Tag Archives: federal

FCC votes to pre-empt TN state law to allow broadband expansion by Chattanooga

By Emery P. Dalesio, AP Business Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. — People in small communities may get better, cheaper access to the Internet after the Federal Communications Commission ruled Thursday that city-owned broadband services can expand into areas overlooked by commercial providers.

The decision quietly played out minutes before the FCC took up the higher-profile issue of Internet neutrality, which imposed the toughest rules yet on broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

In the less prominent case, the cities of Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, asked the FCC to override state laws that have prevented them from expanding their super-fast Internet networks. They were built when companies didn’t move into their city.

President Barack Obama pushed for the FCC’s decision, saying the state laws stifled competition and economic development. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, both Republicans, quickly introduced legislation to block the FCC move.

For Richard and Brenda Thornton, the FCC decision could mean a big savings. They live less than a mile from the service area for Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, which provides one gigabit-per-second Internet speeds. The Thorntons now pay $316 for landline phone service, Internet and television from wireless hot spots that two telephone companies offered. Their current connection is a fraction of the speed the Thorntons could get for $133 a month for the same bundle from Chattanooga.

The local cable company has refused to extend broadband service to their home, said Brenda Thornton, who likes to trade securities and commodities futures but can’t do it because of the slow wireless speed.
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Sequester Creating Crisis in Federal Criminal Justice System

A crisis is brewing in the federal judiciary that experts say could jeopardize fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
“I’ve worked in all three branches of government and the private sector,” said U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice. “I have never been involved in any organization either public or private in which the workload has so far exceeded the resources that are allotted to do that job.”
Across-the-board budget cuts of 8 percent brought on by the sequester have meant hiring freezes, unfilled positions, training and travel expenses cut for what many call an already overworked portion of federal government.
The sequester is just the latest of decades-long trends of broadening federal courts’ responsibilities yet underfunding to carry out their congressional mandate, Mattice said.
But at stake are far more than layoffs, furloughs and heavier workloads, as important as those are to the people involved. The very heart of the American judicial system could be on the line, Mattice and others said.
…”Do I have to dismiss cases if we cannot pay for defender services?” Mattice said.
Though judges, court clerks and prosecutors all feel the pinch, public defenders have it worse.
Beth Ford is the federal community defender for the eastern district. Her office represents indigent criminal defendants in federal court. The task is a constitutionally-guranteed right of citizens accused of crimes.
The looming budget, due in September, looks like a “perfect storm” for defender services, she said.
“We will have a 23 percent decrease in proposed budget funding,” Ford said.
That means this year’s already reduced annual budget of $5.8 million would decline to $4.5 million. Ford avoided furloughs and layoffs this fiscal year by foregoing 401(k) contributions to her staff. That’s not likely next year, she said.
Other defender’s offices across the nation have already begun layoffs and furloughs, she said.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he’d met recently with district judges and U.S. Attorney Bill Killian about the problems they’re facing.
“They are making do with less and I commend them,” Fleischmann.
…Killian is down three assistant U.S. attorneys in his criminal division. The 33 remaining attorneys resolved more than 900 cases in the district spanning from the Virgina-Tennessee border to Chattanooga.
The office handles more than 1,800 ongoing cases a year among its three branches in Greeneville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
… The district comes in at the top of per capita caseloads and prosecutions when compared to others across the United States, he added.
His criminal division attorneys average 387 hours a year of unpaid overtime each. And the eight civil division attorneys average 295 such hours.

