Entitlement isn't guaranteed for everyone -- we must work together

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By one definition, “An entitlement program is a government program that guarantees and provides benefits to a particular group.” The notion of economic development and the word “slum” being used in the same sentence seems contradictory, doesn’t it?

The Erbelding Building on Broad Street, dating to about 1870, sits empty in this photo from last November. While some debate whether downtown Augusta can be called a "slum," a better question would be: How can Augustans join together to seize the city's myriad development opportunities?  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/FILE
The Erbelding Building on Broad Street, dating to about 1870, sits empty in this photo from last November. While some debate whether downtown Augusta can be called a "slum," a better question would be: How can Augustans join together to seize the city's myriad development opportunities?

We’ve seen and read announcements about new companies locating to Augusta, existing business expansions and new jobs being created, and we are happy about it. Cities nationwide are considered “entitlement cities,” and Augusta is one of them. When you consider the word “guarantee’” in the above definition of an entitlement program, it implies that no matter what, you can receive whatever it is you’re guaranteed.

THAT GUARANTEE, however, can create a sense of complacency in people and a community – if you know beyond a shadow of doubt that whatever situation you’re in, you’re having to do very little to obtain that “guarantee” you will receive a designated amount of dollars.

So what can happen? You create and maintain your lifestyle to fit in the “guaranteed” amount, so you do the very least to receive what has been promised to you. What incentive is there for you to do any more than that? So there’s little expectation and very little hope for anything more than what you’re already accustomed to, and life simply goes on with little to no change.

And so the cycle begins – and once a person has become complacent, it’s hard to get out of that situation. Just like losing weight – it’s taken years for the pounds to pile on, and we realize it’s going to be harder to get them off. It will take a strong and concerted effort to make changes in our lives and lifestyles.

Recently there was an outrage in this community about the bureaucratic use of the word “slum” in an economic development tool called an Urban Redevelopment Area. Our local elected officials are considering this approach to enhance economic development efforts in the downtown area. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “slum” as “a heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and squalor.”

There has been an effort – some just talk and some actual progress – to revitalize downtown since the late 1970s when the larger retail stores moved to the malls (Augusta Mall and the former Regency Mall). Plenty of ideas have come from community and business leaders. Studies have been done. Initiatives to clean up downtown and reduce crime are being proposed.

NEW CONDOMINIUMS have been built and sold. Small-business development and entrepreneurship are alive and well in downtown Augusta. If you were to venture on some of the streets off Broad Street, you will find some neat little boutiques and professional services businesses. Most of us are aware of the larger, and sometimes controversial, new developments now present in the center of downtown Augusta.

So with all the growth, real or perceived, and continued efforts to make Augusta the best it can be, now some city leaders want to call downtown a “slum” so more money can come to the city to create more economic development. Oh my.

How many new jobs will be created? Who will get these jobs? Are there partnering opportunities with our Department of Labor that connect those currently unemployed with the prospective jobs that can be created with this new potential stream of money? Is downtown actually a slum based on the definition I’ described? If you ask people that question, you will get different responses. Just the perception of the word “slum” conjures up an unhealthy and unpleasant image that most people don’t want to see or believe exists.

THERE ARE LAWS and programs that have been in existence for years, and some will say that’s just the way it is. I think the difference now is that people are more informed and engaged than ever. People are paying attention and want to be heard. They want to be respected. Many have ideas, opinions and solutions to some of the world’s problems, and some here in Augusta.

The problem is that they are not listened to. Some people are loud in their approaches to resolving problems, and others are a little more subtle. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard. We all have different personalities, and learning how to deal with them takes effort by building relationships and getting to know one another. When you build relationships, you build respect and trust, and ultimately opportunities for effective communication.

For too long, elected officials – I’m not speaking of any one in particular – have been given the go-ahead to make decisions that should be in the best interest of the citizens who voted them in office (and for those who didn’t vote for them). When there is economic development without economic opportunity, the question becomes: Where is my piece of the pie? I’m not speaking of a handout – I’m speaking of diverse groups being able to sit at the table with all these entitlement opportunities and be made aware of them so they can make a decision to become a part of the progress.

A BETTER QUESTION could be: Where is the ability or opportunity to get a piece of the pie? That question is being asked, and rightly so.

There are a lot of angry people in Augusta. They are angry for different reasons. That anger isn’t necessarily toward any one person, but a combination of circumstances, occurrences, people and things that have happened over a period of years. So it’s like a tea kettle that’s been left on the stove, screeching after the water starts to boil. That sound is ringing loud all over the city. Maybe people are not angry at all, but the perception is that they are. Either way, perception or reality – the anger is there.

