Report: Clients, employee allege Medicaid exploitation in housing scheme

Worth your time today: a harrowing story of the exploitation of the poor in an alleged scheme to manipulate and defraud Medicaid recipients in Greensboro.

Clients and a former employee of United Youth Care Services, an agency offering substance abuse treatment tied to offers of housing, detailed a complex web of abuse in the story by Jordan Green of Triad City Beat:

Recruiters for the agency found women desperate for housing and with limited finances, many of them either pregnant or with young children, and offered them what seemed like an invaluable gift. Not only would they receive shelter, but the agency also provided mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and childcare while the parents received services.

But the housing provided to clients of United Youth Care Services through a network of rundown apartment complexes and seedy hotels across Greensboro turned out to be infested with mold, bedbugs, frequent sewage backups and inoperable heating systems. The hotels and apartment complexes were plagued by rampant drug use. Clients were often denied keys to their rooms, leaving them exposed to theft and assault, and at the mercy of unscrupulous site managers.

As bad as the housing conditions were, many of the clients wagered that homelessness would be worse. They discovered that their Medicaid enrollment was a cash spigot for United Youth Care Services, and that if they failed to attend the therapy sessions, which count as billable units for the agency, they would find themselves subject to punishment, including lockouts of up to 72 hours, and possible eviction. Utilities shutoffs and rent hikes were also a common complaint.

Be sure to read the accompanying editorial, “The Price of Poverty,” as well.


Affordable housing still “out of reach” for many in N.C. and beyond

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released its 30th annual “Out of Reach” report, illustrating the cost of renting modest one or two-bedroom apartments at market prices in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

The report shows just how far out of reach that goal is for most full time making low or minimum wages.


As the report illustrates, a full-time worker in the U.S. must earn $22.96 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment and $18.65 for a modest one-bedroom apartment.

In nine states and the District of Columbia, full-time workers must earn more than $25.00 per hour for a modest two-bedroom apartment.

In North Carolina, according to the report, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $881.

“In order to afford this level of rent and utilities — without paying more than 30% of income on housing — a household must earn $2,938 monthly or $35,256 annually,” the report reads.

That would mean someone working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year would need to earn $16.95 an hour — more than twice the current $7.25 per hour minimum wage in the state.

Get the full report — and info about methodology — here.


Campus Safety Commission examines “trust” between student and police at UNC-Chapel Hill

The last semester at UNC-Chapel Hill saw continued tensions between campus police and students, from allegations of aggression toward anti-racist protesters  to restriction of first amendment rights and  denial of proper access to public meetings.

Last week the school’s newly formed Campus Safety Commission met, as reported by The Daily Tarheel, to begin to tackle the lack of trust between the campus community and police.

From the story:

“The seed that started this commission was a profound mistrust of the way in which the police acted, especially during the Silent Sam protests, and the sense that they were not answerable to anyone. No one knew when they filed a complaint, what happened to the complaint, who was investigating the complaint,” said Lawrence Grossberg, a professor in the communications department.

“There’s a profound lack of trust that the police are actually interested in protecting the interests of all the parties involved,” he said.

Many members of the commission are concerned about a disconnect between the campus community and the police, as well as the ambiguities in the campus policing process.

“They feel they can not speak out for fear of their jobs. So they welcome the commission to be their voice to address their concerns,” said a commission member.

The commission heard two guest speakers — Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and risk management and Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director contracted by UNC as a consultant after the toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument last August.

Kemp had some criticism for police over the timeliness of their reporting a “flash mob” style protest on campus by the white supremacist group Patriot Front last month.

Swecker tried to explain the campus police’s working closely with pro-Confederate monument groups while having a largely antagonistic relationship with anti-monument protesters.

Swecker said that pro-monument groups often coordinate with police before arriving on campus. They sometimes receive parking instructions.

“That presents an optic that makes it look like the police are protecting them,” he said, but argued that UNC’s campus presents a complicated policing environment, and the communication helps police to establish a safer environment for protestors and counter-protestors to demonstrate without violently interacting with each other.

“They’re essentially the referee, umpire, no one’s going to like what they do,” Swecker said of the police.

The commission’s work has been criticized by some students and professors who declined to participate in it, saying it is not up to those working for change on campus to figure out a way to get along with the police force they see as committed to maintaining an untenable status quo.


Report: NC drops in health rankings

The non-profit Commonwealth Fund released its annual Scorecard on State Health System Performance this week.

North Carolina fell one spot from last year in the national rankings of 50 states and Washington, D.C. — from 35th in the nation to 34th.

The ranking shows North Carolina making progress on health care disparities (up five points) but slipping in avoidable use and cost of health care and access and affordability (both of which decreased four points in the ranking).

While the state’s most improved indicators included more adults getting annual tests for diabetes and more children who needed mental health care getting it, fewer children are getting medical and dental preventative care and preventable hospitalization for those ages 18-64 has risen.

Both those factors are tied to the health insurance coverage gap. States that have expanded Medicaid eligibility saw improvements in such measurements.

Get the full report and information about methodology here.


Sponsors push bill to join with other states in ending electoral college

North Carolina has a chance to help make history, said sponsors of a bill to effectively abolish the Electoral College at a Wednesday press conference.

Senate Bill 104 would have North Carolina join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — an agreement among U.S. states to award all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote.

From right: Bob Phillips of Common Cause NC, Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) and Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg)

“We have a very real electoral crisis in the United StatesAmerica,” said State Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake), a primary sponsor of the bill. “Five of our 45 presidents — including two of the last three presidents — were placed in office by the Electoral College, not by the majority of Americans.”

The bill, like others passed around the country in what has become a national movement, would go into effect when enough states have passed bills that the compact to control a majority of the nation’s electoral votes — 270 out of 538.

The movement is nearly at that tipping point.

As of this month, bills have been passed by fifteen states and the District of Columbia. Together, their electoral votes add up to 196 electoral votes. Bills are being debated in another half-dozen states.

On Wednesday a similar bill passed the Maine State House and is headed to the Senate for a final enactment vote and then on to Gov. Janet Mills. A bill has passed the House and Senate in Oregon as well and is headed to Gov. Kate Brown. With North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, Nickel said, the agreement is almost within striking distance of its goal.

Because Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump were the last two presidents to be elected without winning the popular votes, these bills have not been popular with the GOP.

Some Democrats aren’t wild about the idea, either. In Nevada a bill was passed but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who argued the role of less populated states like Nevada would be diminished if the popular vote determined presidential elections.

But it shouldn’t be a partisan issue, Nickel said.

“Some will say this is a Democratic bill,” Nickel said. “It is not. In 2004, John Kerry was just 60,000 votes away in Ohio from winning the electoral college and losing the popular vote to George W. Bush. No matter what side you are on, this is just plain wrong.”

Nickel worked for Al Gore when he lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote. More recently, he said, he had trouble explaining to hi 4-year-old daughter how Hillary Clinton could have won the popular vote but lost the presidency in 2016.

Bob Phillips, executive director of non-partisan group Common Cause NC, was on hand at Wednesday’s press conference to emphasize the value to voters.

“The electoral college really has no value for our Democracy,” Phillips said. “It’s confusing in that the candidate who wins the most votes doesn’t always win the presidency. It’s outdated in that candidates campaign to a handful of battleground states and it’s detrimental in that it dilutes the strength of individual voters – one person, one vote. It’s beyond time to get rid of this outmoded, outdated and yes, outrageous system.”

Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg), another primary sponsor of the bill, said establishing the primacy of the national popular vote is about fundamental fairness — and about the average voter never feeling that their vote doesn’t count.

“The President is the only national figure for whom every American citizen votes,” Waddell said.

“Yet in truth Americans do not choose the president,” she said. “Electors representing the states do.”

With more Americans than ever voting and more ways for them to be informed than ever, Waddell said the electoral college is paternalistic and archaic.

“We cannot allow this continue to happen,” Waddell said. “It is undemocratic and just plain senseless to continue to give the presidency to someone most Americans did not vote for.”

With Republicans still holding a majority in the General Assembly, the bill is a long-shot this legislative session.

But Nickel and Waddell said they will continue to lobby their GOP colleagues and introduce bills in future sessions, if needed.

“The toughest thing I deal with is when someone says ‘My vote doesn’t matter,'” said Nickel. “That’s what this vote is about. It’s about saying, ‘Your vote matters.'”