Category Archives: Oversight/Contract.Management

Secrecy inside child welfare system can kill: ‘God help the children of Kansas’

Source: Laura Bauer, Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017

… An agency charged with protecting kids instead focused on protecting itself. An agency where a former high-level DCF supervisor told The Star she was instructed not to document anything after a child’s death and to shred notes after meetings so attorneys and reporters couldn’t get them through open records requests. An agency where even lawmakers insist DCF officials are intentionally misleading them and providing information the Legislature can’t trust. In the end, Kansas children continue to die without a public review of what contact state social workers had with the families — whether they did enough and whether policies and procedures were followed. …

In a months-long investigation into the secrecy that permeates Kansas government and how it harms residents, The Star found a pervasive effort inside DCF to hide behind privacy laws and internal procedures to keep the public from knowing how it operates. Those practices are particularly acute in cases where children are seriously injured or killed by parents and guardians who were known to the agency. For the past year, DCF has refused to answer questions on topics ranging from open records and the death of specific children to runaways in foster care. During the course of The Star’s reporting on widespread problems within the agency, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore announced her retirement effective Dec. 1. …

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For Kansas foster care task force, report of missing children latest concern
Source: Madeline Fox, Wyandotte Daily, October 12, 2017

The news that about 70 children are missing from the Kansas foster care system is the latest in a string of concerns for lawmakers and child welfare advocates. Concern for the safety of children, heavy caseloads for social workers and a lack of coordination in the system prompted lawmakers earlier this year to form the Child Welfare Task Force, which heard about the missing children during a meeting Tuesday in Topeka. The foster care system, overseen by the Kansas Department for Children and Families, was privatized 20 years ago after it failed court-ordered reviews. Care is now overseen by two contractors: St. Francis Community Services in western Kansas, and KVC Health Systems in eastern Kansas. …

More than 70 foster children missing in Kansas
Source: Jonathan Shorman and Hunter Woodall, Wichita Eagle, October 10, 2017
 
More than 70 foster children are missing in Kansas, the companies running the state’s foster care system said Tuesday.  Lawmakers were concerned that Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore appeared unaware that three sisters have been missing from a northeast Kansas foster home since Aug. 26.  Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, told a child welfare task force meeting that when she raised the missing children with DCF on Tuesday, the agency knew nothing. … KVC Kansas, one of the foster care contractors, said it has 38 missing children. The other company, Saint Francis Community Services, said 36 are missing in its system.  Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer at KVC Kansas, one of the contractors, told a child welfare task force that the number of missing represented about 1 percent of the foster care population and is in line with the national average.  Still, he acknowledged the contractor could do a better job. …

Kansas Lawmakers Advancing Bill for Oversight of Foster Care
Source: Associated Press, May 12, 2017

 
Kansas lawmakers have advanced a bill that would increase their oversight of the state’s privatized foster care system and the contractors running it.  The House gave first-round approval to the measure Friday on a voice vote. Members planned to take another vote to determine whether the proposal goes to the Senate.  The bill would create an 18-member task force to collect data from the state Department for Children and Families on the foster care system and its contractors and to make recommendations for improvement. …

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Kansas House Committee Approves Foster Care Task Force
Source: Allison Kite, Associated Press, May 9, 2017
 
A House committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow Kansas lawmakers to more closely oversee the state’s privatized foster care system and the contractors that run it amid questions about how the state monitors the program.  The bill passed by the House Children and Seniors Committee would create an 18-member foster care task force to study the system.  The task force would collect data from the Kansas Department for Children and Families on the foster care system and its contractors and make recommendations for improvement. …

Audit finds problems in privatized foster care system, faults DCF for lax oversight
Source: Peter Hancock, Lawrence Journal World, April 28, 2017
 
The private nonprofit agencies that manage Kansas’ foster care system do not have the capacity in many parts of the state to handle the volume of cases they deal with, and the Kansas Department for Children and Families often does not conduct adequate oversight of those contractors.  Those are the findings of a Legislative Post Audit report on the foster care program that was delivered to lawmakers Friday.  However, auditors also said there would be enormous costs for the state if it decided to take back control and operation of the program itself. The report was the third and final part of a comprehensive audit that lawmakers ordered following two deaths in 2014 of children who were in the foster care system. …

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MT Republicans plan to expand special session agenda

Source: Mike Dennison, KXLH, November 8, 2017
 
Legislative Republicans plan to expand next week’s special session agenda, to include more options to fill Montana’s $227 million budget hole, MTN News has learned – including $32 million from an account controlled by the owner of the private prison in Shelby. … GOP leaders are drafting a proposed expansion with nine new items, including: Using $32 million from a fund set up to help the state buy the privately run prison at Shelby. The owner of the prison – CoreCivic – controls the money, but has offered to give it to the state — if the state agrees to extend the company’s contract, for another 10 years.  …

