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Penalized for Being Honest – A Real World Look at How Poverty Programs Work

11:42 am in Uncategorized by chicagogal

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(Photo: USDAgov/flickr)

The Census Bureau’s new report on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage is out and shows the rising poverty and income inequality levels in this country. Marcy at emptywheel did a great job reporting on her participation in a poverty simulation in conjunction with Hunger Action Week. As someone who has lived that life for far too long, it seems like a good time to talk about how that works in real life.

I live in Dupage County, Illinois, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the country with 19 out of 39 towns having an average household income over $100,000, so you rarely see the poor and would never imagine that poverty is a rising issue here. There are very few aid programs available for which I meet the qualifications, but two of them have created major problems for me this year and I’d like to focus on those because they are indicative of what millions of people go through every day while just trying to survive.

The first program is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps), which is federally funded, but managed by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). While it’s possible to apply for SNAP benefits online or through several organizations, their only other online capability is to check your balance and expenditures. You have to reapply regularly to keep the benefits, and while they do offer an “automated” phone system for that, they only print your answers to add to an overwhelming stack of other applications being manually entered into their system. That inefficiency consistently runs 1-2 months behind, but you are not notified of that delay and end up without food money while not knowing why (to be fair, I’m told they are trying to alleviate the processing time delay).

After making a mistake with their phone system, my benefits were cancelled with no notification, which necessitated several trips to the only DHS office in the county located more than 10 miles from my home. The problem was finally resolved through a chain of people knowing people which got me to the director of that DHS office, and even then it took another couple of weeks. The whole fiasco left me with no food money for over two months and forced me to choose between food and electricity while it was still winter here.

The second program is Access Dupage, a program whose mission is to provide access to medical services to those people in the county who lack healthcare access for economic reasons. This is where I was penalized for being honest because I admitted a friend was helping me financially and included her verification letter in my renewal application. I am without healthcare because they refused to accept her letter as proof of my income and demanded that she provide documents proving her income for the prior 90 days, even though she was not applying for benefits and had no relationship with them! Their excuse for invading a non-applicant’s privacy is that it is required by their guidelines.

Overall, it sucks to be poor and is far more challenging than any job in just getting your basic needs met. It’s an invasive degrading, demeaning and demoralizing experience with endless frustrations; and is a time-sucking monster that is more expensive than people think due to high gas prices, public transportation and childcare costs for only a few minutes time with a case worker that has too many cases. I wish there was a solution to be offered, but the agencies involved don’t want to change or compromise to help more people, nor do they want to institute the efficiencies offered by current technology.

Illinois County Recorder Joins the Fight against MERS for Fraud and Deception Regarding Property Transfer Fees

2:51 pm in Uncategorized by chicagogal

Neon Notary (photo: Jeremy Brooks/flickr)

All I can say is it’s about damn time somebody in Illinois stepped up to the plate to hold banks accountable for their criminal activities! St. Clair County Recorder Mike Costello and State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly on May 21st filed a civil suit for fraud and deception against 22 banks for allegedly using MERS to “sidestep recording fees” and creating “a scheme to evade county fees and shield property transfer records from the public.” As State’s Attorney, Mr. Kelly works with and advises government at the county level, while the Attorney General provides the same services at the state level. Additionally:

We have been hearing from deputy recorders that kept having questions raised by individual home owners doing title searches,” he said. “With MERS it is very difficult to ascertain who owns what with any given piece of property.”

“It turns out that the replacement system is very inaccurate with very little oversight,” he said.

He said Illinois law is “clear and strong” regarding recording laws, but that MERS is in violation of various statutes including unjust enrichment, consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices.

