Tag Archives: arkansas

Debt Means “Can’t Win for Losing”

Ponce       Arkansas Community Organizations, one of KABF and ACORN’s partners on many projects, especially those involving financial security for low-and-moderate income families, recently released a report about major debt that is oppressing these families.  The report is called “Can’t Win for Losing,” and that just about says it all, but digging into its outreach and conclusions is shocking even to the most jaded among us.

This isn’t just an Arkansas or southern problem, but a national one.  It just affects southern states like Arkansas more, which is why the Annie B. Casey Foundation created the Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt, including ACO, ACI, and a number of other national and southern nonprofit organizations. The report doesn’t sugarcoat the problem, but jumps right into it from the first paragraphs:

A recent study by the Urban Institute revealed that 33% of all Americans have debt in collections. That percentage is closer to 40% in Arkansas. The research shows that there are significant disparities along the fault lines of race and class, with low-income people of color bearing the greatest debt burden. In Arkansas, 36% of white households have debt in collections compared to 58% of black and brown households. The burden falls most heavily on people of color because of the stark differences in household income. The average income for white households in Arkansas is $63,887, while black and brown households in Arkansas bring home an average of $43,749 each year.

When the Arkansas Community Institute, the tax-exempt research arm of ACO, surveyed more than 1800 people in Pulaski and Jefferson Counties, who used the organization’s tax preparation services, the most common debt burdens also became very clear.

The total amount of debt reported by these community members was over $19 million.  The four major types of debt were student loans (493 respondents), hospital bills (478), auto loans (362), and court fines and fees (190).  Seventy percent (847) of those with debt said they were having problems making their payments. Forty-three percent (516) of respondents had debt in collections.

Like they said, in these situations, families “can’t win for losing.”

The stories in the report are as heartrending as they are almost commonplace.  A grandmother supporting her grandchildren and herself on disability and social security with $2500 in court fines that began with an unpaid $59 dental bill where interest charges and late fees have accumulated over the twenty years she has been trying on limited income to pay off.  A woman with school debt from a technical program that went belly up before she got a degree that she thought was forgiven, but lingered on for thirty years and is now an obstacle in her current educational ambition.  It goes on and on.

When the report comes to “what’s to be done,” the recommendations are clear, but almost as depressing as the findings.  Many require national solutions like the ambitious programs proposed by some of the current candidates for presidency like Medicare for All or free tuition.  Others presume a kinder, gentler state than Arkansas or many others found in the south, but also a state with deeper pockets and richer citizens and institutions, whether judicial, medical, or educational, that understand affordability and citizen wealth as clearly as their primary missions.

Nonetheless, lawmakers and others need to pay attention to this report.  Even changes at the margins could mean huge differences for low-and-moderate income families.  Discretion is important in the way institutions and government deal with debt.  In dealing with families, mercy is as crucial as letter-of-the-law justice in a family’s economic survival.  There is a long “to do list” in this report, and there are many people that need to get into gear and start checking the boxes on what needs to be done.


Volunteer Host “Army” Gathers at KABF

35th anniversary cake

Little Rock       As the hosts of KABF’s radio shows gathered at the New Millennium Church in western Little Rock near the University of Little Rock campus, long time DJs went back and forth trying to remember when we had convened our last all hands meeting of the hosts.  I would venture three or four years, and others would swear it might have been five.  No one was certain, but it had definitely been a while.  Memory plays tricks, calendars speak facts, unless it’s coming from Justice Kavanagh or something.  In truth, it was January, 2016, a bit more than three years ago at the Central Arkansas Library System’s Darragh Room.  There were individual genre meetings with groups of hosts before then, but the all-host meeting before that was March 2013, six months or so after I began managing the station.

When I asked the thirty-five hosts in the room how many had been to a all-DJs meeting before, perhaps a half-dozen raised their hands, which said two things:  first, that many of the long time hosts, of which there are plenty, did not bother to come, and, secondly, that it was time to orient the new hosts, so it was good that we had convened everyone.  We began the meeting with a round of introductions which were heartening.  We had hosts from Sacred Gospel, from SpeakUp, from Union Station, from World Music and Banonauts with its African emphasis, from the rock and new music shows like Shoog Radio and Nevermind the Morning Show, from Gray Matter and the Workplace and Community Voice.  What a diverse and exciting team!

hosts for various shows getting to know each other after the meeting from Sacred Gospel to Banonauts

The meat and potatoes of the meeting was the station’s ongoing drive to be sustainable.  Hosts shared tips on how to improve their performance on pledge drives which are a steady source of a noncommercial station’s revenue, but never enough.  There was discussion about how to build underwriting partnerships, and why they were important.  The special item on the menu though, and not surprisingly, was membership.  Whether the shows pledged well or not, I wanted to deliver a message that everyone could recruit members to the station who would pay their dues and donations monthly.  I announced a twenty-member quota and heads nodded, which isn’t the same as agreement, but we’ll work to make it so.  Even at $5 a month with twenty members paying monthly the resources created would be huge for the station, and everyone has twenty friends, relatives, and neighbors, and that’s not even counting their listeners who should be their bread and butter.  The trick is always the same:  you have to ask!

The other main item was actually an even more bitter pill.  Finally, a long-delayed conversion to new programming and broadcasting software is going to happen.  Our other stations did the changeover lickety-split, but change is hard when day to day you are used to the same ol’, same ol’.  My announcement that I would pull the plug on the old software at the end of the year, come hell or high water, went over with a bit of a thud and only two or three raised their hands to admit they had already gone to the new programming.

The proof will be in the pudding whether the hosts want more of these meetings or fewer.  As the station manager, I loved the opportunity to meet everyone in one place and have a shot at trying to get the volunteer army to march together towards the same battle station, rather than continuing to fire blindly or in a circle.