Week in Review: "Interrupters," Welfare Reform at 15, expungement resources

Week in Review: "Interrupters," Welfare Reform at 15, expungement resources

We wanted to start our recap of work produced by The Chicago Reporter over the last week by referring readers over to The Barbershop Shop at Vocalo.org. On today's show, Reporter staff spoke with members of the violence-fighting team featured in the new documentary "The Interrupters" about the root causes of violence in Chicago and what can be done to stop violence here. One of the film's producers also appeared on the show.

As the Reporter's Megan Cottrell noted this morning, the conversation will also be rebroadcast from noon to 1 p.m. tomorrow. Don't miss it.

Elsewhere on the Muckrakers blog this week, we took a peek at a range of issues, from the connection between crime and pedestrian safety to welfare reform's anniversary.

On Thursday, Cottrell reported on a new system from Illinois Legal Aid meant to make the expungement process easier. Legal Aid, she wrote, had developed "an online system where people can determine if they're eligible for expungement and then create the legal documents to file."

“The criminal record is one of the most debilitating lifelong restrictions to employment a person could face,” said Tony Lowery, director of policy and advocacy for the Safer Foundation. "Most people don’t understand that arrest records have to be expunged.”

Thursday also saw a protest march wind through one of the city's high-end commercial corridors--North Michigan Avenue, aka the Magnificent Mile. The marchers used stretch to campaign for a boost in the state's minimum wage, through Senate Bill 1565. The legislation didn't go anywhere during the 2011 legislative session in Springfield.

Cottrell and I both wrote about a gangly new teenager on the policy block this week. Yes, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, also known as welfare reform, turned 15 on August 22. With a stroke of then-President Bill Clinton's pen, out went the guaranteed entitlement program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and in came the time-limited, more restrictive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, or TANF.

Three points to consider about welfare reform's impact in Illinois. First, just nine out of every 100 families in poverty now use TANF, the Urban Institute found. Second, the maximum TANF benefit in the state, of $432 for a family of three, has continually lost its purchasing power since '96. And finally, Illinois' TANF program hasn't played much of a role in the new, high-unemployment reality that has struck the state; while TANF caseloads are up, the ranks of the jobless has swelled a much faster rate.

Don't forget the national social welfare context either. "[W]hile the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression made many families turn to programs like food stamps for help, welfare rolls barely budged," Cottrell wrote in her welfare post. "While food stamps used to go to 28 million Americans in 2008, they now go to nearly 45 million Americans. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ... serves 4.5 million families."

"I think it really bears watching over the next year," the Urban Institute's Shelia Zedlewski told the Reporter. "What do we do when people don't have unemployment insurance and don't have any cash benefits and are trying to get by on [food stamps]?"

This week, Reporter staff also covered a new report from the Chicago Department of Transportation that found that city neighborhoods beset by crime are also the places where pedestrians are most likely to be seriously injured or even killed by a vehicle. We reported on the battle over whether New York City food stamp recipients should be allowed to use food stamps to purchase sugary soda drinks. And we wrote about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new foreclosure prevention effort and the third round of the federally backed Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Finally, check out these four great reads from other Chicago media outlets from the past week:

From the Chicago News Cooperative, "What Illinois' Appetite for Gambling Growth?": "Questions surrounding a gambling bill that is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk have focused on regulation and on how much new casinos could raise for state coffers.  But casino industry watchers are also asking whether the gambling market will be oversaturated with five new riverboats, minicasinos at the state’s five horse racing tracks and slot machines at Chicago’s airports. Increased competition from neighboring states, an unpredictable economy and casino bankruptcies are raising distress signals for the industry nationwide."

From the Chicago Reader, "Where’s Garry McCarthy?  A frustrated south-side community invites Chicago’s new police superintendent to a 'dialogue'": "Hundreds of people gathered inside a Chatham church Saturday morning for a Q&A session with police superintendent Garry McCarthy. But 15 minutes after it was scheduled to start, the featured guest wasn't there yet."

From Chicago Public Radio, "Quinn hits back against immigration checks": "Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to throw another wrench into a key immigration-enforcement program of President Obama’s administration, saying it ensnares too many people and erodes trust in local police."

From Chicago Magazine: "Barbershop of Second Chances: The Story of Eddie Lopez and Xclusive Cuts": "In Cicero, on 26th street, a paved vacant lot on one side, a chiropractor's office on the other, sits an unassuming barbershop with the unassuming name: Xclusive Cuts. On Tuesday, nine barbers—all young, all men, all Latino—were giving fades and squares to young boys and teenagers primping for their return to school. The other thing worth mentioning about these barbers is that each of them is looking for a second chance."

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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