New Orleans Fingers are crossed, breath held, and hopes soaring that finally there may be an interim fix on the British Petroleum BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. An article by David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post yesterday asked in a timely fashion why this oil crisis has not produced environmental changes and victories? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/11/AR2010071103523.html).
Good question! They have a lot to say about, some of which is probably on point (general recession) and some of which is not (too far…huh…Louisiana is way closer than Alaska!). I worry that there is more to this though.
Woefully part of the problem has been the total inability of the environmental organizations and the movement as a whole to speak with anything resembling one voice. Many times there seems to be more jockeying for position and resources among the groups that real mobilization of support for change. But, clearly there is a real lack of consensus on what the changes should be.
Perhaps the largest divide is over calls for a ban on oil drilling. The ban is opposed by 77% of the American people who have been sold for decades that there oil is important and it is better for it to come from “home” than the Middle East and elsewhere. The divide is also stark in the Gulf where the support for oil workers and the oil service industry is significant because of the jobs and impact on the economy. The oil companies have also just been better by miles for decades in keeping any of the environmental problems of drilling off of their shoes. The best example is the well documented problem of canal dredging by the companies along the bayous which has led to tremendous coastal erosion with no real consequences to the companies.
New Orleans Part of the citizen pain that comes from subcontracting the handling of public services to private companies is the certainty that someone is making money with no accountability to anyone and absolutely no regard for the economic hardship involved for citizens. A perfect example that I am witnessing close at hand involves JP Morgan Chase’s handling of the debit cards it loads with unemployment benefits for eligible recipients in the great state of Louisiana. If anyone cared about the unemployed getting benefits they are legally entitled to receive and furthermore whose premiums they have personally paid for just this problem, it would be different. In Louisiana, like many states, one cannot escape the feeling that the state government is in cahoots with the bank to depress the level of benefit payments by not correcting its terrible procedures and systemic flaws.
Let’s talk about real examples though.
In recent months I followed carefully the cases of a number of people who were laid off and dutifully applied for unemployment. They did so on-line, which seemed to be an improvement from the past procedures. They also filed their job searches and weekly claims on-line which is also a good thing. So props to the State of Louisiana for some wins in the system.
The problem came when it came time to actually pry the money from JP Morgan Chase which was responsible for providing the debit cards loaded and ready for the unemployed workers to receive their benefits. Supposedly there was a number at Chase to call. There was never any answer. Furthermore, they would change the number almost daily and in several cases I watched; in fact they did change the number daily! Qualified workers trying to access benefits were like gamblers trying to find a floating crap game. Ridiculous!
In many of these situations after weeks of trying to access the system – and in one case, months – the only way the workers got their benefits was to physically make their way to a Chase branch bank in East New Orleans that was handling unemployment, and finally there get the pin numbers to allow them to access their benefits. This would be bad enough, but the Chase mischief doesn’t stop there. I know of two cases where the claimants are unable to reapply for benefits because they have less than one dollar on their card ($.53 in one case), and by the rules they are not able to get their extension until they have “exhausted” their benefits. Chase has even been trying to get these workers to open new bank accounts with Chase in order to “spend” the money. Crazy!!! Meanwhile one worker I have followed has not been able to resolve this with Chase for a full month, and the other is watching the clock move that way.
I’m sure this is a lucrative contract for Chase. I’m sure they get to “invest” the “float” on the money once they receive it in due course from the State of Louisiana, especially since they take their sweet time getting the money to where it is supposed to go.
The point of this terrible game seems to be to keep people from getting their money. That’s not the way any benefit program should be allowed to work, and when a subcontractor like Chase is involved, they should be fired and the State of Louisiana should stand up and start doing the right thing rather than prattling more rightwing ideology from the Governor’s office about how private enterprise does it all better.