Hearst Connecticut Media. September 28, 2023.
Editorial: CT Monopoly board needs new housing options
At the end of any round of Monopoly, some players have built real estate in the tonier neighborhoods while others collect rent from more modest streets. But every game eventually ends and the community can be reimagined by new players.
The problem with real estate in — let’s say Connecticut — is that it’s not so easy to adjust the board even as the players use different rules.
The players have changed a lot over the past century, and each generation has different housing needs than the one that came before them. The families of Baby Boomers built bigger houses because, well, there were a lot of kids. Families got smaller and those houses didn’t go anywhere.
In Connecticut’s richest ZIP codes, we’ve seen trends of mansions being torn down merely to build even bigger ones. Meanwhile, the drumbeat of a need for affordable housing is relentless.
New data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey points to the group in the middle, the so-called typical owner of a single family house. The information offers a broader view of this Monopoly board, a chance to consider the bigger picture of how we live in Connecticut.
The bottom line is that most people pay far more rent than their predecessors did. The data shows that homeowners in 1970 needed about two years’ salary to buy a home in several Connecticut cities, while their modern counterparts need four of five years’ worth of paychecks. Stamford’s value-to-income ratio is even higher, at six years. Proximity to New York is cited as the reason for added value in Stamford, even though neither city is planning to move.
Another challenge Realtors talk about these days is that younger generations, often influenced by reality TV, prefer fresh-out-of-the-box homes. No one has ever enjoyed dealing with the problems aging homes inevitably bring, but that’s a supply-and-demand collision that is not sustainable. A lot of homes may have been built 50 years ago, but most of them aren’t going anywhere.
Like any game of Monopoly, it’s important to remember that buying property is an investment. Over the long term, it’s still wiser to buy than to rent.
But buying that first home has become the toughest move of all. Student debt remain an anchor on savings. Back in 1970, people were buying homes in their early 20s. That’s far less common now. The median household income in Connecticut was about $11,800, and the price tag on a typical home was a bit more than twice that, at $25,500.
Sean Ghio, policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities, told Hearst Connecticut Media that the Baby Boomer housing model is outdated.
“We’ve tried for years to talk to towns about ways that they can increase the different types of housing that address really what the market wants,” Ghio said. “People maybe want to move out of a single family home. Younger people want to be able to live close to work, but they’re not in a position to buy a big single family home yet. We need to accommodate those in the market.”
It’s easy to recognize the problems when considering the entire board. It’s also clear that if the housing game does not evolve, the real loser will be the State of Connecticut.
Portland Press Herald. September 24, 2023.
Editorial: Birthing center closures put Mainers in danger
We have to explore and support all viable alternatives for better access to pregnancy care.
York Hospital; Northern Maine Medical Center; Rumford Hospital; St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, Lewiston; Bridgton Hospital; Calais Regional Hospital; Penobscot Valley Hospital, Lincoln.
These are the seven Maine hospitals that have closed their birthing centers since 2015, all participants in a troubling national trend that leaves expectant and new mothers – those in rural areas, overwhelmingly – without options, putting their pregnancies and postpartum experiences at risk of serious complications.
Eleven of Maine’s 16 counties now have just one hospital with a birthing center. The wave of closures has been attributed to both a shortage of obstetricians and a declining birth rate. But statewide, births increased in the most recent year for which data are available, and for a number of reasons, we shouldn’t be complacent about that number staying where it is.
Maine has to come up with a comprehensive response to this frightening reduction in the availability of critical services.
Although provider shortages and hospital closures have become a hard fact of life in recent years, there is no reason the emergence of so-called “maternity-care deserts” (more than 2 million Americans live in these zones already) should be a live risk across our state.
According to a report published by health care consulting firm Chartis in February of this year, 143 rural hospitals in America have closed altogether since 2010, and 453 are vulnerable to closure.
Where an embattled hospital attempts to hang on, the costly labor and delivery unit is often one of the first units to go. Between 2021 and 2022, according to the same report, the number of rural hospitals eliminating labor and delivery services increased from 198 to 217. This development is also a likely bellwether for other kinds of important medical care; according to the same report, the number of hospitals ceasing to provide chemotherapy in the U.S. increased from 311 to 353.
