Which US vaccine plans actually helped hard-hit communities?

Link: https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/06/07/1025824/us-vaccine-equity-success-story/

Excerpt:

One success story took place in Philadelphia, thanks to an effective collaboration between two health systems and Black community leaders. Recognizing that the largely online signup process was hard for older people or those without internet access, Penn Medicine and Mercy Catholic Medical Center created a text-message-based signup system as well as a 24/7 interactive voice recording option that could be used from a land line, with doctors answering patients’ questions before appointments. Working with community leaders, the program held its first clinic at a church and vaccinated 550 people.

….

In Alabama, for example, National Guard mobile vaccination units were set up with the ultra-cold freezers needed to transport and store mRNA-based covid-19 vaccines. “Why not, when this particular push is over, leave those freezer units with the federally qualified health centers that are already in those communities?” McClure says. “You’re starting to build the infrastructure for being able to deliver vaccination on a consistent basis.”

Author(s): Mia Sato

Publication Date: 7 June 2021

Publication Site: MIT Technology Review

Alameda County Updates COVID-19 Death Calculation to Align with State Definitions

Link: https://covid-19.acgov.org/covid19-assets/docs/press/press-release-2021.06.04.pdf

Excerpt:

Today, June 4, Alameda County’s COVID-19 dashboard will be updated to reflect
the total number of COVID-19 deaths using the State’s death reporting definition. Alameda County previously included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County. Aligning with the State’s definition will require Alameda County to report as COVID-19 deaths only those people who died as a direct result of COVID-19, with COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or in whom death caused by COVID-19 could not be ruled out. Based on data available as of May 23, 2021, this update will decrease the overall number of deaths from 1,634 to 1,223.

….

This update does not disproportionally impact reported deaths for any specific race or ethnic group or zip code.

Close observers of Alameda County’s dashboard may have noticed a substantial increase in the COVID-19 death totals prior to this update, during the week of May 17. This increase was due to a separate quality assurance process intended to correct previously incomplete data; adjustments were made based on additional information that became available regarding date of death and county of residence. These corrections are unrelated to the current alignment with the State’s definition of death due to COVID-19, and some of the deaths will be removed from the updated totals because COVID-19 was not a contributing cause.

Author(s): Neetu Balram

Publication Date: 4 June 2021

Publication Site: Alameda County Health Care Services Agency

California county cuts COVID-19 death toll by 25% after finding some deaths ‘clearly not’ caused by virus

Link: https://news.yahoo.com/california-county-cuts-covid-19-151921394.html

Excerpt:

California county cut its COVID-19 death toll by around 25% after determining that some deaths were not a “direct result” of the virus.

Alameda County revised the total number of deaths caused by the coronavirus to 1,223, down from 1,634.

County officials decided to revise the numbers to align with the California Department of Public Health’s guidance on how to classify deaths. The county previously included deaths of anyone infected with the virus, regardless of whether COVID-19 was a direct or contributing cause of death.

Author(s): Peter Aitken

Publication Date: 6 June 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo News

My Word | The rhetoric does not match the arithmetic on public pensions

Excerpt:

In 2015 Eureka started paying down its unfunded pension liability. These pension debt payments were $921,000 in 2015, $1 million in 2016, $3.9 million in 2017, $4.6 million in 2018, $5.4 million in 2019, and $5.7 million in 2020. Going forward, these debt payments will increase from $6 million in 2021 to $8.4 million in 2029, and are currently scheduled to continue until 2038. In 2015, Eureka cut $834,000 from the Eureka Police Department budget. Heading into budget talks in early 2020, EPD Chief Steve Watson talked of how EPD had seen a 19% reduction in staffing since 2016. Eureka followed up these previous cuts to EPD in its FY 2020-2021 budget with a funding cut of $1.1 million and loss of six more positions, including four officers, for EPD.

…..

The rhetoric does not match the arithmetic. Pension debt payments are funding taken out of the budget and represent tax dollars that are not invested in the community and that citizens see no current services for. Not exactly keeping funding local. With so many governmental agencies in the same debilitated economic situation due to pension obligations, the economic evidence does not support the claim of governments being prudent in their spending. Constant increases in funding for pension obligations along with cuts to law enforcement and other services do not support the idea that tax dollars are the taxpayers’ dollars as a priority expenditure.

Author(s): Patrick Cloney

Publication Date: 2 June 2021

Publication Site: Times-Standard

Letter: Why should taxpayers bear CalPERS risk?

