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China Increases Influence in Region; Nurses, Military Boats for Trinidad

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the latest in a string of Caribbean Community heads of government to have made the political pilgrimage to China in recent years to sign off on bilateral agreements ranging from military assistance to concession aid loans to trade and investment deals as China increases its influence in the region.

The Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister is currently on a state visit to China with a laundry list of issues the oil and gas-rich twin-island republic wants assistance with.

Chief among them is the very urgent request from authorities in Port of Spain for the island to buy a Chinese-made long range military vessel to help the coastguard better patrol its border particularly with nearby Venezuela. Intelligence officials say many of the weapons used in gangster and other serious crimes in Trinidad come from Venezuela as its coast is only seven miles from Trinidad and separated by the frequently used Gulf of Paria waterway.

They also contend that tons of cocaine and marijuana also come from this route so a long range vessel will certainly improve the capacity of the coastguard to better patrol the area and keep out smugglers.

“National Security remains the number one priority of my government right now.” Persad-Bissessar pleaded, asking that the vessel be made available to T&T “right away and in the shortest possible time. We are here today to further the partnership we started 40 years ago. I am hoping that you could use your good office to drive these projects.”

She even said that the vessel could be sent on its way to the island as soon as it is ready while teams from the two sides could sit down and work out financing details later.

The island has been recording an average of 400 murders annually making it one of the capitals with the highest proportion of such crimes in the world.

Meanwhile, as she visits the Forbidden City and other historical sites in China, she and her team are also seeking assistance with a string of other projects including the construction and designs for six new economic zones on the island, the development of a transshipment port and dry dock facility in South Trinidad, construction of two new modern hospitals and equipment for extracting greater volumes of material from its world famous pitch lake.

Her office said in a release that the delegation wants” early processing of a loan agreement with the Exim Bank so these projects can be expedited.”

While the visit and talks are ongoing, authorities will re-commission a T&T embassy in Trinidad, while an agreement for at least 100 doctors and nurses from China to help with a dire shortage there will be signed during the visit.

Young Black men suffer from high rates of depression

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By Frederick H. Lowe
Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly

They are hyper-vigilant for any signs of danger because they are under intense surveillance

(Special from the NorthStar News) — Young African-American men suffer from much higher rates of depression because of trauma compared to their white counterparts, and many Black men don’t recognize that they have been traumatized, Dr. Waldo E. Johnson Jr. said during a one-day symposium on Saturday at the University of Chicago.

Because young Black men and Black men rarely find places where they can feel safe, they are on hyper-surveillance concerning their surroundings, and they are hyper-vigilant to any signs of danger coming from the police, or individuals who act like the police, such as a George Zimmerman, security guards following them in stores and other individuals in positions of authority, Dr. Johnson said. He added that Black men always are under intense surveillance by others.

Dr. Johnson made his comments during the opening panel discussion at a symposium titled “Black Young Men In America: Rising Above Social and Racial Prejudice, Trauma, and Educational Disparities,” which was held at The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Dr. Johnson, author of “Social Work with African American Males: Health, Mental Health and Social Policy,” said trauma is caused by any number of events, including: violence, bullying, sexual abuse, physical abuse, loss of a parent, incarceration of a parent, loss of childhood friends, and family members succumbing to the use of drugs.

The educational experience for Black males is often traumatic He explained that African American males educational experience can be traumatic. Dr. Johnson said Black boys are disproportionately suspended from school, given high numbers of in-school timeouts and assigned to special education classes because teachers believe they are incapable of learning. These traumatic incidents make Black boys’ educational experiences considerably different from those of young whites males. As a result of these negative experiences, Black boys brains become wired differently from white boys.

“Black boys are more depressed because they believe their physical safety is always being threatened. Their families are economically poorer than whites and many Black families live below the poverty line,” he said.

According to many researchers, including Charles H. Hennekens, MD, of Florida Atlantic University’s School of Medicine, homicide is the leading cause of death among young Black men, a phenomenon he has referred to as a ‘national tragedy.’

Though suicide rates are generally lower among Blacks than whites in the United States, the suicide rate for young Black men between the ages of 20 and 24 years old is highest among Blacks of all ages and both genders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for Black men in this age range is 18.8 per 100,000.

Dr. Johnson noted that Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, associate professor of Social Work at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University, has written that African-American adolescent boys under-utilize mental health services due to the stigma associated with depression.

Dr. Lindsey’s comments are contained in a study, titled “Family Matters: The Role of Mental Health Stigma and Social Support on Depressive Symptoms and Subsequent Help Seeking Among African American Boys.”

“While treatable, there are significant racial and gender differences concerning who gets treatment for depression,” Dr. Lindsey wrote. “Few children and adolescents, especially African-American adolescents with a depressive disorder, receive care.”

