Hardball on Disproportionate Share Might Equal State Expanded Medicaid

screen-shot-2014-08-08-at-15352-pm-304xx842-561-0-1New Orleans    When the archly conservative National Journal asks whether the Obama Administration is preparing to play hardball with Florida over $1 billion in Medicaid funding that is set to expire later this year for “disproportionate share,” the heart quickens as people, meaning most rational and sentient beings, committed to better health care for all, stand to cheer, “Right on, let’s play two!”  The “disproportionate share” situation unleashes a potentially powerful lobbying force inside the Taliban camps supporting the governors who have stood at the hospital door, blocking the expansion of Medicaid to lower income families as part of the Affordable Care Act, so there’s hope at home, and maybe in Washington.

Here’s the story in a nutshell.

“Disproportionate share” funding is the additional money paid by the feds to a state to subsidize hospitals who are providing a disproportionate share of care to lower income patients, and thereby expected to lose more money in because of uninsured care for such families.  Living in Louisiana, another state with a huge lower income population and a similar coming shortfall of three-quarters of a billion, we all know about “disproportionate share” hospitals because giving them a hand to get started and rake in the extra Medicaid is one of the things that got former Governor Edwin Edwards in so much trouble and eventually in the federal pokey.  Texas is another state in the billion dollar club with disproportionate share payments timing out soon.

The hope for us and the fear expressed by the National Journal is that the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has already told Florida that there is no way they are going to renew the disproportionate agreement without changes.  Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat from Florida, quoting other conversations indicated that the CMS position was essentially why should they pay for something twice? Here!  Here!  To some degree, hands on the purse strings are already tied, since to fund the Affordable Care Act support Congress had already cut disproportionate share payments by over $18 billion from 2014 to 2020. The Republican recalcitrants have a problem because you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul, if Paul has already lost his money.

Experts say CMS has leverage.  CMS seems to say they are trying to be reasonable.  We should say, as loudly as possible, that it is definitely hardball time.  The National Journal and others aren’t surprised that the Florida legislature is now debating finally expanding Medicaid.  Seems like it is time for some Obama Administration squeeze plays at the plate. They must know that they can’t reward these naysayers, and they absolutely know that lower income families need the additional Medicaid support, so this shouldn’t be about politics, but basic morality.

Organizers everywhere have been looking for a way to rekindle the Medicaid expansion fight.  Here’s a handle and there are a lot of public and private hospitals that are our potential allies on this one.  Now that Obama is starting to be more of the President that we hoped he might be, this seems like one where he should be clapping from the box seats while all of us are cheering from the stands to get the most we can with our leverage now.  I’m for having Secretary Burwell start throwing everything with heat and mixing in a lot of brush-back pitches and maybe a few bean-balls at these hard heads and hearts.


Almanac Singers – Roll The Union On by Pete Seeger


Bank Redlining Increasing and Wealth Plummeting in Minority Communities

Seattle 1964

Seattle 1964

New Orleans        The Federal Reserve report on the continued decrease in lending to African-American and Hispanic families is unambiguous.  In 2013, 4.8% of total home loans were to African-Americans, 7.3% were to Hispanics.  In 2012, the numbers were only marginally better at 5.1% and 7.2% respectively.  As recently as 2006, before the real estate meltdown the numbers were almost 50% higher when combined, exceeding 20% of the total loans.

The other thing that is clear in the total failure of the Obama Administration to provide any real relief to so many homeowners is that citizen wealth for these same families has plummeted, putting more families underwater, owing more than the value of the loans in black and brown communities. While home values have declined about 10% in white communities, values have dropped by 20% in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and 26% in Hispanic-majority communities. It is virtually impossible not to conclude that banks are neither loaning, nor are they providing relief in such communities. If that’s not redlining, then let’s come up with a new name for it, because whether you say tomATo and I say toMAto, it’s all the same thing.

Reading the Wall Street Journal on this issue the only other thing that is crystal clear is that everyone responsible wants to point the finger somewhere else, usually at the government, rather than their own behavior, and muddy the water as much as possible, rather than moving to fix the problem with more rational policies and programs. The banks want to claim that they are raising credit scores higher than required because they don’t want to pay billions of penalties for their criminal behavior in robbing and fleecing both rich and poor. Does that sound like taking responsibility for your crimes and endeavoring to do better? Hardly!

And, how can blaming the lack of lending or relief to minority neighborhoods on these homeowners when every indication is that the roots of the securitization scandals were deeply set in speculation and largely white, middle-income and suburban communities? Count on the head of the Mortgage Bankers’ Association to voice the racism inherent in these new, whitewashed policies. David Stevens, their CEO, says the hammering of minority communities is “just simple math…tightening the credit has an unusually high impact on minority borrowers.” Stevens and the MBA are the lobbyists for bankers and banking in Washington, DC, so this is scary. They seem not to have gotten the memo that underlies the Federal Reserve report required by the Community Reinvestment Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which is the fact that they are supposed to be proving that they are doing better and doing everything possible to increase lending in minority areas, not just show up, and sign the attendance list.