Excerpt:

The city [Chico] has been receiving more sales tax, property tax, developer fees, and Utility Tax revenues every year as development brings more people to Chico. Instead of maintaining and improving infrastructure, Staff has poured these funds into their pension deficit, $11,500,000 this year, by 2025, $13,000,000. This money is allocated from all the department funds, at the expense of infrastructure and services.

Instead of pursuing new taxes that will hurt our local economy, council needs to switch from CalPERS’ defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, like 401Ks. Why should the taxpayers but never the employees bear the burden of the risks taken by CalPERS? The POB scheme, which Dowell admits is “gambling,” puts ALL the burden on the taxpayers, forever. Any new revenues will go to the pension obligation first.

Author(s): Juanita Sumner, Chico

Publication Date: 26 May 2021

Publication Site: Oroville Mercury-Register

CalPERS Long Term Care Program Bleeds Policyholders Dry via 10X Higher Premiums, Gross Mismanagement, Bad Faith Dealing

Graphic:

Excerpt:

To justify the rate increases, CalPERS asserts that there is nothing problematic with the program, other than the usual suspects of low interest rates and unexpected policyholder behavior, issues that all long-term care providers have faced. But that is, at best, a half-truth.

While all other long-term care providers have faced the same challenges, there is no evidence that any other insurer in the nation has responded with premium increases like CalPERS. For example, the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program has raised rates as much as 150%. For commercial policies, premiums rose up to 75% for UNUM Group in some states, while in California premiums for Mutual of Omaha policy premiums rose 20%, Transamerica premiums rose 25%, and Thrivent premiums rose about 37%.

During the past two decades, roughly the timeframe of the policies subject to the lawsuit, inflation has risen 49% and the cost of long-term care services about 120%. The chart below shows actual policy rates and the initial policy rate along with inflation and long-term care trends.

Author(s): Yves Smith, Lawrence Grossman

Publication Date: 14 May 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Politics Report: The Mayor’s Choice

Link: https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/politics/politics-report-the-mayors-choice/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Almost all of that is in the required contribution the city must make to its pension system. Yes, San Diego politics will always somehow find a way back to pensions. Pensions and Mark Fabiani.

Nick Serrano, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, even clapped back at a critic who accused the mayor of giving more money to the police department while making cuts elsewhere.

“Because the City has a pension obligation we have to fulfill. The increase to the police budget is the City’s pension payment — it’s not a service level increase. Nice try,” Serrano wrote on Twitter.

The pension spike: This year, the city is grappling with a $49.3 million increase in its pension payment. To the extent pensions matter as a civic issue it’s in this: the payments. That amount of money can pay for a lot of things – parks, rec centers, libraries, firefighters and cops, etc.

About $36.8 million of the increase is tapping the city’s general fund, and police make up 42 percent of the general fund. Here’s how pension increases have affected the police department’s budget over the last five years:

Author(s): Scott Lewis, Andrew Keatts

Publication Date: 24 April 2021

Publication Site: Voice of San Diego

Insuring Another Disaster

Excerpt:

Leave it to California lawmakers, however, to cast aside thousands of years of complex commercial history in a misguided attempt to fix an admittedly legitimate insurance problem. Thanks to Proposition 103, a 1988 ballot measure, California already has a distorted insurance market that gives the insurance commissioner czar-like powers to approve rate increases and impose rate decreases.

Because of that law, insurers have a tough time adjusting rates to manage their risks. It’s a long, cumbersome, and antagonistic government process to adjust rates. Their other lever for ensuring solvency is to reduce their underwriting risks by, say, not writing fire-insurance policies to homeowners who live in high fire-risk areas or car insurance policies to drivers with multiple DUIs.

….

Instead, California Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Marin County, has introduced Assembly Bill 1522, which would prohibit insurers from canceling insurance policies solely because a home or business is located in a high-risk wildfire area. It epitomizes California’s economically illiterate edict approach.

Author(s): Steven Greenhut

Publication Date: 29 April 2021

Publication Site: The American Spectator

Dan Walters, Dean of Sacramento Columnists, Blasts CalPERS’ Corruption-Friendly Secret Lending Bill

Excerpt:

Walters’ piece has been picked up by the Mercury News and other in-state papers. Since the bill has yet to go to the Senate, his intervention will make it much harder for Sacramento insiders to simply waive the legislation through and pretend they didn’t know about its rancid features.

