Category Archives: Entitlements

The Mayor of Alexandria Anticipated my Column

by James C. Sherlock

We scribblers at Bacon’s Rebellion pride ourselves on being leaders in the progressive thought process. In acknowledgment of the wisdom in my column that called out the observable inefficiency of government, I give you:

The city of Alexandria, Virginia, is joining a growing number of cities across the U.S. that are sending money to poor residents, no strings attached.

Bolstered by nearly $60 million in federal pandemic relief money, the independent jurisdiction in Northern Virginia plans to begin sending $500 debit cards to 150 families each month for two years, starting sometime this fall. The initiative was inspired partly by feedback city leaders solicited from residents about how the cash infusion should be used, says Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson.

The national conversation about cash assistance has been changing, Wilson says. Last year, former Stockton mayor Michael D. Tubbs launched a national network of city leaders called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. The coalition has grown to include mayors from almost 60 cities, from Los Angeles to Jackson, Mississippi. Mayors in the coalition are part of a generation of leaders who are thinking more about how to get immediate assistance to people in need, rather than forcing them into complex government programs that ration public assistance through layers of bureaucracy, Wilson says.

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We Pay For All the COVID Funerals, Too?

by Steve Haner

Per the Centers for Disease Control’s tracking, more than 4 million death certificates have been recorded in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 520,000 of them (those recorded so far) listed COVID as primary or contributing cause of death.  The survivors of those individuals are eligible for 100% compensation for funeral expenses under the new round of federal COVID spending.  Continue reading

Confessions of a Virginia Whistleblower

by James C. Sherlock

State Inspector General Mike Westfall

I decided last week in a paroxysm of good citizenship to contact the Virginia Inspector General (IG) to report wrongdoing by state officials.

I have a considerable list centered around the failure of many state officials to carry out their longstanding, formally-assigned duties pre-COVID to plan for a pandemic emergency and exercise those plans to mitigate the effects of such an occurrence.  

My complaints are based on Virginia Executive Order No. 42  Promulgation of the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan and Delegation of Authority. It was issued by Governor McDonnell and reissued by Governor Northam.

An actionable component of that Order is Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical) was published in August of 2012 (the Annex).  It contained prescient predictions about the course of a pandemic and directed specific agencies to prepare and exercise specific plans. Despite the clear language of the Annex, the plans were not written, personnel were not trained, exercises could not be conducted and systems were not tested under simulated stresses of a pandemic.

Those failures cost unnecessarily severe losses of life, suffering and economic distress among the citizens.  

Continue reading

Updates: PPP, PIPP, Dominion’s School Buses

by Steve Haner

Tax on Paycheck Protection Program Grants

The General Assembly session deadlines require final decisions on various revenue bills before the final budget bill is adopted, in theory keeping the two issues separate. What is good tax policy should not be driven by the need or greed of the appropriators.  Continue reading

Holding Richmond Public Schools Accountable — Part I

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here the failures of the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in educating its economically disadvantaged children, as well as the abysmal performance of Black children in its schools.  

I intend to help readers understand how it manages to fail repeatedly even with major federal funding as guardrails and state oversight officially in place.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) such as RPS and its schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet state academic standards.

It is useful to drill down into the details of that program so that readers can understand how every school district in Virginia is supposed to plan and execute the education of poor kids to improve their chances of success.

The question that will remain when I finish will be accountability.  

How does a system like the Richmond Public Schools continue to submit similar paperwork every year and every year fail to meet its stated goals? Where is the accountability? Why do the people of Richmond put up with it?  Continue reading

The Lies in “Hillbilly Elegy”

By Peter Galuszka

A 2016 memoir by J.D. Vance, a former Ohio resident, drew praise from conservatives for its laud of self-reliance and disciple and criticism from others for its long string of debunked clichés about people from the Central Appalachians.

The book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” was held up as being a great explainer as to why so many in the White lower classes voted for Trump.

Vance exalts the strength of self-discipline, family values and hard work. He complains that when he worked as a store clerk he resented it when people on welfare had cell phones but Vance couldn’t afford one. He ended up going to Yale Law School.