Home ownership for lack of any better plan in place is still the largest source of wealth for lower income and minority communities so this level of inaction, blame shifting, and rationalizing puts the heavy fist of bankers on the scale to further increase the shift of inequality between the rich and poor, towards the rich. The underlying racism insures that lower income, minority communities by damn stay that way.

It’s not simple math. It’s simple racism, and that’s what the Federal Reserve is supposed to be stopping, not enabling, and it’s what these reports are supposed to be exposing for action, not simply noting in passing.


Target, NSA, the House of Reps, and Life in a Land with no Irony

Snapchat-1New Orleans   Let’s get this straight, ok? 

            So, it’s clear that the NSA has trolled through all of our telephone calls and likely has stored most of our emails on metadata back-up servers somewhere 50 to 100 feet below ground in Kansas or Nebraska or North Dakota or somewhere. 

            Now Target has come forward and said the hackers didn’t get just a couple of million credit card and pin numbers so that they could power up the cards for purchases, but that the number is more like 70 million or one for almost every five people living in the USA.

            And, this Snapchat thing that somehow claims it’s cool if you post wild photos of yourself and your friends because your folks and future employers don’t bust you, because the messages disappear within minutes of posting, despite all kinds of warnings about its lax security then sees 4 million of its users info hacked through the egg dripping on their face.

            The moral seems to be that we should go back to cash in our pockets, masks on our faces, and maybe some discretion in our personal lives, while using hand signals to communicate sensitive information to our work colleagues, family, and friends.  And, of course never shop at Target, but since I didn’t in the first place, no reason to start now.

            At least those are the lessons I was drawing and you probably were as well, but it turns out that just proves we are not elected Congressman who are part of the majority party of Republican electeds in the House of Representatives.   They looked at the Target problem, the NSA mess, and all of this and decided after almost nonexistent debate that they would best serve the citizens of the country by passing a measure to require the Obama Administration to quickly report any breach in the www.healthcare.gov site where people enroll for Obamacare.


And, this action was also taken in the wake of sworn testimony that rightwing hackers have tried to break into and shutdown www.healthcare.gov more than a dozen times in “denial of service” attacks where you try to overwhelm the site with mass email blasts.  So, in effect these distinguished Congressmen in the wake of all of this mayhem and attendant assaults on privacy, want to make sure that the Administration quickly reports to them and the rest of the country, if their associates on the rightwing fringe are successful to hacking the insurance site.

            There’s a level at which all of this is almost beyond hilarious, but perhaps more troubling than the lack of good governance and realistic public policy considerations, is the horror that in our modern lack of self-reflection, we may have all woken up to find that we now live in a world that has lost any sense of irony or embarrassment at the ridiculousness of our situation


Federal Contractors: Money First, Workers Last

moneyLittle Rock       It seems straightforward.   If you are going to ask for and, if fortunate, receive government money, then you are going to have to follow the law.  Some Senators though had their staff undertake a study of federal contractors only to find that many of these big business were delighted to get the dollars, but somehow believed that they only had to follow whatever laws they felt like, especially when it came to their workers’ wages and health and safety:

“The report found that 32 federal contractors were among the leading companies in the amount of back pay assessed for wage violations between 2007 and 2012.  ‘Overall, the 49 federal contractors responsible for large violations of federal labor laws were cited for 1776 separate violations of these laws and paid $196 million in penalties and assessments.  In fiscal year 2012, these same companies were awarded $81 billion in taxpayer dollars.”

You know, that’s just plain wrong, but equally appalling is the obvious conclusion that when the federal government is giving out these contracts it really doesn’t care whether or not the laws are being followed, especially when it comes to the tens of thousands of workers involved.  I would almost bet money that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to real violations, especially on wage issues, since the work of really monitoring whether or not something like the Service Contract Act was being followed to the nickel on assuring that workers were receiving proper amounts under area wage determinations would have been exhausting and difficult.  

The whole point of prevailing wage statutes like SCA or Davis-Bacon or the McCarran shipbuilding act is to make sure that the federal government sets the standard as a fair and safe employer.  An Obama administration plan to give preference to bidders that provided what they determined to be “good wages and benefits” was shelved, according to Times’ labor reporter, Steven Greenhouse, so perhaps this is another pipe dream, but it shouldn’t be, should it?  Frankly, I think they should establish themselves and their contractors as “model” employers and provide the benchmarks in these areas, but even if not that, the least we should expect is fairness and attention to the letter, if not the spirit, of laws that are meant to protect worker-citizens.  

Bad actors like Tyson Food, Imperial Sugar, and British Petroleum are legendary in these reports, yet it seems the feds don’t even keep a database up to date on compliance and infractions.  Maybe we need to ask the NSA with its vast computing and database capacity to take this on to keep them out of mischief and provide real worker protections as part of the package on the $307 billion in federal contracts awarded.