We wrote up last week in part because the Judiciary Committee staff took the unusual step of sharply questioning whether CalPERS could and should be trusted with the powers it would provide. CalPERS wants to make loans and be exempt from disclosure…including who got the loan, in what amount, what the terms were (such as interest and collateral). The latter is important not just to determine if CalPERS is making proper credit judgments but also to see if it is handing out sub-market loans to cronies. There’s a proud history of this sort of thing. Remember, for instance, the “Friends of Angelo” scandal, when Countrywide gave out mortgages on extremely favorable terms to powerful politicians including Senate Banking Committee chair Christopher Dodd (D-CT), and Senate Budget Committee chair Kent Conrad.

Similarly, the reason yours truly has not been an advocate of public banks is they were tried in the US and virtually all failed. Most states and even some cities had them. All save North Dakota’s were eventually shuttered due to large-scale corruption and losses. I have not seen any of the proponents of public banks in the US demonstrate any awareness of their history of becoming piggy-banks for local notables, much the less recommend how to stop that from happening again. What CalPERS is proposing is an even more degraded version of the old, crooked, insider-controlled public banks.

Author(s): Yves Smith

Publication Date: 5 May 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Pending bill opens door to pension corruption at CalPERS

Link: https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/05/california-pension-calpers-corruption-legislation/

Excerpt:

Assembly Bill 386 sailed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee last week on a unanimous vote with virtually no discussion about its provisions.

….

Potentially it opens the door to insider dealing and corruption in an agency that’s already experienced too many scandals, including a huge one that sent CalPERS’ top administrator to prison for accepting bribes.

CalPERS, which is sponsoring the bill with support from some unions and local governments, claims that the exemption is no big deal since the money it lends through “alternative investment vehicles” such as venture capital funds and hedge funds is already partially exempted from disclosure.

However, there is a big difference. Using outside entities to invest means they have skin in the game. Direct lending by CalPERS means that its board members, administrators and other insiders would be making lending decisions on their own without outside scrutiny.

Author(s): Dan Walters

Publication Date: 3 May 2021

Publication Site: CalMatters

The COVID-19 Disaster That Did Not Happen in Texas

Excerpt:

Most businesses in Texas had been allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity since mid-October, when Abbott also allowed bars to reopen. It was implausible that removing the cap would have much of an impact on virus transmission, even in businesses that were frequently hitting the 75 percent limit.

While Abbott said Texans would no longer be legally required to cover their faces in public, he urged them to keep doing so, and many businesses continued to require masks. At the stores I visit in Dallas, there has been no noticeable change in policy or in customer compliance.

Conversely, face mask mandates and occupancy limits did not prevent COVID-19 surges in states such as Michigan, where the seven-day average of newly confirmed infections has risen more than fivefold since March 1; Maine, which has seen a nearly threefold increase; and Minnesota, where that number has more than doubled. Cases also rose during that period, although less dramatically, in other states with relatively strict COVID-19 rules, including DelawareMarylandMassachusettsNew JerseyPennsylvania, and Washington.

Florida, a state often criticized as lax, also has seen a significant increase in daily new cases: 34 percent since mid-March. But Florida, despite its relatively old population, still has a per capita COVID-19 death rate only a bit higher than California’s, even though the latter state’s restrictions have been much more sweeping and prolonged.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

California Has Seen a Staggering Amount of Unemployment Fraud During the Pandemic

Excerpt:

After sifting through news myriad stories about California’s ongoing scandal at the Employment Development Department, however, I’m left wondering: Where is Ed Anger when you need him? I’m “pig-biting mad” about the ongoing unemployment mess, as an angry Anger might write. Yet California’s elected officials and a weary public are treating it like any garden-variety bureaucratic failure.

This is one of the most infuriating scandals ever to plague our state. The department, which is responsible for paying out unemployment insurance claims, has been incapable of paying legitimate claims even as it has paid as much as $31 billion in fraudulent ones, often to inmates. Think about those staggering losses. They would be enough to make a dent in any number of the state’s infrastructure, budgetary, and debt-related problems.

The stories are as unbelievable as the Weekly World News‘ latest Elvis sighting. Here’s a desk-pounder from CBS Los Angeles: “A Fresno girl who just celebrated her first birthday is collecting $167 per week in unemployment benefits after a claim was filed on her behalf stating that she was an unemployed actor.”

Author(s): Steven Greenhut

Publication Date: 23 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason