California Suspends Some Disability Claims, Citing Fraud

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After stealing the identities of death row inmates and even a sitting U.S. senator to make off with billions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment benefits during the pandemic, scammers have now moved on to impersonating doctors to dupe California officials into giving them disability checks.

State officials on Monday said they had suspended 345,000 disability claims while they worked to verify the identity of about 27,000 doctors whose credentials were used to file disability claims for purported patients.

The Employment Development Department said most of those suspended claims were likely fraud attempts. But some of them are legitimate claims from people who can’t work because of an injury or are taking paid maternity leave. Now, those people’s checks have stopped while state officials try to sort out the mess.

“Here we are once again when this big bureaucracy that can’t tell the difference between the honest and the corrupt,” said Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Republican from Fresno. He said many of his affected constituents “are at their wits ends because they are simply running out of money. They are at the end of their financial rope.”

The Employment Development Department oversees claims for both unemployment and disability benefits in California. State and federal officials relaxed rules for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, which had the unintended consequence of making it much easier for scammers to file fake claims.

In California, criminals used stolen identities to steal at least $20 billion in unemployment benefits since March 2020 as the state approved fraudulent payments in the names of death row inmates and even U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Now, state officials say organized criminals are stealing doctors’ credentials to file fake disability claims. The state is using a computer program to verify the identity of these doctors to find those fake claims. They do this by sending the doctors an email from an official government account asking them to verify their identity by using a computer program known as ID.me.

That’s a problem for Martha Mariscal, who says her doctor doesn’t use email. Mariscal hurt her foot and hasn’t been able to work at her grocery store job. She hasn’t received her disability check since December and has now exhausted her savings.

Mariscal said she hasn’t been able to reach anyone at the Employment Development Department. And, since her doctor’s office doesn’t use email, they have yet to receive anything from the state to verify her claim.

“We’re just in limbo, just waiting for their mercy,” she said.

Click here to read the full article at AP

Rewarding Failure In The K-12 System

California spends a lot on education. Ever since the passage of Proposition 98 in 1988, which guarantees to education a minimum of 40% of the general fund, per-pupil spending on K-12 has risen faster than any other category of state appropriations. And yet, for all that new money, the state’s education monopoly continues its history of failure to deliver a quality product.

Just last month, this column cited the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, showing that in 2017-2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, per-pupil spending for the state’s K-12 public schools was $13,129 in inflation-adjusted 2019-20 dollars, the highest ever. Measured in the same constant dollars, per-pupil spending was $9,594 in 1999-2000.

California is quickly rising in the ranks in spending according to multiple metrics and we are now at least 17th highest in the United States. And many of these statistics are pre-pandemic, before the state plowed even more money into the system.

Where it excels in spending money, California lags in educational outcomes due to a clear hostility to meaningful education reforms. For decades, reformers have unsuccessfully advocated for more school choice, merit pay for teachers, advancement based on merit rather than seniority and the ability to fire bad teachers including some credibly accused of crimes against children.

The “reforms” coming out of the union-dominated Legislature will only make matters worse. The latest iteration of this is Senate Bill 830 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that would change the way schools are funded. Under current law, schools get financial support based on a formula that includes average daily attendance. This bill would eliminate daily attendance from the formula, and with it the financial incentive for school personnel to attempt to get students in the building.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Four Arrested In Fatal Shooting Of Off-Duty LAPD Officer

Four people were arrested in connection to the shooting of an off-duty Los Angeles cop who was killed during an alleged botched robbery.

LA County Sheriff’s investigators said the four suspects were arrested on Wednesday— two days after LAPD Officer Fernando Arroyos was gunned down in South LA as he and his girlfriend were house hunting.

Sheriff’s officials didn’t release the names of the suspects or list the charges against them.

Arroyos, 27, and his girlfriend were crossing a street at about 9:15 p.m. on Monday in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood when a truck with three men approached the couple, officials said.

The men got out of the vehicle and confronted Arroyos, who then yelled at his girlfriend to run, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said. One of the men opened fire on Arroyos, Moore said.

Deputies who responded to the scene found Arroyos lying in the alleyway suffering from a gunshot wound, according to officials.

Arroyos was rushed to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries. 