In the meantime it’s all about the money for these folks while the workers take the risks and we all get the hindmost.


A Work and Time Time Test for Public Housing Tenants

Frankfort   Hidden in plain sight in the Obama Administration budget proposal before the U.S. Congress now is a potentially huge and unsettling change in the way that public housing is administered.  The budget seems to envision an expanded requirement that living in public housing could require proof of a job and could be time limited.

             Of the more than 3000 public housing authorities, HUD has only approved experiments along these lines in less than 40 communities according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.  Nonetheless, the new budget proposes opening up such work requirements and time limits broadly.  Housing advocates, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition have correctly warned that such requirements could end up ejecting lower income families and exacerbating homelessness.

             Some local housing authority officials have somewhat disingenuously lobbied for this new eviction flexibility based on the scandalous size of the waiting list for public housing that numbers thousands and thousands in virtually all large cities and often means delays of a decade or more before a family on the list actually acquires an affordable unit in public housing.  The painful paradox is that even as the waiting lists have been growing over the last 30 years, the number of public housing units available has been drastically reduced as a curious matter of national housing policy in both Democratic and Republican Administrations.  Now rather than seize the bull by the horns and enable local housing authorities to increase the number of available units by adding capacity, the Obama Administration is planning to run from the problem by simply allowing more time stamped evictions and work tests even while everyone acknowledges the painfully slow pace of new employment being created as the country theoretically leaves the Great Recession.   How do they come up with this stuff?

             Why not accelerate job creation programs in public housing through public works that recycles families into private sector housing or increase section 8 vouchers and prioritize recruitment and allocation of an expanded voucher program with a preference for public housing tenants to allow them to exit?  I thought Republicans loved vouchers if they deteriorated support for public institutions?  There are probably a 100 better ideas that others could list as well.

             The one thing that seems clear though is that we can not solve the crisis of our affordable housing shortage by creating specious grounds for eviction from the few available units left.  We need to have a solution for these problems, not a willingness to trade bad problems now for even worse problems in the future.


Bank Mortgage Settlement Scam Even Worse, Crediting Zombie Valuations

New Orleans   Yesterday a brief look at the new National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) and the results of the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR) indicated that the latest reports, just like the earlier reports, indicate that the Obama Administration continues to get snookered at every brush with the big banks and Wall Street as it continues to try and pretend to deal with foreclosures with whitewash rather than real reform.  In exchanging comments with Dan Petegorsky with the Campaign for a Fair Settlement about his quotes in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, he made it abundantly clear that the new settlements are even worse than his moderate, scolding quotes.

The new foreclosure terms continue to bind the Administration’s co-dependence to the banks by facilitating and exacerbating their zombie status.  In the post bailout period, banks often look alive and health only by protecting the false and outdated evaluation of their mortgage “assets” by booking them at original loan values, rather than actual market values.  The fight for years in all of the campaigns around the banks and their foreclosure machinery has been to move the system away from the now established voluntary noncompliance on any so-called “relief” program, and finally get the banks to write down the principal balances to real, current market values, so that the loans are not only right-sized and brought to street values, but made affordable, allowing literally millions to stay in their houses.

Petegorsky made it clear to me exactly how bad these new terms are, not for the banks of course, but for the homeowners still trying to cling to their last hopes of holding onto their houses:

“I was actually talking not about the original IFR deal, but the “new” amended version – which may be as bad or worse. It’s certainly far worse than the NMS deal: there’s no requirement that they have to get the bulk of their relief credits via principal reductions, and (and this is actually true, even though I know it’s literally incredible) – they get credit not for $ amount they write down on the loans, but for the $ amount of the unpaid principal balance on those loans. I kid you not.

What this means is that the billion dollar press release terms that HUD and others are touting, are allowing the banks to continue to be stars in the real life “walking dead” drama, rather than reducing and forgiving principal and bringing the loans from deep under water closer to shore so the homeowners don’t drown, and therefore lowering the payments so that homeowners can stay in their homes.

Petegrosky went further to point out:

…”debt relief” it was giving people — using as their measure of that relief not what they’d be be credited by the monitor, but the hyper-inflated bank numbers – in which the lion’s share of the “relief” was short sales, 2nd lien mods, refis, etc.

Banks like HSBC were admitting in negotiating sessions as early as late 2007 that they would have to simply write off all 2nd mortgage liens at the point they had more of these 2nds on their books than virtually any other big bank.  Now they – and all of the rest of the zombie banks – are getting “relief” credit for writing off 2nds even without modifying the primary loan, which creates the increasingly well reported situations where a homeowner gets “relief” and still loses their house to foreclosure, because the bank essentially just paid itself back out one of its pockets, claiming homeowner relief, and still ripped off the homeowner and took the house.

HUD, the OCC, and the rest of the gang need to stop auditing for their starring roles in this Walking Dead drama, and finally get real and start slapping back some zombies and saving some real people in real homes in real cities around the country.