National News

When disaster aid gets eaten up by money transfer fees

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-09 02:00

In the famously diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York, there are areas with three money transfers companies on a single block. The competition exerts a certain downward pressure on fees, and when I ask about the cost to send a typical, $200 transfer to the Dominican Republic, the answers are $6 or $7.

"There's a store next door, there's a store across the street, there's a store there," says Sal Rizzo, regional vice president at money transfer company DolEx, as he looks out the window of a travel agency that contains a DolEx booth. "So if you're charging $10 when everybody else is charging $5 for the same product, you're not going to do business."

But competition isn't the only thing driving down fees. Six blocks away, between two Tibetan restaurants, is IME Remit, where on a day at the end of May the fee for a money transfer to Nepal was free. 

Bishnu Adhikari discovered this when he arrived to send money to his family in Nepal, who have been struggling in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit the country on April 25th. It killed more than 8,000 people, including Adhikari's brother-in-law.

"I'm here in the United States, so obviously my parents are depending upon me," says Adhikari.

He scraped together $650 from the 45 hours a week he works as an Uber driver, and thanks to the fee waiver, an extra $5 will make it to his family. 

"I expect that because of the earthquake the flow of remittances this month will exceed a billion dollars," says Dilip Ratha, an economist who tracks remittances for the World Bank. "If the fee is 4 to 5 percent on average, then that's about $40 to $50 million, and if that fee is waived, then that would be the amount of money in the hands of poor people, who really need the money."  

The third-largest money transfer company, Ria, waived fees for transfers to Nepal through the end of June.  

But the largest, Western Union, waived fees for most transfers only until May 14th, and for online transfers until May 31st. Moneygram waived fees through May 31st, but only for customers in the United States sending money to the American Red Cross International Services in Nepal. Had Bishnu Adhikari chosen either of these services to send money to his parents at the end of May, they would have received five fewer dollars. 

"An additional $5 matters a lot," says Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who supports the idea of fee waivers after disasters. "To put it in perspective, Nepal's gross national income per capita is $700." Accordingly, $5 represent the equivalent of several days income for an average salary—money that she says is particularly critical in this phase of recovery from the earthquake.   

"Of course it is not realistic to expect remittance companies to waive the fees for month after month," says Ratha. "But at least for a couple of months it would be very useful if the fees were waived."

The default in our student loans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-09 01:55
50,000

That's about how many jobs British bank HSBC says it will eliminate as it attempts to cut costs. As the New York Times reports, as many as 25,000 of those positions will come from selling businesses in Turkey and Brazil. 

$3.6 billion

The total amount of debt the from students at Corinthian Colleges which the government announced Monday it will forgive, the Associated Press reported, after Corinthian shut down amid bankruptcy and a fraud investigation. The move comes at a high cost to taxpayers, and it has stoked conversation about the government's role administering student loans in the first place.

7 percent

That's the percentage of the Oyler School's graduating class that will go to trade school. The Cincinnati-based school has worked hard to build a college-going culture among its student body. But the school staff also acknowledge that for their low-income students, a two- or four-year institution may not be the right fit.

$1.2 trillion

Speaking of college debt: that's how much students have nationwide. In a New York Times op-ed over the weekend Lee Siegel talked about his experience defaulting on his student loan debt, suggesting students follow their passions rather than toiling away to pay off an "unfair" debt. He described default as an act of protest against the rising cost of education. This week, many, many commentators have come out against the advice.

10 couples

That's how many same-sex couples from China will be married in West Hollywood, California, as part of a promotion by Alibaba and its online shopping site Taobao. While China doesn't currently recognize same-sex marriage, it makes sense that Alibaba would be interested in the reported $300 billion in spending power held by the LGBT community. 

$80,162

That's how much more the average millennial working in San Jose, California would have to make in a year to afford a typical mortgage. According to a new analysis from Bloomberg, that's the largest gap in the country between pay and home prices for young people.

Some States Make Obamacare Backup Plans, As Supreme Court Decision Looms

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 23:47

A Supreme Court ruling could threaten health insurance subsidies in about three dozen states. But many states aren't sharing contingency plans lest they be seen as supporting Obamacare.

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This Summer, The Cafeteria Comes To The Kids

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 23:42

Twenty-one million kids eat free and reduced-price meals throughout the school year, but getting them fed during the summer is a challenge.

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Texas Cattle Ranchers Whipsawed Between Drought And Deluge

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 23:40

Years of drought have taken a toll on agriculture, particularly cattle ranching. Now instead of too little water, there's too much. But the rains may revive pastures and allow rebuilding of herds.

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For Baltimore Businesses, Riot Aid Is Not Coming Fast Enough

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 23:38

Baltimore, the state of Maryland and nonprofits are trying to get money quickly to almost 400 businesses affected by recent unrest to reopen or recoup their losses. But the aid is coming in slowly.

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The #BlackLivesMatter Movement: Marches And Tweets For Healing

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 23:31

Black Lives Matter has become a leading force in protests against alleged police abuse of African-Americans. Michel Martin learns more about the movement from one of its founders Patrisse Cullors.

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Jeb Bush Faces His Own Foreign Policy Test With Europe Trip

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 20:36

The likely 2016 candidate hopes to avoid the mistakes that have haunted his other presidential rivals while separating himself from his brother.

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Lightning Beat Blackhawks 3-2 For 2-1 Lead In Stanley Cup Final

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 20:25

Ryan Callahan, Ondrej Palat and Cedric Paquette scored as Tampa Bay used its second straight win to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday night.

