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.

Tax Incentives ≠ Job Creation

David Cay Johnston has written an interesting article that references studies that show tax incentives do NOT lead to job creation. He also explores why, despite the existence of empirical data showing that tax incentives don't work, businesses continue to get them:

The answer, I believe, lies in three areas:

  • A failure by news organizations to aggressively or even adequately explore these deals, which from my experience would never have survived scrutiny in the 1960s when newspapers were still a mass media read by nearly all homeowners.
  • The success of corporate America in implementing the recommendations of the Lewis Powell memorandum from 1971 urging the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to bring news organizations to heel and thwart consumer advocate Ralph Nader and others. The future Supreme Court justice's memo prompted the creation of institutions such as the Heritage Foundation. Powell took aim at news coverage critical of tax incentives for business, writing that those news reports "undermine confidence and confuse the public."
  • The campaign finance system, which increases the power of the well-off to influence who runs for office and who has the money to become known to the public, and ensures access for donors while reducing accountability to the majority.

 This is particularly interesting reading right now as Greensboro and North Carolina consider getting into a bidding war for Boeing's newest project.

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?