Arroyos is survived by his mother, stepfather, and girlfriend. Arroyos’ family declined to comment on the arrests when reached by The Post on Wednesday.

The three-year LAPD veteran was assigned to the Olympic Division.

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

Bay Area Freeway Shootings Have More Than Tripled In Four Years. In 2021, Almost Half Occurred In One County

The year had barely started when a major Bay Area freeway saw its first burst of gunfire, right at the onset of rush hour.

On the afternoon of Jan. 4, a bullet fired by a yet-unknown shooter hit Alameda County sheriff’s recruit David Nguyen as he drove his Toyota Prius west on Interstate 580 toward the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Nguyen apparently slumped over the wheel and crashed his car into a guardrail, becoming one of the latest victims of a surge in highway violence.

Over the past three years, shootings have more than tripled on the arterials that knit the region together — from 49 Bay Area freeway shootings in 2018, to 165 through October last year, according to the California Highway Patrol in response to a public records request from The Chronicle. Limited available records also show a spike in deaths — from two fatal freeway shootings for the whole Bay Area in 2018, to six gun deaths on Oakland freeways alone in 2021.

Among the lives claimed by these attacks were a toddler strapped in his car seat, teenagers packed onto a party bus and Amani Morris, a mother on her way to a job orientation. Their stories reflect the human toll of a trend that presents galling challenges for law enforcement.

“It just angers me so much,” said Alicia Benton, Morris’ mother. The two were FaceTiming minutes before gunfire killed Morris on I-80 near the Bay Bridge on the morning of Nov. 18.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

California State Budget to Top $286 billion With New Spending on Homeless Aid, Health Care

California will have an estimated $286.4 billion budget next year, which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday he wants to use to increase funding for heath care, infrastructure and schools.

Newsom’s plan for the 2022-23 budget includes a projected $213.1 billion general fund, anticipating a $45.7 billion surplus.

His spending proposal includes added money for homeless aid and increasing the health care workforce,as well as $34.6 billion for reserve accounts and paying down billions in pension debt.

Some money could go back to taxpayers in the form for rebates, similar to the $600 stimulus checks the state sent to millions of residents over the past year. Newsom said his administration would account for that money in May when he releases budget revisions.

Newsom’s budget proposal kicks off months of negotiations with lawmakers, who must pass a budget by June 15, in time for the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

California finds itself swimming in money for the second year in a row, a result of the state’s high earners continuing to prosper despite the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Last year’s $262 billion budget benefited from an estimated $80 billion in surplus money.

Among the flashiest proposals Newsom unveiled Monday: an expansion of the state’s health coverage for low-income Californians to include undocumented immigrants of all ages. Currently, undocumented people ages 26-49 are not eligible for the program.

That proposal, like everything in Newsom’s budget plan is subject to legislative approval. Under Newsom’s plan, the expansion wouldn’t take effect for two years.

Newsom is also proposing to add $2 billion in homeless aid, on top of the $12 billion he and lawmakers passed last year.

Most of that new money would go to quickly trying to get people off the streets and get them help, Newsom said. About $500 million would go toward cleaning up homeless encampments.

Newsom also said he wants to do more on conservatorships to compel more homeless people into treatment, but declined to give details.

Newsom’s budget plan includes new spending on recruiting, training and hiring more health care workers, including doctors, nurses, social workers and a new kind of worker the administration calls “community health workers.”

That funding would come on top of the $2.7 billion in COVID-19 response funding Newsom called for lawmakers to approve Saturday, and would be focused on longer-term health workforce development.

Newsom’s budget also includes increased funding for fighting fires and drought, as well as to boost rural industries.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

Criminals on Both Sides of the Bars

Prisons are supposed to be secure places where offenders are held accountable and prepared to lead law-abiding lives when released. In fact, that’s right in the Bureau of Prisons’ Mission Statement, “to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.” However, that’s hard to do when some of those running prisons are criminals themselves. 

The Inspector General of the Department of Justice found that employees of the Bureau of Prisons have committed rape and murder, taken cash to smuggle drugs and weapons into prisons, and stole government property such as tires and tractors. In addition, the IG found that BOP employees had filed false reports, incited violence, lied, were stalkers, and took bribes. Since 2019 more than 100 federal prison workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for these crimes.