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Corrections pledges to increase private prison oversight
Source: Associated Press, November 30, 2016

The Montana Department of Corrections has pledged to strengthen its oversight of a private prison in Shelby after auditors recently found weaknesses in the agency’s monitoring of guard staffing levels, health care services and food service. Department officials said checks have already been increased to ensure mandatory security staffing levels are being met, and they will build more comprehensive checks in the other areas. The Legislative Audit Division did not find any major violations at the Crossroads Correctional Center when auditors conducted surprise visits, analyzed prison data and spoke to former inmates. However, the auditors did report that the department’s on-site contractor assigned to monitor the prison’s health services does not verify that inmates receive timely access to medical care. The department also has not defined the level of review it expects from the contractor and conducts only limited reviews of health services data from the prison, the November report found. … But DOC director Mike Batista said in his written response that the department has already set up reviews of shift rosters, payroll logs, video reviews of staff and other checks as a result of past violations discovered in audits. Batista pledged to increase the review of shift rosters each month. The department also “will build a more comprehensive reporting and compliance check for medical access and timeliness requirements” for its health care monitoring contractor, Batista said. He added that the department’s dietician will review the prison’s menu annually. DOC spokeswoman Judy Beck said Wednesday she did not have further comment beyond Batista’s response to the audit.

Montana to explore purchasing private prison in Shelby
Source: Matt Volz, Associated Press, September 24, 2015

Montana lawmakers on Thursday began exploring whether to purchase a private prison in Shelby when the state’s 20-year contract with Corrections Corporation of America is up in 2019. The state has the option to either buy the Crossroads Correctional Center or extend CCA’s contract for another five to 10 years. … There are 83-full-time correctional officers at the prison, and one vacant position currently, he said. CCA pays more than $7 million in payroll, utilities and other fees, along with $475,000 in annual property taxes, he said.

Exclusive: Nursing Home Sought Help From Lobbyist Friend Of Governor

Source: Jim Defede, CBS Miami, November 3, 2017

State officials intended to permanently shut down the now infamous The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in 2014, when a lobbyist with deep ties to Governor Rick Scott interceded on behalf of the man who wanted to take it over, CBS4 News has learned. The role of one of the Governor’s friends lobbying state officials on behalf of Dr. Jack Michel so Michel could obtain the license for the Hollywood Hills nursing home has not been previously reported. The nursing home is now drawing intense scrutiny following the deaths of more than a dozen residents after its air conditioning system lost power during Hurricane Irma. … In 2014, Michel wanted to buy the nursing home, whose owner at the time, Karen Kallen-Zury, had just been convicted of Medicare fraud and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. … Political leaders have questioned whether Michel should have been granted a license given the fact that Michel and two former business partners paid $15.4 million to the federal government to settle fraud claims. …

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Hollywood nursing home should never have been licensed, state senator says
Source: Bob Norman, Local 10 News, October 26, 2017

The U.S. Justice Department hit Michel with civil Medicare fraud charges in 2004, alleging he received $70,000 each month in kickbacks to funnel nursing home patients into Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami for medically unnecessary procedures. … Michel eventually purchased the Larkin hospital (beginning with what the feds alleged appeared to be sham transactions) and, according to the complaint, began paying to other doctors for more bogus Medicare referrals. … Farmer says the fraud described in the Michel complaint has become all too common. … Michel and his business partners — including Chicago Rabbi Morris Esformes and his son, Philip — paid $15.4 million to settle the fraud case while admitting no wrongdoing. Published reports show that the Esformeses have a long history of nursing home violations going back decades in Chicago and other cities, including one case in 2001 involving the deaths of four women during a heat wave in St. Louis. Criminal investigations netted no charges in that case, but the nursing home was hit with a $275,000 civil judgment in one suit while three others ended with undisclosed settlements. But after paying the $15.4 million settlement to the federal government, both Michel and the Esformeses simply continued in the business of running nursing homes and hospitals. …

Hurricane Irma: Hospital linked to nursing-home deaths was paid $48M to care for Florida prisoners
Source: Arek L Sarkissian, Naples Daily News, September 26, 2017

The owner of a Florida nursing home whose 11 residents died after Hurricane Irma has benefited for years from millions of dollars in government contracts despite repeatedly running afoul of state and federal regulators. Dr. Jack Michel, owner of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, owns a Miami hospital that has received $48 million in taxpayer money since 2006 to treat state prisoners. The payments to Larkin Community Hospital started the same year Michel settled a federal fraud lawsuit that accused him of bilking taxpayers. They continued after the state barred one of his assisted-living homes from taking new patients. And state officials are giving no indication that the payments will stop now despite Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s comments that the owner is unfit to care for patients after deaths at his nursing home.

