneficiary)until he became against it. And throwing out the $55MM grand total number without a corresponding grand total number for how much “busy work” money in total was paid in Gernmany does not serve the reader well enough to make a comparison judgement on the two programs.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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