Boston Herald Shrugs Over Unemployment Clawbacks

March 4, 2022

During the past few months, the flimsy local tabloid has all but ignored U.S. Labor Department efforts to recover about $2.7 billion in overpayments of federal pandemic jobless benefits to Bay State residents.

Here’s the extent of the coverage by the purported champion of the working class, but not so much the out-of-work class.

The Boston Globe, by contrast, has been on Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker like Brown on Williamson over the clawbacks. Here’s a graphic recap.

Yesterday’s Globe featured this Larry Edelman piece about the current state of clawback efforts.

The state last week asked the Labor Department for the OK to issue blanket waivers for Massachusetts workers who collected Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other federal benefits but were subsequently deemed ineligible or to have received too much money. The blanket waivers would eliminate the need for the state Department of Unemployment Assistance to review each case individually.

Some 352,000 individuals have received $2.33 billion in overpayment notices, the DUA said in a report to the Legislature this week. More than three-quarters of that amount is tied to federal benefits, including PUA for the self-employed and gig workers. The state has 29,000 pending waiver requests, including 13,700 tied to federal benefits.

According to Edelman, “about 55,400 people with overpayments of state benefits and 7,800 PUA claimants have either fully or partially repaid the DUA, or are on a repayment plan. Recoveries total $183 million on federal benefits and $39 million in state unemployment.”

Here’s an alternative Pay It Backward story, as our kissin’ cousin at Campaign Outsider recently recounted.

I was involved in a similar clawback in the mid-’70s when I worked at the Social Security Administration as a claims representative in the Supplemental Security Income program.

As I chronicled in The Redemption Unit, a memoir of my misadventures in the SSI trenches, when SSA launched the SSI program in 1974, it took aged, disabled and blind people off the state welfare rolls and put them on the federal dole.  Problem was, it pretty much paid everyone top dollar in their category, so after the transfer was complete, every claimant needed to be “redetermined.”

That’s where I – and a cadre of other recent college grads, civil service exams being the last refuge of the liberal arts major – came into the picture. We did the redetermining. And when that was done, the overpayment notices went out.

I’ll let The Redemption Unit take it from here.

When the last claimant’s benefits had been redetermined and the government added up its losses, it immediately decided to recoup them by initiating the Overpayment Recovery Program. Letters went out – on green paper instead of redetermination red – telling claimants they had to come in to the District Office. And the whole kabuki dance started all over again.

Claimant plunks green letter down on desk.  File comes out. Conversation begins.

“Mrs. Patterson, our records show that you were overpaid during the past two years by a total of $2162.”

“I never got no check for $2162.”

Conversation effectively ends.

In essence the Overpayment Recovery Program took people who’d just had their welfare checks cut, and cut them some more. One day my next-desk neighbor, Tricia McDermott, flipped a file across her desk and leaned back in her chair. Tricia was too compassionate for the job but too strait-laced not to do it by the book. She stared toward the windows and said to no one in particular, “What we need here is an overpayment recovery incentive. Do you think they’d ever consider giving us a cut of the take?”

“In this lifetime?”

“No, really – 10% off the top of any money we recover. We could limit it to refunds and exclude adjustments or returned checks.”

“Uh-huh.”

That there were three different ways to achieve a single result was pure SSA. Back then the Social Security system was virtually all exceptions and no rules . . . SSI wasn’t quite as bad, but it was still a contraption only Rube Goldberg could love. To make matters worse, the claims reps received a steady stream of what were called “claims transmittals” – memos that were supposed to clarify, but more often complicated, SSI’s crazy-quilt regulations.

Representative sample: “Transmit payment status code of WO4, WO5, or WO9. However, because of systems limitations do not input these PSCs. Use force pay to pay correct amount.” (SSIH, 13515-2)

So nobody read the transmittals. Except me. I figured I needed something on the plus side of the ledger to offset being chronically late and generally out of step. Consequently I read every transmittal, which probably was why I got the computer to do things no one else could.

In the course of my reading I also discovered that two obscure SSI regulations, when combined, essentially allowed a claims rep to waive any overpayment.

So that’s what I did.