Those crimes were committed by the people that are supposed to be “correcting” the behavior of inmates. Good luck with that!

Last November, the Warden of the women’s prison at FCI Dublin in California was indicted for groping a female inmate, asking two inmates to strip naked for him, and taking and storing photographs of a naked inmate in her cell.

He is also accused of trying to deter one of his victims from reporting the abuse by telling her that he “was ‘close friends’ with the person that investigates allegations of misconduct by inmates, bragged that he “could not be fired.”

This year another BOP employee at FCI Dublin was arrested on charges he coerced two inmates into sexual activity. It appears that some randy foxes are guarding the henhouse.

I have a unique perspective on the crimes committed at the Dublin prison. I was inmate 06833-097 at the Dublin prison complex from March 1994 to February 1995. At that time, it was an all-male labor camp. While imprisoned there similar corruption happened regularly.

One day, I was exchanging my tools at the Tool Shed. Clay and Joe, the inmates assigned there, told me that the foreman of the landscape crew had come into the shed and ordered them to go and pick up cigarette butts in the maintenance yard behind the shed. This was odd because there were plenty of inmates assigned to sweep up the butts, and the shed would be left unsupervised while they were out in the yead.

However, Clay and Joe knew better than to question the foreman. After several minutes passed, they saw him put something in the back of his pickup and drive off. They returned to the tool room and noticed two empty outlines where brand-new Skilsaws had been hung just that morning. When Joe and Clay reported the missing saws to their supervisor, he listed it as an “inmate theft.”

Because I had been in government other inmates would tip me off about staff thefts. For instance, in the week before the prison would take inventory prior to the start of a new fiscal year, several inmates told me to keep my eyes and ears open. They predicted that word would spread through camp that the Supply Room door had been left open and the officer was nowhere to be seen. Sure enough, soon inmates were scurrying back and forth between the Supply Room and their lockers with their arms full of socks and underwear.

Later that afternoon a surprise shakedown of all the inmate lockers was called and all the extra items were confiscated. The officers returned the inventory to the Supply Room. The scam was that a couple of days later when taking inventory, it was “discovered” that there were shortages for many items carried on the books. The shortages were attributed to “inmate theft” thereby covering up all the clothes that the staff pilfered for their families the preceding year.

As for staff dalliances with the female inmates, I learned that prior to my arriving at the camp several officers had been frog marched out the prison gate for having sex with female prisoners in return for smuggling in drugs and cigarettes.

The women’s prison was adjacent to the Garage where I was assigned for much my time at Dublin. We were able to visit through the fence with the women inmates. While this is secondhand info, it was confirmed by the women inside the fence as well as male inmates who were in the camp when this occurred. The BOP brushed the scandal under the carpet. Rather than charging the officers for their crimes the offending officers were merely reassigned to other prisons.

The crimes I have described were committed by “bad apples” among prison officials. I admire many of the who have dedicated their lives to keeping prisons safe while helping prisoners become better people. The work of these heroes is undercut when the prison system doesn’t cull these bad actors from their ranks.

The Roman poet Juvenal wrote, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Who will guard the guardians? If prisons are to send inmates home better than when they went in the ethics of the corrections profession must be restored. The acting Director of the Bureau of Prisons just announced he is stepping down. However, real change requires more than a change at the top. It means a fundamental change in the BOP the culture that has tolerated such criminals among their ranks. The Bureau of Prisons needs a top-to-bottom housecleaning. And  it needs it stat.

Pat Nolan is the Founder of the Nolan Center for Justice at the American Conservative Union conservativejusticereform.org

Before Promising To Solve the World’s Big Problems, Politicians Should Aim To Fix Potholes

The lonely crusade against government hubris.

Upon election to office, politicians come to believe that they have the wherewithal to solve the world’s toughest problems. They usually mishandle the nuts-and-bolts chores they’re charged with addressing, yet dream of altering the Earth’s climate and eliminating enduring human conditions such as inequality and poverty.

Most pols view themselves as the second coming of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, or even Ronald Reagan, when most of us just want public servants who make sure the potholes are filled, the streets are marginally safe, the government budget balances, the trash gets picked up on time, and homeless people aren’t defecating in our local park.

