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Federal dollars land in black districts.

Black congressional districts in the Chicago metropolitan area brought in an average of nearly $1 billion more in 1999 federal spending than their white counterparts, much of it in programs such as housing and food assistance, shows The Chicago Reporter's analysis of a unique report on federal spending.

In the six-county area's 12 districts, the federal government spent more than $30 billion in 1999, according to "What Government Does," released in October by the Center for National Policy, a Washington D.C.-based public policy organization chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta. The report includes a database detailing federal spending on a district-by-district basis for three states, including Illinois. The group plans to eventually expand the database to include all 50 states.

Spokesmen for the area's congressmen said they were not surprised by the Reporter's findings, but noted that federal spending depends on numerous variables in the districts, including the age and poverty rate of residents.

"It's a matter of where the private sector meets these basic needs and where it doesn't--and where it doesn't, the government has to meet those needs," said. Frank Watkins, press secretary for Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr.

Jackson's 2nd District, which includes parts of the city's South Side and south suburbs, has a poverty rate of 14 percent and received $2.5 billion in overall spending, sixth in the area.

And most congressmen aren't aware of all the money awarded to their districts because federal spending is difficult to track, according to the spokesmen.

"Unless a specific community has come to the congressman's office to say, 'Hey, we put in for this grant, can you help us?' -- most of the time that kind of flow of money from Washington back to the community does not go through the hands of the representative's office," said Pete Jeffries, communications director for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a Republican who represents the west suburban 14th District. The district got $2.4 billion, eighth locally.

The federal spending process is simply confusing, added Ellen Taylor, policy analyst for OMB Watch, a Washington D.C.-based organization that monitors the White House Office of Management and Budget. "If you ... think about this huge omnibus legislation where there is all sorts of money going in all sorts of different odd directions for all sorts of things, I don't think anybody really knows where all of this money is going."

The database broke federal spending into broad categories according to "function," such as higher education, pollution control and federal law enforcement. Social Security and Medicare accounted for nearly half of the federal spending in the state. Other big-ticket categories included mortgage credit and health care services.

Nearly $500 million of the $54 billion in federal spending in Illinois went toward miscellaneous, uncategorized or unknown items. And more than 60 percent of that money went into the 12 districts in the Chicago area.

Immediate Needs

The three districts with African American majorities--the 1st, which stretches across Chicago's South Side; the 2nd; and the 7th, which includes the West Side and most of downtown--received, on average, $3.2 billion in federal spending, compared to $2.3 billion spent in the eight districts that are at least 50 percent white. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez's 4th District, which covers parts of the Northwest and Southwest sides and is 70 percent Latino, got $2.7 billion.

The minority districts are all represented by Democrats, as are three white districts in Chicago. Republicans hold all five suburban district seats.

Urban districts have greater needs for roads, public transportation and assistance for low-income residents, said Ira Cohen, director of issues and communications for 7th District Rep. Danny K. Davis. Cohen pointed out that the district includes some of the largest public housing complexes in the country, which also require a lot of federal money.

The district received $3.7 billion in 1999, the most in Illinois, including $106 million for housing assistance and $76 million for ground transportation.

"They're projects that obviously impact much of Chicago, and to say they're targeted to the 7th District is oversimplifying it," he said.

Billy Weinberg, press secretary for Gutierrez, added that, because many of the region's services and resources are located in the city; the urban districts bear the financial burden of running them. For example, he said, the local office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is located at 10 W. Jackson Blvd. in downtown Chicago, but constituents from districts across the area rely on its services.

The Reporter's analysis also shows the districts with the highest poverty rates generally received the most money, especially in direct aid--for housing, food and other kinds of immediate needs.

According to data from the 2000 census, the 7th District has a poverty rate of 21 percent, highest in the area. In addition to housing assistance, the district received $179 million in food and nutrition assistance. The three black districts received 28 percent of the entire state's food assistance.

Rep. Judy Biggert's southwest suburban 13th District, with the area's lowest poverty rate at 3 percent, got $28 million for food programs and $640,000 for housing.

With a poverty rate at 7 percent, seventh in the area, Rep. William Lipinski's white 3rd District on Chicago's Southwest Side got $229 million in direct aid, eighth locally. In 1999 it received a total of $2.4 billion, seventh in the area.

The 8th District, in the northwest suburbs, has a poverty rate of 4 percent and ranked third to last in spending. The database shows a negative balance of more than half a million dollars for housing aid in the district in 1999.

This means that the money was likely returned unspent, said Robert J. Brand, president and founder of Solutions for Progress, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Philadelphia that helped generate the database. Randy Skoglund, press secretary for 8th District Rep. Philip M. Crane, said he didn't "know where [the Reporter] got that information," and declined to comment further.