“These conditions portend to worsening community health status in areas where gaps in disparities measures between rural and urban remain persistent,” the report reads.
When it comes to obstetrics and labor and delivery, health care suffers when the patient needs to miss work to travel long distances to obtain it. By one estimate, people living in rural areas are 9% more likely to endure life-threatening complications or to die in pregnancy, during birth or after it, a statistic directly connected to the challenge of accessing care.
In 2023, with anti-choice rhetoric at a fever pitch, the topic of pregnancy care needs to be approached with both a defensive posture and a wide open mind.
The author of a recent letter to the editor of this newspaper wondered whether the state’s EMTs and police would benefit from more training in labor and delivery. That’s a question worth asking.
In Oregon last year, when a major hospital announced its decision to close its birthing center, the governor explored the possibility of drafting in federal obstetrics nurses to serve patients in need. Although this did not come to pass, it brings the right urgency to bear on the process of filling widening gaps in care in the short term.
Closer to home, this past July the governor of Connecticut signed legislation licensing “freestanding” birthing centers in that state, formalizing new certification for doulas and introducing a program for universal nurse home visits.
Here in Maine, much of that is already underway – home births are growing more popular here; 323 people gave birth at home in Maine in 2021, up 60% from a decade earlier. An additional 40 people gave birth in freestanding birth centers in 2021, according to Maine Monitor reporting, four times as many as in 2012.
While centers like these aren’t appropriate for high-risk pregnancies or unanticipated complications, they do their work in close consultation and collaboration with providers who are so equipped. This valuable layer of perinatal care – growing in value with every stubborn hospital staffing vacancy and labor ward closure – should receive fresh support now.
For a country of its size and with its resources, the U.S. has a shameful record for maternal health, mortality and morbidity. This is a field of health care that has been given scandalously deficient priority historically and continues, relative to its importance, to be overlooked.
Retreating into an even worse position than we’ve ever been in, in terms of access to pregnancy care, is unacceptable. Legislators at every level need to zero in on solutions to the root causes of these worrisome closures and support all efforts to provide safe birthing options for families. Failure to do so will deepen health care disparities that are already far too deep.
Bangor Daily News. September 24, 2023.
Editorial: Making the ‘college payoff’ a reality will benefit thousands of Mainers
More than 280,000 people in Maine started a higher education program but didn’t finish. These people, which represent more than a third of the state’s workforce, may have incurred debt but aren’t getting the benefits of a college or university degree or certificate.
One analysis found that students who took out loans to attend college but didn’t finish their studies are three times as likely to default on their loans, earn lower incomes throughout their lives, and have higher rates of unemployment. This is bad for the individuals and for the state.
The University of Maine System is launching a new program to encourage adults in Maine to return to college. Called Finish Strong, the new program will offer reduced cost courses and other financial incentives. It will be offered through the University of Maine, University of Maine at Machias and University of Maine at Fort Kent beginning next spring.
“There are over 280,000 individuals in Maine who began their pursuit of a college degree but never completed their studies,” Scott Marzilli, UMaine’s associate provost for student success and innovation, said in a recent press release. “Providing a pathway for these adults to complete their bachelor’s degrees would provide them with the specialized knowledge and skills they need to get promotions, advance their careers, and earn higher incomes.”
Nationally, more than 40 million Americans have some college education but no degree. That’s more than 17 percent of the country’s adult population. During the 2020-21 academic year, about 865,000 of these people had re-enrolled in a college or university and more than 53,000 earned a degree or credential. These numbers were down from prior years, likely because of the pandemic, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
As nearly every state, including Maine, has launched campaigns to increase the number of their residents with college degrees or credentials, returning these “some college, no credential” students to the classroom can be an important part of these efforts. Maine’s goal is to have 60 percent of its population with a degree or credential of value to the state’s businesses and industry by 2025. Currently, 55 percent of Mainers have such credentials.
Clearly, some people in some professions do very well without higher education. But, on the whole, people who hold a bachelor’s degree earn 84 percent more over their lifetime than those whose education ended with high school, according to The College Payoff, a Georgetown University project. Those with an associate degree earned a third more than those with only a high school diploma.
