Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

Bacon Bits: Government, Race, and Poverty

Whites need not apply. The initial draft of a Loudoun County Public Schools “student equity ambassador program” barred white students from admission to the program. The selection guidelines said specifically, “This opportunity is open to all Students of Color,” reports The Virginia Star. The guideline was deleted after whistleblowers called public attention to it, but the draft reveals the mindset of the Critical Race Theorists running Loudoun public schools. “Anti-racism” is transmogrifying into anti-white racism before our very eyes.

Your tax dollars not at work. Virginia’s unemployment insurance program ranks worsts in the country for processing claims that require staff review. The backlog has increased to more than 90,000 cases, reports The Virginia Mercury. Additionally, Virginia was the second-to-last state in the country to issue $300 weekly supplements authorized by President Trump. State officials attribute the delays in a decision early in the COVID-19 epidemic to prioritize helping people submit and complete applications that can be automatically validated using state payroll data; 86% of routine applications have received their first payment within three weeks, the fifth best in the nation.

Testing the guaranteed-minimum-wage theory. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has announced a pilot program to give $500 a month to 18 families over the next two years. Recipients will be randomly selected from families that no longer qualify for public benefits programs. The Robins Foundation, a local nonprofit, is splitting the $480,000 bill for the test with the city. “Poverty is symptom of centuries of injustice, not a result of personal failure. Richmond must lead the way in lifting hard-working families up,” Stoney said. “This is part of something much bigger: a national movement toward economic stability and the fight for a living wage.” The program will test the theory that families will use the extra money to improve their situations or avoid spiraling further into poverty. Let’s hope the city is keeping close track of the results to determine if the program works as designed.

— JAB

Energy “PIPP” Proposal Just the TIP of an Iceberg

The initial “PIPP” tax added to Dominion and APCo bills in 2021 may hide the full impact of the program.

By Steve Haner

As the State Corporation Commission prepares to set up Virginia’s first electricity cost shifting program, using a tax on all electric bills to provide discounts to low-income customers, advocates are already pushing to expand and enrich it.

An expert hired by an environmental group argues in testimony that the General Assembly erred when it capped electricity payments from poorer households at 6% of their monthly income if they did not have electric heat, and 10% if they did. Appalachian Voices’ expert wants the SCC to lower the rate to 5% and 8% respectively, greatly increasing the amount of revenue that must be extracted from other customers.  Continue reading

All Leader Saslaw Cares About: Is Dominion OK?

Senate Majority Leader Richard “Is Dominion okay with this?” Saslaw

By Steve Haner

Every now and then you can actually see the strings, see the puppet master that is Dominion Energy Virginia calling the shots at the Virginia General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, provided a glimpse of its power during a floor debate Thursday.

Republican senators were in revolt. Two days after the House of Delegates had approved a plan to force all utility ratepayers to cover the unpaid bills and late fees for those who have fallen behind, the same language amendment was before the Senate for adoption.

“Once again, we have cast the ratepayers aside here in Virginia,” Senator Richard Stuart told his colleagues assembled in their spread formation at the Science Museum of Virginia. The average ratepayer is struggling to pay their own bill in this recession and did not sign up to pay the bills for those others who for whatever reason do not. “This is immoral. This is not right,” Stuart concluded. Continue reading

Dominion ❤ New Utility Bill Payment Plan

This time you get touched.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia loves the General Assembly’s most recent proposal on how to deal with mounting unpaid utility bills in the COVID-19 recession. You might not.

The state’s dominant utility has activated its network of grassroots lobbyists (including company retirees and stockholders) to express their personal support to their hometown delegate and senator, in an email that a recipient shared:

Last week the Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees passed budget bills that included assistance to those utility customers who have experienced economic hardship due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All utilities have been impacted and the legislation recognizes that relief to those citizens most at risk will be different from one region and utility to the next. The direction adopted by both Chambers have been consistently supported by Dominion Energy…

As predicted more than once, the unpaid bills ultimately come to all utility consumers. The approach outlined in the new budget language is a variation on earlier themes, but the bottom line is unchanged.   Continue reading

A Capitalist Solution to Food Deserts

Militant agriculture

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday, channeling the spirit of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I asked what a young person should do if he or she wanted to make the world a better place. Broadly speaking, there are three approaches. One is activism in which people who, informed by a desire to improve the lives of those less fortunate than themselves, lobby for reformist government policies and create philanthropic programs to address perceived needs. Another is militancy. Convinced that the entire system is corrupt, militants waste little time ameliorating the condition of individuals but seek to overthrow the established order. A third approach is capitalism, in which entrepreneurs find creative ways to meet previously unmet needs.

