Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

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

Justice at Last for Rojai Fentress

by James A. Bacon

It would be entirely understandable if Rojai Fentress were angry and embittered by the miscarriage of justice that convicted him of a 1996 murder and kept him imprisoned until July of this year. But in a recent Encorepreneur Zoomcast, he expressed nothing but joy at his new-found freedom, gratitude toward those who had fought to liberate him, and enthusiasm for the new life that awaited him.

Fentriss and Deirdre Enright, a University of Virginia law school professor with the Innocence Project, described the flawed investigation, trial and conviction of the 16-year-old Fentress for the slaying of a white addict in a drug deal gone bad. He spent the next 24 years rotating through more than a half dozen institutions in the state prison system before establishing his innocence and winning a pardon.

When asked what it would take to compensate him for his experience, the gentle, sweet-tempered Fentress said, “I don’t regret a thing. I don’t think God makes mistakes.” He grew up in a tough neighborhood where many of his friends ended up dead. “The worst thing that happened to me turned out to be the best thing that ever happened.”  Continue reading

New Houses for $150,000

by James A. Bacon

It remains an eternal mystery why it costs in the realm of $250,000 or more per unit to build apartment buildings for the poor in the Richmond region. The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority is delivering five new houses on their own lots near downtown Danville, for a sales price as little as $130,000.

According to a feature article published by Virginia Community Capital (VCC), which helped finance the project, the homes sit on large lots and have brick foundations, covered front porches, driveways and carports. The houses have low operating, maintenance and utility costs. Buyers can choose finishing touches such as granite countertops and hardwood floors, which could push the sales price up to $150,000.

The cost of housing in this project is still far cheaper than anything that public housing authorities can deliver in Virginia’s major metropolitan areas. The secret: Danville is using manufactured housing. 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

What It Is, Is Not Journalism

Photo credit: Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I never thought that I would agree with Jim Bacon on the slant of the RTD’s news coverage, but an article on evictions today just really irritated me.

It was the usual article about activists demonstrating at the Richmond courthouse and protesting evictions. (At least the demonstration on Thursday was peaceful; no smashed windows, no pepper spray, no arrests.)  The article was a cut and paste job, recounting the familiar history of the how many evictions are pending and how a moratorium on evictions has been lifted. It concluded with several quotes from college-age demonstrators talking about the corrupt capitalist society. (I had another flashback to the 1960s). Continue reading

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By Peter Galuszka

Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.

In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.

Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.

It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Who Pays The Unpaid Bills? Watch Out.

By Steve Haner

This was published this morning in The Roanoke Times and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

There may be a second wave of COVID-19 disease coming, but the secondary effects of various pandemic economic decisions may hit us sooner. Rent and utility bills customers can delay paying because of the crisis will eventually come due.But for whom?

The Legal Aid Justice Center looked at U.S. Census survey data that indicated many Virginians have fallen behind on their rent and did not expect to pay their next bill. It predicted an “eviction catastrophe” as eviction and foreclosure bans end, and lenders and landlords rush into newly reopened courts for judgments.

“The Governor should use emergency powers to immediately enact a moratorium on evictions or should allow localities to enact their own until the General Assembly can address tenants’ mounting debt. The General Assembly should create relief for tenants who are significantly behind in rent payments through a waiver or rent cancellation plan,” the advocacy group asserted.

Governor Ralph Northam took up the call, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hold off eviction proceedings a few more weeks, until June 28.   Continue reading

Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. 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.

Thank God for Medicaid Expansion

By Peter Galuszka

For years after the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” made millions of federal dollars available for states to expand Medicaid health coverage, Virginia Republicans steadfastly blocked Virginia from using the money.

Led by former House Speaker Bill Howell and Sen. Tommy Norment, the GOP claimed that expanding Medicaid to nearly 400,000 people would be too expensive and would blow out state funding.

This skinflint approach was finally put to rest after Democrat Ralph Northam became governor in 2018, foreshadowing a Democratic sweep of the General Assembly in elections last year.

Thank God the Democrats prevailed.

Virginia’s formerly robust economy has been shattered by the COVID 19 pandemic. Last week, some 110,000 Virginians filed for unemployment support. It was 46,277 the week before.

Who covers them is an open question but many would qualify for Medicaid. Expansion has boosted lower-income Virginians so that they may be able to better ride out the pandemic. Continue reading

Now Library Fines are a Social Injustice

Mayor Levar Stoney (left) and Library Director Scott Firestine

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Public Library has joined 200 other public libraries across the country in eliminating the charging of fines for overdue books. Why? Because, in the words of City of Richmond press release, the fines, which make up less than 1% of the library’s total budget, “disproportionately affected low-income, African American and Hispanic communities.”

By eliminating fines, the city hopes that “residents of all backgrounds will feel more comfortable and welcome” to use library resources. Says Mayor Levar Stoney: “A welcoming library … provides a gateway to the world of learning and opportunity for personal progress. Ending fines … will alleviate the burden on our most vulnerable Richmonders.”

Added Richmond Public Library Director Scott Firestine: “Our library has removed a punitive, inefficient and misguided practice that was a barrier blocking our most vulnerable users. This is a giant step forward to inform, enrich and empower.”

Needless to say, my initial reaction to this idea was not a positive one. Eliminating fines erodes personal responsibility. It sends a signal to poor people that larger society won’t hold them accountable for their actions. You’re poor? You get a free pass. At the same time, I do believe in following the facts. Arguments that aren’t certifiably insane actually can be made that the idea is a good one. Continue reading