Further, the bulk of new American jobs are going to people with college degrees or other post-secondary credentials.
“When they earn their degree and have this specialized knowledge and skills, hopefully they can get jobs that they may not otherwise be qualified for. Perhaps they can get promotions within their current employment (and) really advance their careers, and ultimately, hopefully, earn … a higher income,” John Volin, provost for UMaine and UMaine at Machias, told Maine Public.
The new UMaine program hopes to encourage people who have taken college courses or who have an associate degree to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Students who sign up for online courses or in-person classes at the three campuses will receive a scholarship of up to $300 to participate. After registering for their first course, the second one will be free of charge.
All Finish Strong students will be given an adviser within the program. The university also will expand the reach of an English language learning institute currently based at the UMaine campus in Orono to Portland, in part to encourage people who are new to Maine and the United States to participate in the program. The university system estimates that there are more than 50,000 immigrants in Maine who could benefit from the program.
The program is funded through a $750,000 grant from the university system and should run for two years, although UMaine is hopeful that it can continue it for longer.
As the state continues to face a shortage of workers, this program can boost our economy while building skills and opportunities for thousands of Mainers.
Boston Globe. September 28, 2023.
Editorial: Another overtime scandal — this time in state corrections
Inmate populations decline, but overtime costs keep rising.
For the past several years the Massachusetts Department of Correction has been a leader in one key respect — its overtime budget. Even as the number of state prison inmates continues to dwindle, overtime costs continue to rise.
Now comes a scandal of a more personal nature involving at least $100,000 in improperly awarded overtime — and still no broad-brush investigation, no effort to stem the flood of tens of millions of dollars in OT at a time when advocates are pushing for better uses of that money, like increased educational programming.
The emerging scandal involving the former director of operational services at DOC ought to spur a deeper dive into the black hole that is DOC’s operations. It surely ought to trigger a legislative probe — that is if a federal grand jury doesn’t get there first.
The current scandal involves Raymond Turcotte, who, in a story first reported by WGBH News, was fired last April from his post as head of operational services in the wake of allegations he improperly approved $100,000 worth of overtime for a team he supervised. Oh, and he gifted a girlfriend with some 1,500 rounds of ammunition from the department’s inventory, which he was charged with overseeing. (When did flowers go out of style?)
The allegations were first brought to the attention of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici in emails by a “citizen” last January, according to an internal DOC report obtained by WGBH News. That alone is a rather shocking commentary on the department’s own operational controls — or lack thereof. Turcotte was put on paid leave between January and April when he was finally dismissed. His severance package, according to the state comptroller’s office records, was $112,994.
Turcotte is accused of falsifying his own hours as an instructor at the Bridge Academy and approving overtime payments (rather than regular wages) for other DOC officers teaching at the academy, which is run under a contract with the Municipal Police Training Committee.
Also caught up in the scandal was Charles Primack, then assistant deputy commissioner of field services, who was both Turcotte’s boss and another instructor at the academy. He has since been demoted to lieutenant for “failing to even minimally supervise” Turcotte’s approval of overtime pay. He remains on the payroll, collecting some $109,000 this year, including more than $11,000 in overtime.
Both Turcotte and Primack are named defendants in two federal civil rights suits filed on behalf of current and former inmates at the Souza-Baranowski maximum security prison alleging a “retaliatory force campaign” targeting Black and Latino inmates and violation of their constitutional rights by prison officials in the wake of a riot in another section of the prison. Some of the brutality against those bringing suit was reported in the Globe’s 2021 Spotlight series, “The Taking of Cell 15.”
The only comment so far relative to the Turcotte case from a DOC spokesperson was “The DOC investigates every allegation of staff misconduct brought to its attention and takes appropriate administrative action up to and including termination.”
The fact that $100,000 in overtime could go out without a blink of the eye is hardly astonishing when the department’s overtime budget routinely tops $60 million a year, with more than two dozen correction officers getting more than $100,000 in overtime alone each year.
This year the department is running third in the state, already racking up more than $45 million in overtime, placing behind only the MBTA ($77 million) and the State Police ($52 million) in total amounts of overtime paid out so far. Now keep in mind Massachusetts only has around 6,000 individuals incarcerated in state prisons — a 45 percent decrease since 2014.
