Hoosiers say no to privatization scheme

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INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mitch Daniels and Family and Social Services Administration Secretary Mitch Roob are planning to privatize the food stamp and other state welfare application processes in Indiana. The privatization scheme would put the state of Indiana in the same situation as Texas and Florida.

International Business Machines will lead a business group that includes Affiliated Computer Systems. ACS will manage welfare applicants’ information for the next 10 years.

Over 300 Hoosiers braved single-digit temperatures to attend a Dec. 8 hearing in this city’s downtown — the only public hearing scheduled on the matter.

David Warrick, executive director of AFSCME Local 62, questioned the transparency of the plan. Warrick pointed out that businesses exist “to make a profit” and public welfare exists to “provide for the people” and the two underlying ideologies are in direct conflict.

He cited ACS’s troubled history of ethics violations. (On Nov. 27 the company’s CFO and CEO resigned for having allegedly backdated grant dates for their stock options to increase their value.) Warrick also told reporters present that Roob used to work for ACS, calling the deal “crony capitalism.”

Ben Medina, a caseworker with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, testified to the plan’s failure in that state. Since the privatization plan was implemented, Medina said, the state has been overbilled as much as $173,000. He stressed the plan’s failure, stating that it is only up and running in four of Texas’ 264 counties, and there has been no reduction in operating cost.

“Whoever it benefits, it’s not the children or the families,” said Betty Bledsoe, adoptive mother of 17 children. … I’m here to tell you, I’m in the trenches, and I know.” Bledsoe, like many others in attendance, regarded the public hearing as a farce.

Cornell Burris, president-elect of the Marion County chapter of the NAACP, called the public hearing a “sham.” Burris said the decision to go ahead with privatization has already been made.

Also at stake are the jobs of 2,200 state employees who will face layoffs, and loss of pensions and other benefits, after IBM’s initial two-year commitment. State Rep. Mae Dickenson, a Democrat, voiced her opposition to the plan, saying that as a labor committee member in the General Assembly, “these are the people I represent.”

Gov. Daniels and Secretary Roob were not present at the hearing. A written transcript and videotape of speakers’ testimony will be presented to the governor for review.

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