The latest example of such governmental hubris comes from the county of Los Angeles which, you know, can’t even put an end to alleged gangs among the ranks of its own highly paid deputy sheriffs nor figure out how to run its child-protective services agency in a competent and humane manner. Now county officials want to “solve” the crisis of loneliness.

Before Christmas, the county Board of Supervisors “took on a problem that is typically private and put it in the public eye,” The Los Angeles Times reported. “They voted unanimously to ask staffers to research how residents are affected by loneliness and isolation and how the county can help—particularly during a pandemic where in-person contact has been off-limits.”

Loneliness is a serious mental-health scourge, but the last part of the above sentence provides insight into the main reason for the current bout of isolation. Governments want to study why we feel lonely and disconnected, but government pandemic rules limited the ability of Americans to socialize with one another as we approach two years of mandated social-distancing rules.

“Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, researchers warned in a recent webcast, and the problem is particularly acute among seniors, especially during holidays,” according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. You probably didn’t even know that there is a federal agency with such a name, but I digress.

“A Harvard University survey conducted in October 2020 found that feelings of social isolation are on the rise during the pandemic, and that those hardest hit are older teens and young adults—61 percent of respondents felt ‘serious loneliness,'” noted a Boston University report. “And social media, where young people live and breathe more than any previous generation, is not helping.”

Say it ain’t so. I’m not sure what Los Angeles County staffers will add to the debate, but the board might have thought about that scenario when it previously embraced draconian shutdowns rather than more reasonable and flexible pandemic-related restrictions. This is such a government phenomenon—create a crisis, then vow to solve it for us.

Fortunately, the county isn’t planning on repeating its mistakes as the Omicron variant emerges, at least not as of this writing. I don’t mean to be too hard on county supervisors, who at least acknowledge the pandemic-related policy causes of the Great Alienation. Their intentions are good, but you know what they say about good intentions.

“We didn’t mean to do it,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said during the board meeting. “We don’t mean to cause isolation. But we are, in some cases, a part of the problem.” Indeed. Government officials don’t mean to cause many of the problems they do cause, which is good reason to at least show skepticism next time they want to save us from something.

Do a Google search of “loneliness epidemic” and you’ll find multiple news stories, government statements, and academic reports—some even pre-dating COVID-19. A well-known book from 22 years ago, “Bowling Alone,” spotlighted the crisis in connectedness caused by trends in family, work, and media.

I don’t minimize this issue, but my wife offered my kids the best advice: Get together with friends. Turn off the TV. Log out of Facebook. Perhaps I should put her in touch with county brain trusts. Some issues are beyond the pale of government intervention. Sometimes we have to take control of our lives.

We all play along with the notion that politicians can solve all of our problems, even though we know better. I don’t know anyone who has heard, say, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s soaring rhetoric and come away thinking he’ll really change the Earth’s climate—even as he fails to keep his own Employment Development Department from sending billions of dollars in unemployment funds to scammers.

It’s not a Democrat vs. Republican thing, either, as GOP politicians have suddenly discovered the supposed crisis of masculinity just as they have long bemoaned troubles in the American family. Politicians are adept at mining votes by identifying societal shortcomings, but their solutions always involve giving them more money and power.

I eagerly await Los Angeles County’s report on loneliness, but I still wish county supervisors would spend more time filling the potholes.

This article was published by Reason

Inflation Is a Tax On Us All

Pinned on my office wall is a Zimbabwe $10,000,000,000,000 note. (That’s 10 trillion for those of you tired of counting zeroes). The currency is real, although Zimbabwe’s default currency is now the U.S. dollar. The central bank of Zimbabwe issued these $10T notes during the last days of hyperinflation in 2009, and they barely paid for a loaf of bread.

Ironically, you can now purchase one of these bills for about $27 U.S. dollars because they serve as collectors’ items or, more importantly, as a physical representation of the evils of inflation. Every economics professor in America should own one to show to their students on the first day of Econ 101.

Milton Friedman explained that inflation is always “a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.”

Inflation hits everyone, but especially the middle class and those on fixed incomes. Inflation is a threat to the middle class because price increases reduce purchasing power so that the things that the middle class could previously afford are now out of reach. This pushes the lower rungs of the middle class out of the picture.

