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Shop Southern Illinois
Local Chambers of Commerce band together for Shop Southern Illinois

Eleven Southern Illinois Chambers of Commerce are asking shoppers to shop local in Southern Illinois.

“It’s a team sport and a team effort,” said Mike Beard, of Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

Les O’Dell, the former executive director of Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, is the person who invented this Shop Southern Illinois program, Beard said. O’Dell left the chamber in February and was replaced by Jennifer Olson.

Beard, Olson and Karen Mullins, executive director of Marion Chamber, are spearheading this year’s program. Other participating chambers include Nashville, Carterville, Herrin, Pinckneyville, Du Quoin, Murphysboro, Union County and Saline County.

Beard said the program has three main goals. The first is just to make local residents that if they need a product, they can find is in Southern Illinois.

“We feel if you give us an opportunity, regardless of what you need and want," Beard said, "you will find it in Southern Illinois."

The second is that local businesses support local charities, sports teams and organizations.

When parents have a son or daughter playing on a sports team, they are always raising money for something. So, they go to local businesses for help paying for new uniforms or sponsoring a trip. They see the owners of local businesses in church or at the grocery store and ask them to buy cookies or popcorn.

“If you don’t shop from them and allow them to provide those products they sell, they may not have the money to support those local organizations,” Beard said. “We have to support those people who live next to us,”

The third reason is tax dollars.

Beard explained that if you go online, order at Walmart.com and pick the items up in the store, a much bigger portion of the sales tax stays in town. If you order from Amazon and have it shipped to your home, the tax goes somewhere else.

“If you don’t like the crowds, shop online. We don’t have a problem with that. Just pick it up in the store,” Beard said.

For every $100 spent in a store, the state gets $5. The city gets $2.50 to $3, depending on the current tax rates, and the county gets 50 cents to a dollar.

For every $100 spent online, the state still gets its $5, Chicago gets a quarter, Beard said. The city gets one quarter of 1 percent or about a quarter, with the county receiving less than a quarter.

“There are so many reasons to shop local, but the biggest is your sales tax stays local," Beard said. "Online shopping sales tax is going to Chicago for some reason,” 

Those taxes go into funds used to fix potholes, support local schools, build roads and bridges and fund other projects that benefit the community.

If a shopper who spends $1,000 at Christmas would just dedicate spending $100 locally, think of the impact that could have in a local community.

LeAnne Gaydos, office manager at Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, said Shop Local SI is basically a social media campaign, with a giveaway each week from one of the participating chambers.

Each Monday, a new basket is posted on the Shop Southern Illinois Facebook page. To be entered, there are requirements to be entered in the drawing. First, like the post of the basket. Second, comment on the original post. Third, use the hashtag #ibuysi. The prize drawings are each Monday.

This week’s basket is from Du Quoin Chamber. Other baskets, in order of dates, are Murphysboro, Union County, Saline County, Jefferson County and Nashville. The grand prize will be awarded Dec. 28.

Beard has one final request. When you decide to pull that dollar bill out of your pocket, spend it locally.


Govt-and-politics
HUD tallied numerous violations in New York City Public Housing. It still gave passing grades.

This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica; The Southern Illinoisan is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

For months, federal housing officials and prosecutors have alleged that the New York City Housing Authority misled them about conditions, rendering federal oversight ineffective as conditions worsened.

New York City officials used “every trick in the book to conceal building violations from federal inspectors,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman alleged at a news conference this summer announcing a federal complaint against the authority.

Berman declared it a “cover-up.”

But inspection records from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggest there’s more to the story. HUD officials were well aware of the severe mold, infestation and countless other health and safety violations inside New York City’s public housing units, according to a review of the two most recent inspection records for a dozen properties. The Southern Illinoisan obtained the records, which date from 2013 to 2017, from HUD in October through a public records request.

In most of the apartments reviewed, inspectors found severe cases of mold and mildew, broken and missing appliances, inoperable windows and doors, electrical system problems and water leaks.

