Deep in debt, flood insurance program expected to boost rates

Source: Dylan Baddour, Houston Chronicle, March 17, 2017

The cost of federal flood insurance will likely rise for thousands of Houston-area homeowners after Congress hits its September deadline to renew and reform the deeply troubled program. The National Flood Insurance Program was created because private insurers couldn’t bear the risk of catastrophic loss, but the program is $24.6 billion in debt and struggling to remain solvent. “The program offers rates that do not fully reflect the risk of flooding.” the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in a report last month. … Congress tried to fix the problem in 2012, but the program lapsed for a month amid the effort, stalling home sales in flood-prone areas. The reforms that finally passed caused some rates to soar, so they were swiftly repealed. Now, a five-year extension is set to expire this fall, demanding fresh action. No one can say exactly what measures lawmakers will take, but one thing seems probable: rates will rise, especially in flood-prone places.

… The most likely outcome of flood insurance reform will be increased privatization of the program to relieve FEMA’s burden of risk. In a letter to flood-weary constituents last week, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Kingwood, wrote that Congressional committees are beginning work on flood insurance renewal, and that “preliminary plans allow private insurers greater and easier access to the marketplace.” … Virtually all reform proposals issued by industry groups call for increasing privatization of flood insurance, but that won’t be cheap. The federal program was created precisely because private insurers couldn’t bear the risk of catastrophic loss. A small number of private insurers have begun offering their own insurance in recent years, mostly for extremely high-value properties. … FEMA acknowledged in a statement that private carriers offer a viable alternative to the federal program. Still, without a renewal of the program this year, the agency noted it would stop selling and renewing policies for millions of properties nationwide. …

Nearly Half of Construction Firms Hired by Maryland Department of General Services Committed OSHA Violations in the Past 10 Years

Source: Public Citizen, March 14, 2017

Nearly half of the major construction contracts awarded by the state of Maryland’s Department of General Services (DGS) have gone to companies that were cited for worker safety violations, according to a study issued today by Public Citizen. The study examines Maryland DGS-awarded contracts over the past five years, while simultaneously examining available contractor safety and health incident reports over a 10-year period from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) online database. Over the past five years, 46 percent of firms that have been awarded major construction contracts worth $100,000 or more by the Maryland DGS have been cited for worker safety violations by OSHA. Moreover, 35 percent of all DGS-approved vendors have been cited by OSHA for “serious” violations, meaning that OSHA found a hazard that “could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.” Three of the firms receiving OSHA violations were cited for violations in association with fatalities that occurred on their work sites. Two contractors have had employees die – in Maryland and West Virginia – after being crushed by improperly placed barriers. An employee of a third contractor in Maryland was struck and killed by a car. … The violations in the analysis occurred throughout all of the contractors’ work over the past 10 years, both public and private. Contractors that have been cited have received nearly $146 million in contracts from DGS alone. They have received $370,297 in OSHA fines over the past decade. …

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Emails Reveal Mechanical Issues on Board First Student Buses, Fresno Mom Fears for Child’s Safety

Source: Angela Greenwood, YourCentralValley.com, March 8, 2017

Eyewitness News investigates safety concerns surrounding special education transportation within Fresno Unified. First Student buses transport all special needs kids within the district. Following a bus fire back in September, Eyewitness News began looking closely at the bus company, uncovering email correspondence that reveal a history of multiple mechanical issues. … Following an Eyewitness News Investigation into a First sSudent bus that caught fire while transporting two disabled students in September, we were contacted by parents claiming the air conditioners on their child’s buses were broken. We also received a picture from two different people claiming to be former and current first student bus drivers of a bus completely engulfed in flames at Rio Vista and Manning on the outskirts of Reedley. .

