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SUPER CYNICAL? Are Columbia non-profits using the poor to prop up REDI EEZ push?

Critics allege "poverty pimping" from United Way, Food Bank, and other non-profits
 
COLUMBIA, 5/20/12 (Beat Byte) -- Non-profit support of the Blight Decree/EEZ -- first suggested in a Columbia Daily Tribune article about Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) and cemented during Columbia City Council testimony two weeks ago -- may have reached a cynical new low if allegations posted Friday on the Columbia Missourian are true.

"I was at the Central Missouri Food Bank today getting food. They are taking a survey of everyone getting Food Bank food and asking them 'if there were manufacturing jobs in Columbia would they take them?' To which just about every poor person is replying 'yes,'" wrote reader David Sautner. "They are going to be at that May 21st [Columbia City Council] meeting with a survey factually demonstrating the demands of the poor for manufacturing jobs that REDI contends it will provide if and only if the City Council approves the 'blight' EEZ designation."
 
At the May 7 Council meeting, Food Bank executive director Peggy Kirkpatrick and Heart of Missouri United Way director Tim Rich spoke against the Council's move to repeal the Blight Decree/EEZ passed on Feb. 6. Rich and Kirkpatrick portrayed poverty in Columbia as a jobs problem, and urged the Council to "take any measure" -- including blighting most of the city -- to reduce unemployment.
 
Non profit groups often receive large donations from local businesses the EEZ/Blight Decree is designed to incentivize, as this Columbia Business Times story (photo below) about a Kraft Foods $15,000 donation to the Food Bank, presented by former Blight/EEZ Board chairman and Kraft Foods plant manager John Strotbeck to Kirkpatrick -- demonstrates.

“Probably the biggest partner we have with the community is the Central Missouri Food Bank,” Strotbeck told the Business Times.  “We donate quite a bit of hot dogs and have provided funding and donations over the years.”

The appearances of Rich and Kirkpatrick -- as directors of non-profit groups whose tax-free status hinges on remaining non-political -- in the blight debate have brought howls of protest.  
 
"It is despicable that the same smallish group that controls the Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, REDI, and non-profit boards across CoMo is talking out one side of its mouth about eliminating poverty, while chewing up low-income neighborhoods with the other side," wrote Tracy Greever-Rice on these pages.

Noting that poverty has many causes, including addiction and poor health; and that poverty statistics can be misleading, especially when they include college students, Greever-Rice views the Blight Decree as a disproportionate threat to Columbia's low-income neighborhoods.
 
"I think the REDI discussion about tax giveaways as a resolution to poverty and unemployment has been completely disingenuous," added Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, a Mizzou diversity coordinator. "Poverty-pimping has a terrible track record -- as the UCLA public policy paper Banking on Blight indicates."

CMCA director Darin Preis told the Heart Beat that while he "personally supports the EEZ," the CMCA board has taken no action to endorse it. "We certainly have not 'joined hands' with other groups to do anything regarding the EEZ," Preis explained. "I am for rational discussion on all community issues, and try not to align myself or CMCA with a particular camp or ideology."
 
The Heart Beat will run a longer interview with Preis about the EEZ in an upcoming issue. Kirkpatrick did not respond to a request for comment.

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