Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on the table in closed-door Medicaid haggling

Source: Tony Leys, Des Moines Register, July 3, 2017

The three companies running Iowa’s $4 billion Medicaid program contend they need millions more dollars from taxpayers, starting this month — but there’s been no public hint of how much more money the state will have to fork over. Iowa hired the companies last year to manage the state’s Medicaid program, which covers health care for about 600,000 poor or disabled residents. The shift has been intensely controversial, with critics complaining it has led to tangles of red tape for care providers and cuts in services for Medicaid recipients. Supporters, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, say the new system is saving money for the state by leading to more efficient, effective care. …

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Disabled Iowans, fed up with cuts under privatized Medicaid, sue Gov. Reynolds
Source: Tony Leys and Jason Clayworth, Des Moines Register, June 13, 2017
 
Iowa’s roiling controversy over its for-profit Medicaid management spilled into federal court Tuesday when six Iowans with disabilities filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kim Reynolds.  The lawsuit alleges that the state’s chaotic shift to a privately run Medicaid program is depriving thousands of Iowans with disabilities the legal right to live safely outside of care facilities. The suit holds Reynolds and her human services director responsible for the private management companies’ actions. …

Complaints about Iowa’s privatized Medicaid are spiking
Source: Jason Clayworth, Des Moines Register, May 9, 2017
 
Centered largely on allegations of terminated or reduced health services, complaints about Iowa’s privatized Medicaid program have spiked in recent months, according to information presented to state officials Tuesday.  State quarterly reports show grievances and appeals filed with the three companies managing Iowa’s Medicaid program have spiked by almost 270 percent — from 343 to 1,268 — in the latest three-month report published in March. …

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Teachers union leader: We won’t work with Trump and DeVos because ‘I do not trust their motives’

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, July 3, 2017
 
The president of the country’s largest labor union, Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association, told delegates at her organization’s annual gathering that they would not work with the Trump administration because the president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could not be trusted to do what is in the best interests of children.  Eskelsen García just addressed the 96th NEA Representative Assembly meeting in Boston, accusing President Trump of residing “at the dangerous intersection of arrogance and ignorance” and labeled DeVos as “the queen of for-profit privatization of public education.”

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Interviews for Resistance: On the Commodification of Education
Source: Sarah Jaffe, In These Times, May 18, 2017
 
What has been happening in education over the last 20-30 years—people talk a lot about the prison-industrial complex and about the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, but folks don’t talk enough about the educational-industrial complex. Education is where all these things come together and that is what we have been having for the last 20-something years is an educational-industrial complex where you have all these businesses come in trying to provide a service and really privatize education, which is our last public good. …

This is the new Betsy DeVos speech everyone should read
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, May 16, 2017
 
The Michigan billionaire appeared at the 2017 annual technology and innovation conference in Salt Lake City sponsored by Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley, delivering a speech and answering questions from Jeanne Allen of the nonprofit Center for Education Reform, who, as Liz Willen, editor of the Hechinger Report, said in this column, “threw one softball after another, such as: “What would you say to people about technology?” … What she talked mostly about, though, is what she always talks about — school choice — and she renewed previous attacks she has made on the value of government and public schools. If anybody thought that having the responsibility of running the entire Education Department would broaden her scope, this speech should disabuse them of that.

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Lawmakers Question Trump’s Stake in Subsidized Housing Complex

Source: Yamiche Alcindor, New York Times, July 10, 2017
 
Two congressional Democrats are demanding more information about President Trump’s potential conflicts of interest stemming from his part ownership of the nation’s largest federally subsidized housing complex, which they say could benefit financially from decisions made by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. … Mr. Trump stands to make millions from his 4 percent stake in Starrett City, a sprawling affordable housing complex in Brooklyn, according to a 10-page letter written by Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, whose district includes the complex. … The men added that they also worry that Mr. Trump’s proposed budget would make steep cuts to many housing programs but “would leave the type of federal aid that flows to the owners of Starrett City mostly intact.” … Mr. Cummings and Mr. Jeffries are also concerned about the appointment of Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump family associate, to lead the department’s New York and New Jersey office.

