Category Archives: political economy

UK Guardian: The struggle against debt servitude

A kinder, simpler solution to the problem of runaway consumer debt: cap the interest rate at a reasonable figure.   Usury laws were once universal, probably owing to some language in the Bible on the proper rate of interest.  That all went by the wayside in the Reagan era, when states revised their usury laws to remove penalties for excessive interest.  S.C. did so in 1982.  The current Great Recession places extreme financial pressure on working people who must service debt acquired in fatter times, in some cases in complex mortgage arrangements that are partly to blame for the crisis.

London Citizens, a civic association in the UK, is sponsoring a campaign to cap the rate of interest in that country:

Following the financial crash of last year, a new issue emerged and a new campaign was forged. Our members experienced an increase in interest rates on money loans. The banks, many of which were now owned in substantial part by the public, were borrowing at half a percent but lending the money back to us at 40 times that rate, and more. Each of the major banks have credit card interest rates that start in the 20s and rise steeply with penalties. The same is true of consumption and mortgage loans when penalty payments see the rates jump into the 40s and 50s – more than a hundred times the interest charged to the banks. This is setting aside the bridging and pay-day loans sold by companies such as Shopacheck and Providential, where the interest rates start in the hundreds and go their own way from there. The cost of not earning enough to live has never been higher.

Our faith communities had no difficulty in naming this. They call it usury: the charging of excessive interest by the rich upon the poor with the corresponding transfer of whatever slender assets the weaker party had accumulated. They think it’s wrong and have decided to do something about it. And so was born the anti-usury campaign.

This has one goal: to establish a maximum beyond which it would be illegal to charge interest. We have a meeting tomorrow with the Royal Bank of Scotland where we will raise the possibility of a 10% maximum credit card. They are committed to being “responsible lenders” and we would like to help them fulfil that.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/aug/11/anti-usury-campaign

Links: London Citizen

4 reports on the poor state of SC’s public health, 2005 – 2009

The first and last reports given here are quite large, but are well worth studying.  “No Place To Call Home” documents the shocking state of many Community Residential Care Facilities in South Carolina.  “Behind the Numbers” documents the cuts to the SC health and social spending budget that enabled the horrible situation described in the 2009 report.

The two shorter middle pieces  discuss very briefly the problem of poverty and lack of health insurance in SC.  I want to write more on this later, but will just point toward the reports for now.

P&A found:
• Insect infestations
• Failure to deliver medication
• Lack of heat and air-conditioning
• Inadequate food
• Contaminated food
• Untrained staff
• Yards filled with garbage
The unsafe conditions in some of these CRCFs [Community Residential Care Facilities] have continued for months or even years.
These appalling conditions exist now. Recent inspections and visits found that serious problems still exist at many facilities including: mouse droppings on the pantry shelves; roaches throughout the facility; electrical wires dangling from the ceiling; and numerous problems with medication administration, including staff giving medication without having washed their hands.
This report describes the fragmented system of oversight of CRCFs and the consequences for residents and makes recommendations to improve the safety and quality of care provided. An investigation of a CRCF may involve five or more agencies that have overlapping roles and responsibilities. Homes with even the most serious allegations against them can continue to accept new residents until the completion of the investigation, which can take years. The Department of Health and Environmental Control, which regulates CRCFs, is seriously understaffed and frequently settles cases for a fraction of the assessed fines. Individuals have no easy way to find out whether a CRCF has had violations or been fined.
Residents of CRCFs often have no family or friends to speak for them. The facilities usually have little or no access to public transportation. The isolated residents are at high risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Stories such as those highlighted in the report are, unfortunately, far too common.

In 2006, there were nearly 2,302,000 people between the ages of 25 and 64 living in South Carolina. Of those, 19.7 percent were uninsured.2 Uninsured South Carolinians are sicker and die sooner than their insured counterparts.

The number of our citizens living at or below poverty is now 15%, up over 1.5% from 2001. More shameful still is our Child Poverty rate which is almost 21%. That is 213,858 children we have let down.
Many of our citizens may not be among those in poverty, but are certainly feeling the tension of making their paychecks last all month. That is because South Carolinian’s Median Income has not increased…It has decreased since 2000 by approximately $2000. And these numbers were calculated before the recent recession hit our pocketbooks.

While the rest of the country saw a slight decrease in the numbers of healthcare uninsured, South Carolina’s increased 4.3% from 11.8 to 16.2% of our population. At the same time our state Medicaid agency saw a decrease of approximately 150,000 beneficiaries over the last two years. It is hard to understand how our citizens are making less and fewer South Carolinians have health insurance, yet our Medicaid program, which should be a safety net for our neediest, has seen a record decrease in participation. Our current system is not doing its job.

As the state is forced to cut budgets due to the lack of revenue, real citizens in our state are affected. This report examines the disturbing impact on the lives of South Carolinians, specifically the most vulnerable and needy populations. The focus is on five state agencies that provide vital health and social services: Department of Mental Health, Department of Social Services, Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, Department of Health and Environmental Control, and Department of Health and Human Services.

Based on an examination of agency-specific cuts from fiscal year 2000-2001 to the current fiscal year, service cuts, employee cuts, and the funding priorities of these agencies, we will face the very real problem of the State’s inability to provide adequate funding for health and social services to the citizens that need them most.

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