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Over the weekend, the New York Times magazine had this article about pay-day lending, and how litigation efforts shaped up to shut down the industry that primarily feeds off of the working poor, in North Carolina.

The article prominetly featured Carlene McNulty, the director of litigation for the N.C. Justice Center, and her years of work of using the courts to shut down scrupulous lenders in the state. The payday industry is trying to get a foothold back in the state, with legislation introduced (but not passed) last year that would have allowed the high-interest loans back in the state.

From the article:

In 2003, Tonya Burke was living in North Carolina with her two children when she got into financial trouble. She had fallen $500 behind on her rent and utilities, and neither of her boys’ fathers was able to chip in. Then she needed to take time off from work when her younger son, who was only 8 months old, had to have emergency intestinal surgery. After his recovery, she started working for $11 an hour as a secretary, “but my paychecks weren’t enough to cover the back bills and the new ones too,” she says. “I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to ask anyone else for help.” There was a payday lender across the street from her office. “It seemed like a good solution.”

Even though North Carolina made payday lending illegal in 2001, five lenders got around the law by affiliating with out-of-state banks to offer short-term, high-interest loans. So Burke was able to walk into a storefront owned by Nationwide Budget Finance and leave with a cashier’s check for $600. When the loan came due on her next payday, however, she couldn’t pay it and immediately began to fall behind on the fees. So she took out another loan to cover the first one. And then took out another to cover that one — and then another and another. Eventually she wound up with seven loans, each for only hundreds of dollars, but with annual interest rates of 300 to 500 percent. It wasn’t long before the lenders started calling, she says, threatening with jail if she couldn’t make her payments.

Worried for herself and her children, Burke eventually found her way to Carlene McNulty, a consumer rights lawyer at the North Carolina Justice Center. McNulty had heard about many cases of people who found themselves buried under the fees of payday loans. “Our Legislature said: ‘Payday lending is harmful to consumers. Get out of North Carolina!’ ” she told me. “But they were still here, just as if the law had never changed.”

Payday loans are often advertised as a short-term lift that helps keep the lights on or allows you to stay in school. But borrowers often become trapped in a debt spiral. According to a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government’s financial watchdog, about 50 percent of initial payday loans play out into a string of 10 or more. “One could readily conclude that the business model of the payday industry depends on people becoming stuck in these loans for the long term,” the C.F.P.B.’s report said.

You can read the rest of the article here.

A Winston-Salem public charter school is continuing its efforts to bring in elite basketball players from around the nation and world, and recently saw three of its out-of-state players recruited to play next year at Division 1 colleges.

All three of the players who signed collegiate letters of intent came from outside North Carolina to attend Quality Education Academy, a charter school that is part of the state’s growing system of schools that are privately run by non-profit boards but funded with local, state and federal education dollars.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools, which monitors the 127 charter schools in the state, has previously raised concerns about QEA’s controversial basketball program, but neither DPI nor the N.C. Board of Education have taken any significant steps to curtail or stop the out-of-state recruitment. The school and it basketball team were the subjects of an N.C. Policy Watch investigation last year (scroll down to read more about that report).

June Atkinson, a Democrat elected to head the state’s K-12 public education system, said last year that charter schools have to accept students from North Carolina but the laws governing charter schools are silent as to whether that means the school is open to only North Carolina residents.

Meanwhile, the  basketball program’s efforts to look outside North Carolina don’t appear to be slowing.

Isaac Pitts, the basketball coach for Quality Education Academy, recently referred to his ongoing efforts to pull in players from overseas on his  Instagram account.

“Evaluating overseas talent and liking what I see! Wow,” Pitts wrote on March 28 as a caption to a screenshot of several youth playing on an outdoor basketball court.

QEAoverseas

QEA basketball coach Isaac Pitts comments via Instagram on overseas recruiting efforts.

In another photo of what appears to be the same video, Pitts wrote, “Just sitting here looking at game film of kids we’re interested in.”

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Here’s a little bit about what’s captivating my attention after the long holiday weekend.

The Boston Marathon is underway, with the wheelchair racers already finishing up and both the elite men’s and women’s runners coming in during the lunch hour.  You can watch a live-stream of the runners here or read updates via blog form here.

There have been no shortage of moving remembrances of the tragedy that befell last year’s race, among some of the better reads was this article about a different pair of brothers who both lost their right legs and are trying to rebuild their lives.

There’s plenty happening here in North Carolina this morning, including the monthly release of federal jobs data from the state commerce department. A first-glance look shows that the state continued to see unemployment drop (now down to 6.3 percent, and below the national average), but the numbers also show that the actual labor force of the date (comprised of people who have jobs and who are actively looking for work) shrunk by approximately 50,000 from this time last year.

What that jobs data means has become a bit of a political flashpoint, with Gov. Pat McCrory calling the numbers “evidence that the policy changes we made are working” in a statement he released this morning.

On the other side, some economic analysts (including the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center) have urged caution in declaring victory over North Carolina’ job crises crisis, and instead say the shrinking labor force may mean those in prime working condition have been so frustrated in their job searches they’ve stopped looking.

Finally, I’ll leave you with what has become in recent years one of my favorite things about the Easter Holiday: the Washinton Post’s annual Peep diorama contest.

This year’s winner was “’I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. Addresses the Peeple

Another favorite was “Peeping POTUS,” a take on the NSA affair, with a family of Peeps being spied on by the Oval Office and federal agent Peeps while a Peepward Snowden exposes the whole arrangement on a television set.

There’s a great photo gallery of winning entries here.

 

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services staff confirmed Thursday that dealing with the massive backlog of food stamps cases cost  $21 million in unanticipated costs, in overtime and other costs at both the state and county level.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Now, state officials are hoping that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees the food stamps program and had previously threatened to rescind $88 million in funding, will cover some of those costs.

On March 27, DHHS officials requested an additional $12 million from USDA officials to cover costs incurred at the county level, according to documents released Thursday afternoon by DHHS.

A spokesperson from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services division confirmed the agency received the request and are reviewing it.

A backlog that eventually grew to between 20,000 and 30,000 low-income families waiting for food assistance stemmed from the state’s implementation last year of a complicated benefits delivery system, called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology.). USDA officials wrote state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos letters in December and January saying agency officials were alarmed by the delays that “create undue hardship for the most vulnerable citizens of North Carolina.”

On Tuesday, USDA confirmed that state officials had succeeded in meeting deadlines to clear the backlog and said it would continue to monitor the state.

The recent request for additional federal funding says that counties hired temporary workers and moved staff to deal with the backlog.

“The increase is due to the drastic increases over the last year in county staff payroll to keep up with the back log of applications for SNAP,” stated a budget narrative from DHHS, “The increased caseloads, during a time we have implemented a new computer system that will speed up the certification process for clients for multiple programs simultaneously, has placed our counties in a situation where the current staff dedicated to SNAP was not sufficient to process applications.”

N.C. Policy Watch first requested information and details about the budget overages for the food stamps program on March 31. Information was not provided until Thursday afternoon, as state lawmakers received an update about the N.C. FAST program. (Scroll down to see document released by DHHS.)

North Carolina’s public records law states that all documents created in the course of public businesses belong to the public itself, and require government agencies to provide access to records “as promptly as possible.”

Several media outlets have detailed issues accessing public records under Wos’ tenure. An Associated Press reporter waited seven months for DHHS to respond to a request for work product records related to Joe Hauck, a DHHS consulate with personal connections to Wos. The news agency reported it ultimately received a handful of memorandums for Hauck, who earned $310,000 from the state agency for 11 months of work.

Also in March, the News & Observer reported it and Raleigh television station WRAL asked last September for records related to the sudden departure of state’s Medicaid director Carol Steckel, who left less than nine months after being hired.  Months after the request, no records have been released.

In case you haven’t heard, the reason that women get paid less ($0.77 on average to every $1 a man makes) is that women prefer to settle for lower-earning jobs in order to seek out mates that earn more.

Phyllis Schlafy, source: Christian PostAt least, that’s what conservative commentator Phyllis Schlafly said in this rather amazing column against equal pay yesterday in the Christian Post. You can read the entire column here.

Among the gems from her column:

Women place a much higher value on pleasant working conditions: a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned office with congenial co-workers. Men, on the other hand, are more willing to endure unpleasant working conditions to earn higher pay, doing dirty, dangerous outside work

and

Perhaps an even more important reason for women’s lower pay is the choices women make in their personal lives, such as having children. Women with children earn less, but childless women earn about the same as men.

Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate. Read More