New Neighborhood Data Offers Clues without Conclusions

A map used by the Seattle Housing Authority identifies neighborhoods, shaded in purple, where housing officials and researchers believe that poor children have particularly good odds of rising out of poverty.  Credit:  Seattle Housing Authority

Seattle    Flying into Seattle I had in my hands an article about neighborhoods in Seattle and how they influenced, and perhaps determined, the future of children raised in those neighborhoods.  The article was based on Census data tracked assiduously by Bureau statisticians and researchers from Brown and Harvard Universities.  When we think about predictive data, Seattle’s Amazon is also hard to avoid since the sites attempt to anticipate what you might possible buy from what you have bought in the past in an exercise that also seems fated.   Certainly, we could all agreed that this was just coincidence.

The same might be said of this huge data reveal.

The data seems invaluable.  Following children for years, particularly those born between 1978 and 1983 and tracking them from the census tracks they inhabited then to where they are now, including in one April Fools Day snapshot of time, the data crunchers were able to map with precision the neighborhoods where lower income children had the prospects of bettering their parents with higher income and possibly escaping poverty.

The article in the New York Times wasn’t really about Seattle of course or Charlotte, North Carolina, the other city that they highlighted.  This was also coincidence, though unlikely random.  Housing authority officials were quoted in both cities.  Using the data there seemed to be a plan to issue Section 8 vouchers that would attempt to place families with children in these seemingly better neighborhoods.  The value of the rent vouchers would have to be topped off though, because many of these neighborhoods with better schools and services were more expensive or post-gentrification, we might say.  The article didn’t mention that this HUD pilot of increasing voucher value to market rate in order not to ghettoize the placement of families is one of the programs that Trump’s HUD Secretary Ben Carson has tried to suspend and terminate.

Despite mentioning that in some census tracks federal and other programs have spent literally half-a-billion dollars, ostensibly to improve their prospects in bettering the conditions of lower income families, there’s no data that verifies that figure, other than saying community block grants and major housing developments had underpinned the expenditures.  I couldn’t read that without wondering whether those monies had been usurped for market rate, mixed-income developments or other wild developer re-purposing of CDBG monies from their intended use for lower income families to building castles in the sky for politicians and their donors.  The examples of both are legion!

The mystery that was at the heart of the data is still unsolved.  Why would the outcomes for moving forward be so different only a block away in the same school districts and with similar demographic characteristics?  Additionally, given the waiting list for housing vouchers in cities throughout the country, clearly there is no anti-poverty plan that would move everyone into these neighborhoods that have managed to stand up taller, so what does the data say about how to make existing neighborhoods better?  I don’t even want to mention that as more lower income families would be moved in, what would keep the higher income families from moving out?

There’s something going on here.  The data will surely help set a baseline, but until we know more and then do more in these neighborhoods to create change, we’re left with lots of clues, but no sure conclusions.

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Arkansas Playing Gotcha with the Poor to Cut Them Off of Medicaid

New Orleans  In a sordid and shameful episode a few weeks ago Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson pridefully announced that the state had managed to bar 4300 people from health care support through Medicaid because of its new work requirement policies.  Seema Verma the head of the federal Center for Medical Services (CMS) who had approved this draconian attack on the poor played clueless cheerleader.

As more information come forward the real evil that underlies this shame emerges.  Let’s look at the facts.

Arkansas began the experiment by exempting two-thirds of the eligible recipients from having to report work hours, knowing this was going to be a problem.  30,000 people were then required to report.  16,000 didn’t report any qualifying activities to the state, either work, training or volunteer time.  In fact, according to the New York Times, “only 1200 about 2% of those eligible for the requirement, told the state they had done enough of the required activities in August, according to state figures.”  That’s pickle-poor!  It screams to a state failure not a people failure, and it foretells thousands more that will be denied coverage.

State officials tried to cover their rear ends, claiming they had done everything possible:  mailings, calls, and even putting out fliers some places where Medicaid patients congregate.  Even more ridiculously they touted the fact that they send emails and posted on social media sites.  Who are they trying to fool?  Arkansas ranks 48th among all of the states in the US in terms of connectivity and 30% of the population is underserved.  230,000 people in Arkansas don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.  Who wants to guess whether embedded in these sorry statistics lie most of these lower income Medicaid recipients?

Shockingly, the Times then quoted Amy Webb, the chief communications and engagement officer for the Arkansas Department of Human Services saying, “If there’s something we are not doing to reach people, if someone will tell us how to do that, we will do it.”  Yeah, really?  She doesn’t mention that the state legislature forbade any use of media to increase enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.  Nowhere do they claim they were on the television or radio airwaves.  As the manager of KABF, a 100,000-watt noncommercial smack dab in the middle of the state with more than 50,000 listeners per week, more than half of them lower income, I can absolutely tell you we never received a public service announcement from them, much less any support for a real information promotion of the program.

Every other indication is one of abysmal failure.  The state conceded even when they had email address, only 20 to 30% opened the email.  Call centers said many didn’t answer their phones.  A professor from New York visited three counties in August and interviewed 18 people and 12 were unaware that work requirements even existed.  Other experts noted that an incentive system, even a punitive one trying to get more people into the workforce, won’t work if people don’t know about it.  Duh!

Adding injury to injury, all of the work hours are required to be submitted through the internet.  That’s the same internet thing that hundreds of thousands of Arkansans are not able to access, and even with access are not necessarily all-pro at using the state’s clunky website.

State officials in Arkansas need to start some truth telling.  These so-called work requirements are nothing of the kind.  This a pure and simple way to push eligible people off of Medicaid.  Hopefully a coming court hearing will stop this hypocrisy.

In the meantime, this is a scandal that none of us should be able to stomach.

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Please enjoy Johnny Guitar from Twisted Wheel.

Thanks to KABF.

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