Altruism Today

Use of local foundation allowed Baltimore police surveillance project to remain secret

August 26th, 2016  |  Source: Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Police Department was able to keep secret the funding for a surveillance plane that monitored wide swaths of the city by routing project funds through a private foundation — whose director says he was not aware of the purpose of the spending.

A Texas-based private donor supplied $120,000 intended for the city surveillance project but delivered to the nonprofit Baltimore Community Foundation, which manages at least two charitable funds for police.

Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation, said in an interview Wednesday that foundation officials did not know what the money was for.

"We did not know anything about a surveillance program," Wilcox said. "We do 3,000 grants a year. Someone asks us to give a grant to an organization, whether it's Wounded Warrior or the YMCA, we make the grant."

Duke University Sues Donor’s Estate for $10 million

August 25th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Aubrey McClendon was a major benefactor to the North Carolina school his wife, his children and he attended. Over $20 million in gifts supported everything from building construction to restoring the pipe organ in the university’s chapel. Mr. McClendon died in a car accident last March, leaving $9.94 million in pledges unpaid. Duke has gift agreements and related documents to substantiate the pledges, and there is no dispute from the estate that the pledges were made.

So why did Duke choose to sue the major donor’s estate? Simply put, to preserve Duke’s place at the table among many secured and unsecured creditors while a complex and uncertain estate is settled. McClendon’s fortune was tied significantly to the shale oil business in the U.S., which boomed in the last decade and then busted as crude oil prices plummeted a couple of years ago. At one time, McClendon was reportedly worth more than a billion dollars, but his expensive ouster from the company he cofounded, Chesapeake Energy, spurred him to borrow heavily against his assets to attempt a comeback.

It will take some time for the estate’s administrators to come to terms with the almost 200 companies in which McClendon held investment interests and the network of creditors holding close to $500 million in loans against those investments. Some have speculated that the estate is, in fact, insolvent, but the estate’s administrators dispute that. However, the estate’s value is heavily dependent on commodity prices, so estimated values may change frequently.

Duke has been quick to emphasize that the legal action is not punitive and not intended to cast aspersions on McClendon’s reputation. In a statement, the university expressed its position that McClendon was “one of Duke’s most passionate and generous alumni. […] This is a routine transaction that in no way diminishes Duke’s respect for the McClendon family and our gratitude for their relationship to Duke.”

The importance of Duke’s communicating its action and motivation cannot be overstated, as other donors will no doubt be watching what happens. When the word “lawsuit” is used in media stories, it’s easy to assume a hostile and adversarial situation is unfolding, but this is not the case here. If anything, Duke’s “adversaries” are the other creditors, not the estate and the family.

Duke’s leaders share the fiduciary duty to protect and pursue their university’s legitimate interest in the estate while not appearing predatory or greedy. Doug White, former director of the nonprofit management program at Columbia University, said, “How positive is it to see a university sue a donor? If it were up to me, I wouldn’t push it that hard.”

20 Years Since Welfare 'Reform'

August 24th, 2016  |  Source: The Atlantic

America’s poorest are still dealing with the consequences of the legislation that Bill Clinton signed into law two decades ago today.

As recently as April of this year, former president Bill Clinton defended the welfare reform bill he signed into law on August 22, 1996—twenty years ago today—as one of the great accomplishments of his presidency. The bill scrapped the welfare program known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) and created a new one that lasts to this day—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). There was a grandiose idea behind the change: TANF was no simple safety net; it was also meant to be a springboard to self-sufficiency through employment, which it encouraged recipients to find work by imposing work requirements and limiting how long they could receive benefits.

Today, across the country, welfare is—at best—a shadow of its former self. In much of the Deep South and parts of the West, it has all but disappeared. In the aftermath of welfare reform, there has been a sharp rise in the number of households with children reporting incomes of less than $2 per person per day, a fact we documented in our book, $2 a Day. As of 2012, according to the most reliable government data available on the subject, roughly 3 million American children spend at least three months in a calendar year living on virtually no money. Numerous other sources of data confirm these findings. According to the most recent data available (2014), TANF rolls are now down to about 850,000 adults with their 2.5 million children—a whopping decline of 75 percent from 1996. TANF was meant to “replace” AFDC. What it did in reality was essentially kill the U.S. cash welfare system. (We use the term “cash welfare” to distinguish it from other forms of assistance, such as housing vouchers and food stamps, which have pre-designated uses.)