He added that African-American boys may be compromised by gender-based notions that men who show their emotions are weak.

The conference, which drew a record crowd from diverse backgrounds, including academics, journalists, social workers, students and individuals who work with men in Black churches, want to create environments where young Black males feel safe to discuss openly issues that affect them.

This article originally published in the February 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Sweeping Arrests, Seizures Mark Feds Crack Down on Medicare Fraud in D.C.

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

More than 200 local law enforcement agents made arrests, executed warrants and seized dozens of bank accounts and property on Feb. 20 in the largest health care anti-fraud operation in the history of Washington, D.C.

The crackdown came after a multi-year, multi-agency investigation into tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent Medicaid billing conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Secret Service, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the District of Columbia’s Office of the Inspector General, the IRS, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal and local agencies.

“Today’s arrests are part of a well-coordinated action with our law enforcement partners that puts criminals on notice that we are actively working to identify, arrest and prosecute anyone who participates in defrauding government programs designed to assist truly deserving patients,” Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said according to statements provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

More than 20 people, including operators of home care agencies and nurse staffing agencies, office workers, and personal care assistants, were arrested for their alleged involvement in separate schemes involving fraud, kickbacks, and false billings in the growing field of home care services for D.C. Medicaid patients.

All four home health agencies involved in the indictments—Global Health Care Services, Ultra International, Vizion One and American Quality—had been previously marked for suspicious billing patterns by the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance and referred to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit within the Office of the Inspector General beginning in 2009.

“[The D.C. Department] highlighted the agency’s growing concern with the unexplained and rapidly increasing cost of the personal care program in 2011 and has been working on a number of initiatives to address this serious problem since that time,” department Director Wayne Turnage said in a statement. “The actions by federal officials today will be of tremendous assistance as we move forward with additional reforms to the personal care program.”

One key indictment charges Florence Bikundi, 51, the owner of three home care agencies, for allegedly bilking D.C. and Maryland governments of $78 million in Medicaid payments, though she had been barred from participating in any federal health care programs. The Bowie, Md. resident, also known as Florence Ngwe and Florence Igwacho, allegedly concealed her past—which included revoked nursing licenses in Virginia, South Carolina and the District of Columbia—to obtain new Medicaid provider numbers for her businesses, Global Healthcare Inc., and Flo-Diamond Inc.

Bikundi is also charged with multiple counts of money laundering for the means by which she attempted to conceal the “nature, source, and location” of her misbegotten gains.

In other alleged schemes, defendants recruited and coached Medicaid beneficiaries to misrepresent their state of health to medical practitioners so they could qualify for home health care. Those patients then supposedly received cash payments of approximately $200 every two weeks to sign false timesheets for home care services that were not provided.

In another alleged racket, Adoshia L. Flythe, a 36-year-old home care aide from Washington, D.C., was accused of selling counterfeit home health care aide certificates to individuals, making them eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

“This investigation has revealed that Medicaid fraud in the District of Columbia is at epidemic levels,” U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said in a statement. “This fraud diverts precious taxpayer dollars, drives up the cost of health care, and jeopardizes the strength of a program that serves the most vulnerable members of our society. However, as today’s arrests, searches, and seizures demonstrate, we are aggressively fighting back to protect the U.S. taxpayer and the integrity of our federal health care programs.”

Those charged with first-degree fraud in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia include: Cedonne Ngwilefem Alemnji, 28, of Hyattsville, Md.; Dennis Allen, 56, of Washington, D.C.; Niba Ayinwingong, 49, of Glenarden, Md.; Etienne Boussougou, 34, of Hyattsville; Ulric Ayo Boyle, 47, of Silver Spring, Md.; Rose Epse-Acha, 53, of Greenbelt, Md.; Brandon Chenwi Shu Fobeth, 28, of Greenbelt; Michael Fomundam, 38, of Greenbelt; Eric Mukala, 47, of Bladensburg, Md.; Michael Nyantakyi, 32, of Lanham, Md.; Eliane Poungoum, 47, of Bladensburg; Victor Tarkeh, 47, of Bowie, and Paul Tengwei, 31, of Takoma Park, Md.

Other defendants include: Arrey Kingsly Etchi-Banyi, 30, of College Park, Md., Oyebola Hammed Babarinde, 25, of Forestville, Md.; Oluwatoyin Bakare, 25, of Laurel, Md.; Cecilia Acquah, 32, of Silver Spring; Oyebisi Zaart Babarinde, 31, of Forestville; Felix Aburi Fon, 41, and his wife, Mirabel Tenjoh Mukum, 32, both of Takoma Park; Ernest N. Nkongsah, 38, of New Carrollton, Md.; Elizabeth E. Arung, 41, of Silver Spring, and Emiline Desiree Nkemera Besong, 35, of Hyattsville.