Considering that St. Clair County was one of twelve Illinois counties contacted by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in July 2011 regarding an investigation into MERS that she was starting, they must feel that AG Madigan’s investigation is either going nowhere, or was dropped once she signed onto the 49-state “settlement” earlier this year. AG Madigan was one of the main negotiators for that “settlement”, but apparently had no intention of actually prosecuting the banks for their criminal activities leading up to and after the housing bubble broke. The 12 counties contacted were asked to research and submit documents listing MERS as one of the parties to a property. Each county has different guidelines as to what and how documents are recorded, so some counties have nothing more than an electronic record and others have paper copies. The other 11 counties are Champaign, Dupage, Lasalle, Madison, Kankakee, McHenry, Rock Island, Sangamon, Vermillion, Whiteside and Winnebago. Read the rest of this entry →

Illinois joins other states in questioning document fraud in foreclosures

9:51 am in Uncategorized by chicagogal

If you only get your news from the MSM, it may appear that Illinois has bypassed most of the problems other states have faced in the widespread document fraud and robo-signing scandals that have been reported elsewhere. In fact, we seem very civilized in moving our foreclosure cases through the courts despite the increasing protests trying to prevent foreclosures based solely on economic reasons. In my Chicago-area county, the judge presiding over foreclosure cases got himself some media attention recently due to his “compassion” for homeowners who cannot afford an attorney. His bright idea was to have the local HUD-certified counseling agency and a legal aid firm present in his courtroom so that he could refer homeowners to their services when they appear before him for their foreclosure cases. Let’s never mind the fact that this HUD-approved counseling agency cannot work with banks for forbearance or negotiation of a loan modification because banks and servicing agencies refuse to work with them, or that the legal aid firm he has chosen refuses to help any homeowner who wants to fight their foreclosure because they will only take clients who are in a position to negotiate a successful loan modification. For the vast majority of homeowners, there is no help to be found in Judge Robert Gibson’s courtroom. In fact, Judge Gibson (R – up for re-election in 2012) also appears to not believe in document fraud as he states in this article he wrote for The Dupage County Bar Association’s magazine in the fall of 2010 that offers advice for distressed homeowners:

The publicity surrounding the disclosure of sloppy business practices by lenders has also distracted homeowners from their primary avenues of success, as outlined above, in favor of pushing the mortgagee to demonstrate that it owns the mortgage.

The Honorable Judge is also a member of a newly formed committee to look into foreclosure issues, and presumably to eventually offer solutions. I think we can all agree that it’s about freaking time our state Supreme Court has finally figured out that there is a problem! However, upon closer inspection of this “committee”, there are no homeowner advocacy groups or even any homeowners on it. The members are 6 judges (retired and currently hearing foreclosure cases), 5 attorneys (whose focus is in banking, creditor law and mortgage lending), 1 Senior Vice President of a bank, 1 university professor who teaches bailouts and business bankruptcy in addition to bankruptcy and consumer law, and 1 representative of the Attorney General’s office who is the Chief of their Consumer Protection Division. While it would appear that there are at least one or two members who would certainly look out for the homeowners and their rights, I’m sure many would question the impartiality of this “committee” considering how many of its members actively work in and around ensuring that banks continue to have their wishes become fact by gaming the system in their favor.

A couple of counties have created mediation rules in order to try resolving homeowner issues before it is too late and the state has been holding “Help for Homeowners” seminars for the last couple of years which really just prepares homeowners for the eventual fact that they will lose their homes, but many experts (and our President!) seem to finally be coming to the realization that

nobody knows who owns what in the largest market in the world, the US residential housing market

All of this smacks of the banks getting their way by not having to prove they have the legal standing to foreclose and evict people. And you might be right, except for this recent Illinois Appellate Court ruling:

In light of our holding, we need not address whether there were genuine issues of material fact regarding the basis for the Palladinos’ default and the enforceability of the mortgage and note.

For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in HSBC Bank’s favor and remand for further proceedings.

Reversed and remanded.