A claimant would come in, sit down at my desk and wearily hand over his green letter.

“Yes. Mr. Randolph. Our records show – let’s see here – that during the past two years you were overpaid by $846.”

“I never got no check for $846.”

“That’s right, Mr. Randolph. This is really just a bookkeeping thing. I need you to sign a couple of forms and you’ll be all set.”

I had decided to hand-write the two forms each time; if I had a stack of copies around, they might accuse me of premeditated overpayment waiving. Better to have a sort of eureka element involved. I’d scribble out the forms, turn them toward the claimant, and spend a good five minutes convincing him to sign them. The claimant would walk away looking slightly puzzled. Then someone else would come to my desk with a green letter.

For a while my waive-‘em-all policy stayed under the radar. But I ran into problems when people began asking for me by name. Apparently word had gotten around the claimant community that I was the guy to see with your overpayment letter. So they would come into the DO and – completely disregarding SSI’s sophisticated system of assigning claimants alphabetically – say they wanted to be interviewed by me. Suddenly I was very much on the radar screen.

It got crazy bureaucratic from there. If you’re a glutton for punishment, the climactic conclusion is here.

Climactic conclusion of the Bay State’s clawback TBD.


Boston Herald Outsources Its Gardner Heist Coverage

March 1, 2022

The hardreading staff was captivated – as no doubt you splendid readers were – by the latest Gardner-Museum-Chasing-Its-Ghosts tale that played out in the local dailies yesterday.

Let’s start with the redoubtable Shelley Murphy’s Page One piece in the Boston Globe.

Investigators suspect a link between the Gardner Museum heist and an execution-style murder in Lynn

On a February night in 1991, James Marks had just returned from Maine and was unlocking the door to his Lynn home when a gunman crept up behind him and opened fire, killing him with two blasts from a shotgun, according to police.

The killer fled on foot, leaving a few footprints, but the case remains unsolved, although a mob associate who died years ago has been implicated.

Some authorities now say they suspect there may be a link between the execution-style murder of Marks — a hustler and convicted bank robber — and one of Boston’s most famous unsolved crimes: the 1990 theft of masterpieces valued at more than $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

(That’s “Anthony Amore, the security director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum . . . reflected in the empty frame that held the painting ‘The Concert’ by Vermeer,” for those of you keeping score at home.)

Crosstown at the Boston Herald – actually it’s no longer crosstown since the Globe barely occupies its stately State Street headquarters and the Herald newsroom is couch-surfing at the Lowell Sun – the new Gardner revelation was also a big story.

 

 

Except check out the byline.

That comes as no surprise given this post we published a few months ago.

Boston Herald Publisher Moonlights at Hartford Daily

Kevin Corrado is the publisher of the Boston Herald, as the feisty local tabloid duly – and daily – notes on its masthead.

But now Corrado, who in his spare time is also Regional Publisher at MediaNews Group:Northeast Cluster: Massachusetts & New York, is expanding that expansive portfolio to include the Nutmeg State.

According to Stephen Singer’s piece in the Hartford Courant, its publisher and editor-in-chief Andrew Julien – a 30-year veteran of the paper – is switching teams to become executive editor of Tribune Publishing’s New York Daily News.

Meanwhile . . .

MediaNews Group Regional Publisher Kevin Corrado will take over business operations at the Courant on an interim basis and begin the search for a new editor in Hartford.

“Andrew has been a wonderful steward for the Courant, and while we’re sorry to see him go, our loss is New York’s gain,” Corrado said.

To call that eyewash is an insult to saline solution everywhere . . .

Meanwhile, the flimsy local tabloid’s Incredible Shrinking Newsroom is bidding adieu to Erin Tiernan, who has blissfully decamped to MassLive.

Here’s guessing the filching local tabloid will feature plenty more out-of-town bylines in the days and weeks ahead.


Boston Herald Touts Bulls–t Clinton/Trump Spy Story

February 18, 2022

This editorial cartoon yesterday in Boston’s faulty local tabloid went all in on the latest fever-swamp conspiracy mongering among right-wingnuts .