The disproportionate impact of inflation on the middle class relative to the wealthy may seem counterintuitive because the inflation rate — projected now at over 6% — is the same for everyone. But while all suffer the same rate of inflation, those with lower incomes tend to have lesser means of adapting to the increases in consumer prices. The suggestion from Biden’s White House chief of staff Ron Klain that inflation is a “high-class” problem is insulting.

Click here to read the full article at the Whittier Daily News

California Is Swimming In Money. How Will Gavin Newsom Spend California’s Budget Surplus?

For the second year in a row, California’s budget is poised to avoid economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Gov. Gavin Newsom with a good problem: how to spend a projected $31 billion surplus.

By Monday, Newsom must unveil his proposal for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which starts July 1. His proposal will kick off months of negotiations with lawmakers, who face a June 15 deadline to pass a budget.

Analysts predict the state’s highest earners will continue to prosper and pay high taxes, resulting in another big surplus. The budget Newsom signed last summer included a projected $80 billion surplus, which allowed lawmakers to provide COVID-19 relief and send stimulus checks to millions of Californians.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has recommended that lawmakers appropriate no more than $3 to $8 billion in new ongoing spending, and use the rest on one-time expenses that won’t force cuts in the future when there’s less cash available. The office also advocated for lawmakers to add to reserve accounts in anticipation of leaner budget years in the future.

Newsom has said he wants to use most of the extra money for one-time spending on areas including budget reserves, pension debt and the social safety net. He has also suggested more stimulus checks could be on the table.

“I think that’s the approach: fiscally disciplined, recognizing this is not a permanent state, recognizing the one-time nature of most of these dollars,” Newsom said in November.

MORE POLICE FUNDING

In November, after a spate of high-profile retail thefts, Newsom announced that his 2022 budget proposal will “substantially” increase funding for cities to crack down on organized retail crime.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who leads the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety, said she thinks addressing retail theft makes sense, but wants to see specifics.

“We need to do something to deter those crimes and hold people accountable,” the Bell Gardens Democrat said. “I want to see the details and see that the funding is used effectively and not just padding departments.”

She said she also wants to see more money in the budget to change a culture of hazing in California prisons.

Last year, The Bee reported on two California State Prison-Sacramento officers who died after reporting harassment, hazing and corruption by their colleagues. One officer’s death was ruled a suicide. The other died of a fentanyl overdose. Since then, the state has moved to fire two officers and discipline 10 other employees at the prison.

Garcia also pointed to the case of a prisoner who was tortured and beheaded by his cellmate, which officers failed to report for hours.

“Breaking the law and being in jail shouldn’t be a death sentence,” Garcia said. “Being an officer shouldn’t be a death sentence either.”

MORE MONEY FOR SCHOOLS

Newsom intends to steer more money toward screenings for dyslexia and add more funding for early education, he told The Sacramento Bee in an interview last month. Newsom has dyslexia and wrote a book last year inspired by his struggle to read because of the condition.

He said his proposal will aim to help kids who “start behind.”

“We did a lot more last year than we did the prior year, and this year’s budget’s gonna see a hell of a lot more, forgive my language,” he said. He also said he wants to expand literacy programs through First 5, a state program for kids under 5.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

Harris Loses Another Staffer

WASHINGTON — The Congressional Black Caucus said Tuesday that it was naming an aide to Vice President Kamala Harris as its new executive director.

Vincent Evans is returning to Capitol Hill after nearly a year in the vice president’s office as Harris’ deputy director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs.

Evans is among a string of staff departures from Harris’ office in recent months as she confronts the high expectations and scrutiny that accompany being vice president.

As executive director of the 56-member Congressional Black Caucus, Evans will work closely with the group’s chair, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio).

“Vincent will help the CBC reach greater heights and make substantive advances in 2022,” Beatty said. “In addition to his experience, he brings great passion for further strengthening the CBC’s top priorities moving forward.”

In a statement, Evans said he was “deeply honored” to be chosen for the post.

“I started my career in Washington working for a member of the CBC, so I know firsthand the tremendous leadership and impact this caucus has in Congress and across the country,” Evans said. “As we write the next chapter of the CBC story, I am excited for the opportunity to lend my experience and passion for supporting the collective vision of this storied caucus.”

Click here to read the full article at LA Times