While this ruling reversed and remanded a case ruled on by Judge Gibson’s predecessor, I do know that the Honorable Judge has now started requiring banks to submit valid documents, but he is not ruling in favor of the defendant homeowners since he seems to only be rescheduling the court dates. The question is raised about this Judge’s impartiality since his actions in these cases only gives banks more time to “find” the correct paperwork and puts those homeowners who do have attorneys further into debt by dragging out the amount of time that they have to retain and pay for those services. We’ll see if he lets me ask those questions when I am next before him in my own foreclosure case at the end of this month.

Thoughts on life…and death

2:55 am in Uncategorized by chicagogal

On this Easter Sunday it seems only natural for our thoughts to turn to life, death and resurrection. Today, my thoughts are attuned to life and death more than at any other time in my life because my beloved oldest brother chose to take his own life last week. We weren’t as close as I would have liked for several reasons, but mostly just an age gap as he was nine years older than me. I don’t really remember him from when I was young because he was gone into the Army and off to Vietnam by the time I was becoming more aware of the outside world; and because as a teenager he, of course, had his own life to live and was rarely home to spend time with me. Once he left military service, he chose to settle near other relatives so we still didn’t see much of each other.

It’s tough to be a member of my family. I’m not sure why, but having a somewhat distant father and self-involved mother was no doubt part of it. We didn’t live near extended family for a good part of my childhood, so I never got to know them well. Even after my parents divorced and we moved back to my mother’s hometown and in with my grandmother for a time, we never really had much contact with them. Or at least I didn’t. I’m sure there was more contact than what I remember, but all of these years later it just doesn’t seem like there was. Even today I don’t talk to, much less see, any family members. It’s not that I don’t love them, just that our lives don’t intersect anywhere. For my immediate family, that was the only bond we had because we were all so different that we would have never been friends, much less had any contact with each other outside of that.

I can’t condemn my brother for his choice because he was caught up in the worst that our family had to offer for a much longer period of time than me. Some here know that I have been struggling with long-term unemployment and contemplating the same solution. But beyond the job situation, my story diverges from his due to financial reasons. Several years after he came home from the Army, he was in a motorcycle accident that left him a paraplegic. That brought a host of other problems, including depression, but he was able to create a life for himself that at least brought stability. As my life has spiraled downward the last few years, we actually became closer and I was so thankful that I was finally able to get to know him as a person and what his life before the accident was like.

As with any relationship, too often our topic of conversation revolved around family and the events of the past few years. I’m a very private person and don’t generally share my story, but the short version is that too many family members have abused me in every way possible throughout my life. Several years ago I was forced into buying a house by my mother, even though I was not in the market or financially able to do so, but there really was no way to not comply. That relationship has always been like oil and water, or probably more like the moth to the flame since I was always the one who got burned. After draining my bank account, and me losing my job and not being able to support her any longer, she accused me of abuse and had my other brother come get her so she could move in with him. She chose to lie to all the other family members about the situation, which was just the latest in a lifetime of lies, but the end result this time was that she blew up the family and left me holding the bag financially. I really never thought she was a deadbeat, but had she paid her way as we had agreed, or even paid what she owed me for her time here, I would at least have been in a better position to survive this downturn.

All we have ever wanted was for our family to love us, care about us and be proud of us. Sadly, we were never really able to make that happen in any meaningful way. It was a topic my brother and I talked about often over the last couple of years. He chose to try and continue having a relationship with her while I chose to cut the ties. It saddened me greatly when we would talk and he would be upset because he had talked to her and didn’t get the emotional fulfillment he so wanted. Even now, when my aunt called to tell her what happened, mom answered the phone bitching about whatever which forced my aunt to just blurt out the news. Now, she’s all contrite and it’s her “beloved son” and how sad she is so shouldn’t everyone just feel sorry for her. Overall, I think I made the right decision because I am finally free to become the person I always knew was waiting to bloom, but am just so sad and angry that she made his life a living hell for all of his 58 years. For sure there were other reasons that are currently unknown to me that went into his decision, but that relationship and what she did to me were major contributing factors in his overall unhappiness these last few years.