Larkin provides the prison hospital care under no-bid agreements that the Florida Department of Corrections approved, according to agency contract and finance records. The hospital has served as a subcontractor to the state’s prison health care vendors with approval from corrections officials. Eight elderly patients died Sept. 13 after Irma knocked out power at Michel’s nursing home and residents remained for several days without air conditioning. Three other patients died days later after being hospitalized with complications. …

Opinion: Puerto Rico suffers amid disaster capitalism

Source: Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan, Press Connects, November 5, 2017

There are people coming to the island, though: the disaster capitalists. As eloquently articulated by journalist Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” disasters both natural and human-made are increasingly being exploited by for-profit corporations and so-called free-market ideologues to reshape vast swaths of impacted societies, undermining social-welfare systems, privatizing public utilities, busting unions and making obscene profits rebuilding. Post-hurricane Puerto Rico is shaping up to be a textbook case of the shock doctrine.

… Case in point is the $300 million, no-bid contract awarded to Whitefish Energy to rebuild the island’s power grid. … As we spoke, news broke that Gov. Rossello had called for the cancellation of the contract. Jaramillo demanded not only that, but also the firing of the head of PREPA, who signed the contract, and a full criminal investigation into all those responsible for it. Like Mayor Cruz, Jaramillo is working to incorporate solar power into the rebuilt power grid, without privatizing the grid in the process. In the meantime, Fortune 500 Fluor Corp. has also received a $200 million contract to work on the power grid. As Whitefish eventually heads back to Montana, there are two things you can be sure of: More disaster capitalists will be lining up to take its place, and the proud, resilient population of Puerto Rico, growing intolerant of the delays and the corruption, will be increasingly vigilant, while building momentum for renewable alternatives to the fossil-fuel power grid that has failed them.

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The Puerto Rico Power Scandal Expands
Source: Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic, November 3, 2017
 
A second federal contract with a company hired to rebuild Puerto Rico’s all but collapsed power grid is coming under scrutiny, drawing the attention of federal investigators and even members of Congress even as most of the hurricane-ravaged island remains without power. The news of a second faulty contract is also raising questions about the contracting process for the island’s government-owned power company, the  Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA).  Puerto Rico’s crumbling, aging electrical grid was at the heart of the island’s crippling debt and infrastructure problems even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed into it over a month ago. But now, in the wake of recent scandals over contractors hired to fix that very grid, some experts expect the timeline for full recovery to last well into next year. …

FBI Is Probing Puerto Rico Power Contract
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2017
 
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a decision by Puerto Rico’s power authority to award a $300 million contract to a tiny Montana energy firm to rebuild electrical infrastructure damaged in Hurricane Maria, according to people familiar with the matter.  Agents from the FBI’s San Juan field office are looking into circumstances surrounding the deal that the public power monopoly known as Prepa signed with Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC, according to the people familiar with the matter.  Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló canceled the contract Sunday, saying it had become a distraction from the U.S. territory’s efforts to restore the devastated grid. Only 30% of the island’s power customers have had electricity restored. …

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Trump boosts disaster aid for Puerto Rico rebuild

Source: Roberta Rampton, Reuters, November 2, 2017
 
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday agreed to expand the use of disaster aid to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid and other infrastructure wrecked by Hurricane Maria, the White House said. In a unique agreement recognizing both the massive devastation on the island and its dire financial problems, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for infrastructure projects will be released in a faster, more flexible way than is typical after disasters, a senior White House official told Reuters.  The plan, agreed to with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, will also provide for third-party advisers to estimate how much money is requires for big-ticket projects, and how it is spent – a provision aimed at protecting taxpayer dollars in what is expected to be a massive, long-term effort to rebuild the island. …

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Puerto Rico Lays Out Energy Future With Tesla, Privatization
Source: Jonathan Levin, Bloomberg, October 22, 2017

A Puerto Rican official who has been in talks with Tesla Inc. said the island is serious about transforming its energy infrastructure after it was leveled by Category 4 Hurricane Maria, despite questions about how such an overhaul would be funded.  Speaking in a telephone interview Sunday, Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy said Puerto Rico’s government understands its skeptics: The island’s finances are shot and its electricity system is in tatters. But he said the U.S. territory has a historic opportunity to use federal funds to modernize an aging and weak power grid.  At the core of the argument is the government’s belief that funding related to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, can be used to build a new system, not just repair the old one, so that it won’t be susceptible to collapse when the next storm hits. Laboy said Governor Ricardo Rossello’s government is prepared to make its case. …

Puerto Rico taps public private partnerships to boost economy
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, October 19 2017

…The island government said Monday that it’s working on six public private partnership projects that would lead to $300 million to $400 million of investment in projects ranging from a hydroelectric dam to student housing.  Puerto Rico will seek requests for qualifications for three of the projects and it is already working with companies on the other three. If the projects go forward, they would boost an economy that has been struggling with long-term economic decline compounded by the impacts of two major hurricanes in the last two months….