Microfinance leaves India’s banks in the dust

August 23rd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Microfinance is making India’s big banks look bad. Small lenders that help the poor buy everything from bicycles to sewing machines are back and growing at breakneck speed after the industry nearly collapsed six years ago.

The last boom ended badly after a number of borrowers committed suicide. That prompted authorities in Andhra Pradesh to effectively stop micro lenders collecting debts. The state once accounted for up to 40 percent of industry loans. The Reserve Bank of India has since capped usurious lending rates.

India’s microfinance firms typically focus on lending to women in groups where they act as guarantors for one another. That ensures social pressure to repay. Scale, technology, and shared credit data has helped the industry to thrive again in a segment underserved by big banks.

Bharat Financial Inclusion is the ultimate comeback kid. The group, formerly known as SKS Microfinance, shrunk after the crisis and is now growing fast. Lending rates are now below 20 percent – not too far off what big banks offer well-heeled unsecured borrowers.

Net interest income grew almost 70 percent year on year in the first quarter, gross non-performing loans are almost negligible at 0.1 percent, and BFI earns a 29 percent return on equity.

That’s much better than India’s largest lender, State Bank of India, where interest income is growing at 4 percent, gross NPLs are 7 percent, and ROE is below 8 percent. Other state banks are in worse shape.

Banking is a preferred way to bet on rising consumer power. But the poor health of India’s traditional lenders, after years of crony capitalism, has forced investors to look elsewhere. That helps explain why BFI shares have risen 50 percent this year, while shares in smaller rival Ujjivan Financial Services have risen almost as much since it listed in May. U.S. private equity group TPG also recently led another fundraising for Bengaluru-based Janalakshmi Financial Services.

BFI looks fully valued at almost 4 times book value but other measures suggest room to run. Eikon data shows the lender trades at just 15 times forward earnings, a measly premium to SBI on almost 14 times. Super-fast growth is always risky in finance but microfinance firms are well-placed to meet the huge demand for credit from India’s poor.

Here’s Why the Navajo Nation Is Suing the EPA Over Colorado’s Mining Catastrophe

August 22nd, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

The San Juan River is one of the most sacred and agriculturally important areas to the Navajo Nation. It’s also the site of a three-million-gallon toxic mine spill.

This time last year, images of Colorado’s Animas River were going viral, leaving many mystified or downright disturbed by the waterway’s Willy Wonka-esque shade of golden orange. The culprit of the bizarre phenomenon: a slurry of mining chemicals which had burst from a sealed entryway to a defunct gold mine, the Gold King Mine, located upstream. The images were met with outrage: In the last year, there have beenCongressional hearings and an ongoing criminal investigation into causes of the spill.

Just this week, the Navajo Nation filed its own lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The Gold King Mine, one of 48 mining sites in the Bonita Peak Mining District, has been closed for almost a century. Years of mismanagement and neglect, however, caused floodwaters and extreme pressure to build at the mine’s sealed entryway, the suit alleges. When the mine burst, it sent more than three million gallons of acidic, chemical-laden sludge downstream into the San Juan River.

Of all the 27,000 miles that comprise the Navajo Nation’s reservation, the San Juan River watershed, which flows from Colorado through New Mexico, may very well be the most agriculturally and spiritually rich in the reservation.

“The Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected, or their way of life restored,” reads the suit, which was filed on Tuesday by the Navajo Nation in the U.S. District Court for the district of New Mexico. The EPA’s egregious neglect of the mine and its failure to properly compensate the Nation for damages, mirrors the government’s longstanding indifference toward the tribe, according to the lawsuit.

Two contractors, four mining companies including Gold King Mines Corporation, and 10 other unnamed defendants are also named in the suit. The lawsuit alleges that, despite knowing of the potential for an entryway to burst, officials were unprepared for any major accidents when excavation began last August to assess the mine seal. The EPA should have known of the environmental risks, the suit alleges, as the agency has twice already considered listing the Upper Animas Watershed as a Superfund site — once in the 1990s and again in 2008. After the mine initially exploded, it took nearly two days for the EPA to alert the Nation that millions of gallons of toxic water was making its way down the watershed.

“Spring, which once symbolized the bringing of new life as many Navajo families planted their crops, now represents a looming threat.”

At a minimum, the Nation has sustained about $2 million in costs, according to the lawsuit. That figure includes the effects of the spill on farmers, the prices of safety-related water sampling, the delivery of clean water across the Nation, and the establishment of an Emergency Operations Center dedicated to spill response. So far, the EPA has paid the Navajo Nation $602,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit. The EPA has so far declinedto comment, saying it cannot do so on active litigation, though the federal agency notes that it has provided more than $29 million in the last year to nearby states and tribal areas to mitigate damages.