Activist agriculture

We need more entrepreneurs.

If Virginia has an affordable housing crisis, we can’t solve the problem in the long run by passing eviction laws or enacting more government-subsidized housing programs. We need entrepreneurs who can find innovative ways to create lower-cost housing. If lower-income Virginians are afflicted by payday lenders charging high fees and interest rates, we can’t address the credit needs of the poor by legislating payday lenders out of existence. We need entrepreneurs who find innovative, low-cost ways to extend small amounts of credit. Continue reading

What Drives Turnover Among School Principals?

Source: Virginia Principal Retention, Attrition and Mobility Study

by James A. Bacon

Most principals of Virginia public schools — 70% — are “generally satisfied” with their jobs, although half work 60 or more hours and two-thirds feel like they spend most of their time solving immediate problems rather than creating great schools. Those are some of the findings of a survey of 467 public school principals by the Virginia Foundation for Educational leadership.

However, one in seven (14%) responded that “the stress and disappointments involved in being a principal at this school aren’t really worth it,” and one out of four (26%) said they did not have as much enthusiasm for the job as when they began. Remarkably, one in ten (11%) answered, “I think about staying home from school because I’m just too tired to go.”

A significant issue for many principals is school discipline. Four out of five (81%) reported the necessity of dealing with student acts of disrespect for teachers at least once a month, and more than half (53%) deal with physical conflicts among students at least monthly. Large percentages also reported student bullying and verbal abuse of teachers. 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

VCU Health to Launch Voter-Registration Drive on Hospital Premises

Image from a VotER voter registration kit.

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Commonwealth University Health System has informed employees that it will participate in the VotER Initiative to encourage patients to register to vote and vote by mail.

“A large body of research tells us that sick Americans are less likely to vote,” commences the communication from Sheryl L. Garland, chief of health impact for the health system. “This is especially true of individuals who also have significant social needs, such as a lack of stable food and housing. All to often, these voices are not heard when decisions that affect their health are made.”

The email explicitly tied the initiative, which will start today, to VCU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion: “VCU Health’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement states that ‘we will actively work to dismantle systemic racism and inequalities that may be entrenched in our health system.’ VCU Health’s participation in this initiative is a small but meaningful step toward fulfilling this commitment.”

According to the communique, VCU will place flyers in clinic waiting rooms and larger posters in high-traffic areas within the hospitals.  Continue reading

Reform K-12 Education to Increase Diversity in Virginia’s Colleges — and in Life

by James C. Sherlock

Much is appropriately made of the relative lack of diversity in Virginia’s state-supported colleges and universities. Some trace that exclusively to racial discrimination. My research indicates it may also reflect the educational disadvantages of being poor.  

Here I will offer a path to begin to fix both.

I have researched and written a good bit about the wide variations in K-12 student SOL pass rates among Virginia’s poorest school districts. See Rev 1 Reading and Math Virginia 2018-2019 SOL results by State and Division by Subject by Subgroup.

Some students, parents and school districts in Virginia’s poorest communities exhibit extraordinary success in those standardized tests across all races and among economically disadvantaged students. That success is measured not against other poor districts, but among districts statewide.  

Continue reading

Trees, Temperatures and Racism


by James A. Bacon

The New York Times has drawn a straight-line linkage between the redlining of neighborhoods in Richmond nearly a hundred years ago and the fact that African-American neighborhoods have higher average temperatures than mostly white neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods, often comprised of public housing, have fewer trees “to shield people from the sun’s relentless glare.” Writes the NYT of Richmond’s Gilpin Court housing project:

More than 2,000 residents, mostly Black, live in low-income public housing that lacks central air conditioning. Many front yards are paved with concrete, which absorbs and traps heat. The ZIP code has among the highest rates of hear-related ambulance calls in the country.

