Author Archives: afscme

The $1.4 Billion Transit Fund the U.S. Government Won’t Release

Source: Laura Bliss, CityLab, August 15, 2018 

Like a nasty pothole, Trump’s unkept promises on road-and-rail dollars have given transportation fans a mild case of whiplash. But there may be worse harm in another infrastructure lapse on the part of this administration, this one more basic: $1.4 billion promised to transit projects across the U.S., still unallocated by the Federal Transit Administration for no clear reason. From New York to Los Angeles, El Paso to Minneapolis, 17 rail and rapid bus projects are awaiting grants promised by the federal appropriations bill signed into law by Trump in March 2018. But the funds have still not been delivered nearly five months later. Make that 144 days, 20 hours, and 15 minutes later, as of this writing, according to a splashy countdown clock built by Transportation For America, a progressive transportation policy organization. …

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Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill
Source: John T. Bennett, Roll Call, May 25, 2018
 
The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump. What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation. White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections. …

Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives
Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

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State ending deals with pharmacy middlemen that cost taxpayers millions

Source: Catherine Candisky and Lucas Sullivan, The Columbus Dispatch, August 14, 2018

The Ohio Department of Medicaid is changing the way it pays for prescription drugs, booting all pharmacy middlemen because they are using a secretive pricing method that has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions. Medicaid officials directed the state’s five managed care plans Tuesday to terminate contracts with pharmacy benefit managers using a practice called “spread pricing” and move to a more transparent pass-through pricing model effective Jan. 1.

… The announcement comes after more than 40 stories by the Dispatch this year investigating the mysterious practices of little-known pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, that make nearly $400 billion a year as part of the country’s health care system. CareSource, Medicaid’s largest managed care plan, will soon seek bids on a new transparent contract to comply with the directive, said company vice president of pharmacy, James Gartner. The state’s leading PBM, CVS Caremark, “is working with our clients [the managed care plans] to update our contracts moving forward,” said company spokeswoman Christine Cramer. CVS uses pass-through pricing in several other state Medicaid programs. …

Statewide task force set to meet on group home troubles

Source: WBRZ, August 3, 2018

Following a litany of complaints around the state, a task force has been created that will attempt to provide solutions for a problem that has cropped up due to a lack of regulations. State Senator Regina Barrow is passionate about the cause and making sure those who are the most fragile in our communities have safe and clean places to live. In May, the WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered squalid conditions that residents of a group home were living in. Tonja Myles said her uncle was severely neglected. The coverage sparked raids by Adult Protective Services and the State Fire Marshal. Ultimately, the Prosperity House run by the Davenport family and operating on Greenwell Springs Road was closed down. However, the WBRZ Investigative Unit found the operators were using another location a stone’s throw from that house to operate again. A dust-up occurred this week when Baton Rouge Police were contacted after residents were taken from the Greenwell Springs home. …

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State investigators raid group home over deplorable living conditions
Source: WBRZ, May 30, 2018

A group home that has been operating despite its name being revoked by the Secretary of State for failing to file documents in a timely manner is under the microscope after horrible conditions were exposed by a relative who has a family member there. Wednesday, investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s office paid a visit to the house following a flood of complaints. …

$625,000 settlement approved in wrongful death suit involving Hampton Roads Regional Jail inmate

Source: Tim Dodson, Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 24, 2018

A $625,000 settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, its medical provider and a number of staff members was approved in federal court Tuesday. The suit was filed in June 2017 by the family of Henry Clay Stewart, an inmate who died Aug. 6, 2016, because of internal bleeding from a perforated stomach ulcer. …..The lawsuit said Stewart was arrested in May 2016 for allegedly violating the terms of his probation related to a 2011 shoplifting charge. He was first held at the Hampton City Jail but was transferred to Hampton Roads Regional Jail in June 2016. The suit alleged that “from mid-July through his death on Aug. 6, 2016, Stewart repeatedly sought medical treatment for severe medical conditions, including chest and abdominal pain, blackouts, inability to keep down water or food, and drastic weight loss, but his pleas for urgent medical care were either ignored or the care provided to him was substandard and did not address his life-threatening medical needs.” Hampton Roads Regional Jail has come under intense state scrutiny in recent years over the quality of its medical care after other inmate deaths, including 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell’s in 2015. The state medical examiner found that Mitchell, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, essentially wasted away in plain sight over a 101-day stay at the facility. He had been accused of stealing $5 worth of snacks from a convenience store…..