PEOPLE OF ALL races and ages and are asking themselves: Is my life today any different from four years, eight years, 12 years ago or beyond? Now it works both ways, in that we have to become more proactive and aggressive in our pursuits. We can’t expect that a new opportunity, job or good feeling about living in Augusta will just drop on our doorsteps without some effort on our part. We all have to take responsibility.

But what about the compassion? Whatever happened to family? Whatever happened to people caring and loving one another? Whatever happened to a praying community?

No longer can we simply say “It’s not my problem,” or “It’s not happening in my back yard.” We are all in this together. It’s tough-love time. We have to pick up the pieces and make this thing called life work for us individually and collectively. We together can help Augusta unite, and thus have success and prosper in ways the city never has before.

I believe if the citizens of Augusta saw some signs of progress, success or hope in their neighborhoods, their streets or their areas of the county on a regular basis – or if more people were employed and working as a result of these entitlement revenues – the level of outrage at new economic development initiatives wouldn’t be as loud, because they would understand.

THAT SUCCESS could be as simple as a piece of playground equipment being repaired after sitting idle for months, or a sidewalk installed in a neighborhood so the kids can ride their bicycles, or the yard cleaned up in an abandoned house next door. Right now, many of us don’t or haven’t seen the positive signs, so the cycle and frustration continues. People want to know how the fact that Augusta is an entitlement city makes a direct impact on their lives.

There is still time to break this cycle. Despite what some people might see as no progress, there is progress going on in Augusta, but not enough people are experiencing the progress. That must change. It has to change for our children – our next generation of people who are looking at many of us in dismay. It’s like playing the lottery – if you don’t play, you can’t win. But if someone doesn’t know the lottery game exists so they can play in the first place, then we have a greater problem. And that’s what has to change in Augusta. The change must first come from our hearts and souls. In our families. In our homes.

Proverbs 13:12 says that “having no hope for our situation makes our heart sick.” I don’t believe we have hit rock-bottom, but there is much work to do. A community of compassion, relationship-building, respect, trust and love can be the change that many of us want to see and experience. So the next time someone asks you how your life is different from what it was four, eight, 12 or more years ago, you can respond in a very positive way. After all, you’re entitled to it.

(The writer is an entrepreneur, author, youth advocate and mental health advocate in Augusta.)

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Riverman1 09/15/13 - 04:14 am

Kids shouldn’t ride bicycles on the sidewalks, but I do get what you mean. I was reading an article from Wall Street.com about traits of well-run city governments. It probably comes as no revelation, but the best predictor of an efficient government is the income level of the citizens. It’s also a good predictor of the school system results, education level and crime rates. Look around the CSRA to verify what they said. Seeking more companies that will provide good paying jobs should be our main priority.

Bulldog 09/15/13 - 08:50 am
Income level

Riverman1 notes that the best predictor of an efficient government is income. Unfortunately this relationship is merely associative and not causative. The real predictor of poor government underlying the income level is the culture of those in the area. Poverty in and of itself is highly associated with a negative culture. More affluent individuals embrace a culture of personal responsibility for their lives including holding their governments accountable. The continuing exodus of the middle and upper class citizens from Richmond County insures the continued lack of supervision of our government. Being poor does not make someone adopt a negative self defeating culture, but having a negative self defeating culture insures poverty. I keep hoping that the religious leadership in our community will finally wake up and start demanding accountability from their congregations. The tacit "no comment", "blind eye" approach taken by our so called religious leaders with regard to the self defeating negative cultural embraced by a large number in our community is sickening!

Riverman1 09/15/13 - 09:44 am
Looks Like We Agree

"More affluent individuals embrace a culture of personal responsibility for their lives including holding their governments accountable."

Looks to me like you are agreeing with what I said. Low income people have a different culture and different mores. The fact is when people get out of poverty they have learned to be responsible with all the accompanying attributes and demand responsibility in their government. They leave the detrimental culture behind. To believe some kind of inherent culture exists with certain populations is Shockley like.

seenitB4 09/15/13 - 02:30 pm
Entitlements...they are killing us slowly

Do you enjoy a meaty page turner you can really sink your teeth into? Forget the Twilight series. Need some winter reading that will really get you hot and bothered? Never mind Fifty Shades of Grey. I've got something even more riveting for you—A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic (Templeton Press, 2012) by economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. It's a quick read and, seriously, it will get you hot under the collar. Just as the Daily Beast did a "speed read" of the 14 "naughtiest bits" from Fifty Shades, here are Eberstadt's most shocking facts on entitlements:

[See a slide show of five shocking facts about entitlements.]

