Category Archives: BBI

Housing First

An article in The New Yorker looks at a more effective approach to dealing with chronic homelessness:

In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that’s often thought of as unfixable: chronic homelessness. The state had almost two thousand chronically homeless people. Most of them had mental-health or substance-abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to try to make homeless people “housing ready”: first, you got people into shelters or halfway houses and put them into treatment; only when they made progress could they get a chance at permanent housing. Utah, though, embraced a different strategy, called Housing First: it started by just giving the homeless homes…

…Housing First has saved the government money. Homeless people are not cheap to take care of. The cost of shelters, emergency-room visits, ambulances, police, and so on quickly piles up. Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, told me of one individual whose care one year cost nearly a million dollars, and said that, with the traditional approach, the average chronically homeless person used to cost Salt Lake City more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Putting someone into permanent housing costs the state just eight thousand dollars, and that’s after you include the cost of the case managers who work with the formerly homeless to help them adjust. The same is true elsewhere. A Colorado study found that the average homeless person cost the state forty-three thousand dollars a year, while housing that person would cost just seventeen thousand dollars.

Here in the Triad the Greensboro-based Partners Ending Homelessness started a Housing First initiative in February, 2014:

Partners Ending Homelessness, a partner agency of United Way of Greater Greensboro, says the “Housing First” initiative it launched in February is providing access to stable housing to 28 formerly homeless households.

The initiative by the agency, a collaborative effort that includes 80 community partners, was funded in 2013 with a $1 million grant from the Phillips Foundation to address the needs of the chronically homeless.

The agency says it needs to secure roughly $2.5 million over the next four years from public and private sources to expand the program.

The effort in Greensboro is already paying dividends:

The early results reflect the experiences of the first five participants in the year before joining the program and in the six months after joining program.

In addition to paying for a consultant who has worked with other communities, the money has been used to develop an Assertive Community Treatment Team for long-term housing support and case management, the highest level of mental health service available short of hospitalization.

“Although $1 million seems like we are spending a lot of money, the statistics are showing we are saving a lot of money,” said the Rev. Mike Aiken of Greensboro Urban Ministry, one of the partners in Ending Homelessness.

“People are being housed and supported. We were absolutely sold on it.”

The number of emergency room visits also dropped, from eight to none. The cost of housing these people dropped from $30,650 in shelters to $8,927 in rent for their new homes. And the number of nights spent in jail dropped from 28 to none.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Walmart catches a lot of heat,  much of it probably justified, for its treatment of employees, low wages, sourcing practices, etc. but it rarely seems to get credit when it does something right. That's why I found this story from Louisiana so interesting.

Two Walmart stores in Louisiana will be stuck with most of the bill after food stamp recipients went on a huge shopping spree after a power outage temporarily lifted their spending limits, resulting in cleared store shelves and mass chaos…

According to a Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services’ spokesman, retailers who chose not to use the emergency procedures that limit sales up to $50 per cardholder during an emergency would be responsible for any additional amount spent during the power outage…

The shopping frenzy was triggered after the Electronics Benefits Transfer system went down because a back-up generator failed at 11 a.m. EST on Saturday…

Around 9 p.m. CT on Saturday, a Walmart employee made an announcement that the computer system had been restored and all card limits had returned. At that time, many customers left shopping carts full of food inside the store.

The focus of the story is on the food stamp recipients taking advantage of a computer glitch to go on a shopping spree, but what caught my attention was the fact that the Walmart stores continued to allow the customers to use their EBT cards even though they knew there was an issue. They could just as easily have said they wouldn't process the cards until the system came back online, but the store managers chose to continue processing. Maybe they thought they'd eventually get their money, or maybe they were compelled to by law – I have no idea – but the fact of the matter is they did a generous thing by not denying the EBT payments.

And those folks who took advantage of the situation? That's a perfect example of why the backlash against government aid programs is gaining traction.

The Public Payroll

Back before the economy tanked not many people griped about what government employees made, likely because not many people viewed the jobs as particularly exciting nor well-paying.  Since the economy tanked the public has pulled a 180 thanks in part to the fact that just having a job is something to celebrate and also to the fact that many governments are facing tremendous budget pressures.  Now people are paying very close attention indeed to what government employees are being paid.

