The dumb state.

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.

Posted at 9:33 am in Uncategorized |

12 responses to “The dumb state.”

  1. mary said on February 16, 2005 at 11:41 am

    I keep meaning to thank you for the really good links you provide. I really look forward to them every day.

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  2. alex said on February 16, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    And if you can’t screw your trustee for a little help with the utility bills, you can always blow your pastor. Remember the case in the Fort this past year in which a seventy-something Baptist minister was arrested for forcing himself on a young woman who came to him for assistance?

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  3. mark said on February 16, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    What in the world is the “Sagamore of the Wabash Award”?

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  4. Nance said on February 16, 2005 at 5:10 pm

    The Sagamore of the Wabash is like a Hoosier version of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, only a lot easier to get.

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  5. Lance Mannion said on February 16, 2005 at 8:30 pm


    You ought to tell about how the Hoosiers used to handle car registrations.

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  6. deb said on February 16, 2005 at 8:52 pm

    and mention, while you’re at it, how the cost of license plates was (still is?) tied to the worth of your car. and they wondered why transplants from other states were so lax about switching to indiana tags! remember when american motors moved a plant from wisconsin to the fort, and nobody could figger why all those cheeseheads kept their wisconsin plates? duh.

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  7. alex said on February 17, 2005 at 10:59 am

    I’ll mention it Deb. Today I’m on my way to Indiana’s bureau of motor vehicles to get shaken down. My Illinois tags expire this month.

    Not only do you pay according to the value of your vehicle, you also pay not to have an ugly plate. The standard-issue tags in this state are the most odious in the nation and look like they’re made of plastic, all the better to get folks to fork over money for speciality plates. This state has more of them than any, I’d bet. Think I’ll try for an environmental plate. That one’s an extra forty bucks and has a bald eagle flapping its wings against a sunset on a background of Crest toothpaste green.

    I’ll miss whipping out my Illinois license. People are always like “wow, Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.” They wouldn’t be so impressed if they knew the rank and file could live in sardine cans along that tony street. Well, actually, they can’t anymore, which is why I’ve moved.

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  8. deb said on February 17, 2005 at 8:32 pm

    thanks for the update, alex. we keep a book in our car so our kids can log license-plate sightings during road trips. our oldest decided to include space for all the variants from each state, and we filled up the indiana page in about an hour. i’d wondered what the hell that was all about.

    when i moved to wisconsin in 1985, i thouht it had the ugliest plates ever — black type on a bright yellow background. period. it looked like everybody had just crashed through the police tape at a crime scene.

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  9. alex said on February 17, 2005 at 8:48 pm

    Well, Deb, here’s an update. The driver’s license was only fourteen bucks, but it practically took a DNA test to get it. I went to the courthouse for a birth certificate, which they were fine with, but gave me a little bit of a hassle about the fact that my SSN was on a printout from the Social Security Administration in Chicago and not Fort Wayne. Haven’t seen my actual card in about thirty years, nor did I ever need it pre-9/11.

    The lien on my car is out of state, so I have to get the lender to send proof of title back here before I find out whether it’ll cost my right nut or just an arm or a leg. On the plus side, my insurance will probably be half of what it was.

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  10. Nance said on February 17, 2005 at 10:53 pm

    Wouldn’t you love to hear them say that sometime? “OK, drop trou. That’s going to cost you your left…no, your right nut.”

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  11. harry near indy said on February 18, 2005 at 6:40 pm

    such practices as the township trustee/poor relief system makes me (NOT) proud to be a hoosier.

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  12. alex said on February 18, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    Oops. Wrong about that insurance, and that’s as a preferred customer in the mutual company of State Farm who’s been accident-free for eighteen years.

    It’s barely a hundred dollars less to live in a rural Zip code than in one of the most expensive urban ones in the country. Must be the high risk of colliding with Amish buggies and farm equipment.

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