Spending on entitlements is the highest in American history. In 2010, entitlement spending had grown to be almost 100 times higher than it was in 1960; it has increased by an explosive 9.5 percent per year for 50 straight years. Entitlement transfer payments to individuals (such as for income, healthcare, age, and unemployment) have been growing twice as fast as per capita income for 20 years, totaling $2.2 trillion in 2010 alone—which was greater than the entire gross domestic product of Italy and roughly the same as the GDP of Great Britain.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly, an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

In 1960, entitlement spending accounted for less than a third of all federal spending; in 2010, it was just about two thirds of government outlays, with everything else—defense, justice, all the other duties of government—making up less than one third. Over the last half-century, income-related assistance (which we used to call "welfare") multiplied more than thirtyfold after adjusting for inflation. The most shocking growth has been in Medicare and Medicaid. In the early 1960s, neither program existed; by 2010, these two programs cost more than $900 billion a year.

More Americans rely on government handouts than ever before. The United States is on the brink of disaster now: Half of all American households currently receive transfer payments from the government. According to the Census Bureau, only 30 percent of American households in the 1980s relied on any public assistance.

The proportion of Americans accepting antipoverty aid has soared over the last 30 years. As of 2009, roughly 4 percent of Americans lived in public housing; 6 percent lived in households receiving means-tested cash assistance; 11 percent accepted food stamps; and almost 25 percent received Medicaid. As of 2009, Eberstadt estimates that a stunning 45 percent of all American children were receiving means-tested government aid.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Out-of-control entitlements are a major threat to national security. Adm. Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, famously warned that our national debt is the biggest security threat we face. What he didn't say is that government spending on entitlements not only exceeds defense spending these days, it completely overwhelms it. In 2010, America spent well over three times as much on transfer payments to individuals than it did on its entire national security budget—including on both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If current trends continue under President Obama, entitlement spending is set to increase by more than $700 billion over the next four years; the current national cost of all defense and security programs is roughly $700 billion as well. That means it will take only one presidential term, Eberstadt writes, for the growth of entitlement spending to absorb the entire defense budget of the United States. (Is it warm in here or is it just me?)

seenitB4 09/15/13 - 02:40 pm
A nation of takers

We didn't have a nation of takers in the 60s & 70s & I can tell you Augusta was a different place.

We had a busy productive mall named Regency Mall----we had decent schools with darn good grades---the streets were not in disrepair & most areas were clean & bustling with business.....so, someone tell me....how is it this is a completely different picture from what we see today?
Ms Blocker ...I appreciate your letter but be honest in what has changed in Augusta....just a tidbit...my friends, neighbors & kin didn't feel entitled to anything 40 years ago...nor do they today.

rebellious 09/15/13 - 04:24 pm
I read

and reread the letter from Ms. Blocker. I am still scratching my head.

It appears she is trying to make a connection between "Entitlements" and the taxpayers right to expect a reasonable level of Government services for the dollars paid in. Many Augustans outside of the Urban Service District see dollar upon dollar being poured into what they consider a pipe-dream of a thriving city center. Meanwhile, as a Metropolitan area, the elected leaders do little to promote Augusta/Richmond County as a place to reside (translate pay property taxes).
As to citizens looking for an opportunity for their " piece of the pie", I would rather see the pie grown, both in terms of attractions and residents. Most disgruntled citizens know where their piece of the pie is and they don't appreciate it being devoured at the other end of the table. How to do so remains the question.
As for everyone "getting to know each other", I think they know each other all too well. At issue is small coalitions who cling to the entitlement mentality and thus, feed the downward cycle. Heck, to that point they are fully prepared to accept the label "Slum" to refill the bucket the entitled dip into.

Augusta is a diverse demographic, and as such the solutions are complex. I searched the letter for a clear plan or solution. I came up with neither.

Darby 09/15/13 - 10:04 pm
"THAT GUARANTEE, however, can create a

sense of complacency in people and a community"

Worse yet, that guarantee can and DOES create a sense, as well as a condition of permanent, inextricable dependency, from generation to generation.

Darby 09/16/13 - 12:41 am
Our current leadership would have

Augusta become dependent on handouts from above. If someone takes, that means someone else has to give.

I don't want to see my home town become a little Detroit.

countyman 09/23/13 - 09:25 am
According to the census

According to the census middle and upper middle class families are moving to Richmond County..

How can you be losing citizens when a new movie theater, Whole Foods, H&M, Texas Roadhouse, etc?

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