Just recently, Homeland Security has awarded ACORN with a fire prevention grant for nearly $1 million. What was unexpected, however, is that Homeland Security, for reasons not yet known, considered ACORN more qualified to teach fire safety and prevention than the local Fire Departments of Louisiana. Yes, you read it correctly, but let me say it one more time. A fire safety and prevention grant has been awarded to a controversial community organization with a penchant for violating U.S. law rather than to firefighters who risk their lives daily to fight fires and saves lives.
There are two questions I will examine briefly. First, why is ACORN still a recipient of government grants after Congress voted to cut them off? And second, why are community organizations getting fire prevention grants rather than fire departments?
In early September, ACORN found itself in yet another situation. Instead of committing voter fraud, ACORN officials were caught instructing people on how to falsify tax forms for the purposes of building an underage brothel. Independent film maker James O'Keefe used a hidden camera to undercover how ACORN was willing to help a pimp avoid paying taxes while importing thirteen year old girls from El Salvador into U.S. whorehouses.
When the video had first emerged, ACORN spokesperson Sonja Merchant-Jones claimed, "the video may have been altered to make the organization look bad." Rather than admit to a rather obvious problem with internal corruption, Merchant-Jones alleged a conspiracy against ACORN by right-wing advocacy groups. But when James O'Keefe released more videos showing essentially the same iniquity in different places, ACORN assumed a softer approach; they announced they would close their doors to new clients and launch an internal investigation.
However, it was a bit late for reconciliation. After a 345 to 75 vote in the House, Congress stripped ACORN of federal funding by passing the "Defund ACORN Act". Similarly, the Senate voted 85 to 11 to pass the "Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act", which commits to prohibit ACORN from federal contracts, grants, or other agreements involving funds.
So after these measures were passed by an overwhelming Congressional majority, why is ACORN still receiving government grants? Well, it's quite simple actually. President Obama has yet to sign both bills into law. Until then, the government is not obligated to honor the mandates of Congressional bills. And until Homeland Security can provide a rationale as to why ACORN is worthy of federal grants, even after our legislative body has strenuously disagreed, we can only speculate about the reasons.
But one thing is fairly certain, ACORN shouldn't be sucking the government nipple. Receiving grants is a privilege; and privileges are offered to those who play by the rules and can provide a fair and equitable contribution to society. Offering advice to a pimp on how to hide underage prostitution provides an incredible harm to the fabric of our society in more ways than one. It also speaks volumes about how ACORN views the Hispanic community. When ACORN is willing to facilitate the enslavement and prostitution of Hispanic girls barely old enough to reach puberty, then how can we expect ACORN to reach out to poor Hispanics? My advice to ACORN is that they should re-acquaint themselves with their own mission about being committed to social and economic justice.
Homeland Security will have a difficult time explaining why ACORN is more qualified than various Louisiana Fire Departments to receive a fire safety and fire prevention grant. According to FEMA's website, it says,
"Eligible applicants for the Fire Prevention and Safety Activity include fire departments, national, regional, state, and local organizations, Native American tribal organizations, and/or community organizations recognized for their experience and expertise in fire prevention and safety programs and activities. Private and public nonprofit organizations and Housing Authorities are eligible."
Speaking as a firefighter who works in Wisconsin, it's bizarre that the government considers community organizations to have an expertise in fire safety or fire prevention. What has qualified ACORN to teach fire related material? Are ACORN members certified in entry level Firefighting or in Fire HazMat courses? If not, then they are no more experts in fire safety than I am an expert in community organizing. Perhaps Louisiana's Fire Departments could apply for community organizing grants and use them to teach fire safety? This may remedy part of the problem caused by our Homeland Security.
Nobody doubts that firefighters are the most qualified to provide up-to-date factual information, to field questions about fire hazards and fire evacuation techniques, and to perform fire safety and fire prevention activities. So for the office of Homeland Security to award ACORN 80% of the state's total earmarked money (used typically for firefighting) is a transparent display of incompetence.
Oddly enough, lack of expertise is not the only issue. Lack of accountability is an even greater concern. Louisiana's Fire Departments work for municipalities and are accountable to local governments. The information they provide is tightly regulated for accuracy and is measured up against the most current NFPA standards. As the "pimp and ho" controversy demonstrates, ACORN workers are accountable to nobody. Sure, not all ACORN staff would be ready to sell their soul for underage prostitution, but these incidents weren't isolated either.
If ACORN has shown they have little regard for the law, then how can Homeland Security honestly expect them to provide children with the right information and training to prevent and escape fires? The only thing worse than having non-experts teach fire material to children is providing them unverified and unreliable information that could lead to more harm.
It will be interesting to see how President Obama deals with the two anti-ACORN bills that await his judgment; and it will also be interesting to read Homeland Security's explanation of how ACORN surpassed the qualifications of Louisiana's Fire Departments. At some point, taxpayers will start asking themselves where their current threshold of tolerance is, and whether ACORN has already breached it.