And yet as prison populations decrease, costs, especially overtime costs, have increased. DOC maintains overtime can fluctuate year over year depending on retirements or attrition or prisoner trips to the hospital. However, in recent years the trend is in only one direction — up.
The phenomenon isn’t new. It was noted in a 2017 MassINC report by Benjamin Forman and Michael Widmer, then head of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, that while the DOC population decreased 8 percent between 2012 and 2015, the DOC budget increased 12 percent.
In 2019 a Globe review noted that the population had dipped 19 percent since 2015 but overtime costs tripled.
And unlike police departments where, say, a summer of street demonstrations or other unanticipated events can jack up overtime expenditures, well-managed prisons are fairly predictable places — emphasis on the well.
Add in a scandal like the Turcotte case — which remember was brought to the commissioner’s attention by someone outside the system — and you have a picture of a system badly in need of either outside supervision, a thorough house-cleaning, or both.
A bill filed by Senator Liz Miranda and supported by Senator Will Brownsberger proposes an independent inspector general for the department — a system the federal government uses to great advantage.
As for that house-cleaning — despite the attention Governor Maura Healey has paid to the Parole Board and clemency issues, she has not yet zeroed in on the correction system. Those two federal civil rights suits and this most recent scandal should be reason enough for her to focus on a department that shows no inclination to change on its own.
Boston Herald. September 26, 2023.
Editorial: Don’t stop ICE from keeping Mass. safe
Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, but a recent memo to Bay State police chiefs has turned the Registry of Motor Vehicles into a sanctuary state agency.
In a memo obtained exclusively by the Herald, Massachusetts police chiefs were warned to keep RMV records locked away from immigration officials unless there’s a “judicial warrant” or grand jury or trial “subpoena.”
It leaves no doubt that ICE and Border Patrol agents are specifically blocked from accessing driving records in the wake of the state’s new immigrant driver’s license law.
This game of keep-away with Homeland Security echoes the policies of the state’s sanctuary, or “welcoming” cities ( Amherst, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Concord, Newton, Northampton, and Somerville). Practices vary, but these cities and towns limit cooperation with federal immigration laws.
Thanks to that new RMV law, eligible state residents can apply for a standard driver’s license, regardless of immigration status.
If you’re here illegally, you’ll get a warm welcome from Massachusetts.
The dichotomy between Homeland Security at the border and in the Bay State is staggering: Border patrol agents deported thousands of migrants who entered the U.S. illegally in the weeks after Title 42 ended, while we hand out drivers licenses to illegal migrants and now hamper ICE from accessing their RMV info.
Did Massachusetts secede when no one was looking?
Immigration officials can see RMV records, but only if there’s a “judicial warrant” or grand jury or trial “subpoena.”
In other words, we’ll wait until something really bad happens before letting ICE act.
That memo was undated, and the RMV policy was thankfully not in force when ICE agents in Boston arrested Hever Alexander Chim, a Guatemalan citizen, on charges related to the rape of a child by force.
At some point while under house arrest conditions, Chim was able to obtain a state-issued driver’s license, which a law enforcement source shared with the Herald. It was access to his motor vehicle records that allowed ICE to find him.
“I’m proud of our ERO Boston officers who show their commitment daily to protecting public safety. It’s because of their dedication that this suspected predator was located and apprehended,” said Todd Lyons, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations’ Boston field office.
ICE is doing its part to try and keep our communities safe, so why throw spike strips in its path?
The progressive reasoning behind protecting those who enter the U.S. illegally is that those who do so shouldn’t have to fear the consequences of their actions. It’s a slap in the face to all those who came to this country legally and worked for citizenship.
Those who point out community safety needs amid the influx of illegal migrants are often painted as fearmongers, but the fact is, some very bad actors are making the journey north.
In its annual Homeland Threat Assessment report, the DHS said law enforcement stopped 160 people on the terror watch list from entering the US illegally at America’s borders this fiscal year.
The ICE and border patrol agents have their work cut out for them – and it’s work they’re doing for all of us.
What is to be gained from making their jobs harder?