Not to get technical about it, but a) it wasn’t the Clinton campaign behind any monitoring, b) there was no spying on Trump, because c) whatever monitoring did (or did not) happen occurred when Barack Obama occupied the White House.

Some background from CNN’s Brian Stelter.

On Saturday night former President Donald Trump declared that he was the victim of a scandal “far greater” than Watergate. He called for criminal prosecutions and “reparations.” He said “in a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.”

Trump’s statement made no sense – except to the Fox audience base that badly wants it to be true.

Four days later, Trump-aligned media outlets are still amplifying his bogus message far and wide and ranting about the circumstances of his 2016 election win over Hillary Clinton. Tuesday’s cover of the New York Post portrayed “HILLARY THE SPY.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page said “Trump really was spied on.” Fox hosts have called it a “bombshell” dozens of times.

One of those Fox News hosts, Jesse Watters, got fact-checked by PolitiFact, which arrived at this conclusion: “Durham’s filing never alleged what Watters falsely claimed: that Clinton paid hackers to spy on Donald Trump before and during his presidency, break into his computers, and then fraudulently frame him for colluding with Russia.”

But, as the Heraldniks might say, never let facts get in the way of a good cartoon.


Boston Globe Finally Gets Off The Potato Couch

February 10, 2022

As the hardreading staff duly noted a few weeks ago, the Boston Herald was first to eye a looming potato famine for spud-loving locals.

The feisty local tabloid’s Sean Philip Cotter has done area residents a potato solid with this story in today’s edition of the paper.

An impending ‘Spudpocalyspe’

Could Canadian crackdown keep US shelves bare?

A new advertising campaign warns of an impending “spudpocalypse,” chipping into potato supplies and driving price spikes in Massachusetts as Prince Edward Island tubers are hit with a moratorium on exports.

“Shelves will soon be bare … help us stop the spudpocalypse,” blares a video clip for the ad campaign’s new website — spudpocalypse.com. The spot that also features a hand labeled “USDA” swatting away cartoon potatoes as a crunchy rock guitar grooves.

The campaign, from the PEI Potato Board — an industry group for the Canadian province’s spud growers — is meant to gin up public pressure here in potato-hungry Massachusetts after Canadian and U.S. food safety authorities cut the export of potatoes from Prince Edward Island over fears of “potato wart.”

 

As often happens in a no credit where credit’s due newspaper town, the broadsheet-come-lately Boston Globe published this potato mashup yesterday.

A ‘spudpocalypse’ could threaten Mass. french fries and hash browns

Consider yourself warned: The “spudpocalypse” is here.

A Canadian industry group named the PEI Potato Board recently launched an aggressive social media campaign warning of shortages of french fries and hash browns in Massachusetts. Your wedges, tots, and potato skins? All in danger, they claim, because the United States has halted shipments of potatoes from a Canadian isle 600 miles north.

“Prices are rising,” the board cautioned in a video. “Shelves will soon be bare. . . . The USDA is blocking our potatoes.”

 

(To be fair graf goes here)

To be fair, Diti Kohli’s Globe piece did peel the potato shortage more closely.

Approximately 30 percent of PEI potatoes go fresh to market and retail. Sixty percent are destined for processing, in part to ease a french fry shortage amid the COVID-era strain on the international potato supply. And 10 percent are grown to seed additional harvests.

Still, only 5 percent of potatoes in the United States come from Canada. And Western Massachusetts is home to a few potato farms of its own.

“I don’t think that there’ll be major supply constraints in the future,” Quarles said. Domestic producers “will fill the gaps.”

 

We’ll see if the local dailies will do the same in terms of coverage.


Boston Herald Contracts a Mild Case of the Merchies

February 4, 2022

As the splendid readers of this blog well know, the Boston Herald’s print circulation has been circling the drain for quite some time now.

A year ago, according to the redoubtable Don Seiffert at the Boston Business Journal (subscription required), numbers filed with the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) indicated that the Herald’s average weekday circulation had fallen to 22,032, which is roughly equivalent to the number of iced coffees your local Dunkin serves every day.

Knee-buckling graphic from the BBJ.

Consequently, it’s no surprise that the thirsty local tabloid has looked to sources other than its actual news gathering to bolster the bottom line.

