June 10, 2004
Slashing Section 8
Compassionate conservatism seems to have finally hit rock bottom. The Bush administration's proposed budget for fiscal year 2005 includes a $1.66 billion cut from the Federal Section 8 housing assistance program. Section 8 provides housing vouchers to low-income families, many of which would otherwise be homeless.
"We're going to work actively to oppose the cuts," said Chuck Konigsberg of United Jewish Communities, a national organization of The Jewish Federation. "We're just in the process of trying to quantify the impact that these cuts would have on our community by [surveying] our federations for some estimates, but we feel that they would adversely affect many people in our community.
Mayor James Hahn joined multiple L.A. City Council members to oppose the cuts as well.
"The Bush administration's budget proposal would cut up to $112 million in rental assistance in Los Angeles, leaving up to 13,000 families out in the cold," Hahn said.
The proposal comes on the heels of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decision last month that holds Section 8 housing vouchers at August 2003 levels despite the increasing costs of living in cities like Los Angeles.
Immediate Needs' Saved
After the L.A. riots in 1992, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) created the Immediate Needs Transportation Program which funded taxi companies to dole out free rides to the needy. Costing $5 million per year (out of MTA's $2.9 billion budget), Immediate Needs came to provide taxi and bus vouchers for needy individuals across the city over the next 12 years.
But in its 2005 budget proposal, MTA cut the program. That sparked an uproar from L.A. nonprofit groups and residents who have come to depend on it. Approximately 30,000 people per month benefit from the program.
After appeals from the community at a public hearing on the MTA's budget, Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and two other MTA board members proposed reinstating Immediate Needs. The program was restored by a vote of 12-0 on June 7.
"We get about 300 vouchers per month for clients who are needy. Our clients are using them primarily to get to medical appointments and shopping," said Nikki Cavalier of the Freda Mohr Senior Service Center, a part of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. "Our clients are very frail, and many of them [are] homebound."
Cavalier explained that many of them cannot walk to the nearest bus stop and often live on narrow streets that disability van services don't reach.
"Even if [Immediate Needs] passes this year, there's a lot of concern about whether it's going to be reinstated next year," Cavalier said before the vote. "People have come to rely on it. If you ask [elderly] people to give up their cars, then you must give them another option."
Voting at 17?
American civics classes in California high schools may soon become a lot more interesting.
An amendment to the California Constitution, called ACA 25, would add California to the current list of 12 states that permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections. To be eligible under the new rules, the individual must turn 18 by the date of the general election. If passed, the soonest election it would affect would be in 2006.
The amendment's primary sponsors, Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo) and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, are supported by the state's Democratic Party and a litany of progressive organizations such as the AFL-CIO, the California League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote.
"By the time most [young] people are eligible to register to vote today, they're living in a new community, many of them are college freshman or they're just starting to worry about making a living in the world out of high school," said local attorney, activist and ACA 25 supporter Andrew Lachman of the current system. He noted that ACA 25 would enable high school seniors, who already must take a course in American government, to actually implement what they learn while still in school.
To counter assertions that youth voters always vote Democratic, supporters of ACA 25 point to studies demonstrating that 18-29-year-olds are more conservative than the general population. Proponents claim that ACA 25 will increase a youth voter turnout that has declined by 20 percent in California since 1972.
"These votes are going to have to be earned," Lachman said. "Whether it's the Democratic or Republican Party, it's going to have to answer to issues that concern young people like education, jobs and the economy."
The Cross and the ACLU, Part 2
Fresh from its victory in Redlands, the ACLU has decided to take on L.A. County over a cross in its official seal.
Reciting the exact same argument used against Redlands, the ACLU decried the sectarian religious icon on the seal of a public entity. In another parallel to the Redlands situation, county leaders voted not to fight the ACLU given its court record in similar disputes.
After county supervisors voted 3-2 to eliminate the cross, angry letters, phone calls and e-mails began rolling in. Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe, both opposed to the ACLU's stance, each cited hundreds of such complaints to their offices.
Public complaints notwithstanding, the fear of entering into a costly legal entanglement against a mountain of precedent case law forced the county into compliance, just as it did Redlands.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky urged opponents of the change, such as talk show host Dennis Prager, to consider compromise that would spare the county millions of dollars in legal fees. One idea offered was to replace the cross with images of of a mission and native tribes whom the missionaries, um, saved.