.. Emails that we obtained through a public record’s request when we first began looking more closely at the bus company. The emails are between Fresno Unified transportation and special education officials and staff as well as First Student management. Three months of correspondence from August of 2016 to October of 2016, reveal nearly 200 exchanges and dozens of concerns. In one email, a Fresno Unified staff member says a driver picked up students but then returned minutes later because the air conditioner wasn’t working. The email went onto to say the same bus had the same problem the day before and according to the driver, maintenance couldn’t find the issue. The very next day, a concerned principal mentions that very bus transports four students who have seizure disorders and reminds that heat induces seizures. … Claims of other mechanical issues also brought up. Twice in one week, the wheelchair lifts on a bus were allegedly broken. In another email, a principal claims it took one bus more than an hour to turn it’s engine over. …

Rauner wants vote on new Stevenson toll lanes, Madigan quickly pushes back

Source: Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune, March 27, 2017

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner Monday tried to jump-start his plan to allow private companies to build toll lanes along portions of the Stevenson Expressway, saying Democratic leaders in the General Assembly are blocking the project. Just before the governor began speaking, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed back against the proposed project, accusing Rauner of being out to help his “wealthy friends.” … The public-private partnership requires an OK from the General Assembly. State lawmakers have held hearings on the idea, but they haven’t voted on it. … The proposal would allow private companies to build toll lanes along congested portions of the Stevenson Expressway and then collect a portion of the revenue from the drivers that use them. …

… The toll lane project is one of a series of privatization proposals that Rauner has floated during his time in office, only to have the ideas blocked or slowed down by Democrats. Rauner also wants to sell the James R. Thompson Center, the massive, worn Loop office building that’s owned by the state. And he wanted to create a private foundation that would raise money on behalf of the Illinois State Fair. Rauner formed the foundation on his own last year after legislation approving the idea stalled in the General Assembly. Last week, Rauner’s administration moved to lay off 124 prison nurses, with plans to replace them with contract nurses. Privatization of state jobs has also been a key stumbling block in Rauner’s contract standoff with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with the governor insisting on provisions that would make it easier to outsource work to the private sector. Rauner’s privatization push could become a theme of the 2018 campaign as Democrats try to cast the wealthy businessman Rauner as out of touch with the needs of average voters. Democrat Chris Kennedy didn’t miss a chance to seize on it Monday as he appeared at a gubernatorial candidate forum hosted by the Cook County Democratic Party. …

Reforming Government First Requires Understanding It

Source: Elaine Kamarck, The Atlantic, March 28, 2017

This week President Trump put his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of a new White House office, the Office of American Innovation. It will reportedly be staffed by former business executives who will operate like a SWAT team to bring new ideas to government. This is an admirable undertaking. Like any large organization the government can always use fresh ideas. But the reality is that government is like the private sector only in some pieces of its operations—consulting business executives can be very useful, but a real government-reform effort must be led by people with in-depth knowledge of the government itself. Otherwise, it will simply be another initiative that is forgotten almost as soon as it is announced.

… For many of the biggest and most expensive operations of the federal government, there is no private sector analog from which to take good ideas or best practices. … And the federal government doesn’t actually “do” much of what it pays for. In a whole host of areas, from clean water to drug counseling, the federal government sends money to states and localities where other government officials or private-sector contractors actually do the work. Tackling the opioid crisis is a very laudable goal, but the front lines in that fight are staffed by local law enforcement officials and drug counselors. Other than sending more money through the federal pipeline, there are limits to what can be done from Washington. … When I helped Vice President Al Gore run the Clinton administration’s reinventing government initiative, we met with many corporate executives—especially ones who were famous for turnarounds. The first thing we learned was that it was near impossible to do a successful turnaround without the buy-in of the workers. … So far, the Trump administration has gone out of its way to insult federal workers in its attempts to “drain the swamp.” … The second thing we learned was that most corporate executives were horrified at the constraints under which the average government manager works. …

Pinecrest staffers face almost daily patient assaults in wake of cutbacks, officials say

Source: Mark Ballard, The Advocate, March 25, 2017
 
The state’s efforts to privatize and economize health care at the state’s remaining facility for the intellectually impaired have resulted in regular assaults on staff by patients, state officials have discovered.  Almost every day, sometimes several times a day, a mentally impaired resident at Pinecrest punches, bites or otherwise violently lashes out at the mostly middle-aged women who help the individuals dress, eat and function in the world. The sudden and dramatic increase in violent attacks is an unintended consequence of “real quick privatization,” says Louisiana Department of Health Deputy Secretary Michelle Alletto, whose responsibilities include the 95-year-old facility near Pineville. Looking to save money, the state slashed budgets, laid off personnel and in 2013 closed other public facilities, intending to send the bulk of the patients to small, privately-owned group homes in communities around the state where their needs could be addressed on a more individualized basis. Pinecrest Supports and Services Center got the rest. … Budget cuts in other state agencies limited programs that treated these individuals in the past.

