Poor make do as Detroit struggles to stay afloat

By Corey Williams

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Jacqueline Lowe-Ingram's budgeting plans are simple: If she can't afford it, it doesn't get bought. If she faces a shortfall, something else gets cut.

That's how the 55-year-old home care worker avoids her personal fiscal cliff. When you grow up poor in Detroit, strategies must be developed to survive.

Lowe-Ingram, one of more than 200,000 Detroit residents living below the poverty level, has been listening to Mayor Dave Bing warn that the city is on the verge of running out of cash and must cut payroll and jobs -- again.

"I don't think it is broke, but it's possible it could go broke," she said of Detroit.

Lowe-Ingram said she knows the city's ills are not as easy to solve as the ones she faces but said that somewhere along the line, elected officials stopped using common sense when balancing Detroit's checkbook.

A state review team is looking over Detroit's finances and progress made by Bing on a nine-month-old consent agreement with Gov. Rick Snyder that is designed to help the city erase a budget deficit of more than $200 million and correct past fiscal failures.

If the review team determines Detroit is in dire straits, an emergency financial manager could be appointed by spring.

Snyder and Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon have said Bing and the nine-member Detroit City Council is moving too slowly. Bing has said some council members are obstructionists. They have pointed back, claiming he is slow to work with them on remedies.

Bing says he hopes a series of initiatives announced last week to save or bring in about $50 million will be enough to convince the state that Detroit doesn't yet need an emergency manager.

"The city of Detroit is hemorrhaging cash," said Ken Cockrel Jr., a councilman and one-time mayor. "It must fall to the mayor and his team to be more aggressive in addressing that issue, whether through layoffs, cuts to city services or furlough days.

"He says he was elected to make the tough decisions. Well, make them. I think the City Council, for the most part, will support them."

Meanwhile, Lowe-Ingram works for a caregiver agency and moved back in with her mother to save money. She earns about $900 each month, but it goes quickly. She pays $175 in rent and $90 to a storage facility. Diabetes medications cost $437 each month, and she also has to pay for vision and dental insurance.

Her doctor visits come out of pocket.

"I try not to go as much," she said. "If it's not extremely necessary I won't because I'm trying to save money. I'm looking for another job, but they are hard to come by."

Lowe-Ingram believes she and many other poor people have been left out of the city's decision-making process.

"Whatever they want to do, they are going to do it regardless of how the people feel," she said of Detroit's elected leaders.

Published: Thu, Dec 27, 2012