Haslam, TennCare Chief Unhappy With Latest Fed Medicaid Rules

Gov. Bill Haslam and his TennCare chief aren’t happy with the final federal rules on Medicaid expansion, saying they don’t provide the flexibility the governor wants on cost-sharing for enrollees, according to Andy Sher.
The “early read” on the 606-page set of rules, released July 5 by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are “not encouraging,” but Tennessee is “still having discussions,” Haslam told reporters this week.
Haslam, a Republican, doesn’t want to expand the state’s version of TennCare, as envisioned in President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, to additional low-income residents.
But instead of flatly refusing to participate, he wants to use the additional federal money intended for the Medicaid expansion to buy these adults’ way onto the federal health care exchanges where the uninsured can purchase private insurance.
The governor said he still holds out hope that federal officials will accept his “Tennessee Plan” that includes higher cost-sharing for people under 100 percent of the federal poverty level than the new rules allow.
“It’s awfully early to get down,” he said.
TennCare Director Darin Gordon said the state still is sorting through the rules. But he noted “some of the early takeaways” are the added flexibility on cost-sharing Tennessee is seeking isn’t there.
The Haslam administration was looking for more flexibility in “nominal” charges on care that officials hope to use to shape enrollees’ use of services and lifestyle choices.
“What they did was basically finalize what they put out in January,” Gordon said. “If you’re trying to read between the lines, it doesn’t seem to indicate they are interested in being flexible beyond what they set out in the Jan. 22 rule. This is a final rule.”
Still, Gordon said Tennessee and several other states interested in the same approach “will have some discussions” with federal officials
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Feds Provide $27 Million to 17 Low-Performing TN Schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded three-year school improvement grants totaling more than $27 million in federal funds to 17 schools.
The schools are among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state, in terms of academic achievement.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says a priority of the administration is to turn around those low-performing schools, and he believes the grant will give them the necessary resources, time and personnel to do that.
Officials say the grant will also give school principals a chance to work together in the state’s Turnaround Principal Cohort, which allows them to facilitate discussions and share ideas and practices on a peer-to-peer level.

Report to Court Says DCS Had a Bad Year in 2012

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An independent monitor for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency’s progress in 2012 was disappointing.
The Technical Assistance Committee reports to a federal judge on DCS’ performance as part of a 2001 settlement over the agency’s treatment of foster children.
Among other things, the 2012 report found that workers took too long to make contact with child victims. In the highest priority cases, where children were considered potentially to be in imminent danger, caseworkers made contact within the required 24 hours between about 30 and 70 percent of the time.
The report also found that young people who were aging out of foster care were not being prepared to transition to adulthood.
According to a review of independent living plans:

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TN Ranks 6th Among States in Reliance on Federal Funding

The Tax Foundation has done a listing of what percentage of states’ general revenue comes from federal aid. Tennessee comes in as the sixth most dependent on federal funding, which accounts for 44 percent of the state budget, according to the Tax Foundation.
From an emailed news release:
Mississippi relies more heavily on federal assistance than other states, with 49% of its total general revenue coming from federal aid. Close behind are Louisiana at 46.5% and Arizona at 45.7%. On the end of the spectrum, Alaska relies on federal aid for 24% of its general revenue, followed closely by Delaware at 25.9% and North Dakota at 26%.
A national map showing the rating of all state is HERE.

Comish: Cutting Jobless Services Will Help the Jobless (thanks to fed funding)

Tennessee’s new commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development says cutting jobless services at 34 sites next month shouldn’t hurt out-of-work Tennesseans seeking employment, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
In fact, Commissioner Burns Phillips told members of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee last week, things actually should improve.
The ability to offer services over the Internet will help, he said. And nonprofit Local Workforce Investment Act partners in communities across the state are stepping up to offer services, with the state pitching in computers and other equipment, Phillips said.
“After the career centers were reorganized, there was a lot of angst over that [cuts],” the commissioner said. “But in the final analysis what turned out was we wound up with a broader footprint in the state and not a more narrow footprint.”
He said the state now has 23 state comprehensive centers run by Labor and Workforce Development and 52 affiliates run by LWIAs.
… The 13 Local Workforce Investment Act districts are nonprofit entities funded with pass-through federal dollars. Many have multiple offices aimed at helping the jobless and employers connect.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Friday he remains skeptical that the LWIAs will close the gap created by shutting down state-run services in 34 centers and firing 125 state employees.
“It’s very disappointing,” Fitzhugh said, adding that his district in rural West Tennessee is taking a major hit.
“Here we are just coming out of this recession” and the administration chose to “decimate” career centers, he said.
Jobless residents will have to drive farther and some can’t afford an Internet connection to access the department’s website from home, he said.