Vance also spends a lot of time complaining about his dysfunctional family including a nasty grandmother, a mother constantly stoned on alcohol and opioids and lots of divorce – in other words the “social rot” of the hillbilly lifestyle he so disdains.

His tie to Appalachia is a bit thin. He grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati but spent summers in Jackson in the mountains of East Kentucky.

Now director and child actor Ron Howard has made a feel-good movie from the book that stars Glenn Close and Amy Adams. It is getting lousy reviews. Continue reading

Assembly May Add Unpaid Power Bills to Yours

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly is moving toward a second method of transferring money from electricity customers who can pay their bills to those who cannot. A Senate bill up today will allow Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power to simply add yet another “rider” to everybody’s monthly bill for their uncollected accounts receivable.

It is still possible the Assembly will reach into assumed excess profits on the part of Dominion and use $320 million of that to cover payments which have been allowed to lapse during the COVID-19 pandemic. As reported here a while back, that idea is being proposed as an amendment to the state budget, still being written behind closed doors.

But only Dominion has such a pot of cash hanging out there to raid, not the other utilities with hundreds of millions of unpaid electricity, gas, and water bills. And that approach may indeed not appear in the budget after all, leaving Senate Bill 5118 as the main path forward. The link is to the substitute, to which the following was added by a Senate Committee last week:

The Commission shall (emphasis added) allow for the timely recovery of bad debt obligations, reasonable late payment fees suspended, and prudently incurred implementation costs resulting from an (Emergency Debt Retirement Plan) for jurisdictional utilities, including through a rate adjustment clause or through base rates. The Commission may apply any applicable earnings test in the Commission rules governing utility rate applications and annual informational filings when assessing the recovery of such costs.

 “Shall” is the key word, of course.  If asked, the State Corporation Commission must say yes.  And the provision allowing collection “through base rates” in effect does the same thing as the proposed budget language, allowing the SCC to apply any cash the utility has lying around during a rate case. It also could lead to an increase in base rates to cover the unpaid bills.  Continue reading

Job Recovery Is Not the Special Session’s Focus

This building remains boarded up, and legislators are not there (except the House Speaker and Clerk, pantomiming a real session on Zoom.)

By Steve Haner

With the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session moving into its third week, it seems likely to impede rather than assist the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. It may also greatly expand COVID-19’s financial burdens in the years to come.

The highly publicized issues of unpaid rents and utility bills, threatening tens of thousands with choices between eviction, disconnection, or years of additional debt, are clearly related to un- and under-employment from the COVID-19 recession. But getting people back to work does not seem the top priority for legislators.

The original stated purposes for the session starting August 18 were to amend the state budget in response to the recession, and make other adjustments responding to the viral disease. Deadly confrontations between police and Black suspects in several American cities, and the violent response, added police and judicial reform issues to the agenda.  Continue reading

Told You: You Will Cover Those Unpaid Power Bills.

By Steve Haner

If the Virginia General Assembly orders Dominion Energy Virginia to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in “excess profits” to cover unpaid family utility bills, who is really paying?  We all are, of course.  Don’t say you were not warned.

That apparently is the latest approach to help folks behind on their bills, as reported in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch by Associated Press.  Governor Ralph Northam is proposing a budget amendment to raid the presumed excess cash at Dominion, after legislative efforts to capture it were defeated in the special session.

Legislative manipulation of the regulatory process, bypassing the independent State Corporation Commission, created the opportunity for Virginia’s dominant electric utility to pile up a possible half billion dollars in excess profit.  But the money came from every Dominion customer, a large portion of it from the giant industrial consumers.  Only a small part came from those now behind on their monthly bills.

Some legislators see your electric bill as just another tax to be spent on their priorities, not yours.  Now they want to use it to pay electric bills for customers who have fallen behind due to a recession (again, a recession in part of the government’s making.)  Continue reading

Meters Keep Spinning On Unpaid Utility Bills

Amounts various Virginia utilities are owed by customers as of June 30, four months after the State Corporation Commission prohibited utility disconnections. Source: SCC

By Steve Haner

During the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginians piled up $184 million or more in unpaid bills with several Virginia utilities, and that was before the worst of the heat arrived in July.

