South Carolina hospitals are using a loophole in state law to scoop millions of dollars a year from the pockets of the poorest of patients. It mostly takes place outside the courts and the public eye.
A law originally written to help state and local governments collect debts is being used to seize tax refunds from people with past-due medical bills. The S.C. Department of Revenue does the legwork, and the cash flows straight into the coffers of some of the region’s largest health care companies.
The payoff is huge.
The deep and persistent racial wealth divide will not close without bold, structural reform. It has been created and held in place by public policies that have evolved with time including slavery, Jim Crow, red lining, mass incarceration, among many others. The racial wealth divide is greater today than it was nearly four decades ago and trends point to its continued widening.
All sorts of bad things happen when bankruptcy is out of reach for people, as we showed in a series of stories. People turn to unscrupulous operators who file phony bankruptcy cases, as happens often in Los Angeles. Particularly in the South, they turn to a form of bankruptcy that features a payment plan and that often ends in failure, leaving debtors worse off than when they filed. (African Americans are especially prone to that problem.) And finally, many people don’t file at all — and just hope that a debt collector doesn’t seize their wages.
Racism Knocking at the Door: the Use of Criminal Background Checks in Rental Housing
In 2016, after decades of appearing to encourage local public housing providers to adopt harsh policies barring applicants with criminal records, the Office of General Counsel for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued guidance instructing public and private housing providers to take in to account the potentially disparate effects of such policies on racial minorities (the “HUD Guidance”). Recognizing that African Americans and Latinos are “arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population,” HUD advised that any policy that “restricts access to housing on the basis of criminal history” may have an unlawful disparate impact based on race.
Jani Tillery thought she would be a homeowner by now.
Her parents bought a house in the Detroit suburbs in the late 1970s while living on a modest income. Her mother was a teacher. Her father worked in the automotive industry. They raised their children in the house and paid off the mortgage. They will probably live there in retirement and possibly pass the house — not only a home with rich sentimental value but also a sizable financial asset — on to their children.
Tillery, 42, hoped this would finally be the year she, too, could buy. She’s a lawyer at a nonprofit in Washington, and she recently got a promotion and raise.
Yet, she says, this part of the American Dream seems out of reach for her, as it is for many other African American workers despite notable strides in other aspects of their finances.
In many ways, African Americans have regained the ground lost during the financial crisis. Many are finding jobs and getting raises.
But the holy grail of homeownership remains elusive. Forty-three percent of blacks owned homes in 2017, according to an annual report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. In contrast, 72 percent of whites did, a gap that has mostly widened during the past three decades.
“The overall frustration is, I am a working citizen. I pay my taxes. I’m doing a job to help kids,” said Tillery, whose nonprofit helps children with disabilities. “It’s better for me to own a home. I’m 42. I don’t want to continue renting.”
There aren’t many homes in the area that fall into her price range of $200,000 or less. When she sees a listing she can afford, she either loses out to a buyer who will pay more or waive contingencies or learns that the property isn’t approved for Federal Housing Administration mortgages, which she is relying on because they require lower down payments than conventional loans.