Tag Archives: jobs

Padding the Numbers: Seedco in NYC and Gutters in New Orleans

Federal agents carry out records from New Orleans Affordable Homeowners Corp. & indictments followed.

New Orleans    Sometimes it comes down to who you know, not what you can do, and in those circumstances when the screws start turning from the City paymasters, the favored few sometimes just start making up shit to save themselves rather than the families they are meant to serve.  This week I’ve had to read about companies in New Orleans who were supposed to be gutting houses for Katrina victims being indicted for fabricating addresses where they had supposedly done the work, often taking credit for work in fact that the ACORN gutting program had done, and about Seedco in New York City in a similar scandal fictionalizing 1400 job placements where either folks got jobs on their own or didn’t get work, but Seedco claimed success for their efforts or lack of them.

In New Orleans where ACORN financed a giant multi-million dollar effort using a combination of skilled crews and thousands of volunteers to gut more than 5000 homes, leading the recovery effort after Katrina (see The Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster), we collected promises of funding and reimbursement from the City of New Orleans from the Mayor to all of the City Council, but never collected a dime.  We were silent, but not surprised when investigators examined our records and found that sometimes several City Hall chummy contractors had claimed ACORN gutted houses many times over.  We were not comfortable surrendering our records, so stayed clear of the mess.

We had been a subcontractor with the non-profit Seedco in Baltimore with our ACORN  Service Centers in providing tax preparation and benefit access services, and found the relationship beneficial enough there that it was an outlier for the national organization.  We came to rue some of this when Baltimore went off the rails on housing counseling and were scammed by O’Keefe in a related program.  Seedco is in New Orleans as well.  We met with them after the hurricane, but nothing came of it.  Their housing counseling program is partnered with the credit union that is now our landlord, and we share an address.  I think they mean well and often do good work.

Despite that disclosure, they are a New York City centric operation that funders have sought to expand, and from the leadership of Seedco down there is a “NY” implicit on their caps even to a major board member being the Ford guy who helped them get started and funded them in the beginning and their new president who was a long time New York government fixture.  All of which may explain why some of their job counselors felt pressured to fabricate results to keep their jobs and protect their $7 million contract with the City of New York.  It also may explain why their original internal investigation after the Times broke the story from whistleblowers inside, still turned up no evidence of fabrication in the numbers.  This week it comes out that the City is transferring the whole contract to another nonprofit, so their efforts to claim they had fired or pushed out those involved or responsible comes to naught.

It is interesting to read their statement published currently on their website about the New York City scandal as a classic, new school textbook listing of how institutions are supposed to respond to these kinds of operational problems.  I hate to think how much they and their funders paid to some so-called crisis-management team for that concoction.  It starts with “blaming the victims” – those down the chain of command at lower levels who couldn’t resist the city pressure and internal culture, so had to go; setting “new” standards; hiring someone internally to police the new standards; investigating internally though they admit, ineffectively; and whatever else might postpone the reckoning.  There was no mention of making the numbers good by finding the missing 1400 jobs.  There was no mention of the perhaps impossibility of the task in this economy and the need for more social service support to bridge the gap or the impossibility of making gold through some mysterious alchemy out of iron.

In both situations unfortunately sometimes the subcontractors are just too close to the paymasters to make the programs work.  Cronies are not always crooks, but they are always dependents.  The push to subcontract and privatize can cause lots of problems and the cities themselves should bear their responsibilities here, even though it’s always the weakest links in the chain that pay the price.  And, frequently, they meant well, too.   

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Obama Job Plan and the Challenge of Green Jobs

PhotovoltaikSan Jose The President threw it up against the wall with a jobs plan that is kind of a plan and kind of a campaign statement and kind of a flying flag to see what the Republicans might salute.  A lot of it seemed mainly designed to help employers who were hiring and people who had jobs by reducing payroll taxes on both sides.  The unemployed might get an extension of benefits, which is desperately needed, but not necessarily popular.

Being in Silicon Valley and staying in San Jose near the epicenter of green jobs, I spent some time trying to learn about how to electrify bikes, which was interesting, but not actually something that will replace lost autoworker jobs.  I also tried to understand the headlines behind the bankruptcy of Solyndra and the other solar companies by talking to a local expert.  The headlines in the San Jose Mercury News today featured pictures of FBI agents walking out with boxes of paperwork trying to figure out what happened to a half-a-billion dollar federal loan guarantee that led to 1200 workers in solar panel production being laid off.  Other companies in this area had also cut back on installation programs not being able to keep up with the shifting set of state incentives.  California that used to reputedly have one of the best incentive programs for solar in the country at several dollars per watt now only gives about a quarter a water.

Talking to some industry veterans it seems clear that in solar production the USA cannot compete with billions of dollars of interest free loans in China that have sustained the industry there to the point of dominance in the industry.  For all of the rock throwing about such subsidies, the situation at Solyndra is not much different as a USA subsidy, so one wonders why the USA doesn’t borrow from the Chinese book and do a whole lot more and actually create the financing behind high investment industries with significant employment opportunities.  The FBI might find there were shenanigans, but they might simply find that Soyndra couldn’t face the Chinese competition as so many other solar companies have determined.
To create the volume of jobs we need, especially in manufacturing and production, there needs to be more investment, not just by business and with business incentives, but with full throated government backing as well.  We cannot compete with the Chinese, Vietnamese, and other lower wage countries around the world with words.  It will take dollars!

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