The cases are being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Dangkhoa Nguyen and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ted Radway, Michael Friedman, and David Johnson, the office’s health care fraud coordinator, all of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Saler of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

The FBI has set up a hotline number to report suspected incidents of Medicaid fraud at 855-281-1242. Individuals can also provide information by e-mail to HealthCareFraud@ic.fbi.gov. The Department of Health and Human Services also has a hotline that can be reached at 800-HHS-TIPS or by visiting the agency’s website at http://oig.hhs.gov/ and clicking on the “Report Fraud” tab.

Obama Appoints Urban League’s Morial to Financial Advisory Council

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

President Obama appointed Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, to a panel that will counsel the administration on helping young people make wise financial decisions.

Morial agreed to serve on the president’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans, will advise administration officials on how to encourage sound financial practices and habits among young people that will increase their upward mobility.

“I am extremely honored by this opportunity to serve on [the council] and further serve our nation in helping to confront some of the primary issues of our time,” Morial, 56, said. “Whether we refer to them as income inequality, loss of social mobility, the eroding middle class or opportunity inequality, at their core is a great divide that threatens our present and our future.

“We must work together to ensure that the very essence of 20th century America — the possibility of upward mobility for all — does not become elusive and distant in the 21st century,” he said.

Other African-Americans on the council include John W. Rogers, who owns an investment firm in Chicago, and John Hope Bryant, a financial literacy entrepreneur based in Los Angeles.

Minimum Wage Jump Good for Low-Income Blacks

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 would lift nearly 1 million low-wage workers out of poverty, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Although a majority of low-wage workers are White, people of color would be disproportionately affected by an increase in the minimum wage. Blacks work in low-wage jobs at higher rates than Whites, according to federal statistics. Blacks account for 11 percent of the workforce, but 16 percent of workers that would see their wages increase.

“When you look at the CBO report, part of what stands out is that the CBO confirms that many millions of workers with low or modest incomes would get significant income gains,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Even after factoring in the CBO’s estimates on the employment effects, there are still very substantial income gains for the bottom and the middle of the population and these income gains are achieved for virtually no budgetary cost.”

Even though the CBO predicted that 500,000 low-wage workers might lose their jobs, 16.5 million workers would directly benefit from seeing an increase in the minimum wage. Economists estimate that another 8 to 10 million workers would see their wages increase as a result of a “spillover effect.”

Families living below the poverty line will get a $5 billion bump in their income, about 20 percent of the estimated $31 billion. Roughly a third would go to families making three times above the poverty line.

According to the Census Bureau, more than 27 percent of Blacks live in poverty compared to less than 10 percent of Whites. Nearly 40 percent of Black children live in poverty.

According to the CBO report, raising the minimum wage would affect low-wage workers in two ways.

“Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold,” stated the report.

The CBO report continued: “But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.”

Although the CBO report suggested that up to a million jobs could be lost, if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 per hour, many economists agree that the effect of wage increase would be minimal.

“In a review of over 60 studies that look for statistical linkages between minimum-wage increases and job losses, economist John Schmitt reports that the most accurately measured results cluster around zero: some studies find that raising the minimum wage has a small negative effect on employment, a smaller number find that it has a small positive effect, and most find no significant effect,” stated a report by the Center for Budget and Public Priorities.

In January, the Economic Policy Institute advocated for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 in a letter to President Obama and Congress. More than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners signed the letter, according to EPI.

Keeping his promise to use his pen or phone in a year of action to help American families, last week President Obama signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage of federal contract workers.

In a policy brief detailing President Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers, White House officials cited a study that showed when Maryland passed a similar law for state contract employees, competition between companies increased, driving a higher quality of service.

Contrary to common stereotypes most low-income workers are not teenagers working for extra pocket change for clothes and fast food on the weekends.

According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, titled “Low-wage Workers Are Older and Better Educated than Ever,” the average age of low-workers is about 35 and only about 12 percent were teenagers in 2011. A majority (60 percent) of low-wage workers are 25-64 years old. More than 30 percent of low-wage workers have some college education and roughly 10 percent have a four-year college degree.

The CBO also found that employment prospects for high school dropouts and Blacks in their 20s would be largely unaffected by changes in the minimum wage.

Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University, said that raising the minimum wage would have significant benefits for low-skill workers, especially Africa Americans.

“Our best estimates suggest essentially no impact on employment and a large improvement in wages for disadvantaged workers,” said Katz.

Katz added: “Overall, it’s a substantial win for minority workers.”

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