… For the 12 months prior to Feb. 28, the staff filed 524 reports, required by workers compensation regulations, for incidents at the facility where three years ago virtually no violence took place. … Perry, an officer in the employees union, says worker’s comp forms are only the tip of the violence iceberg because no publicly available forms are filled out unless the “slap leaves a mark.”  Local 712 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees began collecting statements from its members that provide a little more detail. … Many of the statements collected by the union complained about how they are unprotected by police and, often, are removed from direct patient care. … But the staff has lost its patience, says James Ray, AFSCME field representative and a Methodist minister. “They always say be patient, it’s going to get better. But the state, as an employer, has a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace, which they are not doing,” he said.

Related:

Health firms make privatization pitches
Source: Michelle Millhollon, Advocate, February 14, 2014

In an overheated Holiday Inn banquet room Thursday morning, business leaders made pitches for privatizing a $2 billion slice of the state’s health care business. United Healthcare, Amerigroup Louisiana, Louisiana Healthcare Connections and LifeShare Management Group are interested in managing the long-term care needs of 73,000 Medicaid-eligible people. The companies want to oversee the personal care, doctor’s visits, transportation, hospitalizations and other daily needs of people with disabilities, as well as those with age-related or adult-onset challenges.

DHH Wants More Medicaid Privatization, Stakeholders Hesitant
Source: Ashley Westerman, WRKF, November 5, 2013

The state Department of Health and Hospitals is taking preliminary steps to further privatize Medicaid in Louisiana. In August, DHH released a concept paper about reforms to long-term care for the developmentally disabled and low-income elderly.

In a nutshell, the department wants to bring in a private managed care organization – or MCO – to create a network of healthcare providers to serve those populations. Proponents of private MCOs claim they save money, cut down on fraud and improve the quality of care. The state Dept. of Health and Hospitals is looking to privatize the managed care for Medicaid patients with developmental disabilities and low-income elderly. Other stakeholders and advocates for the disabled and elderly throughout the state, for the most part, welcome reform but skepticism remains….

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How voucher dollars kept coming as a private school collapsed

Source: Stephanie Wang, IndyStar, March 19, 2017

The Indiana Department of Education and the attorney general’s office both had been warned. Teachers at the tiny Todd Academy weren’t getting paid. Parents complained that classes were being held in an unsafe building without heat, and the school appeared to be promoting children who weren’t ready, in an effort to secure more state money. Yet after two visits by the education department and an investigation by the attorney general’s office, the troubled Indianapolis private school still received thousands of dollars in public funds through Indiana’s school voucher program and remained eligible to receive state voucher money until it collapsed under the weight of its unpaid debts. … An IndyStar examination of Todd Academy’s experience with school vouchers exposes a serious lack of basic fiscal controls in Indiana’s highly popular school choice system. While both traditional public schools and charter schools must open their budgets to public scrutiny, voucher schools are exempt from any financial vetting — to the point that even when mismanagement has been repeatedly alleged, state officials are loath to intervene. … Despite hints of money trouble from the start, state officials approved Todd Academy to receive about $200,000 in voucher funds over three years. The school was free to keep taking public dollars, even though it had stopped filing its nonprofit tax reports. It was sued 13 times with judgments against the school in all but one case, totaling $1.8 million. … It has been six years since the state launched what has become one of the largest and broadest voucher programs, now serving more than 34,000 children at a cost of $146 million a year.

… Bolstered by the addition of vouchers, Todd Academy started to rack up hefty financial obligations the next year with the hopes of expanding to more than 50 students. … Todd Academy also had been shorting teachers’ paychecks, according to lawsuits by a dozen teachers, nine of whom eventually won judgments against the school. … The school’s finances had deteriorated to the point where Todd Academy used the promise of state voucher money to secure high-interest loans, only to be found in default of the contracts. … State law is careful to protect the autonomy of private schools participating in the voucher program. It preserves their independent curriculum, whether it be religious or not. They’re not an agent of the state, and only a portion of their revenues come from the state. The state requires financial transparency from public schools, which risk losing state funding if they’re not accountable. Schools can have their charter revoked or control taken away by the state. But voucher schools have been shielded in state law from providing any financial transparency. …

