Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What you get for the money

With apologies to HGTV and their show of the same name, here's a terrific article about ACORN and what it does from fellow State of Ohio Blogger Alliance member Tom Blumer, who writes at BizzyBlog and NewsBusters.

As Tom explains, several news reports about the amount of work being done and people being served caught his attention. It started with this:

Every month more than two dozen people walk into ACORN's Cincinnati office on Central Avenue for help with avoiding foreclosure and finding financial aid programs.

Followed shortly by this:

Locally, that means about 20 clients a month will be turned away, said Amy Teitelman, the local and state director of ACORN.

And then this was found:

Six years later, in 1986, the organization created the ACORN Housing Corporation to "build and preserve housing assets." Since its inception, according to its Web site, the corporation has assisted more than 45,000 families to become first-time homeowners and has rehabbed more than 850 vacant or abandoned housing units.

As Tom writes:

Even if those totals were for only 5 years instead of 23, that would be 1.57 families per office per week (45,000 divided by 110 cities divided by 5 years divided by 52). It seems pretty obvious that the real number is a lot lower than 1.57. Again assuming only 5 years instead of 23, the rehabs are less than 1.6 per city per full year (850 divided by 110 divided by 5). Habitat for Humanity (this is a huge understatement) runs circles around that.

On a side note, I wondered just how much money ACORN had gotten during this time frame for the 45,000 families and 850 vacant homes, and found this reference:

One of its affiliates, ACORN Housing Corp., has received $53.6 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the last 15 years, $27.8 million during last year alone..."

But if you really want to know what you get for the money, Tom examines the number of tax returns ACORN helped people prepare. News reports about the IRS cutting off funding for this service all report that ACORN provided help on about 25,000 returns nationwide.

But the United Way of King County served 13,631 people, Tom says, "over half as many returns as ACORN did in the entire country, and provided their services for free."

What Tom doesn't address and what I could not find (at least, not in 20 minutes of Internet searching) was how much money the IRS was 'cancelling.' I find it strange that the news stories all mention how many people were supposedly served but never mention the dollar amounts ACORN had gotten.

Without this information, it's hard to know what you get for your money, but as Tom explains, there's still time to find out:

Local reporters ought to be all over this, assuming they're interested in digging for the truth instead of parroting ACORN's press releases and talking points. National reporters should be ashamed that they have ignored the obvious indications that ACORN's offices really accomplish very little of value on behalf of the poor people they allegedly serve.

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