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Monday Letters: New charity plan robs from the poor

(From left) Julia Stasch, president, MacArthur Foundation Terry Mazany, president and CEO, The Chicago Community Trust and Jennifer Pryce, president and CEO of Calvert Foundation announce the creation of Benefit Chicago, which is designed to provide low-interest loans and other help to boost efforts of local organizations working to improve educational opportunities, childcare, affordable housing options and other things. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Calvert Foundation have devised a way to morally and legally rob the poor to give to the rich. Rather than only make grants (as mandated in their mission) and give support to struggling, worthy nonprofit organizations that are doing important, necessary work, the MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Calvert Foundation decided to collect money from people who would have previously given directly to nonprofits, be the middle man between the givers and the nonprofits, and to loan money with interest to nonprofit organizations that they know can’t pay back the loans.

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Being a nonprofit organization was hard enough before the “My Brother’s Keeper” fiasco that vacuumed up about $300 million in corporate and foundation funds from across the country. MBK has a spotty track record for returning any of that money to poor black communities that desperately need it to help black boys. In Chicago, another $50 million was solicited from local businesses and foundations for the Get IN Chicago initiative, and now when small, struggling nonprofits ask for support from businesses and foundations in the Chicago area, businesses and foundations tell the nonprofits, we gave to Get IN Chicago! After several years of hyper-violence in Chicago, most of that money collected by Get IN Chicago still sits in banks earning interest or is invested in stocks and bonds.

In Illinois, after 10 months of no state budget and no state support, nonprofits have spent almost all of their reserves trying to stay alive. Now comes the “Benefit Chicago” initiative, a collaboration that aims to mobilize $100 million in impact investments for nonprofits and social enterprises in Chicago. The first question that should be asked is WHO in Chicago will benefit from “Benefit Chicago”? Certainly not the mom-and-pop variety nonprofits that provide the majority of services to educate, mentor and save children; help formerly incarcerated people; house the homeless; and reduce violence — with little-to-no compensation.

Now that few nonprofits can gain funding support from foundations, corporations or government, MacArthur, the Trust and Calvert are seeking to collect money from the last viable source of nonprofit support, individuals! Individuals who would have donated money directly to existing, high-functioning, but financially challenged nonprofits are now being asked to “invest” their money in the Calvert Fund instead. Calvert takes their money and loans it to nonprofits that need money. Calvert eventually asks for repayment of the loan with interest, so that Calvert can pay dividends to its shareholders. Question: If nonprofits in need no longer receive grants or donations, where will they get money to pay back loans? Nonprofits don’t generate income and revenue, they generate societal good!

This new arrangement is great for the Calvert shareholders, MacArthur and Chicago Community Trust, but would be the final nail in the coffin of many nonprofits. There was a time when good people helped people who needed help. Now those good people are being taught by the MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Calvert Foundation to expect a dividend and seek a “return on investment” for helping those in need.

Now that the MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Calvert Foundation seem to have gone into banking, investment management and bond sales, the question becomes, “What else will these foundations do to earn money for this new approach to philanthropy — sell insurance policies, buy real estate, or operate Currency Exchanges, Pay Day Loan Shops, Rent-To-Own Furniture Stores and other such financial service businesses?” I hope not. I long for the old days when foundations did what foundations were created to do — find people and organizations doing good work and help them with needed support.

Phillip Jackson,
founder and executive director,
The Black Star Project, Chicago

Pipeline threat

The most egregious threat to Lake Michigan is a four-and-a-half mile crude oil pipeline under the Strait of Mackinaw. It is very old, covered with zebra mussels and is owned by Enbridge Energy. Worse yet, Enbridge is completing a $100 million upgrade to the pipeline to transport increased volume.

In 2010 there was a major spill near the Kalamazoo River from Enbridge’s pipeline, and it took 17 hours to notify authorities and stop the flow. More appalling, because the upgrade builds on older existing pipelines, new permit approval is not required. There have been 800 spills in the last 10 years.

This pipeline should be shut down to prevent another even worse spill. We’re talking about fresh water here. Neither the Gulf ocean bottom nor Prince Edward Island ocean bottom have been cleaned up. Just think about it. Where is the EPA?

Chicagoans have the exceptional good fortune of living near Lake Michigan, but despite this rare gift, the safety and health of the lake are in jeopardy.

Kathie Newhouse, Hyde Park

Overall impact

The recent Chicago Public Schools demonstration caused one to wonder what the overall impact was to Chicagoans, young and old. Furthermore, could you imagine a scenario where our beleaguered Chicago Police Department decided to take a day off?

A day without 9-1-1 or any CPD services available to our entire beloved city is unimaginable. Who do you think would be the first to suffer, and who would be the most affected?

Fortunately, our challenged city’s leaders have not lost all of their reason.

Leon Hoffman, Lake View

Dismaying crisis

Over the last 10 months I have become increasingly agitated, dismayed and saddened by the continued state budget crisis in Illinois. I have listened to and read reporting from the media detailing the closing of mental health services, the defunding of public schools, the cuts to public universities and student loan programs, unpaid insurance claims, the possible closing of sexual assault crisis services and withheld Medicaid payments to several institutions already operating on shoestring budgets themselves.As a dutiful, employed, law-abiding taxpayer of Illinois I am disgusted and furious at the inability of the entire state government to come to an agreement.

I am an emergency medicine physician  working in Chicago. I have already seen this problem affect my patients and practice in many negative ways. Furthermore, my wife and I live within the city of Chicago. When we sat down over a year ago to discuss our future housing options and education options for ourselves and our children, we made a concerted effort to stay within the city, believing that our elected officials would hold to their promise to deliver a brighter future and a fair shake for their constituents.

We have the only budget stalemate in the country, one of the worst state economies, a crumbling school system and most destructive of all, unyielding, obstinate leaders. Is it any wonder why our state is a loser?

Samer Bashti, Ravenswood

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