Elon Musk Is Not the Hero Puerto Rico Needs
Source: Kate Aronoff, In These Times, October 11, 2017

… According to a tweet from the governor late last week, the two are now in talks about bringing renewable energy from Musk’s Tesla and SolarCity operations to the island, whose long-embattled public utility—the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)—was decimated by Hurricane Maria. … On the one hand, the talks can be seen as a positive development: More than 80 percent of the island remains without power, and the storm could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Puerto Rico to get back online and become a leader in the transition away from fossil fuels. But the budding friendship between Rossello and Musk is also taking place in the context of a massive attempt to privatize Puerto Rico’s electric utility. Musk’s companies could deliver tangible improvements to Puerto Rico’s grid, but they could also prime the pump for a corporate takeover of the United States’ largest public power provider, putting decisions like who gets power and how much it costs into the hands of corporate shareholders. …

Puerto Rico Faces Restart on Financial Plan After Maria
Source: Heather Gillers and Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2017

It took months to put together a financial overhaul plan for Puerto Rico. Now officials may have to start over following Hurricane Maria. The federal board supervising Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy plans to meet Friday and is likely to discuss possible changes to a commonwealth fiscal plan it approved in March, according to a person familiar with the matter. The conversations could affect the severity of write downs on Puerto Rico’s $73 billion in debt.

… Reconstructing Puerto Rico’s power grid may prove particularly costly because of financial difficulties at its struggling electric utility. … Congress is starting to debate how best to rebuild Prepa. Setting up a reliable power system will require expensive modernization using federal dollars. Prepa is a flashpoint in Puerto Rico’s financial crisis because power rates are a drag on family incomes and company budgets. The oversight board has said it wants to privatize power generation to lower costs and transition Prepa to a regulated utility model. Creditors are skeptical of privatization, concerned that by selling off assets Prepa would lose the revenue streams backing its debt. But raising power rates to repay creditors is politically toxic in Puerto Rico, where the cost of importing fuel from oil tankers has driven power prices higher than in any U.S. state but Hawaii. …

Puerto Rico’s bondholders worried after Hurricane Maria turns out lights
Source: Francine McKenna, MarketWatch, September 21, 2017

If Puerto Rico is without power for months after Hurricane Maria, as authorities now warn, many investors in the $9 billion of Puerto Rico’s outstanding electric utility bonds risk never seeing their money. … The plight of Prepa bondholders—Prepa is Puerto Rico’s main supplier of electricity—was grim even before Irma. … Prepa’s bonds, $9 billion worth, are revenue bonds whose funding stream is based on collecting customer fees. Even before Hurricane Maria knocked power out for good, bondholders were worried that Prepa would deliberately force some plants offline, jeopardizing the collateral, creating justification for a privatization plan that could leave current bondholders high and dry. Proponents argue that a brand new electric authority, free of debt, would be a huge boon to the Puerto Rican economy. …

Hurricane Irma Unleashes the Forces of Privatization in Puerto Rico
Source: Kate Aronoff, Angel Manuel Soto, and Averie Timm, The Intercept, September 12, 2017

For struggling governments around the world, privatizing utilities has come to be seen as a kind of get-rich-quick scheme, offering an upfront infusion of cash to underfunded municipalities. Given Prepa’s size and that of its debt — $9 billion — it has been a long-standing target for privatizers, even before Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act last year to help rein in Puerto Rico’s mounting debt crisis. The blackout following Irma just added fuel to the fire. Days before Irma hit, Rosselló emphasized that privatization is firmly on the table, telling the New York Times that Irma “can become an opportunity or another liability.” …

Irma Grazes Puerto Rico but Lays Bare an Infrastructure Problem
Source: Luis Ferré-Sadurní, New York Times, September 10, 2017

As government workers cleared roads obstructed by uprooted trees and repaired toppled electricity lines, residents of Puerto Rico felt some relief that the eye wall of Hurricane Irma had skirted the island on its recent rampage through the Caribbean.  But while the commonwealth had largely been spared the 185-mile-an-hour gusts that had flattened its smaller island neighbors, hundreds of residents still lost their homes, at least three people died and almost 70 percent of households were plunged into darkness. The storm knocked out Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid, exposing the island’s decrepit infrastructure and raising questions about its future viability amid a worsening economic crisis.

… How a commonwealth going through a decade-long recession will be able to pay for much-needed upgrades is the key question. One option is to turn to the private sector, local economists say. Private investments, Mr. Rosselló said, could be accelerated under a provision of a contentious new law called Promesa, which placed the island’s finances under the oversight of a federal board. The provision could expedite and facilitate the process for private investment in electric, highway and water projects. … But the idea of privatizing public utilities is a divisive one on the island. The electrical workers’ union fears that the government purposely let Prepa deteriorate over time to justify privatizing it. …

Puerto Rico wasn’t ready for Hurricane Irma. We couldn’t possibly be.
Source: Carla Minet, Washington Post, September 7, 2017