Metro shuttle bus operator in trouble for distracted driving

Source: Nick Iannelli, WTOP, July 27, 2018

Metro has ordered a private contractor to pull a bus driver off a work zone shuttle route after he was caught on camera talking on a cellphone behind the wheel. In a video posted online by Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the driver can clearly be seen talking on the phone while operating a bus at the Fort Totten station Thursday morning. … In a statement, Metro called the video an “obvious and egregious safety violation” and ordered the contractor, Coach USA, to permanently bar the driver from providing service to Metro. …

P3 bill signals new infrastructure path for New Jersey

Source: Andrew Coen, Bond Buyer, August 15, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
Legislation signed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to expand the state’s use of public-private partnerships lays the groundwork for increased infrastructure investments throughout the state, supporters say. The bipartisan bill Murphy signed Tuesday enables local governments, school districts, public authorities and state colleges to enter into P3s for capital projects. P3 opportunities in New Jersey previously only applied to public colleges and universities. …

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New Jersey bill seeks P3 expansion
Source: Andrew Coen, Bond Buyer, April 13, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
New Jersey lawmakers are pushing again for an increase in the use of public-private partnerships to jump-start infrastructure improvements in the cash-strapped state. Two and a half years after former Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed an expansion of New Jersey’s P3 program, a state senate committee advanced legislation on April 5 that if enacted would permit localities to enter into P3 agreements for building and highway infrastructure projects. The measure would make local governments, school districts, public authorities and state colleges eligible to enter into P3s where the private entity would assume full or partial financial and administrative responsibility for capital projects. …

Omaha fines Waste Management another $78,000 for not picking up yard waste separately in July

Source: Emily Nohr, Omaha World-Herald, August 11, 2018

Mayor Jean Stothert is again penalizing the city’s garbage hauler — this time $78,000 — for service problems. That brings the total penalties against Waste Management to nearly $180,000 this year. Stothert rejected comments made by some Omaha City Council members that the administration should do more to hold Waste Management to its contract with the city. … Waste Management continues to struggle to pick up yard waste separately from trash at residences across Omaha, which the company is supposed to do from about April to Thanksgiving.

… The city pays nearly $500,000 a month for separate yard waste collection. Officials can fine Waste Management, however, if it receives more than 1,000 complaints about garbage and recycling and 700 about yard waste. Stothert fined Waste Management in May and June after the city got enough complaints from residents about service. Fines for both months totaled about $56,000. Additionally, her administration negotiated paying Waste Management $44,000 less in June and the latest $78,000 less in July for not picking up yard waste separately in parts of the city. Stothert said there’s no complaint-driven fine for last month because the city didn’t get enough complaints to warrant one. The city received just 69 complaints about yard waste last month, she said. …

Amazon subsidies now up to $1.6 billion, group says

Source: Mark Williams, Columbus Dispatch, August 13, 2018
 
Amazon has collected a total of $1.6 billion in government subsidies for its projects throughout the country that include distribution and data centers and projects for its subsidiaries such as Whole Foods and Audible. That’s according to Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that promotes accountability in economic-development projects and has track government subsidies for Amazon projects. …

See Amazon Tracker: Counting Subsidies to Amazon from Good Jobs First.

