Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

Politicians Get the Gold Mine, the Middle Class Gets the Shaft

by James A. Bacon

Thousands have Virginians have fallen behind on their electric bill payments as they struggle through the COVID-19 epidemic. The General Assembly wants to help. So, in the budget compromise reached by the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Dominion Energy will be directed to forgive customers’ unpaid balances that were more than 30 days in arrears as of Dec. 31, 2020.

Who will pay for this? Not the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state may be awash in $2.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds plus $410 million in tax revenue over forecasts this year, but, no, legislators want to spend every dime.

And not Dominion Energy. The budget bill reaffirms the utility’s right to use the bill-forgiveness costs to offset earnings from 2017 to 2020 in the State Corporation Commission’s next review of its profits, reports The Virginia Mercury.

You, dear ratepayer, will pay the cost (unless you’re one of those who have fallen behind in your payments). With apologies to Jerry Reed, the politicians get the gold mine, and Virginia’s middle class gets the shaft. 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

Your PIPP Tax Will Buy Heat Pumps For Poor

by Steve Haner

Lower-income Virginians who are customers of the two largest electricity providers may begin to receive subsidies on their residential bills in March 2022 under legislation moving forward in the General Assembly. The money for the subsidies will come from their fellow customers.  Continue reading

In Praise of Trailer Parks

Bermuda Estates, Chesterfield County

by James A. Bacon

Nobody knows for sure how many trailer parks there are in Virginia, and Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, wants to find answers. He has introduced a budget amendment to establish a Virginia Manufactured Home Park registry, to be funded with a $100 database maintenance fee from each mobile home park. 

Krizek regards trailer parks as a rare form of affordable housing in the state, and he’s concerned that market forces could put them out of business. Many were built long ago on land that was inexpensive at the time but due to the evolution of real estate markets has become desirable.

“The biggest problem is that the land is so valuable,” Krizek told The Virginia Mercury. “These parks are a gold mine for someone who wants to come in and build a 20-story apartment complex. I understand the need for density, but it’s sad when one of these communities goes away because they have been there for 20-30 years.” Continue reading

McAuliffe’s “Big Bold” Housing Plan Is Neither

Richmond homelessness. Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Homelessness spiked in the Richmond area over the past year — more than 50%, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The increase from 549 to 838 people in 2020 was the largest single-year jump since anyone began tracking the number in the 1990s. Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of Virginians are at risk of eviction, homelessness likely will get much worse before it gets better.

Clearly, Virginia has a social crisis on its hands. The burning question is what to do about it. Do we treat the symptoms? Do we enact remedies that backfire and make things worse? Or do we address underlying problems?

We can get a glimpse of Virginia’s likely course of action by scrutinizing the plan to tackle the commonwealth’s housing crisis proffered by gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Dominating the field of Democratic Party candidates, the former governor is the odds-on favorite to win the party nomination. Facing the survivor of the Republicans’ circular firing squad, that makes him the odds-on favorite to become Virginia’s next governor.

McAuliffe announced he has a plan — a “big bold” plan — in a Feb. 8 press release. In McAuliffe’s assessment, more than 260,000 Virginia households face the risk of eviction in the fall. 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 Mythology of Robert E. Lee

By Peter Galuszka

With excellent timing, the former head of the history department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has come out with a book about the mythology of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and much of the White “Southern” culture.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Ty Seidule, a former paratrooper, has deep Virginia roots and his analysis goes right to the heart of the problems plaguing Virginia, Civil War memorabilia, Richmond, Charlottesville, the Virginia Military Institute and more.

He grew up in Alexandria and had ties to the Episcopal prep school where he expanded his desire to be a “Southern” gentleman while worshipping the likes of Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Here’s a link to my review of his book in Richmond’s Style Weekly. The Post also reviewed the book this past Sunday.

Lockdown Lobby Crushed the Poorest Children

by Kerry Dougherty

The Federalist, one of my daily must-read news sources, had a great piece yesterday. It supported my point of view, naturally.

And it’s timely as Michael Osterholm, one of Biden’s advisors, predicted Sunday that lockdowns will return with a vengeance once the U.K. variant of Covid-19 becomes dominant in the United States.

In “Covid Lockdowns Were An Overreaction to Protect The Rich ,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University and one of America’s outspoken opponents of many measures taken during the pandemic,  joined Megyn Kelly in a podcast to discuss the results of shutdowns around the U.S. They affirmed what has been glaringly obvious to anyone paying attention: Lockdowns protected the rich while putting the poor in harm’s way.

I noticed this early on in the pandemic when friends of mine on Facebook were hash-tagging the hell out of slogans like #JustStayHome.

Easy for them, when they weren’t missing a paycheck and had work-from-home jobs. Continue reading

To Solve Homelessness, Equip People to Rise from Poverty

The Brisben Center’s Ucan Club teaches families cooking and meal-planning skills they can take with them when they leave the shelter.

by David Cooper

There is an ongoing debate among nonprofits providing homeless shelters on the best way to address homelessness. Should they focus on finding places for people to live, regardless of what mental health or substance abuse problems they might have, or should they stress equipping them with life skills, even if it means a prolonged dependence upon the shelter?

As the staff of the Thurman Brisben Center has learned from serving the homeless of Greater Fredericksburg for 33 years — more than 7,000 individuals since 2005— homelessness is complicated. From underemployment and unemployment to physical/mental disabilities, from family breakups to poor credit histories, and from addictions to criminal justice involvement, the breadth of underlying causes is sobering.

