Talking Politics

The Feds take a swipe at discriminatory lending, including here in R.I.

By Ian Donnis
Posted 10/3/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: Redlining is widely thought of as the practice that prevailed in a lot of American cities in the mid-20 th century, imposing racial segregation and depriving worthy borrowers of …

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Talking Politics

The Feds take a swipe at discriminatory lending, including here in R.I.

Posted

STORY OF THE WEEK: Redlining is widely thought of as the practice that prevailed in a lot of American cities in the mid-20th century, imposing racial segregation and depriving worthy borrowers of the chance to buy a home. To hear the Biden administration’s Justice Department tell it, discriminatory lending has persisted in a number of places across the U.S., including L.A., Houston, Memphis, Philadelphia and Newark. Last week, U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha unveiled a consent agreement in which Westerly-based Washington Trust agreed to pay $9 million to settle allegations of discriminatory lending. The bank, the oldest community bank in the country, said it vehemently denied the allegations and settled only to avoid the expense and distraction of possible litigation. "We believe we have been fully compliant with the letter and spirit of fair lending laws, and the agreement will further strengthen our focus on an area that has always been important to us,"

Edward O. "Ned" Handy III, Washington Trust’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. In our polarized political environment, some question the merit of investigations emanating from the Justice Department. Washington Trust, however, did not challenge the data cited by federal prosecutors, including the absence of branches in majority Black/Latino neighborhoods and a far lower rate of home loans to people of color. A previous study documented the comparatively low rate of home ownership among Black Rhode Islanders, and groups like BLM RI PAC say the case brought by Cunha’s office shows “that the fight for racial justice is ongoing, and known tactics of systemic racism are still in effect and harming our communities.” In related news, General Treasurer James Diossa said he is evaluating the state’s banking relationship with Washington Trust.

 

PUBLIC HEALTH: With more than 320,000 followers on X, formerly known as Twitter, Dr. Ashish Jha is a leading national figure when it comes to speaking about public health, and he returned earlier this year to his role as dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health (which is marking its 10th anniversary) after serving as the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. We covered a wide range of topics during a Political Roundtable interview. Here are a few highlights: Jha said that without new vaccinations, 100,000 elderly and medically vulnerable people face the risk of dying in the months ahead from COVID-19 …. He believes leadership at Lifespan and Care New England, the state’s two largest hospital groups, is working to boost efficiency, a move that could help to reduce their recent fiscal challenges …. Jha on the gaps in compensation for healthcare CEOs and frontline workers: “[M]assive payouts when people are leaving just don't make a lot of sense. And obviously, it's hard to make the argument that someone deserves tens of millions of dollars when you have healthcare workers that are not getting paid adequately. So we really do need to make sure that that we're addressing that issue directly.”

 

GETTING SOCIAL: With such a robust social media presence, is Dr. Jha considering ditching X given some of the adverse changes made by Elon Musk’s leadership? Here’s his response: “There's no question about it that the amount of bad information on Twitter, X, whatever we call, it has really, in my mind, skyrocketed. But what I also know, is there a lot of people I follow for good information, there are a lot of people who follow me because they think I have useful things to say. And until there is an alternative, I think it's really important to continue engaging, and sharing good information, I still think [it’s] a very important source of information. The hard part is sorting out the noise from the from the message, and what I say to people is, find reliable voices and listen to them. That is the way to get good information on this platform.”

 

CD1: Democrat Gabe Amo has agreed to participate in only one debate with GOP rival Gerry Leonard ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

 

STATE MATTERS I: As America edges closer to an all but certain presidential showdown between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, people are not feeling so great about their government. “Just 4% of U.S. adults say the country’s political system is working extremely or very well, and positive views of many government institutions have hit historic lows,” according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, the share of Americans who dislike both the Democratic and Republican parties is at its highest point in nearly 30 years of polling, and 63% say they are dissatisfied with all the current presidential contenders.”

 

STATE MATTERS II: If you want evidence why people doubt the ability of government to get things done, there’s been plenty of local evidence just in the last week: As Steph Machado reports, 862 infants and toddlers were waiting as of mid-September for an initial evaluation meeting for crucial early intervention services; Kathy Gregg had the story of unspent millions amid 100 vacancies in human service jobs; via Colleen Cronin, we learn how the state DOT continues to hide crash data from the public; finally, there were gaps in inspections before the fire that destroyed the Harborside Inn on Block Island, as Globe RI and ProJo reported.

  

TAKES OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from various Rhode Islanders.