The EPA claims the San Juan River is currently safe for agriculture, fishing, and irrigation, owing to a water treatment plant installed last November to treat continuing acid mine drainage. Anyone living, playing, or working near the river should avoid any discolored sediment or soil, which still has high concentrations of mining metals, however, according to the EPA. Children under the age of six have been warned about ingesting any river water.

DOJ Files Suit against Mississippi for Forced Institutionalization of People with Mental Illness

August 19th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Care2 “Causes”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed suit against the state of Mississippi for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. The allegation is that the state has forced people into psychiatric hospitals instead of providing them with community-based care that would prevent escalation of illness and trauma, and that in so doing, it has failed in its duty of care.

This suit is one among approximately a dozen filed against states, and it should come as no surprise, since the DOJ issued a report in 2011 finding that appropriate services to adults and children with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities were not being provided by Mississippi.

According to a statement from the DOJ and Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

When individuals with mental illness receive the services they need, they are better able to find meaningful work, secure stable housing, build personal relationships, and avoid involvement with the criminal justice system. For far too long, Mississippi has failed people with mental illness, violating their civil rights by confining them in isolating institutions. Our lawsuit seeks to end these injustices, and it sends a clear signal that we will continue to fight for the full rights and liberties of Americans with mental illness.

“When individuals with mental illness get the services they need and the care they deserve, they can live and work in their own communities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Mississippi violates the ADA by denying residents with disabilities the services the law requires and the support they deserve, forcing them to cycle in and out of state hospitals, emergency rooms and jails. The Justice Department’s lawsuit demonstrates our firm commitment to vindicate the rights of people with mental illness.”

This is not the only lawsuit pending on this issue of inappropriate institutionalization of mentally ill community members in Mississippi. In a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is alleged that the state violated the Medicaid Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by illegally confining mentally ill children in institutions instead of ensuring that they can be treated at home. That suit is still pending.

The 1999 Olmstead v. United States case saw the Supreme Court rule that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects the right of people with mental health issues from being forced into institutions in the following circumstances:

·       If community care is deemed appropriate by medical professionals

·       If that care will be less restrictive; if community care is agreed on by the individual

·       If the placement can be reasonably accommodated by the state

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has criticized the DOJ for the lawsuit, dubbing it “another attempt by the federal government to dictate policy to the states through the courts.”

The state of treatment for mentally ill people in this country is scandalous, with states and insurance companies actively trying to simplify or offload their responsibilities under the law. The DOJ’s pursuit of these cases has been critical for sending a coherent national message to the states, but we wonder what might happen to these efforts to see the ADA enforced properly once the presidential administration changes.

Amid Questions of Responsiveness, American Red Cross Mobilizes in Louisiana

August 16th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; CNN

Just 10 days after ProPublica published an article on the criticisms of the American Red Cross’s disaster response to the floods in Louisiana in March, thirty parishes have now been declared flood disaster areas—nearly half the state. At least five people are dead and 20,000 have needed to be rescued. The Louisiana National Guard and military police have been called out, and so has the Red Cross, so, for now, we must wait to find out whether the ARC had the necessary capacity to meet the challenges of this historic event.

They do have the volunteers, apparently. Chapters in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin have mobilized volunteers and resources in response to the chapter in Baton Rouge reaching out, but these must be well deployed to be effective.

Coordination, communications, and accurate deployment are absolutely critical during a disaster response, but the complaints that surfaced in Louisiana in March are similar to those heard from local disaster response officials in West Virginia regarding the ARC back in January. A national consolidation of ARC chapters that has reduced their numbers by two-thirds has, in the opinion of some, left a presence too disconnected to respond quickly to calls for help in some areas. Among the concerns recently expressed about Louisiana is that the Red Cross had undergone so much turnover that local government emergency managers didn’t know whom to call, and when the calls were made, they were not consistently returned.

Wanted: Help handing out Warren Buffett’s fortune

August 15th, 2016  |  Source: Boston Globe

For anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to give away millions of dollars to people in need, here’s your chance to help Warren Buffett and his sister do just that.

One consequence of being extremely wealthy is that strangers ask you for money — not just donation requests from countless charities, but pleas for financial help from individuals all over the world.