The majority of homeless are working households and turn to shelters only as a last resort. A mere 14% — about 34 individuals locally — meet federal criteria for “chronic” (long-term) homelessness. However, they are targeted to receive the most government funding to permanently house them. Continue reading

Add an Extra 40 Days to the School Year? It Just Might Work.

Jason Kamras

by James A. Bacon

Jason Kamras has spent much of his time as superintendent of the City of Richmond school district blaming systemic racism for the system’s failure to educate thousands of inner-city school children, and most of his remedies call for more money — even though city schools spend significantly more per pupil than neighboring jurisdictions whose students perform far better. He has trumpeted one bad idea after another. But at long last, he is proposing an initiative that could be useful. I’m not being sarcastic here. I think it’s an idea that many school systems should explore.

In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Kamras submits the usual requests for more pay — a 2% raise plus a 1.17% step increase for every employee — and he wants to use federal stimulus funds to address what the Richmond Times-Dispatch refers to without elaboration as students’ “socio-emotional issues.” That’s a new term in the leftist lexicon. I’m guessing it has something to do with the trauma of poverty and racism. I imagine that we’ll hear more about it in the future.

Then there’s this: Kamras wants $8 million to add 40 academic days to the school year — in effect, creating year-round school — for 5,000 “high needs” students. Continue reading

More Data on SW VA’s Breakout School Performance

by John Butcher

We have seen that the divisions in SW Virginia (“Region 7” in the VDOE system) formed their own organization, the Comprehensive Instructional Program (“CIP”), that brought nice improvements in student performance.

While we wait to see whether the Board of “Education” will punt on the 2021 SOL testing, I’ve been looking over the 2019 data (there being no tests in 2020). The data for Region 7 paint a lovely picture.

You may recall that, since undertaking the CIP, Region 7 has seen major improvements in the pass rates of its economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students.

Continue reading

Tufts Study Projects Major TCI Carbon Taxes

Abandoned Gas

An abandoned gasoline station in North Carolina that failed after that state raised its fuel taxes substantially higher than Virginia’s.

By Steve Haner

Monday the organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a carbon tax and rationing regime for Virginia motor fuels, will be announcing details of the underlying interstate compact, according to media reports.

The media in Virginia has been disinterested in the issue, but the debate is raging in New England. The Boston Globe set the stage with a story last week. While 12 states and the District of Columbia have been involved in the planning, there remains some suspense over which states will press forward. New Hampshire is already out, and some other governors have expressed concerns.  Continue reading

UVa Builds Scholarship Endowment to Half-Billion Dollars

by James A. Bacon

Over the past four years the University of Virginia has raised $500 million, enough to endow 350 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, President Jim Ryan informed the Board of Visitors Friday. He highlighted two programs in particular that share the goal of “fostering excellence and diversity of the student population, and ensuring their success.”

The University Achievement Awards, inaugurated during the presidency of John T. Casteen are given to Virginia students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Blue Ridge Scholars program, launched in 2014 with a $4 million gift from alumnus John Griffin, supports undergraduate students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.

The need for financial assistance has intensified over the years as UVa has aggressively increased tuition, fees, and charges for room and board. The annual cost of attendance (including books and modest personal expenses) runs around $34,000 for undergraduate Virginians and $69,000 for out-of-state students before financial aid is taken into account. Continue reading

Richmond Schools Discover that the Shutdown Magnifies Mental Illness

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras visiting a school in pre-COVID days. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The downside of the COVID-19 school lockdown has become fully apparent to Richmond Public School officials. Richmond schools are experiencing an “alarming surge” in mental health issues — depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation — among the district’s 21,000 students in depression, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The impact of social isolation, fear of the virus, and the deaths of loved ones is magnified, school officials say, among students who have already experienced extensive childhood trauma. “Experts” fear that an underfunded mental health system is not equipped to handle the situation.

As Robert Bolling, CEO of ChildSavers put it, the pandemic has added a new layer of trauma where trauma was already the most severe.

“We are dealing with children who had, by the time they turned 9 years old, experienced significant traumatic events in their lives” such as poverty, neglect, abuse, sexual assault or witnessing violence, Bolling said. “Toxic trauma happens when a kid experiences that four times in their lives. Our children average six.” Continue reading

Richmond’s Infamous Icon

Credit: National Geographic

By Peter Galuszka

Since 1890, the Robert E. Lee Monument has dominated Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue and has stood as a striking protector of the state’s long history of systemic racism.

True, other Confederate heroes such as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart also found a memorial spot on the Avenue but Lee has always been the main one. He has been a sentimental touchstone for romantics of the Lost Cause and of derision about people hurt by the system.

Now, Richmond and Virginia are paying a price for more than a century of refusing to own up to what it all really meant.

The famed National Geographic magazine has made a cover photo of the defaced Lee statue repurposed as a memorial to George Floyd, the Black man who was killed by police after he was arrested and handcuffed.

The Geographic was listing the top photos of 2020, a wild and depressing year that brought the coronavirus pandemic, riots in cities and the constant chaos of Donald Trump.

That’s not all. In October, The New York Times Magazine proclaimed that the defaced Lee monument was the most influential work of art since World War II. Continue reading