Prosecutors alleged that the housing authority failed “to find and remediate peeling lead paint in its developments” and falsely certified to HUD it had done so. But the inspection reports were full of red flags had anyone taken notice, experts said: Most contained citations for paint peeling from walls and ceilings in old apartment complexes. In fact, some of the reports describe peeling paint as “systemic.” Lead poisoning can cause a range of physical and behavioral symptoms in children, and it can stunt development.

Last week, The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica reported that HUD’s 20-year-old inspection system is flawed and ineffective. Persistently unsafe properties routinely pass their inspections, and decent ones fail. Scores can seesaw between passing and failing by 20 points or more from one inspection to the next, raising questions about their reliability.

Those same trends hold true in New York.

Many of the properties whose inspection reports were reviewed by The Southern received passing grades despite racking up hundreds of estimated deficiencies. (The reports represent about 5 percent of the 375 reports generated for New York City’s public housing complexes from 2013 to 2017.)

To settle the federal government’s complaint, New York City agreed to spend $2 billion over a decade on repairs. It also agreed to be overseen by a federal monitor under the terms of a consent decree. Last week, Judge William H. Pauley III rejected that plan, suggesting that a receiver with broader oversight powers was needed to address problems in some units that he said were “somewhat reminiscent of the biblical plagues of Egypt.”

Pauley noted that HUD has the ability to declare housing authorities in default of the contracts they enter with the agency in exchange for federal funding, and it can petition the court to appoint a receiver with broad powers or take them over.

“HUD is not blameless,” he wrote. HUD’s shirking of its responsibilities is “particularly striking, especially given all of the government’s allegations regarding the deplorable conditions” and the housing authority’s “attempts to pull the wool over HUD’s eyes.”

What ultimately happens in New York may have broad implications for other struggling public housing authorities across the nation, many of them in small and midsized cities. Like New York, they have aging public housing complexes that have gone for years without adequate funding for major repairs. Some need replacement, but there’s limited money for that as well.

Daniel Barber, who has lived at the Andrew Jackson Houses in the Bronx for 46 years, serves as president of the citywide council of public housing residents’ associations. He said HUD has been “lax for years on doing its part to hold” the housing authority accountable.

“HUD is just as much at fault as NYCHA, if not more,” Barber said.

Of the 27 units inspected at the Andrew Jackson property in December 2016, seven had severe mold, a dozen were cited for peeling paint and roaches were observed in two. The write-up for four of the units included the following fine print: “The point deductions” for this unit “exceed the number of points possible.”

In HUD inspection lingo, this is what is called “going in the hole.” Each inspected unit is only worth so many points (1.37 points each in the Andrew Jackson property), and while additional citations can be recorded, they do not affect the final score. The property consists of more than 1,700 units across about a dozen buildings. (HUD’s inspector assessed less than 2 percent of them.)

Because the inspection takes into account other aspects of each development — including its exterior and its water and electrical systems — the property passed anyway, scoring 70 out of 100 points.

The extreme nature of the poor conditions are such that it would have been impossible for them to go unnoticed, Barber said, even if the complex earned higher scores than it should have. “You would have to work really hard to not want to see it in order to claim you didn’t notice.”

All told, HUD failed about one in eight of New York City’s properties in 2015. It failed about one in four properties inspected in 2017, according to the department’s publicly available datasets. A NYCHA official said that HUD’s data is incomplete, and that the failure rate is closer to 20 percent. This spike in the housing authority’s failure rate followed national trends, though New York’s failure percentage is higher than the national average.

Dawn Dearden, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, declined to provide comment on whether HUD should shoulder some of the responsibility for the problems at NYCHA. Darryl Madden, a spokesman for HUD’s Office of Inspector General, which contributed to the federal investigation, likewise declined to comment on whether HUD shares responsibility for NYCHA’s problems.

HUD has faced repeated criticism for giving passing scores to deteriorating properties, and the agency has long been aware of weaknesses with its property assessment system. HUD Secretary Ben Carson has pointed to “rogue” contract inspectors who he said did not properly follow protocols. And in a statement he shared on Twitter in October, Carson said the department is working to design a new inspection system that is more focused on the physical conditions within housing units and that places a greater emphasis on lead-based paint hazards and mold.

Despite properties failing at a higher rate in New York, HUD still issued the housing authority an overall “standard” performance label in 2016, the most recent year available. That’s because the agency’s assessment system for housing authorities also factors in reviews of financial and management practices. The housing authority achieved high marks in these other categories, offsetting its poor performance inside of its units.

This month, HUD notified the housing authority that it had received an overall grade of 85 out of 100 points for the 2016 fiscal year, the highest it had achieved in four years.

Cathy Pennington, executive vice president of operations for NYCHA, said she could not comment directly on the allegations in the federal complaint, but she acknowledged that the housing authority has had problems and made mistakes. Aging buildings need billions of dollars in repairs, she said. But Pennington said the high overall score demonstrates that the housing authority is strong administratively, by HUD’s own standards.

Asked how that squares with the federal government’s claims that squalid conditions were primarily due to mismanagement, Pennington said “it does kind of present a disconnect” and deferred to HUD.

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said the score of 85 represented an “incomplete designation” because the housing authority’s actions “were designed to intentionally undermine HUD’s inspection regimen.” He declined to comment on whether HUD shouldered any responsibility for not acting sooner on the problems in New York.

Pennington said when public housing properties fail inspections, HUD does not offer additional resources to bring them up to standard or to deal with deferred repairs or structural problems.

For its part, HUD has faulted New York for not embracing other options to fund repairs, such as leasing buildings to private developers under a special program the department calls the Rental Assistance Demonstration. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to generate nearly $13 billion in funds to repair about a third of the housing authority’s units, though that still falls well short of the $32 billion in short-term repair needs.

In rejecting the proposed consent decree, Pauley wrote that when Congress bestowed broad oversight powers on HUD, including the ability to appoint receivers and take over housing authorities, it expected the agency to use them. In the past, the department has used drastic remedies to successfully reform other public housing agencies, he wrote, specifically naming HUD’s takeover of the Chicago Housing Authority in the 1990s. Illinois, in fact, has had more experience with HUD receiverships than any other state. The department only recently ended its administrative receivership of the East St. Louis Housing Authority, the first and longest in the agency’s history. HUD also has taken over the housing authorities of Springfield and of Alexander County.

In Chicago, the receivership lasted from 1995 to 1999. Then, as HUD returned control to local officials, it also loosened the reins and gave Chicago housing officials more flexibility and less oversight than is typical.

Under a promise by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to oversee an ambitious remaking of public housing, the city started tearing down its buildings, including the notoriously troubled Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes. The latter was then the largest public housing complex in the nation.

Years later, that promised “transformation” plan is reaching its end. Residents who were displaced were provided vouchers to rent in the private market, but many landlords refused to accept their rental subsidies. They also were promised they could return when new apartments were built, but the housing authority did not keep up-to-date contact information for many of them.

Today, there are 17,000 fewer family public housing units than there were two decades ago, and the city is grappling with an affordable housing shortage, said Jawanza Malone, executive director of Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, a grassroots nonprofit in Chicago. In 2017, about 30 percent of Chicago’s public housing properties failed their inspections; none failed in 2015. Chicago’s failure rate last year was higher than New York’s failure rate by about 5 percentage points, an analysis of HUD data shows.

Adrianne Todman, CEO of the National Organization of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, which represents housing authorities, said that whatever action HUD and the courts take in New York City, officials must be mindful to ensure that does not affect oversight and funding for the nation’s other roughly 3,800 housing authorities.

Todman isn’t the only one raising concerns. HUD’s Office of Inspector General said in a report this summer that some HUD officials believe they lack the financial resources and staff know-how to manage housing authorities in receivership. The report specifically addressed why the agency waited so long to take over the Alexander County Housing Authority despite documenting years of unsafe conditions in apartments in Cairo, Illinois’ southernmost city, and alleged mismanagement and civil rights violations by local officials.

“I’m not sure that HUD has the capacity to take on meaningful receiverships,” Todman said. “I think they have spent the last several years trying to turn the keys back over to local governments.”

Molly Parker is an investigative reporter, focusing on public housing, for The Southern Illinoisan. Email her at molly.parker@thesouthern.com and follow her on Twitter @mollyparkerSI.

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National
AP
Trump rails against court, migrants in call to troops

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump used a Thanksgiving Day call to troops deployed overseas to pat himself on the back and air grievances about the courts, trade and migrants heading to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump's call, made from his opulent private Mar-a-Lago club, struck an unusually political tone as he spoke with members of all five branches of the military to wish them happy holidays.

"It's a disgrace," Trump said of judges who have blocked his attempts to overhaul U.S. immigration law, as he linked his efforts to secure the border with military missions overseas.

Trump later threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico for an undisclosed period of time if his administration determines Mexico has lost "control" on its side.

Also, Trump demanded "some common sense" from America's judges and directed his ire at a liberal-leaning appeals court. He professed respect for Chief Justice John Roberts, with whom he is engaged in a startling public dispute over the independence of the judiciary, yet shrugged off the Republican appointee as someone who "can say what he wants."

The call was a uniquely Trump blend of boasting, peppered questions and off-the-cuff observations as his comments veered from venting about slights to praising troops — "You really are our heroes," he said — as club waiters worked to set Thanksgiving dinner tables on the outdoor terrace behind him. And it was yet another show of how Trump has dramatically transformed the presidency, erasing the traditional divisions between domestic policy and military matters and efforts to keep the troops clear of politics.

"You probably see over the news what's happening on our southern border," Trump told one Air Force brigadier general stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, adding: "I don't have to even ask you. I know what you want to do, you want to make sure that you know who we're letting in."

Trump also continued to rail against the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which he said has become "a big thorn in our side."

"It's a terrible thing," he said, when judges "tell you how to protect your border. It's a disgrace."

Later, Trump asked a U.S. Coast Guard commander about trade, which he noted was "a very big subject" for him personally.

"We've been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals," Trump told the commander, who sheepishly replied that, "We don't see any issues in terms of trade right now."

And throughout, Trump was sure to congratulate himself, telling the officers that the country is doing exceptionally well on his watch.

"I hope that you'll take solace in knowing that all of the American families you hold so close to your heart are all doing well," he said. "The nation's doing well economically, better than anybody in the world." He later told reporters "nobody's done more for the military than me."

Indeed, asked what he was thankful for this Thanksgiving, Trump cited his "great family," as well as himself.

"I made a tremendous difference in this country," he said. "This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office and you wouldn't believe it and when you see it, we've gotten so much stronger people don't even believe it."

But Trump continued to warn about the situation on the southern border as he took questions from reporters, pointing to the caravans of Central American migrants that have been making their way toward the U.S. and warning that, "If we find that it gets to a level where we lose control or people are going to start getting hurt, we're going to close entry into the country for a period of time until we get it under control."

He said he had the authority to do so by executive order and claimed he'd already used it earlier this week. "Two days ago, we closed the border. We actually just closed it, said nobody's coming in because it was just out of control."

By no means did he seal the border with Mexico. Officials did shut down one port of entry, San Ysidro, in California, for several hours early Monday morning to bolster security because of concerns about a potential influx of migrant caravan members. 

Trump's border threat came days after a federal judge put the administration's attempts to overhaul asylum rules on hold.

Trump probably could close the entire southern border by order, at least temporarily, invoking national security powers.

Trump began his Thanksgiving Day by asserting on Twitter that courts should defer to his administration and law enforcement on border security because judges "know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe."

The president later told reporters that law enforcers and military service members he has sent to the U.S.-Mexico border "can't believe the decisions that are being made by these judges."

Trump has gone after federal judges before who have ruled against him, but the current dustup is the first time that Roberts, the leader of the federal judiciary, has offered even a hint of criticism of the president.

Roberts issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday defending judicial independence and contradicting Trump's claim that judges are partisans allied with the party of the president who nominated them.