Subsidies for deadbeat adoptive parents

Hundreds of adoptive parents in New York City are continuing to receive monthly subsidies of up to $1,700 even if they have sent the children elsewhere – to the streets or in foster care. Nick Nehamas, Stabile’14, found this out while researching his master’s project, which was published today by the New York Daily News.

“Because of a confusing tangle of bureaucratic rules and a lack of city oversight,” Nehamas wrote, “the parents can continue receiving the government subsidies for months, and even years, until the child turns 21.”

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The global kidnap business

n the fall of 2012, a group of students in the Stabile program proposed what seemed an audacious investigative reporting project: kidnap-for-ransom as a global business and the rise of an industry made up of insurers, mediators and security experts that assist companies and organizations who find themselves ensnared in abdication.

This week, the students’ work was on the cover of G2, the Guardian supplement. The story takes off from the recent beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria in 2012 by armed men believed to be members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The abductors demanded ransom but none was paid.

As Derek Kravitz and Colm O’Molloy (Stabile ’13) wrote: “The chances of getting him out alive were already slim: he was an American and he didn’t have insurance. Today, whether a hostage kidnapped by militants overseas is released boils down to nationality and whether or not the hostage works for an employer with ‘kidnap and ransom,’ or K&R, insurance.

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Faulty sanctions

Maya Srikrishnan of the Stabile Class of 2014, began looking into problems faced by welfare recipients in New York City who found their benefits cut for apparently flimsy reasons. The results of her investigation were published this week in a story in The New York World. She was also interviewed about the story by WNYC.
Srikrishnan found that the Human Resources Administration (HRA), the city department that administers public assistance programs, routinely sanctions poor New Yorkers receiving cash assistance, but those penalties are often reversed when recipients’ appeal. In many cases, the HRA didn’t even attempt to defend the sanction.

The numbers are revealing: About 20 percent of all households receiving cash assistance are in sanction status. This means they risk risk of being penalized or are already being penalized with reduced benefits for alleged infractions. When recipients appealed the penalty during the 2012 fiscal year, the city lost the appeal more than 80 percent of the time.

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Qatar’s soccer ambitions

Christopher Harress (Stabile ’13) has always been interested in soccer. Before coming to the Journalism School, he wrote about human trafficking in soccer, a story that involved France and the UK as well. While at the Stabile Center, Harress became very interested in Qatar, which won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, and started looking into how the Gulf state clinched the bid as well as its well-funded efforts to build its soccer credentials.

Harress pursued the story even after graduation and pitched it to the New York Times. He worked with Times reporters on a story that was published on the paper’s front page on July 15 and 16. The series examined how Qatar, a country with a native population of just 300,000 and with no soccer tradition, was attempting to build a world-class soccer team by poaching talent from Africa.

Qatar, the report said, sent expert scouts to find talented young players and offer them scholarships to train at the Aspire Academy, a sports institute funded by the royal family. It was, as the Times described it, “a wildly ambitious plan that reached from the dusty fields of Senegal and Kenya to the cloistered royal palaces of Qatar to a rundown stadium in a sleepy corner of rural Belgium.”

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Preying on Texas homeowners

he cover story of the July issue of the Texas Observer is a report written by Caelainn Barr and Charlotte Keith, Stabile ’14, on predatory property tax lending in Texas.
The story, a deep dive into Propel Financial Services, a company that lends money to poor Texans struggling with real-estate tax payments, shows how homeowners are being lured to take on loans that have high interest rates, fees and penalties. Some of the borrowers, like the Acosta family that the authors featured, have lost their homes as a result.

This project started last fall, when the Stabile class was challenged to find stories on businesses that profit from the poor. Barr and Keith opted to focus on the property tax lending industry and discovered that in Texas and Nevada, private companies are allowed by law to pay for the delinquent property taxes of homeowners and to garnish their homes if they are unable to pay for the loans.

The two students researched the story for six months and traveled twice to Texas, driving thousands of miles across the state to talk to legal experts, county officials, former employees of lending companies and Propel customers. They also reviewed thousands of pages of legal and financial documents, using tax and property records from multiple public databases to piece together the first comprehensive overview of how the multibillion tax lending industry operates in Texas.

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