Pet Projects

Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky's North Side and north suburban 9th District, which has a white majority, received $3 billion, the area's third largest amount overall. Schakowsky's district has the region's sixth-highest poverty rate, 10 percent, according to census data. In 1999 the district got the area's sixth-most in direct aid, $339 million.

Schakowsky believes "taking care of our domestic needs and health care and education" is a priority, said Nadeam Elshami, Schakowsky's press secretary. "We're happy when a community or a school or whoever receives federal money that they need whether we helped them or not."

Other congressional officials agreed that they each have pet projects they work hard to fund.

"There are certain projects that stick out in [Rep. Gutierrez's] mind more than others," said Weinberg, citing renovations of the CTA's Blue Line and school construction.

"Really, it's a combination of lobbying and need that brings in money," said Robyn Wheeler, communications director for Rep. Bobby L. Rush, whose 1st District received $3.5 billion, second-highest in the area.

But "What Government Does" also shows that hundreds of departments and programs are funded by the federal government, and very few are controlled, or monitored, by the congressmen whose districts receive the funds.

For example, the database shows that Rep. Henry J. Hyde's 6th District in the west and northwest suburbs got more than $2 million for energy conservation while other area districts received, on average, about 0.01 percent of that amount amount--$227. On the other hand, the district received almost nothing--$3--for natural resources and the environment and another $17 on general property and records management.

"I couldn't even begin to tell you why there was $3 or $17--I don't have access to any of the numbers at this time out in the district office," said Jennifer Palmer, Hyde's press secretary and legislative assistant. "There could be errors or it could be correct--I don't know without being able to see it." Palmer did not return subsequent phone calls.

Grants often come into the districts without their representatives knowing, said Taylor of OMB Watch. "But it should be the case that they are aware. I think that's probably an area where there should be more citizen involvement so that citizens have some idea what's coming in, and then they can let them know whether they should be paying more attention."

But constituents would probably be overwhelmed by the number of ways money was reported, said Weinberg of Gutierrez's office. "The more disclosure, the better," he said, though "it's important that people not miss the forest for the trees."

Mimi Mesirow, grants manager fur Jackson's 2nd District, said even more information is needed to have an accurate look at how money is being spent. For instance, while the database shows the district got $16 million for veterans' housing, "I guess I would have liked more information about specifically what type of veterans' housing," she said. "And did that include discretionary grants, and competitive grants --specifically, what kind?"

Brand, who helped create the "What Government Does" project, said it was the first to take all of this federal spending data and put it into one place. But it provides the numbers--not the answers--to questions about federal spending And it's a "herculean task [to figure out] who to ask these questions."

Taylor had no advice for comprehending it all. "In terms of how to turn the budget process into a really rational process," she said, "I'm not sure how that can be done."

Micah Holmquist and Rachel Kanter helped research this article.
Cash Flow

In 1999, minority congressional districts in the Chicago metropolitan
area typically received more federal dollars than their white
counterparts. The black and Latino districts also have the region's
highest poverty rates.

 Poverty Federal
 District Rate Spending
District Representative Race (%) Rank (billions)

 7 Danny K. Davis Black 21 1 3.7
 1 Bobby L. Rush Black 16 2 3.5
 9 Janice D. Schakowsky White 10 6 3.0
 4 Luis V. Gutierrez Latino 14 3 2.7
 5 Rod R. Blagojevich White 10 5 2.7
 2 Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. Black 14 4 2.5
 3 William Lipinski White 7 7 2.4
 14 J. Dennis Hastert White N/A N/A 2.4
 6 Henry J. Hyde White 3 10 2.4
 10 Mark Kirk White 4 8 2.1
 13 Judy Biggert White 3 11 1.8
 8 Philip M. Crane White 4 9 1.7



District Representative Rank

 7 Danny K. Davis 1
 1 Bobby L. Rush 2
 9 Janice D. Schakowsky 3
 4 Luis V. Gutierrez 4
 5 Rod R. Blagojevich 5
 2 Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. 6
 3 William Lipinski 7
 14 J. Dennis Hastert 8
 6 Henry J. Hyde 9
 10 Mark Kirk 10
 13 Judy Biggert 11
 8 Philip M. Crane 12

Note: 'District race' is determined by which racial group comprises at
least 50 percent of the district population. 'Poverty rate' indicates
the percentage of district residents whose income was below the federal
poverty level in 1999. Data from the 2000 Census were not available for
the 14th District.

Source: "What Government Does," by the Center for National Policy; U.S.
Census Bureau; analyzed by The Chicago Reporter.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Community Renewal Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Lewis, Pamela A.
Publication:The Chicago Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:1874
Previous Article:Emergency plan eludes city officials.
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