Each year, Buffett, the billionaire investor, receives thousands of letters from people asking whether he would pay their mortgages, medical bills, credit card debt, and more. Through a unique sibling partnership, Buffett forwards the letters to his older sister, Doris, who decides which ones to fund. Over the past decade, at least 22,000 letters hav crossed their collective desks, and they have given away more than $12 million.

And now, in what might be Boston’s most unusual volunteer opportunity, Doris Buffett — who moved to the city last fall — is looking for people in Greater Boston to help her read a backlog of those letters, as well as new batches that continually arrive.

“My brother is putting up the money, so we’re sort of limitless,” Buffett, 88, said in an interview with the Globe. “He’s told me that any time I run out of money, all I have to do is call him.”

Read on here:

Athletes Crowdfunding Success in Rio

August 12th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Mother Jones

More than 550 American athletes are competing in this summer’s Olympic Games. Another 250 will compete in the Paralympic Games in September. For many, particularly those competing in lesser-known sports, the battle to fund training and travel to the Games almost overshadows the competition itself.

Gregory Brigman’s passion for soccer began as a child. He suffered from cerebral palsy, and after years of wearing a leg brace, surgery, and physical therapy, he eventually played for UNC Charlotte. After graduating, he worked as an engineer at a local civil engineering firm. In March of this past year, he became a member of the U.S. Paralympic team. Realizing he could not successfully train and work, he left his job and began training full-time.

Fortunately, the U.S. Soccer Federation funds the majority of his expenses, but he quickly realized that a small amount of living expenses for himself and his family were not covered. He turned to GoFundMe in late July. He’s asking for $6,000, and is nearly halfway to his goal after one month.

Gregory is part of a growing list of athletes turning to crowdfunding sites for help in funding their training and travel to Rio. GoFundMe is the most popular and has catered to Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The site has a single landing page for athletes’ campaigns, and by the month before the games, it had connected almost 4,000 donors to ninety campaigns, raising more than $400,000.

Among the other crowdfunding sites supporting Olympic and Paralympic athletes,RallyMe serves as the official campaign site for the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Cycling, and U.S. Bobsled teams. RallyMe donors often receive a small thank-you gift, such as a mention on the team’s social media, in exchange for their participation in the rally or fundraising campaign.

American athletes are creating these crowdfunding campaigns because, unlike many other countries, the U.S. Olympic team is not government-supported. The U.S. Olympic Committee is a nonprofit organization and solely represents athletes competing in the Olympic and Paralympic games. It depends on the generosity of individuals and corporations to support team facilities, send athletes to competitions, and compensate its staff. American athletes are not the only ones not supported by government funding;Australian athletes are also heavily dependent on crowdfunding.

Successful crowdfunding campaigns share elements of other successful fundraising campaigns. Athletes need a compelling story. Strong relationships with fans, including a large number following active social media campaigns, are also essential. These efforts cannot be turned on every four years but take years to build and considerable efforts to maintain.

What Are the Social Costs of the Flint Water Crisis?

August 10th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

Never mind the infrastructure investments: The damage done to Flint’s kids could be much worse.

We already know that replacing the lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, is going to cost a lot of money. Early on in the crisis, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver calculated the cost to be $55 million; a more recent estimate suggests it could come to four times that. But if that sounds like a staggering figure, consider this: The social costs could reach close to $400 million.

The water problems in Flint began in April 2014, when the city stopped getting its water from Lake Huron via Detroit, opting instead to build its own pipeline to the lake. In the meantime, the city switched to the Flint River for water, but failed to treat that water to prevent corrosion. That decision ended up flooding residents’ taps with lead, a metal that causesdevelopmental delays and learning difficulties.

“The lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan … has created a new awareness of a public health crisis that has never left us because the in- vestment needed to remove lead from pipes in high-risk areas was never made,” Peter Muennig, an associate professor of public health at Columbia University, writes in Health Affairs. “But what is the cost of inaction?”

The answer: a lot. In a 2009 paper, Muennig considered several important social consequences of lead poisoning—lower educational attainment, reduced lifetime earnings, increased crime, higher health costs, and so on—and compared a scenario in which policymakers took no action to one where the managed to reduce children’s blood levels to less than 10 micrograms of lead per liter. Compared to inaction, Muennig argues, the latter scenario could save an average of about $50,000 per child over the course of their lifetimes.

Based on one estimate, as many as 8,000 kids in the greater Flint area may have been affected by lead-poisoned water as a result of the crisis, so simple arithmetic implies the long-term social costs of Flint’s lead-laden water will total around $400 million—much, much more than the $5 million in savings Flint supposedly got from switching its water supply to the Flint River.

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