The figure comes from a short letter from the State Corporation Commission to General Assembly leaders dated today, listing the totals in arrears as of June 30.  The SCC issued an order in March, renewed in June, which prohibited the disconnection of regulated utility customers for unpaid bills during the recession. The order was extended after legislators claimed they would be addressing the problem at the August special session.

The SCC’s order suspending disconnections expires on August 31. That legislative session is now just four days away and no suggestions for a solution have surfaced publicly. No bill on the topic is filed. This issue is not mentioned in a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch listing some of the budget actions Governor Ralph Northam will propose next week.  Continue reading

How Discount Power For Poor Will Raise Your Bill

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s two major electric utilities estimate that as many as 150,000 of their poorest residential customers will see their monthly bills reduced next year using money extracted from all their other customers on their own power bills.

Appalachian Power Company projects about 30,000 of its low income customers will receive subsidies of $500-$600 per year. Dominion Energy Virginia projects bill subsidies to about 120,000 households of about $750 per year.

Both companies told the State Corporation Commission recently that to pay for this, about $1.12 will be added to the cost of every 1,000 kWh of electricity used by homes, businesses, and industries in Virginia. The cost per kWh is the same for all customer classes, and thus represents a larger percentage price increase for the commercial and industrial users.  Continue reading

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Necessity and the FERC

by James C. Sherlock

Peter Galuszka’s piece earlier today in this space made two claims the greens offer endlessly trying to achieve what I call truth by repeated assertion:

  1. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) either did not review or did not review properly (he inferred both) the wisdom and necessity for natural gas pipeline projects in general and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in particular.
  2. That if it had done so, the FERC would have discovered that there is no market for additional natural gas in the markets to which the pipelines would have brought it.

These claims appear from the usual sources every time any discussion of the ACP is had on this blog. They are both false. I hope this is the last time we will need to read about them.

Mr. Galuszka clearly did not understand the facts.

He wrote:

“So Dominion and its partners could make billions of dollars, some of it paid for by electricity ratepayers, for a project whose public need was always in doubt

and Continue reading

VEC: 1.5 Million Unemployment Claims In 2020

Virginia and US employment fluctuations since 2004, showing the dip in 2009-10 and plummet in the last four months. Source VEC. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

By the end of this amazing year, almost 1.5 million Virginians may have filed claims for unemployment insurance payments, leaving the state’s once-record unemployment trust fund balance of $1.5 billion reduced to $750 million in the red, legislators were told this morning.

That $2.25 billion swing is due to $2.6 billion spent out of the state fund, to cover basic unemployment benefits. To date, the federal government has supplemented that with another $6.3 billion paid to Virginian under special COVID-19 related benefits, which do not come out of the state trust account.  Continue reading

Advancing the Opportunity Agenda: Make 401(k)s More Portable

Robert L. Johnson on CNBC

by James A. Bacon

Robert L. Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Network and America’s first black billionaire, touted a proposal on CNBC this morning to help African-Americans — and, for that matter, all Americans — build wealth through their 401(k) plans. His proposal would make it easier for Americans to carry their employer-based retirement plans from one employer to another.

Sixty-three percent of African-Americans cash out their 401(k) plans when they move from job to job, said Johnson. With “auto-portability,” workers would not have to take any action for their 401(ks) to follow them. Often, owners of small accounts are given the option of cashing out. When they do, they pay various taxes and withdrawal penalties. People still would have the freedom to cash out if they really needed the money, but the administrative change would nudge them into keeping their funds intact and, thereby, boosting their savings.

African-Americans are more likely than other Americans to have small accounts that would be ported from one employer to the next. Over time, Johnson claims, his proposal would put approximately $191 billion dollars into the retirement savings of black Americans (and many billion into the savings of other Americans).

Here’s what I like about this proposal — it’s win-win. Auto-portability is a tool for helping African-Americans increase their net worth, but it’s not a carve-out or set-aside that creates a privileged racial status. Auto-portability would help all Americans with small 401(k) plans but African-Americans would benefit the most. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.