At the moment, this is all very abstract since I am a couple of hundred miles away and not in the middle of the horrible aftermath. My nature is more intellectual and analytical, but it does not mean that I am not deeply affected, just that I process things much differently than others. That was something my brother and I disagreed on regularly and I am so very sorry that we had not gotten to the point where he was able to appreciate me as a person.

So that just leaves the resurrection part. I’m not overly religious, even though I am spiritual, but I know that he stopped at the rainbow bridge to get his beloved dogs and is no longer confined to a wheelchair. I can’t be angry at him for leaving because more than anyone else, I understand why he chose this terrible path to take; but I will be forever sad that he left and that though our last words were angry, somehow he knows how much I loved him and will miss him.

Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign’s “March on Madigan” and how I became a reluctant activist

9:03 pm in Uncategorized by chicagogal

I have a confession to make: Don Quixote is my hero! Not the real character from the books, but the ideals for which he fought. When I was younger, it was the romanticism of chivalry and fighting to make things right. Now that I am much older and more experienced in the ways of the world, it is still some of that, but also that everyone deserves a fair shake in life. Personally, I have always tried to help out those who seemed like they needed the help, but now that I am the one who needs help, it seems like the Don Quixote’s of the world have disappeared. I know that’s really not true and am at the point where I can no longer just read about the injustices being served upon the poor and working class of America by people who really ought to know better. It’s shameful what has been happening for the last few decades and I finally hit that level of frustration that makes me want to do more than just talk about it. I recently met some local organizers here in the Chicago area and started talking about what different groups are doing. The whole protest thing is new and a little overwhelming, but has given me some much needed peace due to these folks making me feel like I am valued and that they are so happy to have me tell my story.

So far I have attended a couple of protests for unemployment and foreclosures, and was able to tell part of my story. The kind of validation that gives me is indescribable after spending over two years being called a lazy, drug-addicted bum who is leeching off of society for the sole reason that I am unemployed and cannot find a job. The protest I attended a few days ago was sponsored in part by a local group, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, who believes that housing is a human right and that no one should be evicted based on economic motivation.  Since this is my first post and don’t know how to insert photos or video, they thankfully now have the video posted here: http://chicagoantieviction.org/ . From one of the CAEC’s flyers handed out at the event (emphasis mine):

1. A moratorium on ALL economically motivated evictions. Two moratoriums were instituted in Cook County, but they were narrowly defined and very short-term. Meanwhile, the housing situation has only worsened. A moratorium will pressure the banks to negotiate with families who are in foreclosure and facing eviction, as families will simply continue to occupy their homes. Only a moratorium will ensure that families facing a 23% cut to the HUD budget, who are rent-burdened and unemployed, or struggling against mortgage fraud will not be made homeless. Eviction is not a solution to the economic crisis.
 
2. Prosecute the banks for fraudulent practices. In 2009, Lisa Madigan filed charges against Wells Fargo and then Countrywide (now BOA) for discriminatory sub-prime lending. She had overwhelming support from the public for co-leading a 50 State foreclosure investigation that proposed criminal prosecutions against big bank executives that broke the law. Now these attorney generals are negotiating a financial settlement, with no criminal charges, that will do nothing to help families losing their homes now, or for our devastated communities. Prosecutions will bring justice those who generated this housing crisis, as well as curb the excessive power of big banks-forcing them to participate in, rather than hinder, a solution to the economic crisis. We believe Lisa Madigan can do more, and that we must make them and-in a unified voice, from our many communities in crisis-that she pursue criminal charges against these banks.

 
Illinois seems to have escaped a lot of foreclosure news, but this will hopefully help highlight what some here are doing change that. I hope to be part of things and am looking forward to the “We Are One” rally scheduled to be held in downtown Chicago at 1:00 pm on Saturday, April 9th. For more information about this event, please go here: http://www.ilafl-cio.org/docs/11WeAreOne.pdf.