Enter the Boston Herald Store.

This week the flailing local tabloid has run full-page and quarter-page ads promoting its Newsroom Collection, urging readers to “Show your support for local journalism with Boston Herald apparel and mugs.”

 

Here’s the store’s full inventory.

 

Really, Heraldniks? That’s the best you got?

No GlobeBusters baseball caps?

No Howie (American) Carrnage bomber jackets?

And where’s the I Get It in the Morning. That’s Right: The Herald replica of the paper’s vintage 1970s t-shirt?

(UPDATE: The Missus reliably informs me that it was actually a sweatshirt. She had one when she worked at the paper in 1975. On the front it said I Get it Every Morning . . . and on the back That’s Right. The Herald. At the time, the flashy local tabloid was a broadsheet with a daily circulation north of 350,000.)

The hardreading staff knows that it’s tough putting out a daily paper with a newsroom that can barely field a parks and rec soccer squad.

But maybe the Herald’s puppet management could prevail on the vampire capital hedge fund sucking the lifeblood out of the paper to at least send it off with some decent valedictory merchandise at its sad little online store.

Or is that too much to ask in a world of death by a thousand paper cuts?


Boston Herald Eyes Looming Mass. ‘Spudpocalypse’

January 24, 2022

The feisty local tabloid’s Sean Philip Cotter has done area residents a potato solid with this story in today’s edition of the paper.

An impending ‘Spudpocalyspe’

Could Canadian crackdown keep US shelves bare?

A new advertising campaign warns of an impending “spudpocalypse,” chipping into potato supplies and driving price spikes in Massachusetts as Prince Edward Island tubers are hit with a moratorium on exports.

“Shelves will soon be bare … help us stop the spudpocalypse,” blares a video clip for the ad campaign’s new website — spudpocalypse.com. The spot that also features a hand labeled “USDA” swatting away cartoon potatoes as a crunchy rock guitar grooves.

The campaign, from the PEI Potato Board — an industry group for the Canadian province’s spud growers — is meant to gin up public pressure here in potato-hungry Massachusetts after Canadian and U.S. food safety authorities cut the export of potatoes from Prince Edward Island over fears of “potato wart.”

We recommend you read Cotter’s entire piece, as it’s stuffed with puns both tasty and otherwise. Here’s the spot he mentioned, which has been viewed by 1386 YouTubers.

 

 

Sounds pretty drastic. And what has the Boston Globe done about the pending potato famine? Nothing. The Globeniks have totally frittered away the chance to alert the public. Some would say they need to be whipped – into shape, that is. If anyone finds that notion ap-peeling.


Wait – Boston Globe Readers Don’t Smoke Weed?

January 3, 2022

As the hardreading staff was perusing the local dailies today, we came across this full-page Boston Herald ad for a new marijuana store just down the block from the Lyric Little Bandbox.

We especially liked the jaunty tone of its pitch to become text buddies with the cannabis retailer: “Get updates on exciting products, brands, events, and more sent directly to your phone. Or maybe we’ll just check in, see how you’re doing. Who knows? New relationships are exciting.”

According to this piece by Forbes senior contributor Javier Hasse, MedMen needs all the new relationships it can get.

Publicly traded cannabis company MedMen has had a turbulent year, having had to deal with management shakeups, the ousting of its co-founders and lawsuits. And, although the stock is still up about 16% year-to-date, it has fallen considerably from the $1.29 per share value it reached in February – it’s now under $0.20.

Under the circumstances, we figured there would be a similar Grand Opening ad in the Boston Globe. But . . . nothing. Which is strange given that the stately local broadsheet actually has a Bong Bureau, ably manned by cannabis reporter Dan Adams, who also writes the This Week in Weed newsletter.

Memo to MedMen: Don’t bogart that ad, my friend – pass it over to the Globe.


Boston Herald Publisher Moonlights at Hartford Daily

November 19, 2021

Kevin Corrado is the publisher of the Boston Herald, as the feisty local tabloid duly – and daily – notes on its masthead.

 

 

But now Corrado, who in his spare time is also Regional Publisher at MediaNews Group: Northeast Cluster: Massachusetts & New York, is expanding that expansive portfolio to include the Nutmeg State.