Puerto Rico’s High Court Clears Way for Vouchers, Charter Schools

Source: Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week, August 10, 2018

Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court has dismissed a legal challenge to the U.S. territory’s plans to allow charter schools and vouchers, spelling a potential end to one of the biggest controversies about the island’s education system since two major hurricanes hit the island last year. Earlier this year, the island’s government approved a plan to create “alianza” schools, which are intended to be like charter schools, as well as a “free school” selection program similar to vouchers. …

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Puerto Rico’s Teachers Battle for the Schools Their Students Deserve
Source: Jesse Hagopian, The Progressive, May 9, 2018
 
On May Day, thousands of Puerto Rican teachers, parents, and students launched strikes and boycotts to push back against austerity measures that would close nearly 300 schools, lay off 7,000 teachers, convert public schools into privatized charters, and cut public sector pensions. I spoke with Mercedes Martinez, President of Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, about the neoliberal attack on the schools and public sector, the worker strikes and boycotts of May Day, and the brutal response of the police. …

Puerto Rico Plans to Shutter 283 Schools
Source: AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 6, 2018
 
The Puerto Rico Department of Education announced late Thursday that it would close 283 public schools next school year, citing a decline in enrollment of nearly 39,000 students and the island’s ongoing budget crisis.  “Our children deserve the best education we are capable of giving them taking into account the fiscal reality of Puerto Rico,” Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said in a statement issued in Spanish Thursday evening. “Therefore we are working hard to develop a budget that will allow us to focus resources on student needs and improve the quality of teaching.” In early February, Keleher and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló introduced a sweeping education reform plan that called for closing several hundred schools over the next several years and introducing charter schools to the island. The governor estimates the plan will help save $466 million per year by 2022, according to figures in his most recent fiscal plan meant to address the island’s staggering $120 billion in outstanding debts and obligations. Those figures do not take into account the estimated $95 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Labor Dept. Wants Religious Freedom Focus in Bias Probes

Source: Ben Penn, Bloomberg Law, August 10, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
The Trump administration is expanding the circumstances in which federal contractors can use religious beliefs as a defense against job discrimination charges, a move likely targeting the Obama Labor Department’s ban on bias against gay and transgender workers.  The DOL’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs issued a new enforcement directive Aug. 10 calling for investigators to factor in recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and White House executive orders that protect religious freedom. Lawmakers, administrative agencies, and courts have grappled with drawing a line between religious liberty and unlawful discrimination. …

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“We just get by check to check”: Workers cheated as federal contractors prosper
Source: Talia Buford and Maryam Jameel, Salon, April 6, 2017
 
… But each year, thousands of contractors enriched by tax dollars skirt federal labor laws and shortchange workers. In fact, U.S. Department of Labor data show that upwards of 70 percent of all cases lodged against federal contractors and investigated by the department since 2012 yielded substantive violations. … The Center for Public Integrity examined a subset of 1,154 egregious violators — those with the biggest fines, highest number of violations or most employees impacted — included in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division enforcement database and cross-referenced them with more than 300,000 contract records from the Treasury Department. The Center found that between January 2015 and July 2016:

  • Federal agencies modified or granted contracts worth a total of $18 billion to 68 contractors with proven wage violations. Among them: health-care provider Sterling Medical Associates, Cornell University and Corrections Corporation of America
  • Of all agencies, the U.S. Department of Defense employed the most wage violators – 49, which collectively owed $4.7 million in back pay to almost 6,200 workers. The department paid those 49 contractors a combined $15 billion
  • Violations by the 68 contractors affected some 11,000 workers around the country — about the same number of people who moved to D.C. in 2016.

…The Labor Department tried to address the problem in 2016 with a rule that would have required federal contractors to disclose wage and safety violations and come into compliance with the law if they wanted to keep doing business with the government. Invoking a statute rarely used prior to the Trump administration, however, Congress voted to undo the regulation — already on hold because of a legal challenge — and Trump sealed its fate with his signature. …

Trump’s Courageous, Valiant Decision to Gut Government Worker Safety
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 5, 2017
 
As he gets ready to put Americans to work on big-league federal projects, President Trump seeks to cut “burdensome red tape” for federal contractors. But that might mean cutting a few fingers and toes, too. That’s because Trump has repealed an Obama administration executive order ensuring fair pay and safety standards for workers contracted for government projects. So the workers Trump wants to supposedly rebuild bridges and highways will be working under a regulatory regime that’s now more likely to ease up on abusive employers in “public-private partnerships.” …

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