On the surface, Puerto Rico was as ready as it could be for Hurricane Irma. Government agencies and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló have been taking a proactive, hands-on approach. President Trump has declared a state of emergency, which will generate emergency funds from the federal government. Refugees from the northeastern corner of the island, where Irma’s Category 5 winds already reached Wednesday afternoon, were arriving in shelters. … But Irma — a storm the likes of which we haven’t seen here in decades — is heading for an island whose resources to truly prepare for an emergency are already in grave doubt. … Now Irma may be used as a new rationale for the strategy of privatizing the public service by the Fiscal Control Board, whose members have publicly declared support for selling off the utility. The agency announced that 44 percent of the population — 692,350 clients — were already without electricity service by Wednesday afternoon. …

Government labor strife is latest test for fractured Puerto Rico
Source: Nick Brown, Reuters, August 30, 2017

Puerto Rico’s already frail economy faces a fresh test this week, as the bankrupt U.S. territory’s financial overseers try to force a defiant governor to furlough public workers, the single biggest block of employees on the island. An escalating power struggle between the democratically elected Governor Ricardo Rossello and the federally appointed oversight panel culminated on Monday when the board sued Rossello, saying he had no authority to reject pension cuts and furloughs ordered by the board. The measures are set to begin Sept 1. A competing lawsuit from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents 12,000 Puerto Rican workers, argues the exact opposite – that the measures violate the U.S. Constitution, and should be halted. At least six unions are staging protests on Wednesday to oppose the austerity, featuring a midday march to the board’s San Juan offices. … Noting a Rossello initiative to privatize some public assets, Eiler said “the unions’ cooperation is imperative” for public-private partnerships. …

Hedge Fund Sues to Have Puerto Rico’s Bankruptcy Case Thrown Out
Source: Mary Williams Walsh, New York Times, August 7, 2017

A hedge fund sued on Monday to have Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy case thrown out, arguing that the federal oversight board guiding the island’s financial affairs was unconstitutionally established.  In a lawsuit filed in United States District Court in San Juan, the hedge fund, Aurelius Capital, cited the “appointments clause” of the United States Constitution, which calls for all principal officers of the federal government to be appointed by the president, and then confirmed by the Senate.  That did not happen when the seven members of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico were selected, Aurelius said in its motion to dismiss the bankruptcy-like proceedings. …

Puerto Rico Teachers’ Union-AFT Join Forces Amid Debt Woes
Source: Jaclyn Diaz, Daily Labor Report, August 4, 2017 (subscription required)

The economic devastation in Puerto Rico has pushed the American Federation of Teachers to lend a hand to the island’s educators. Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico will continue to represent the 40,000 plus Puerto Rican educators. It signed a three-year affiliation agreement with the 1.6 million-member AFT to help it combat the island’s economic challenges, the two unions announced Aug. 3. … AFT and AMPR will work together to fight austerity measures and privatization on the island, Randi Weingarten, AFT president, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 4. AFT will lend resources to help AMPR train teachers for the future and to bring in legal assistance to fight the fiscal plan adopted by the Puerto Rican government, she said. …

Is Congress’ plan to save Puerto Rico working?
Source: Edwin Melendez, San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2017

A year ago, Congress cobbled together a plan to try to save Puerto Rico from its US$123 billion debt and pension crisis without costing American taxpayers a penny.  The law, signed by former President Barack Obama on June 30, 2016, effectively steered Puerto Rico into bankruptcy-like proceedings in federal court to prevent a massive default, while saddling the commmonwealth with an oversight board to ensure it put its fiscal house in order.  Though the vote was bipartisan, critics called it a “Band-Aid” that would do little to solve Puerto Rico’s core problems: unsustainable debt that has kept the country mired in recession for almost a dozen years. …

For Sale: Puerto Rico
Source: Heather Gillers, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2017

Puerto Rico has no cash and can’t borrow money anymore. So it is looking to sell itself off in parts. The troubled U.S. territory is preparing to seek bids in coming months from private companies willing to operate or improve seaports, regional airports, water meters, student housing, traffic-fine collections, parking spaces and a passenger ferry, according to a government presentation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, June 8, 2017

Puerto Rico’s economic crisis has now washed the burden of its colonial legacy onto Washington’s doorstep. Congress has been trying to contain the island’s ballooning debt under the hardline austerity program of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). But since the program is governed by a control board run by the same financiers responsible for driving the debt crisis in the first place, the island continues to sink into poverty while its creditors feast on the spoils.  To underscore how Puerto Rico’s revolving door of big finance and politics is underwriting the debt crisis, a report by the AFL-CIO and the community-labor coalition Committee for Better Banks (CBB) traces the career of the head of PROMESA, Carlos M. García, from his role as a head banker of Santander to his current political post overseeing the privatization and pillage of Puerto Rico’s anemic public assets.

