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Florida Nonprofit Will Test Giving Former Inmates $600 a Month for 1 Year



The program’s pilot manager hopes the stipends keep ex-felons from falling into the all-too-common situation of being reincarcerated because they can’t find jobs or are unable to pay probation fees. 

Stipend Pilot for Ex-Felons

On Jan. 1, 2022, one Florida nonprofit will launch a basic-income pilot program using formerly incarcerated individuals.

The nonprofit, Community Spring, will give an initial stipend of $1,000 to 115 Alachua County convicted felons who were released after May 31. Starting in February, those former inmates will then receive $600 monthly via direct deposit.

In total, the test program will pay $7,600 to each participant. 

Notably, the program is also open to Alachua County residents who have been charged, but not convicted, with felonies and who began probation after May 31.

Part of the goal of the program is to address the trouble that ex-felons have trying to find jobs after being released from jail or prison, especially since that can lead to them committing more crimes in order to generate an income. For example, nearly 77% of people released from prison find themselves being arrested again within five years. 

In fact, one way in which that happens is because ex-felons are oftentimes required to pay probation fees ranging from $10 to $150. Additionally, they may be charged for ankle monitors, court-ordered drug testing, and mandatory classes. If they’re unable to make these payments, they could be incarcerated yet again.

On top of that, given that many can’t find employers willing to hire them, the unemployment rate among ex-felons is even higher than the national unemployment rate during the Great Depression. In fact, it currently sits at 27%.

Still, critics contend that unconditional stipends such as this will incentivize people to not look for work or to make unnecessary purchases. 

Stipend vs. Incarceration Costs

As the pilot program’s project manager — a former inmate himself — told Insider, paying $7,600 is much less than the $15,000 to $70,000 it costs to house inmates per year.

“I’m a white guy, so very much born on third base,” that manager, Kevin Scott, said. “[I] had advantages and had people that cared about me and supported me and tried to give me material support — as much as they could, anyway — and I barely made it.”

“There’s this hovering axe of ‘I gotta make these probation payments or they’re going to reincarcerate me,’” he added. “If somebody could have spared me just that piece of my re-entry struggle, that would have opened up my whole world.”

“We see people all the time get reincarcerated just for money. That is straight-up criminalizing poverty. The crime is you’re too poor to be free.”

While Scott said he’ll consider the program a success if it prevents just one person from returning to prison because of poverty, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Guaranteed Income Research and Suffolk University will be studying whether it actually keeps a significant number of ex-felons out of poverty. 

Although Community Spring is distributing the stipends, the money for it is coming from the social impact organization Spring Point Partners, as well as a collective of mayors who have argued the need for a basic universal income. 

The first 58 participants will be selected from applications that began Wednesday and will close on Dec. 31. A second round of applications for 57 slots will be open from Jan. 19 to Feb. 9. According to WUFT, Scott expects around 400 applicants. 

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Fast Company) (WUFT)


New Federal Rules Allow Debt Collectors To DM People on Social Media



Among several limitations, collectors cannot message people publicly, must state upfront that they’re pursuing a debt, and must give people an opportunity to opt-out of receiving additional messages through social media.

Debt Collectors Can Now DM

If you’ve suddenly found yourself flooded with more DMs in the last day, it might not be because you’ve become more popular. Instead, it could be because a new federal rule that went into effect Tuesday now allows debt collectors to message people by email, text, and even through direct messages on social media.

Debt collectors will still be subject to several notable limitations.

For example, if they reach out to someone on social media, it has to be through a private message. It can’t be in a public comments section or anything viewable to anyone except the recipient.

Additionally, if they attempt to reach out by adding a recipient as a friend or contact, they must be clear from the start that they’re pursuing a debt. 

Finally, collectors must allow recipients to opt-out of receiving further messages from them on the social media platform they reach out on. 

Collectors Praise the Rule, Others Express Concern

The new rule, which was greenlit by former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger, has largely been met with praise throughout the collection industry. Kraninger, a Trump-appointee who vacated her office during President Joe Biden’s transition, has argued that the rule is intended to “modernize the legal regime for debt collection.”

Essentially, she and debt collectors have contended that texts, email, and social media are now the preferred methods of communication for many people in America.

Many others, particularly those outside the collection industry, are less happy with the new rule. 

“If left unchecked, this expanded access to consumers could very well contribute to new ways to harass struggling consumers,” Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post said.

“I’ve followed this issue for years, and while many companies operate within the law, illegal operations can do a lot of damage to innocent consumers,” she added. “Debt collection isn’t wicked. But it can lead to embarrassing, unethical and illegal tactics.”

For example, Singletary noted that some companies try to collect debts even after they’re no longer legally collectible. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (CBS News)

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Workers in Alabama Will Rehold Vote to Unionize After Amazon Interfered With First Election, Agency Finds



Among other actions, federal officials found that Amazon improperly placed an unmarked U.S. Postal Service mailbox in front of its warehouse.

Workers Will Redo Union Vote

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will revote on whether or not to unionize thanks to a ruling issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The workers previously agreed not to unionize by a vote of 1,798 to 738 in April. Had they voted yes, the group would have set a precedent by becoming the first Amazon employees in the country to be represented by a union.

Following the initial vote, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union — which led the charge for employees to organize — filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB, an independent federal agency. There, it alleged that Amazon at times broke the law while campaigning against the effort. 

In its Monday decision, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson agreed, saying Amazon, “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

She additionally noted that Amazon “improperly polled employees when it presented small groups of employees with the open and observable choice to pick up or not pick up ‘Vote No’ paraphernalia in front of” managers.

Amazon Challenges NLRB Ruling

Amazon is expected to appeal Henderson’s decision. 

“It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. ​​As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel said according to NPR. 

In a statement, Nantel also cited the fact that the results of the first vote were overwhelming. 

Convincing employees to flip the results will likely be an uphill battle. To do so, those in favor of unionizing will need to convince hundreds to vote differently or convince thousands of workers who sat out the last round to now vote. 

Still, this is a second breath of life for pro-unionists. While some believe the outcome could change given high employee turnover rates at Amazon, many others expect it to hold firm as a “no” vote. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (WVTM) (The Washington Post)

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CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds



While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.

Jury Sides Against Retailers

A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.

This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.

Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling. 

Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis. 

Retailers Vow to Appeal

Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.

There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad. 

That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases. 

Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring. 

While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)

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