According to Stephen Singer’s piece in the Hartford Courant, its publisher and editor-in-chief Andrew Julien – a 30-year veteran of the paper – is switching teams to become executive editor of Tribune Publishing’s New York Daily News.

Meanwhile . . .

MediaNews Group Regional Publisher Kevin Corrado will take over business operations at the Courant on an interim basis and begin the search for a new editor in Hartford.

“Andrew has been a wonderful steward for the Courant, and while we’re sorry to see him go, our loss is New York’s gain,” Corrado said.

 

To call that eyewash is an insult to saline solution everywhere.

Memo to the few, the proud, the remaining Heraldniks: Think of the whole thing this way – it’ll be that many fewer hours Corrado can work on strip-mining the shrinky local tabloid for the last few dollars he can squeeze out of it.

One hopes.


Pas de D’oh! Boston Dailies Skip Local Ballet Scandal

August 2, 2021

Saturday’s New York Times featured a pretty explosive story by reporter Julia Jacobs about a former Boston Ballet principal dancer and her husband.

Mitchell Taylor Button was accused of abuse, and his wife, Dusty Button, a dancer with a large Instagram following, was accused of participating in some of it but not named as a defendant.

A pair of professional dancers filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing a former dance teacher of sexually assaulting and abusing them, and accusing his wife — an internet-famous ballerina who has danced with the Boston Ballet — of participating in some of that abuse.

The former teacher — who has been known by several names, but is called Mitchell Taylor Button in the suit — is married to Dusty Button, who was a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet and who has amassed more than 300,000 Instagram followers and several corporate sponsorships with viral photos and videos of her dancing.

Locally, WBUR’s Amelia Mason also had the story over the weekend.

One of the plaintiffs, Sage Humphries, is currently a dancer with the Boston Ballet. In 2017, she was a member of Boston Ballet II, the company’s apprenticeship program. The suit says that Dusty Button, then a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet, lured Humphries into an increasingly abusive and controlling relationship with herself and her husband. According to the suit, Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted Humphries on a regular basis over the course of some months and performed violent sex acts on her without her consent. It says that on several occasions, Dusty Button held Humphries down while her husband sexually assaulted the young dancer. The lawsuit also accuses Mitchell Taylor Button of verbal and physical abuse.

The Boston Ballet has released this statement in support of Sara Humphries.

Who we haven’t heard from (just before 6 pm on Monday) are the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. Talk about being a step behind . . .


Two Buck Shuck: Boston Herald Touts ‘Premium Plus’

July 28, 2021

Well the hardrreading staff opened up the old emailbag yesterday and here’s what poured out.

According to the Herald’s Digital Subscription Frequently Asked Questions, a regular digital subscription includes:

  • Unlimited, exclusive journalism from our reporters and photographers.
  • Opinions and reviews from columnists and critics.
  • Daily access to the Digital Replica edition, an exact replica of what we print and produce each day.

So your two bucks is basically buying you a) No Pop-up or Video Ads, and b) 2x Faster Page Loads for the next  six months. Which is all good. Except . .

1) You’ll pay $4 per week for Premium Plus after that, and

2) That whole “trusted news, analysis, and interviews” thing has been gutted like a sea bass by the Herald’s bloodsucking hedge fund owner, Alden Global Capital.

The Herald newsroom – which, again thanks to the paper’s vulture-capital owners, has been forced to shack up with its kissin’ cousins at the Lowell Sun – can barely field a soccer team at this point. It’s gotten so bad at the scrawny local tabloid that executive editor Joe Dwinell has been known to write two or three pieces in a day for the paper.

Go ask the Boston Globe’s Brian McGrory how often he hits send on a story about, say, a Martha’s Vineyard porn lawsuit.

The hardreading staff – despite our often gimlet eye – has long been #TeamHerald, if only to keep the stately local broadsheet a bit less overbearing. But we wonder how long the flimsy local tabloid can keep offering less content for more money, as Alden relentlessly strip mines it like West Virginia coal country.

Maybe a “Premium Minus” Go Fund Me page is in order right about now.