Puerto Rico strikes second restructuring deal with bondholders
Source: Hazel Bradford, Pensions & Investments, May 15, 2017

Puerto Rico reached a restructuring agreement with bondholders invested in the commonwealth’s Government Development Bank, officials announced Monday in San Juan. … Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration said in that statement that GDB creditors “have agreed to substantial discounts to the principal,” but did not provide further details on the agreement, which calls for bondholders to exchange claims for one of three tranches of bonds issued by a new municipal entity. The new bonds will have varying principal amounts, interest rates, collateral priority, and other payment terms.  It is the second agreement reached with bondholders and Gov. Ricardo Rosello, following one announced April 6 with holders of bonds issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The PREPA agreement restructures $9 billion in debt by offering them 85 cents on the dollar, and giving PREPA more time to begin making payments. …

Puerto Rico board extends budget deadline by two weeks
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, May 9, 2017 (Subscription Required)

The Puerto Rico Oversight Board extended the deadline for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to submit a fiscal year 2018 budget by two weeks.  Board chairman José Carrión III told Rosselló that the board had originally set May 8 as the deadline for either the board approving the governor’s budget or notifying the governor of violations and providing a description of corrective actions. “We have received a working draft of the proposed budget and are reviewing the submission and its completeness,” Carrión wrote Monday. “The board will provide the governor an additional 14 days to amend and improve the submission before it approves it or identifies violations.” …

Puerto Rico unveils energy PPPs amid economic turmoil
Source: David Casallas, BNamericas, May 5, 2017

Puerto Rico’s embattled government released a list of priority project proposals for this year, among them energy sector initiatives that would be carried out through public-private partnerships (PPP). The projects envision natural gas use at power utility AEE’s residual fuel oil fired-plants Costa Sur (990MW) and Palo Seco (602MW) which would cost US$150mn-265mn and US$200mn-360mn, respectively. Information from the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority also reveals that AEE seeks partners to develop renewable energy projects, including photovoltaic and wind, for between US$100mn and US$700mn. …

Puerto Rico Declares a Form of Bankruptcy
Source: Mary Williams Walsh, New York Times, May 3, 2017

With its creditors at its heels and its coffers depleted, Puerto Rico sought what is essentially bankruptcy relief in federal court on Wednesday, the first time in history that an American state or territory had taken the extraordinary measure.  The action sent Puerto Rico, whose approximately $123 billion in debt and pension obligations far exceeds the $18 billion bankruptcy filed by Detroit in 2013, to uncharted ground.  While the court proceedings could eventually make the island solvent for the first time in decades, the more immediate repercussions will likely be grim: Government workers will forgo pension money, public health and infrastructure projects will go wanting, and the “brain drain” the island has been suffering as professionals move to the mainland could intensify. …

Puerto Rico faces bank closure, privatizations
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, April 28, 2017

Puerto Ricans will be facing a water rate increase, privatization of government operations and the closure of a bank that once oversaw the island’s debt transactions, officials said Friday as they worked on measures to offset an economic crisis.  Some of the changes were outlined in new fiscal plans presented to a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances. The plans for four heavily indebted Puerto Rico agencies will be amended in upcoming weeks, although officials noted that the water rate increase will start in January and that the Government Development Bank will be liquidated within a decade.  The board recently approved an overall fiscal plan for the central government that contains several austerity measures. …

Puerto Rico pushes to privatize operation of public services
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, April 20, 2017

Puerto Rico is ready to sign dozens of new deals to privatize the operation of public services as government funds dwindle amid a decade-long recession, the island’s governor told some 800 investors attending a two-day financial summit Thursday.  Gov. Ricardo Rossello said public-private partnerships could create up to 100,000 new jobs and generate some $5 billion in the next three years for a U.S. territory mired in economic crisis and its government facing a $70 billion public debt load that it is struggling to restructure.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders on Puerto Rico Fiscal Plan
Source: AFSCME Press Release, March 13, 2017

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement on the oversight board’s approval of a fiscal plan for Puerto Rico:  “The plan approved by the Oversight Board will have devastating consequences for the people of Puerto Rico, especially its most vulnerable citizens. The plan adopts an austerity approach that will slash services, cut pensions and create yet more economic hardship for Puerto Ricans. The winners are wealthy investors who stand to gain from the mass privatization of the services that remain. These actions are the foreseeable result of an anti-democratic law adopted by the last Congress. The people of Puerto Rico have been forgotten; we call on the federal government to act quickly to restore services and pensions.”