TN Misses Out on Some Federal Funding for Children, Family Programs

Tennessee’s child and family programs receive huge shares of their funding from the federal government, but the state still misses out on some competitive grants, reports the Tennessean.
Whether short-staffed, pressed for time or unable to drum up matching state dollars, Tennessee’s government grant writers encounter many hurdles to pulling in more federal funds that could help families, according to the report by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. (Link HERE)
Still, the state spent $3.9 billion in federal dollars on kids and families last fiscal year, and more than $9 billion overall. The report did not attempt to quantify the lost opportunities.
“The departments are fairly aggressive about (grants) that meet their main mission, but because we are a fairly lean government, we don’t have additional staffing and time to branch into other areas,” said Linda O’Neal, commission executive director. “There are opportunities that they see from time to time that they think are good ideas but realize just aren’t practical.”
The commission wants to examine how best to fund programs and reduce waste, so the analysis captures spending on everything from education and health care to arts and reading programs.
“There’s always this perception that there’s this huge duplication of services in government,” O’Neal said. “Through this process, we have not been able to identify substantial duplication.”
The 18-page-report describes Tennessee as “heavily reliant” on federal funds, with more than 90 percent of child spending built on federal dollars or state matching dollars required for federal grants.
“We’re very reliant on federal funds. All states are,” O’Neal said. “We may be more reliant than some.”

Judge Upbeat on Changes at DCS

By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge overseeing changes at the state Department of Children’s Services expressed cautious optimism Monday that the agency’s new leadership can resolve some of its problems.
The tone of the hearing marked a decided change from a January hearing where U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell expressed frustration that the agency seemed to be moving backward and concern for the safety of the children in its care.
That hearing took place during a public outcry over the agency’s inability to say how many of the children it had tried to help had died or nearly died over the past two years.
DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned a few days later and was replaced by Interim Commissioner Jim Henry, who was in the courtroom Monday.
Campbell said that Henry “seems to have developed a new tone at the agency, and that’s a good step.”
The agency was in federal court to report on its progress toward meeting the goals of a 2001 settlement with the child advocacy group Children’s Rights.

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Federal Affidavit Says Pilot Chiefs Knew of Rebate Fraud

Federal officials have unsealed the search warrants used in Monday’s raid on Pilot Flying J headquarters in West Knoxville, reports the News Sentinel.
A confidential informant working with federal agents has alleged that a rebate fraud scheme at Pilot Flying J occurred with the knowledge of top executives, including CEO Jimmy Haslam, according to an affidavit made public on Thursday.
The affidavit was filed in support of a search warrant application. Federal agents raided the company on Monday.
The affidavit was filed by Robert H. Root, a special agent with the FBI. It said that in May of 2011, a confidential human source, referred to as CHS-1, contacted the FBI to report knowledge of fraudulent activity by employees.
The affidavit said a current sales employee, referred to as CHS-2, had confided to CHS-1 that employees had been intentionally charging certain customers a higher price than the contractually agreed upon price, then concealing that fact.
The affidavit said CHS-2, a current regional director of sales, was contacted by agents in October and confirmed the existence of the fraud.
According to the affidavit, CHS-2 said the fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Haslam and company president Mark Hazelwood. Specifically the person said rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville at which Hazelwood and Haslam were present.
Root said based on information obtained in the investigation, there is probable cause to believe certain Pilot employees have conspired and schemed to engage in rebate fraud for many years.
Specifically, it said there is probable cause to believe certain employees conspired to defraud customers that were deemed by some employees to be too unsophisticated to catch that their agreed-upon discount deal with Pilot was being changed.