The Winston-Salem Journal has a story about the compensation of Winston-Salem's 91 highest paid employees which totals $8.5 million.  Here's an excerpt from the story:

As it turns out, 21 full-time employees make at least $100,000, according to the report of Budget Director Ben Rowe. Earning between $75,000 and $100,000 are 70 full-time employees, according to the report. The total salaries of those 91 employees are valued at about $8.5 million, according to Rowe. They’re lawyers, managers, supervisors, chiefs, coordinators and other top-brass employees.

Excluding those 91 employees from the proposed 1.5 percent merit pay increase would save about $150,000, according to the report.

Cutting that amount would be merely symbolic, Council Member Dan Besse said. Besse, who had asked about the possible savings during a budget meeting last week, said he wanted to know because he opposes the idea of raising salaries the same year that the property-tax rate will be increased…

“The question then becomes: What’s the right balance on things like salaries?” Besse said. “Tentatively, I’m trending toward considering that we can’t simply say, ‘No increase for anybody this year.’ It appears we’re starting to experience problems with recruiting and retaining people in certain positions, like police officers.”

Is it fair to exclude the top level employees from the merit pay increases that the rest of the employees would enjoy to save a symbolic $150,000? Isn't the better question whether or not they did their jobs well, and if they did do their jobs well shouldn't they be compensated appropriately?

It's understandable that people would want to freeze or reduce pay in the face of budget crunches and potential tax rate increases. You might be asking, "How is that any different from a company freezing pay or laying off people when their sales drop or the company is losing money?" Well, the comparison really isn't that simple. Government employees don't get to pick their customers; they have to serve everyone. They also don't have much control over the income side of the ledger since tax revenues are tax revenues. What they can control are expenses and how effectively they do their jobs. If they do that are they to be punished?

Here's another point from the story that should not be lost in the shuffle:

To make up for the $7 million loss, the city would have to increase the tax rate by about 10 percent to 54.25 cents for every $100 of assessed value from the current rate of 49.1 cents. Rather, Garrity has proposed raising the city’s tax rate about 8 percent, from 49.1 cents for every $100 of assessed value to 53 cents.

Because of the revaluation, a large majority of city property owners would actually receive a lower tax bill even if the council members approve the increase in tax rate.

So in other words the symbolic freeze of the highest paid city employees wages would come despite the fact that many taxpayers won't be paying any more in taxes than they did last year.  Five years ago when these folks were largely viewed as average bureaucrats you probably wouldn't have seen this kind of discussion, but now that times are tough those same folks are viewed as overpaid executives ripe for symbolic flagellation. Doesn't quite seem fair to them.

The Higher Education Gravy Train

If you're the parent of a child currently attending a state university the opening paragraph to this story in The Atlantic will get your blood boiling:

Neat fact: If the federal government were to take all of the money it pours into various forms of financial aid each year, it could go ahead and make tuition free, or close to it, for every student at every public college in the country. 

The rest of the article will move you from boiling blood to sever heartburn:

…see the demoralizing report released this week by Stephen Burd of the New America Foundation on the state of financial aid in higher ed. It documents the obscene prices some of the poorest undergraduates are asked to pay at hundreds of educational institutions across the country, even as these same schools lavish discounts on the children of wealthier families in order to lure them onto campus…

Sometimes, colleges (and states) really are just competing to outbid each other on star students. But there are also economic incentives at play, particularly for small, endowment-poor institutions. "After all," Burd writes, "it's more profitable for schools to provide four scholarships of $5,000 each to induce affluent students who will be able to pay the balance than it is to provide a single $20,000 grant to one low-income student." The study notes that, according to the Department of Education's most recent study, 19 percent of undergrads at four-year colleges received merit aid despite scoring under 700 on the SAT. Their only merit, in some cases, might well have been mom and dad's bank account.

That's the kind of math and logic even a lowly English major from a state university can comprehend.

Here’s What You Should Know

A good suggestion for news organizations from Jeff Jarvis:

So the opportunity: If I ran a news organization, I would start a regular feature called, Here’s what you should know about what you’re hearing elsewhere.

Last week, that would have included nuggets such as these:

* You may have heard on CNN that an arrest was made. But you should know that no official confirmation has been made so you should doubt that, even if the report is repeated by the likes of the Associated Press.

* You may have heard reports repeated from police scanners about, for example, the remaining suspect vowing not to be taken alive. But you should know that police scanners are just people with microphones; they do not constitute official or confirmed police reports. Indeed, it may be important for those using police radio to repeat rumor or speculation — even from fake Twitter accounts created an hour ago — for they are the ones who need to verify whether these reports are true. Better safe than sorry is their motto…

* You may have heard reports that there were more bombs. But you should know that we cannot track where these reports started and we have no official confirmation so you should not take those reports as credible. We are calling the police to find out whether they are true and we will let you know as soon as we know.