Board to Puerto Rico: Cut Pension System, Impose Furloughs
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, March 13, 2017

A federal control board on Monday said Puerto Rico’s government needs to cut its public pension system by 10 percent, furlough tens of thousands of its workers and eliminate Christmas bonuses if it cannot generate other types of savings amid a nearly decade-long recession. The seven-member board created by Congress last year to oversee the U.S. territory’s finances voted unanimously to add those measures to a 10-year fiscal plan presented by the island’s governor that the panel approved Monday. The measures will be implemented if the government fails to find other ways to cut spending and increase revenue. Board members said the spending cuts will be necessary so the government will have enough funds to pay for essential services such as education, health and public safety. … The plan drafted by the government and approved by the board also will cap some Medicaid benefits, effectively raise property taxes and scrap some infrastructure projects while possibly turning ferries, ports and parking lots over to private companies. It will freeze salaries until 2020, seeks to privatize the generation of power and increase motor vehicle license fees by 10 percent. …

Puerto Rico governor wants fewer austerity measures
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, March 1, 2017

Puerto Rico’s governor submitted an austerity plan made public on Wednesday that would cut deeply into the U.S. territory’s budget while avoiding some of the most painful measures recommended by a federal control board that is overseeing the island’s effort to confront a debt crisis that has led to repeated defaults. Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s plan would cap some Medicaid benefits, effectively raise property taxes and collect a tax on internet purchases. It would also scrap some infrastructure projects and could turn ferries, ports and parking lots over to private companies. But it would fall short of the board’s recommendation of a 30 percent cut in payroll costs and 10 percent reduction in the government pension system, which is on track to run out of money next year. …

DCFS vows change to program that saw surge of child deaths

Source: David Jackson and Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, October 25, 2017
 
Following a Tribune report on deaths of children in a privatized child welfare program, a state Department of Children and Family Services official said Tuesday that the agency has started taking back some of those cases from contract agencies and will handle them in-house.  Nora Harms-Pavelski, the agency’s deputy director of child protection, also disclosed at a legislative hearing Tuesday that agency administrators are now getting immediate reports on any instance of mistreatment of a child in the “intact family services” program, among other reforms. …

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Child deaths spike after DCFS privatizes ‘intact family services’
Source: David Jackson and Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, October 23, 2017
 
The state Department of Children and Family Services had conducted two abuse investigations into Verna Tobicoe’s Southeast Side home in the months before her death in May 2015. The agency also had hired a nonprofit group to make frequent visits and conduct safety checks on Verna and two siblings. … And then 44-pound Verna became part of a growing pattern of similar fatalities: She was one of 15 Illinois children to die of abuse or neglect from 2012 through last year in homes receiving “intact family services” from organizations hired by DCFS, a Tribune investigation found.  There was only one such child death under the intact family services program during the previous five years from 2007 through 2011, according to DCFS records released to the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act. … The spike in deaths began in 2012 after DCFS completely privatized the program, putting the care of families in the hands of nonprofit groups but doing little to evaluate the quality of their work, give them guidance and resources, or hold them accountable when children were hurt or put at risk, the Tribune found. …

The federal workforce is ‘deeply in jeopardy,’ expert says   

Source: David Thornton, Federal News Radio, October 20, 2017
 
The federal workforce is facing major headwinds from President Donald Trump’s administration and certain lawmakers that may soon devolve into an outright hostile environment, experts say.  They point to potential retirement cuts looming in Congress, investigations into reassignments at the Department of Interior, and potentially devastating budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency as examples, and outlined a few overarching challenges feds will have to endure or overcome in the near future. …One of the challenges Verkuil named specifically was the movement for at-will employment. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July that would classify new federal hires as at-will employees, which means they could be removed or suspended without notice or right to appeal for any reason, or no reason at all.  … The specter of privatization is looming large in the minds of federal unions, who fear proposed moves at the Veterans Affairs Department will go in that direction. And President Trump urged privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration this summer.

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Trump’s federal job cuts could lead to more spending
Source: Timothy Noah, Politico, April 13, 2017

Since 1962, total federal spending has increased from about $600 billion to about $4 trillion. How did that happen without ballooning the size of the federal workforce? By ballooning the size of the private-sector workforce to which the federal government contracted out the work. Today more than half the Pentagon budget goes immediately out the door to federal contractors. … But if the Trump administration proceeds with its planned cuts in the federal workforce, at least some of the work could be assigned to contract employees instead. That would likely increase rather than reduce costs associated with the programs being managed. …

Warner fights to protect federal workers
Source: Augusta Free Press, February 11, 2017

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 14 Senate colleagues to unveil the “Five Fights for Federal Employees,” a proposal to protect current and retired government workers from ideologically motivated attacks. … The Senators introduced a resolution with a statement of principles that the Senators intend to use to fight back against recent attacks on the federal workforce. These principles include a commitment to defend fair pay and earned benefits, oppose the erosion of essential protections that ensure the professionalism and independence of the civil service, and prevent the outsourcing of essential government functions to private contractors. A number of prominent labor unions and organizations supported the proposal, including the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE), National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), National Weather Service Employee Organization (NWSEO), and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). …

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Veolia’s US growth hopes run into trouble