The Perils of P3s

Source: Gabrielle Gurley, American Prospect, March 24, 2017

The next big thing in American infrastructure investment is public-private partnerships. Although private companies have long played a key role in designing and constructing public projects, federal and state officials increasingly view the private sector as the dollars-and-cents answer to digging out of the rubble of failing highways, bridges, and transit. Both President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan tout them as one way to reduce the use of public monies in their as-yet-to-be-detailed infrastructure dreamscapes. Public-private partnerships may indeed provide the dollars that fearful politicians are unable to pry from the pockets of their tax-averse constituents. But P3s, as they are known in the infrastructure sector, are more complex than they appear to people who just want to get where they’re going. In a new Economic Policy Institute report, “No Free Bridge,” researcher Hunter Blair shows just why these partnerships are far from a “eureka” moment for America’s infrastructure woes. … P3s do not end up saving taxpayers money, especially when policymakers obscure the true costs and the risks. Those costs often end up being imposed on future taxpayers and rate-payers, while the gains go to the private partner.

… Under a P3…the private company gets a percentage of a revenue stream, such as a toll or payments based on performance incentives, such as keeping a road well-maintained. According to the EPI report, private-sector officials can suss out underperforming revenue streams before their public-sector counterparts and often renegotiate contracts: 40 percent of public-private partnership have undergone renegotiation after the contract is signed. (Sometimes, these missteps are more than just bureaucratic blunders. The politicians behind them are often close allies or financial beneficiaries of a project’s private promoters.) The United States is a relative newcomer to this brand of public-private partnership, which means that many state and local transportation officials, political leaders, and community groups don’t understand or seriously underestimate the policy challenges or the serious financial and political consequences of a P3 gone bad. … Blair says that the federal government should take the lead in amassing the expertise for structuring public-private partnership contracts that would help both the federal government and state and local governments. … But a small office providing advice on public-private partnerships and finance programs is likely not a priority, even for a president who made a pledge to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure and bring P3s into the finance mix: President Trump cut the Transportation Department budget by 13 percent and a detailed infrastructure plan is no closer to seeing the light of day. …

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Custodians, maintenance workers believe CMU admins could privatize workforce in the name of budget adjustments

Source: Ben Solis, Central Michigan Life, March 26, 2017

Some custodians and maintenance staff employees have concerns about layoffs and outsourcing, according to the president and other members of the union that represents them.  As Central Michigan University administrators grapple with a two-year $20 million budget deficit, service, maintenance and custodial employees on campus believe both situations are likely, said Karen Witer, president of AFSCME Local #1568 and a custodian at CMU. … AFSCME’s fear of staff cuts is compounded by its upcoming negotiation of a new service contract. The union also believes CMU’s history with privatization is a sign that its workforce could be outsourced as well.  AFSCME and the university are expected to begin negotiations sometime after spring courses end in May.  When AFSCME members seek higher wages for employees making $10.08 an hour, Witer said her group is commonly confronted with talk of privatization. … CMU outsources some of its custodial work to Romanow Building Services, a Saginaw-based company, said Barrie Wilkes, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services. The university also privatized its dining services by contracting with Aramark in the mid 1990s. … Witer believes Romanow could potentially take over all custodial services at the university if administrators think the company is more affordable and more efficient. …

Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Tulsa County Jail Mental Health Provider

Source: News On 6, March 14, 2017

The estate of a Tulsa County jail inmate who died after a suicide attempt last March filed a wrongful death suit on Monday. Nathan Bradshaw’s estate cited negligence by Tulsa County jail’s contracted mental health care provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. According to the suit, Bradshaw was booked into the jail on March 8, 2016. In a screening by Armor personnel Bradshaw told a licensed practical nurse he was a daily heroin user and had received treatment for bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, the lawsuit states. … The suit says a physician ordered a four-day Clonidine prescription for Bradshaw under that protocol but he didn’t receive the medication as prescribed. In the suit, jail records show Bradshaw requested to talk to someone from mental health on his third day behind bars, but jail records show no one responded to that request. … Jail records show the evening before Bradshaw was found unresponsive and hanging in his jail cell, jail staff had not checked on him until the early hours of March 13th. … The estate claims the inconsistent treatment of the detox protocol led to Bradshaw’s increased risk of suicide and eventual death.