Betsy DeVos Picked A Student Loan CEO To Run The Student Loan System

Source: Molly Hensley-Clancy, Buzzfeed News, June 20, 2017
 
When the Trump administration announced its pick to run the $1.3 trillion federal student loan system on Tuesday, there was one notable thing about the candidate that wasn’t mentioned in the press release: He’s the CEO of a private student loan company.  The Education Department’s statement described A. Wayne Johnson as the “Founder, Chairman and former CEO” of a payments technology company called First Performance Corporation. … But what wasn’t noted was Johnson is currently the CEO of Reunion Student Loan Services, a detail confirmed by a company representative reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon. Reunion originates and services private student loans, and offers refinancing and consolidation for existing loans. …

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Betsy DeVos undoes Obama’s student loan protections
Source: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Chicago Tribune, April 11, 2017

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday withdrew a series of policy memos issued by the Obama administration to strengthen consumer protections for student loan borrowers.  The Education Department is in the middle of issuing new contracts to student loan servicing companies that collect payments on behalf of the agency. These middlemen are responsible for placing borrowers in affordable repayment plans and keeping them from defaulting on their loans. But in the face of mounting consumer complaints over poor communication, mismanaged paperwork and delays in processing payments, the previous administration included contract requirements to shore up the quality of servicing. Companies complained that the demands would be expensive and unnecessarily time consuming. … DeVos has withdrawn three memos issued by former education secretary John King and his under secretary Ted Mitchell. One of the directives, which was later updated with another memo, called on Runcie to hold companies accountable for borrowers receiving accurate, consistent and timely information about their debt. … The Obama administration requested routine audits of records, systems, complaints and a compliance-review process. … The exhaustive list of demands were a direct response to an outpouring of complaints to the Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, in particular, has documented instances of servicing companies providing inconsistent information, misplacing paperwork or charging unexpected fees. Because the federal government pays hundreds of millions of dollars to companies such as Navient, Great Lakes and American Education Services to manage $1.2 trillion in student loans, advocacy groups and lawmakers argue that more should be required of these contractors. …

Federal Student Loan Servicing: Contract Problems and Public Solutions
Source: Eric M. Fink, Roland Zullo, Elon University School of Law, University of Michigan, June 2014

One consequence of the 2007–2008 financial crisis was an abrupt shift from bank-based to direct federal student loans. This momentous change required the Department of Education to rapidly establish the capacity to service loans, which was achieved by outsourcing this responsibility to four large for-profit firms and a group of smaller regional entities. Loan servicing involves routine payment processing, account management and borrower communication, as well as the non-routine yet more labor intensive role of assisting borrowers that face hardship with debt repayment. Borrowers have expressed dissatisfaction with the present system. Complaints jumped significantly in the first two years of the loan servicing contracts and remain at historic highs. Several factors contribute to this increase, including the lackluster job market for graduates. However, upon close inspection it appears that loan servicers bear part of the blame for neglecting their responsibility to counsel borrowers with distressed loans. The Student Loan Ombudsman’s Office of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has issued several reports that further validate this assertion. To understand why the system is underperforming, we draw attention to the public-private contract. A question for any public-private contract is whether the incentives within are adequate to encourage contractor behavior consistent with the mission of the service. In our review of the contract terms, we conclude that the incentives to reduce operational costs far outweigh the incentives to be responsive to the needs of borrowers…This case illustrates the inherent limitations of a performance-based contract as an administrative tool. Regardless of design, contractors will strive to minimize operational commitment to any labor-intensive task, in this instance attending to the personal needs of borrowers….

Michigan university following Ohio State’s lead with parking privatization

Source: Tom Knox, Columbus Business First, June 29, 2017

A public university in Michigan is considering privatizing its parking system – and using Ohio State University as an example. Eastern Michigan University regents on Tuesday authorized President James Smith to pursue an arrangement to lease out its parking apparatus in exchange for upfront money. … It’s a significant decision because it is one of the first universities to follow Ohio State’s lead after the school signed a first-of-its-kind arrangement in 2012. Ohio State leased its parking operations to Australian pension fund QIC Infrastructure in a 50-year, $483 million deal, framing it as raising money for academics. …

Judge rules Tennessee must release outsourcing records about Fall Creek Falls purchase

