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by Lynda Carson

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]akland — Letters were sent in June advising more than 1.3 million elderly and disabled people on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) throughout California that on July 1, they will receive less funding to cover their needs. They have had their benefits slashed to less than the federal poverty level, due to another vicious round of state budget cuts by the Democrats and Republicans.
SSI recipients will now receive only $9,960 annually — $930 less than the estimated annual federal poverty level. As a result, countless elderly and disabled people are facing dire poverty consequences on a level not seen in years.

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

Reverend Ben Fulcher, Sr. of Oakland receives disability payments from SSI and said, “The effect of the ongoing budget cuts may result in more displaced citizens on the streets. We have had over $90 cut per month in assistance out of the SSI disability program in California during the last 18 months or so, and it’s pretty devastating in total. People now have to choose between paying for food or their rent.”
Oakland SSI recipient Naja Strand said, “I know damn well they are not spending our tax dollars right. We have to cut back on military spending and give back more money for the schools, and public education.”
The latest round of budget cuts have left poor people feeling deprived, as their income decreases while rents keep skyrocketing, resulting in less money for food, health care, transportation and keeping the lights turned on in their homes.
Meanwhile, as the poor continue to be devastated by never-ending budget cuts shredding the safety net, the poverty industry in Oakland and across the nation flourishes for key staff in the nonprofit sector, in ways that some advocates charge are exploiting the poor.
The huge salary increases for many high-level employees in the poverty industry have accelerated during the same period that massive budget cuts to local, state and federal programs have taken place all across the nation.

Double-crossing the poor

On June 17, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) made national headlines after it double-crossed the elderly poor, and sold out women and children across the nation, by joining right-wing Republicans and Democrats in supporting budget cuts to Social Security benefits.
While SSI disability recipients in California will now only receive $9,960 annually, many employees in AARP are paid $300,000 annually and more. The shocking income gap between poor people living on SSI and the upper echelons of the nonprofit sector have reached unacceptable — even obscene — levels.
AARP’s policy chief John C. Rother was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on June 17, saying that AARP was dropping its longtime opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a position that will deprive the poor of badly needed income.
In 2009, Rother was paid $290,089 in salary, plus $40,269 in other compensation by AARP, and may have lost touch with the poor. Many supporters of Social Security now believe that Rother opened up the door for conservatives and right-wing crusaders to solidify their ongoing attack on Social Security.
With offices in California and members in Oakland and Alameda County, AARP is a wealthy, billion-dollar corporation with nonprofit status and 37 million U.S. members. AARP generated $2,182,262,128 in gross receipts during 2009.
AARP claims that its mission is to enhance the quality of life for the aged, with emphasis on those at greatest social and economic risk. In reality, those that benefit the most from AARP’s activities are the top employees of the nonprofit organization who are raking in a small fortune in salaries and compensation.

High salaries of AARP execs

In 2009, Robert R. Hagans Jr., chief financial officer of AARP, received $317,324 in salary, plus $46,703 in other compensation. Thomas C. Nelson, chief operating officer, was paid $492,320 in salary, plus $48,609 in compensation.
Other high-ranking AARP employees received comparable salaries:
Nancy LeaMond: $343,656 in salary, plus $39,453 in other compensation.
Emilio Pardo: $326,639 in salary, $46,184 in compensation.
Joan S. Wise: $325,690 in salary, $42,360 in compensation.
James Laney: $325,962 in salary, $12,411 in compensation.
Shereen G. Remez: $300,429 in salary, $38,805 in compensation.
Kevin J. Donnellan: $278,707 in salary, $40,955 in compensation.
Ellen Hollander: $261,546 in salary, $48,599 in compensation.
Harroll Backus: $258,828 in salary, plus $38,751 in compensation.

Poverty Industry — East Bay

In Oakland, 990 tax filings also reveal that salaries and compensation have been steadily rising in the nonprofit affordable housing sector. One example is the income received by key employees of the Oakland-based, housing organization, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC).
EBALDC claims that its mission is to develop affordable housing for low-income people and integrated services, with an emphasis on Asian and Pacific Islander communities and the diverse low-income populations of the East Bay.
Records show that in 2009, EBALDC Executive Director Lynette Lee earned $140,536, plus an additional $5,942 in other compensation. Records also reveal that in FY 2007-2008, EBALDC only paid Lee $87,265, meaning that Lee’s compensation from EBALDC skyrocketed by more than $50,000 in a single year. Since then, Lee has retired and been replaced as executive director by Jeremy Liu.
EBALDC Human Resources Director La Netha Oliver earned $80,221 in 2009, plus $8,184 in other compensation. Yet in the previous year, she only earned $68,547, meaning that her salary increased by about $18,000 in a year.
In 2009, Carlos Castellanos, director of real estate development for EBALDC, earned $91,280, plus $11,228 in other compensation, a substantial salary hike of about $28,000 over the previous year.
EBALDC Chief Financial Officer Don Piyathaisere earned $98,265, plus an additional $8,472 in other compensation in 2009. Mary Hennessy, chief operations officer for EBALDC, raked in $129,220 in 2009, and Charise Fong, director of economic development, received $81,828.
These high salaries in the poverty industry are becoming the standard among other so-called nonprofit housing developers in the East Bay. Records show comparably high salary levels for the top employees of Eden Housing, Satellite Housing, Resources for Community Development, Affordable Housing Associates, EAH Housing and Bridge Housing.
These exorbitant salaries inflate the cost of producing low-income housing in a time when there is a serious nationwide shortage of affordable housing. Many housing advocates are beginning to ask how many more housing units could be built if salaries weren’t so shockingly high in the so-called nonprofit sector.
How many poor people are not being housed due to these high compensation levels? How many rent increases must be endured by poor tenants in order to keep nonprofit executives living in luxury?
Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com