Source: Luc Olinga, AFP, September 23, 2017

Veolia’s hopes of taking advantage of municipal privatizations and promised Trump administration public works projects to expand its US presence, are being strained by its role in water crises in Flint, Michigan and other cities. … A push by more US local governments to privatize water systems and promises by President Donald Trump of a $1 trillion public infrastructure investment are seen as opportunities to Veolia to expand. … But Veolia’s operations have not been without controversy, especially in Flint, where a lead contaminated water system became a notorious symbol of American social injustice. Veolia issued a study of the city’s water quality before the scandal erupted but did not flag any issues with lead, an issue it says it was told to exclude from the report since city and federal authorities already were looking into it. … Veolia continues to face numerous investigations and class-action lawsuits connected to the crisis. … Veolia also has run into controversy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which also suffered from elevated levels of lead in its water system. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has accused the French company of mismanaging the infrastructure system, including botching a shift in chemicals used in corrosion control. The Pittsburgh authority is in mediation with Veolia, according to two people familiar with the matter, but if that process fails it could result in another protracted court battle. …

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Pittsburgh Tries to Avoid Becoming the Next Flint
Source: Kris Maher, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2017

As its soot-filled skies cleared, this city built on the steel industry gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most livable places. But it now has another environmental issue to contend with: It is one of several major American cities with lead levels in drinking water above the federal limit.  A total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. They include Portland, Ore., and Providence, R.I., which both exceeded the limit at least one other time in the past five years.  Since the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., cities have been under greater scrutiny from regulators and pressure from residents to reduce lead in drinking water. In most cases, there is no easy fix, and more cities are looking at the costly prospect of replacing vast networks of pipes buried under streets and private property. …

Flint And Pittsburgh Have More In Common Than Lead In Their Water
Source: Donald Cohen, The Huffington Post, March 10, 2017

… Around the same time, the city’s water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.” The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe. … On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city would provide filters for drinking water, which is the right thing to do. But he’s also considering partnering with another for-profit water company to clean up Veolia’s mess. … For-profit water corporations will always have a financial incentive to cut service, shrug off maintenance, and fire employees. When they’re in charge, the high costs of doing business are passed on to residents: privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than those that are publicly owned. …

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Council urges Univ. of Memphis to decline state outsourcing contract

Source: Michelle Corbet, Memphis Business Journal, September 20, 2017

With the University of Memphis’ next Board of Trustees meeting set for early October, members of the Memphis City Council are asking that the group think twice before opting into the state’s facilities management contract. It’s no secret the University of Memphis plans to opt into the state’s property management contract, said Councilman Martavius Jones, who sponsored a resolution Sept. 19 urging local universities and their administrators to do the opposite. In May, the State of Tennessee entered into a contract with Chicago-based JLL to privatize maintenance, security, janitorial and landscaping services for state-owned public colleges and universities. “Based on my experience on the school board, the quality of the service, the cleanliness and the general morale suffered [when outsourced],” said Jones, who served on the Memphis City Schools Board from 2006 to 2013. …

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Does Outsourcing Some State Jobs Save TN Taxpayers Money?
Source: Local Memphis, August 31, 2017
 
Many Tennessee lawmakers hope to see if outsourcing some state jobs actually saves taxpayers money. It’s been a controversial topic since Governor Bill Haslam began implementing the idea a few years ago.  Questions about outsourcing are always the same. Does it save money and is there accountability?  “There’s… people concerned about state jobs all over Tennessee,” said one protester.  Many state lawmakers have heard and seen the protests about the ongoing outsourcing of state jobs. That’s why a majority of legislators from both parties signed a letter of concern earlier this year to Governor Haslam. The Governor has defended outsourcing state jobs in some areas, especially on state college campuses. …

UT campus workers protest Gov. Haslam’s outsourcing plan
Source: WBIR, August 28, 2017

University of Tennessee Knoxville staff, faculty and students joined local business leaders, state representatives and faith leaders in a demonstration Monday to call on university officials to “opt-out” of Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing plan. The demonstration was organized by United Campus Workers. Last week, a bill to introduce oversight in outsourcing was heard in summer study in the General Assembly. If the university were to “opt-in”, United Campus Workers believe as many as 10,000 facilities jobs, including hundreds in Knoxville, would be outsourced. Those who oppose the plan fear it will result in job loss, loss of oversight and accountability, reduced services and negative consequences for local businesses which provide services to campuses. …

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More Tennessee trouble for Nashville based CoreCivic prison

Source: Associated Press, September 19, 2017

Tennessee corrections officials have fined a private prison company $43,750 because of problems it had counting inmates at a jail it operates, according to state documents. The state Department of Correction levied the penalty against CoreCivic in May over breach of contract due to the woes at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a medium-security lockup in Hartsville that holds up to 2,552 male inmates, a letter released in a public records request shows. … According to state reports, officers weren’t counting correctly; inmates weren’t in the correct cells; and, in most cases, only one worker was counting inmates without another standing watch. The reports also said it was taking too long for officers to count and inmates were allowed to move around during count time. …