Virginia, We Have Liftoff

Who knew that the Commonwealth of Virginia was home to the newest entrant to the commercial space race?

"A privately owned rocket built in partnership with NASA to haul cargo to the International Space Station blasted off on Sunday for a debut test flight from a new commercial spaceport in Virginia. The 13-story Antares rocket, developed and flown by Orbital Sciences Corp, lifted off at 5 p.m. EDT from a Virginia-owned and operated launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island."

And where is Wallops Island?

So Many Bills, So Little Time

The bill filing deadline is fast approaching for the NC Legislature so our representatives have kicked into high gear. Here's the House Calendar for Thursday, April 11, 2013. You'll see that bills 676 through 846 were filed and as you can imagine they cover a wide variety of topics. Here are a few:


Moffitt and Fisher (Primary Sponsors) – ELIMINATE DIETETICS/NUTRITION


Brown, Moffitt, Ramsey and Shepard (Primary Sponsors) – COMMONSENSE


and Stevens (Primary Sponsors) – INCREASE DRIVEWAY SAFETY ON CURVY


Hanes, Dockham and Samuelson (Primary Sponsors) – AMEND PREDATORY


Steinburg and Fulghum (Primary Sponsors) – STUDY AND ENCOURAGE USE OF


Avila, Fulghum and Davis (Primary Sponsors) – LEGAL NOTICES/REQUIRE


Blackwell, Bryan and Speciale (Primary Sponsors) – COMMON CORE STANDARDS


Jordan, Arp and Riddell (Primary Sponsors) – PROTECT RELIGIOUS STUDENT


and Hanes (Primary Sponsors) – LOCAL SCHOOL FLEXIBILITY.


Glazier and Hanes (Primary Sponsors) – CHARTER SCHOOL FLEXIBILITY/PILOT.


Hardister and B. Brown (Primary Sponsors) – SUMMER READING CAMPS.






Luebke, Jordan and Holley (Primary Sponsors) – FORTIFIED MALT BEVERAGES


and Alexander (Primary Sponsors) – MERGE CEMETERY COMMISSION/FUNERAL


Moffitt and Murry (Primary Sponsors) – GAME NIGHTS/NONPROFIT


Harrison, Adams and C. Graham (Primary Sponsors) – BAN USE OF CREDIT


Jones, Holloway and Jordan (Primary Sponsors) – THREE-FIFTHS VOTE TO


Bryan, Moffitt and L. Hall (Primary Sponsors) – SALE OF GROWLERS BY

From the Boring But Important Files: Chained CPI

This post marks the launch of a new category for this blog called Boring But Important (BBI). Today's BBI story is about chained CPI and why it might be responsible for decreases in social security. The details from Atlantic Wire:

The budget that President Obama introduced today calls for "$230 billion in savings from using a chained measure of inflation for cost-of-living adjustments throughout the Budget." Because the measure of inflation is so important when it comes paying Social Security benefits and setting tax rates, a minor technical change could have a huge ripple effect on the economy…

CPI is the Consumer Price Index, which is the most basic measure of inflation. It's an official, government-approved number produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and all kinds of government and private programs rely on the CPI to make yearly adjustments for the cost of living.

Early in the last decade, economists began to argue that CPI is not the most accurate measure of inflation, because it merely aggregates prices and doesn't take into account how people spend their money in the real world. Specifically, it doesn't account for consumers' ability to substitute one product for another when prices change. (For example, if the price of butter goes up, people can switch to margarineand save money. Click here for more discussion of the "substitution effect.") So in 2002, the BLS createdthe Chained CPI, which many experts say is a better measure of the actual "cost of living." (For some people, anyway. We'll get back to that in a bit.) That's why it's also known as Superlative CPI.

Not only is the Chained CPI more accurate, it predicts that inflation grows at a slower rate than regular CPI. In any given year, the difference between the two numbers is minor—only about one-third of one percent—but over time, the effect on budgets can be massive. Because each year's CPI is based off the previous year's number, the effect compounds, meaning a small change now creates a huge difference in the final number 10 or 20 years down the road. Switching from regular to Chained (again, a 0.3-percent difference each year) would save more than $200 billion in inflation-mandated spending over the next decade.

Anyone who's been paying attention knows that we average Americans suck at math. Maybe that's what they're counting on.