Source: Associated Press, June 29th, 2017

A judge has ruled in favor of a media group that sued the state of Tennessee to release records about its attempt to outsource services at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government says Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young on Tuesday ruled that the state must produce records to City Press Communications LLC, parent company of the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post, and reporter Cari Wade Gervin. …

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Controversial state plan to outsource college jobs moves forward
Source: Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean, May 26, 2017

Tennessee moved forward with a controversial plan to outsource jobs at public colleges Friday when officials finalized a contract with a corporation that already handles a sizable amount of state business.  Under the contract, JLL — which currently manages about 10 percent of state facilities — will oversee the potential expansion of outsourcing at college campuses, state parks and prisons. It is a pivotal moment for the proposed expansion, which has been in the works for two years. …

Fall Creek Falls state park outsourcing push draws no bidders
Source: Associated Press, May 11, 2017
 
A push by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to outsource hospitality services at a Tennessee state park has drawn no bidders. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Kim Schofinski says that no one bid on the proposal at Fall Creek Falls State Park, located on the Upper Cumberland Plateau in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties. TDEC planned to award the winning bidder $20 million to raze the park’s inn and build a new one. The Tennessee State Employees Association and park workers opposed it. …

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Middletown, sanitation union clash over privatization

Source: James Nani, Times Herald-Record, June 25, 2017
 
Major changes to city sanitation services are unlikely to materialize this year after negotiations between city and union officials to privatize waste-hauling reached an impasse. The city and the CSEA union, that represents more than 100 city workers and about 14 city sanitation workers, had been negotiating a new contract since late 2014. … CSEA Southern Region President Billy Riccaldo has claimed that the costs of outsourced sanitation have “spiraled out of control in many communities after initial lowball bids” and that outsourcing means surrendering control on prices, scheduling and other factors that can affect price and inconvenience residents. Jessica Ladlee, a CSEA spokeswoman, said members do not want to trade negotiating people out of their union for salary increases.

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Middletown explores outsourcing waste hauling
Source: James Nani, Record Online, May 2, 2017

Middletown officials are in negotiations with the union representing city sanitation workers as the city explores outsourcing waste hauling, a move that could eliminate the 14-member department. The talks with the union come as Middletown considers two options to reduce the cost of city sanitation services: either privatizing the services or downsizing and automating part of the department. … But under a push by Alderman Joe Masi, the city last released a request for proposals on the costs of private waste haulers to take over all waste services. As part of the request, any private hauler who wins a contract with the city would have to hire all city sanitation workers for one year. The move has met with resistance by the CSEA, which represents city sanitation workers. …

Mayor Barry looks at privatizing Nashville airport to generate transit funds 

Source: Joey Garrison & Nate Rau, The Tennessean, June 26, 2017 

Mayor Megan Barry’s administration is exploring the privatization of the city-operated Nashville International Airport to an outside management company to generate funding for mass transit in Middle Tennessee. The mayor’s office confirmed hearing a presentation in May from representatives of Oaktee Capital Management, a California-based hedge fund that has also made bids to run city-operated airports in other cities. …

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.

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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. …

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In Georgia, Citizens Can Redirect Their Taxes to Private Schools

Source: Ty Tagami, Tribune News Service, June 26, 2017
 
Georgia’s highest court has determined that a state law allowing taxpayers to steer some of what they owe the state to private schools instead does not violate the state constitution. The unanimous ruling Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court strikes a blow against the claim by Raymond Gaddy and other taxpayers that the state law establishing tax credit student scholarships is unconstitutional. … Taxpayers pledge money — up to $1,000 for an individual, $2,500 per married couple and $10,000 for shareholders or owners of businesses (except “C” corporations, which can contribute up to three quarters of their state tax debt) — to specific private schools and get a tax credit off what they owe the state for the same amount. The money passes through nonprofit scholarship organizations that assign it as scholarships to students and keep up to 10 percent as fees.

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Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools
Source: Stephanie Saul, New York Times, May 21, 2012

When the Georgia legislature passed a private school scholarship program in 2008, lawmakers promoted it as a way to give poor children the same education choices as the wealthy. …A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school. … The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children. Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs. …. One big proponent of the tax-credit programs is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a coalition of conservative lawmakers and corporations that strongly influences many state legislatures. The council became a flash point in the Trayvon Martin case because it had championed the controversial Stand Your Ground gun laws.