Indiana is a strange state, but you all know that. I think you have to live there, though, to understand how strange.
Take poor relief.
Indiana’s poor-relief system — and yes, that’s what they call it — is based not at the state level, not at the county, not even at the municipality, but at the township. The first level of government, your neighbors, the unit conceived in the 18th century, when some people didn’t even have horses. The idea was, you should be able to walk to your township office in half a day or so. The idea was also this: If you need help, the people who know you best should be the ones to provide it. What’s more, all aid should be a one-time thing, not a dole you can just sign on. So if you need help with your gas bill in January, we’ll give it to you, but if you need help in February, you have to come back.
My friend Ron French did a series of stories on the problems with this system many years ago. He pointed out, with exquisite irony, that Indiana’s poor-relief system dates to the Washington administration. As in George.
Here’s the part where you have to know Indiana. When others point out that Indiana is the only state where this ridiculous system persists, Hoosiers never say, “Whoa, better change it, then.” Hoosiers say, “It’s not our fault we’re smarter than everybody else.”
Defenders of the system point out its strengths, and there are some, although they’re mostly theoretical — it discourages a welfare culture; it keeps relief on a human scale, rather than a bureaucratic one; it’s small government in action. In reality, though, these are far outweighed by the system’s flaws, of which there are dozens. Shall I name a few? It unfairly taxes middle-class residents of urban townships, who find themselves supporting the poor of the city while wealthy suburbanites opt out; it makes staying on the dole so complicated and time-consuming there’s little left over for job-hunting; it’s outrageously expensive, with overhead at something like 90 percent of total funds paid out; it puts one of society’s most important jobs in the hands of low-level government officials — township trustees — who, frankly, don’t always know what they’re doing.
There are 1,008 townships in Indiana, and if you talk to welfare professionals, you’ll hear horror stories like you wouldn’t believe, usually in rural areas — trustees who refuse aid to women with blackened eyes trying to escape battering husbands, because “your husband can take care of you”; trustees who deal with troublesome transients by buying them a bus ticket to the nearest urban township, where the poor-relief offices are bigger and more anonymous; and so on.
Stories like this are typical: A rural deputy trustee who hands out the dough, but in exchange for a little nookie.
There will be much scratching of editorial-board chins over this one. There will be fulmination. Nothing will change. Two hundred-plus years of Hoosier tradition won’t die easy.
Bloggage: Joe Conason strikes the nail on its flat part in re: Guckert/Gannon: Imagine the media explosion if a male escort had been discovered operating as a correspondent in the Clinton White House. Imagine that he was paid by an outfit owned by Arkansas Democrats and had been trained in journalism by James Carville. Imagine that this gentleman had been cultivated and called upon by Mike McCurry or Joe Lockhart�or by President Clinton himself. Imagine that this “journalist” had smeared a Republican Presidential candidate and had previously claimed access to classified documents in a national-security scandal. Then imagine the constant screaming on radio, on television, on Capitol Hill, in the Washington press corps�and listen to the placid mumbling of the “liberal” media now.