DEVIN “SHORT PANTS” DRISCOLL, a lawyer in Minnesota, but a Rhode Islander at heart, who worked on the RI staff for both of Obama’s campaigns, including as state director in 2012: “Five weeks from now, hundreds of former campaign staff and administration personnel will gather to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s historic victory in the 2008 presidential election. As someone who worked on the 2008 race, his 2012 reelect, and the post-election nonprofit entity Organizing for Action, I’ve been thinking a lot about President Obama’s legacy — especially the special moment in time of his election as America’s first Black president. After the networks and the AP called the race, spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country; in Providence, people marched from the Biltmore up to the State House and sang songs on the steps. There was genuine belief in our politics, that we could accomplish great things together. The hope of that evening feels like a distant memory a decade and a half later, with so much of our politics today shaped by fear and hate. Reflecting on the enthusiasm and promise I felt that night has helped me to recommit myself to finding and lifting up leaders who inspire us to seek our better angels.”

 

PAIGE CLAUSIUS-PARKS, executive director of RI KIDS COUNT: “The foundation for all development and learning occurs during the first few years of life. During these years, a child’s brain architecture and social-emotional health develop at a rapid rate. Children with developmental delays and disabilities benefit greatly from intervention services during these early years. Early Intervention services help children develop essential language, social-emotional and motor skills and reduce the need for special education services when they are older. It is a life-changing service that all children with disabilities in Rhode Island are entitled to according to federal law. This week it was reported that nearly 900 children are on waiting lists for Early Intervention services in Rhode Island. Rhode Island KIDS COUNT has been sounding the alarm about this crisis and its cause — staffing shortages due to low wages. We and our partners in the RIght from the Start Campaign urge the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Gov. McKee to include funds for increases in Early Intervention rates and other strategies to recruit and retain our Early Intervention workforce in the FY 2025 state budget. Children are waiting too long to be evaluated and receive services. Medical experts, educators, parents, practitioners, and federal law all agree —our kids can’t wait!”

Journalist and author PHIL EIL: Northern New England gets most of the hype for fall foliage. But I’m here to put in a word for Rhode Island. Few things make me happier than a walk amidst dazzlingly colorful trees on a crisp fall day. And in the Providence area alone, there are a number of great, easy-to-access, and usually-uncrowded places for doing this.

Some of my favorite spots are:

-Ten Mile River Greenway, in Pawtucket and East Providence

-Blackstone River Bikeway, from Cumberland to Woonsocket

-Snake Den State Park, in Johnston

-Blackstone Park Conservation District (not to be confused with nearby Blackstone Boulevard, which is also lovely), in Providence

-The pond trail at Roger Williams Park, in Providence.

-Caratunk Wildlife Refuge, in Seekonk.

-Turner Reservoir Loop, in East Providence and Seekonk.

 

JENNIFER HAWKINS, president/CEO of nonprofit developer One Neighborhood Builders: “Thanks to Speaker Shekarchi and others in the General Assembly, the budget that Gov. McKee signed this summer included $27 million of additional, dedicated funding for high priority housing projects. As the Housing Department completes its work to develop and share its process for getting these funds out the door, it is important that they prioritize investments addressing the most urgent and challenging aspects of our housing crisis. These funds must be put toward deeply affordable and supportive housing because this type of housing can’t advance without public sector support. But it’s more than that. Investments that solve and prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless generate significant taxpayer savings. We did a report earlier this year with the Faulkner Group that found that Medicaid members experiencing homelessness who were able to use Medicaid funding to pay rent spent less on health care and had better health outcomes than those who stayed in shelters. Perhaps the most transformative development that this fund can support is the Center City Apartment project in East Providence. This unique collaboration of four established, women-led nonprofit organizations – including my organization, ONE Neighborhood Builders – includes 144 apartments, access to direct care and support, and a network of wrap-around services for individuals. The priority housing fund has the potential to be game changing, but only if it supports high priority needs.

 

AMAZON: Attorney General Peter Neronha is among 17 attorneys general who have joined a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging the giant retailer is an illegal monopoly. (FTC Commissioner Lina Khan previously led an inquiry into digital platforms for David Cicilline when he was in Congress.)  Although the ability to push a button and sometimes get your order the same day is a modern miracle, the downside of work conditions for some Amazon jobs, and the effect on smaller retailers, has been well documented. Considering lucrative payments from the company, Johnston officials have welcomed a big distribution center there. Then again, it’s worth remembering – as initially uttered about Wal-Mart, the high cost of low price.

  

KICKER: Being the manager of the Red Sox in the early aughts was the ultimate hot seat. New ownership had raised expectations of ending what proved to be an 86-year World Championship drought, and the crushing loss to the Yankees (Bleepin’ Aaron Boone!) in the 2003 ALCS added insult to injury. Into this milieu came Terry Francona. Passionate denizens of Sox Nation second-guessed him and lunkheads branded him as “Fran-coma.” Turns out, though, that Tito was just the right guy to guide the Sox through their dramatic 2004 post-season run, making lineup moves and assuaging egos like a master tactician. After all this and more, Francona faced an unceremonious ouster from his role as manager in 2011, and he went on to win more acclaim in Cleveland. Now, with the news of Francona’s retirement, we doff our cap, offer a big thanks and our best wishes.

  

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@thepublicsradio.org

 

 

 

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