There are places like Gilpin Court all over the United States where neighborhoods can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, white parts of the city, the Times says.

And there’s growing evidence that this is no coincidence. In the 20th century, local and federal officials, usually white, enacted policies that reinforced racial segregation in cities and diverted investment away from minority neighborhoods in ways that created large disparities in the urban heat environment.

It’s certainly true that there was redlining in the 1930s, and the NYTimes makes a good case that many of the redlined neighborhoods remain predominantly African-American today. Trouble is, when you interpret everything through the lens of race, every disparity looks like a racial inequity. Continue reading

Virginia Educational Reform – Place, Class, Race — Or All Three?

by James C. Sherlock

I am an optimist by nature. Optimism wins elections, and optimism can bring about democratic change.  

Governments at their most basic level are created by people to protect themselves from outsiders and to minimize conflicts within their own ranks. From a condo association to Congress, that is a core role.   

I believe that representative government is the only form of democracy that scales and the form most likely to protect the weak. I believe in the rule of law and in traditions and institutions as stabilizing forces. I defend the individual rights embedded in our constitution.

I believe our republic needs to help Americans ensure they and theirs are secure in the basic necessities of life and their are children educated. Call me a class theorist. People of good character can and do get in fierce arguments about what constitute the basic necessities of life and whether assistance should be couched as a helping hand or a new bill of rights.  

I believe that self reliance is a core value of America. So is compassion. I support a policy of writing checks to help the disadvantaged in a crisis, but long-term policies that help them pull themselves up. There is dignity in that. People need dignity.

I oppose a distorted rationalism that seeks to put every responsibility on government and a rationalist government that inevitably settles on picking favorites and attacking religion. 

I regret the cascading failure of the regional newspapers as perhaps the biggest internal threat to representative government in my lifetime.

On June 17, 2020 in Areo magazine , Gabriel Scorgie wrote: Continue reading

Entrepreneurs, Rent Seekers and the Just Society

by James A. Bacon

It’s a lazy, rainy day, and for amusement, I’ve been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s online work, “Principia Politica,” in which he applies his insights into risk, probability, and the non-linearity of complex systems to the realm of governance and politics. The graphic displayed above appears about halfway through the presentation without any elaboration but it beautifully summarizes how I view the world.

The left-hand image summarizes the thinking of the political left in the United States today, which defines “the rich” — the millionaires and billionaires, in Bernie Sanders parlance — as the enemy. The underlying assumption is that all wealth is, to one degree or another, illegitimately gained and that concentrations of wealth are harmful to society. This is the default mode of thinking of much of academia, the journalism “profession, think tank pundits and the nation’s intelligentsia.

The right-hand image summarizes the thinking of those, like me, of a conservative-libertarian bent. I have no problem with the existence of rich people in our society. I am far more interested in how people acquired their wealth. To me, predators, cronies and rent seekers are the bad guys. 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

Everyone Has the Capacity to Be Great

The following post republishes an excerpt from B.K. Fulton’s new book, “The Tale of the Tee: Be Kind and Just Believe.” Fulton, an African-American Christian,  entrepreneur and philanthropist, co-wrote the book with Jonathan Blank, who is Jewish, a lawyer and an activist. The two men did not know each other prior to June 14, 2020. A single act of kindness began an e-mail thread that provides the basis of this book. — JAB

by B.K. Fulton

What can we learn from [the] people who change the world for the better in spite of the obstacles? What their work tells me is that the real genius in the world is in recognizing the genius in others. My hypothesis is that we all have the capacity to be great. God distributes talent generously throughout our species and all of us get to have the life we are willing to work for. It is in our naked self-interest to invest in everyone – every girl and every boy on the planet – because we have no idea where the cure for ALS is coming from. We have no idea where the cure for cancer is coming from. We have no idea where the cure for Alzheimer’s is coming from. What we do know for sure is that the cures that will help your family and mine are randomly distributed somewhere out there in the world. What we do know for sure is that the cure we need right now might just be [reading this message]. What we do know for sure is that the antidote for all that ails us is YOU. I challenge you to decide to be GREAT. Because if a person on the margins can achieve at the highest levels, what is our excuse for dabbling in mediocrity? 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