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Video: Semi Full Of Piglets Flips In Ohio; Police Try To Corral Hundreds

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 19:37

There were 2,200 pigs on board at the time of the crash, and 300-400 were killed.

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Thousands Who Bet On American Pharoah Are Keeping The Tickets

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 16:44

Instead of turning in a $2 ticket that would pay $3.80 for American Pharoah winning the Belmont Stakes, most people who bought them are stashing them away.

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As MERS Outbreak Surges, Genetic Tests Show Virus Hasn't Mutated

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 16:38

So the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea is probably due to other factors, such as a delayed response to the outbreak and poor infection control at hospitals.

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Supreme Court Rules Passports Must Say 'Jerusalem' Not 'Israel'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 14:38

In a 6-3 decision, the high court sided with the White House over Congress on the thorny foreign-policy issue.

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Praise For Indian PM's Diplomacy, Then A Backlash For His Undiplomatic Remark

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 14:09

He may have thought it was a compliment to say his Bangladeshi counterpart has done well "despite being a woman." Yes, it's now a hashtag.

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BBC at risk as the UK weighs TV license fee

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-08 13:23

Imagine a country where you have to be licensed to watch TV — and could be fined and even jailed for watching while unlicensed. Sounds Orwellian. 

But you don’t have to imagine it; the UK  requires anyone with a TV to buy an annual license, costing around $220. The total revenue raised — about $5 billion a year — is used to fund the country’s state-owned broadcasting organization, the BBC, or “the Beeb” as it’s known in Britain. 

Enforcing this charge can be messy: cases of people accused of evading the fee accounted for more than one in 10 of all criminal prosecutions in magistrates’ courts in 2013 – with 155,000 convicted and fined and 50 going to prison for failure to pay the fine.

The newly elected Conservative government has promised to decriminalize this funding system so no one will be punished by the criminal law for failing to pay the license fee;  nonpayment would be treated as a civil matter, like the nonpayment of a telephone bill. Some Brits would like to see the TV license system scrapped altogether.

An online petition to abolish the TV license fee has gained more than 158,000 signatures. The petition claims the fee gives the broadcaster an unfair advantage over its commercial rivals in terms of revenue and, because it is unrelated to the ability to pay, it is a "burden on the poor." 

Eamonn Butler, head of the free-market Adam Smith Institute, argues that in our digital, multichannel, multiplatform age the license fee is wrong in principle and hopelessly outdated. 

“It stems from the time when the BBC was a monopoly broadcaster,” he says. "I own a television set, but I rarely watch the BBC because I have 200 other channels to choose from. So why should I be forced to pay for a network that I don’t actually look at when I’ve got so much other choice?" 

But the Beeb, which is by far Britain’s biggest news provider, has many supporters.

“It produces some astonishingly good television, some very, very good radio and its website is something I refer to several times a day,” says media consultant Ben Fenton. “So I’m a consumer of the BBC. I like the product. I’m happy to pay for it through the license fee.”

The opposition Labour Party also supports the license fee as a source of funding, at least until the corporation’s charter is renewed in 2017. Labour claims that decriminalizing the fee now would deprive the Beeb of much-needed revenue. Enforcing the fee in the civil courts would cost more than the revenue it would raise and therefore, if it’s unenforced, fewer people would pay it. 

“There’s a danger that you just smash a 200-million pound hole in the BBC’s finances," says  Chris Bryant, Labour’s culture spokesman. “That’s the amount the BBC spends on all of its children’s broadcasting. You’ll smash that 200-million hole in the BBC’s finances without having thought how to make that up from any other source.” 

But the BBC is under the gun. One thousand British households a day are opting out of the license fee, claiming that they no longer have a TV set and get their news and entertainment over the internet. The Beeb will need to find new ways to raise its revenue.

In Atlantic City, A Silver Lining For Casinos Left Standing

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 13:16

Four of 12 casinos in Atlantic City closed last year, but the first quarter of 2015 brought good news to those remaining. The local economy is still reeling, but less competition means higher profits.

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Apple Announces Music Streaming Service

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-08 13:02

The tech giant, whose iTunes store is the recording industry's largest retailer, finally unveiled its streaming service, which will cost $9.99 a month for unlimited access to music.

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Netflix scoops up 'War Machine' and Brad Pitt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Who says Netflix doesn't have any good movies?

After focusing on original TV and shows that you can binge-watch, the streaming service has landed its biggest movie debut yet.

Brad Pitt's new movie "War Machine" will debut on Netflix at the same time it lands in theaters.

Reports say Netflix spent a cool $30 million to get the film — and to keep annoying theater owners, of course.

"War Machine" is a satirical comedy that stars Pitt as a general who leads the American war effort in Afghanistan. It's due out next year.

Netflix has announced a couple other movie debuts, but we all know that when you get Brad Pitt, that takes it to a whole other level.

Netflix's scoops up 'War Machine' and Brad Pitt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Who says Netflix doesn't have any good movies?

After focusing on original TV and shows that you can binge-watch, the streaming service has landed its biggest movie debut yet.

Brad Pitt's new movie "War Machine" will debut on Netflix at the same time it lands in theaters.

Reports say Netflix spent a cool $30 million to get the film — and to keep annoying theater owners, of course.

"War Machine" is a satirical comedy that stars Pitt as a general who leads the American war effort in Afghanistan. It's due out next year.

Netflix has announced a couple other movie debuts, but we all know that when you get Brad Pitt, that takes it to a whole other level.

Why CalPERS wants a little less to do with Wall Street

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Wall Street cares a lot more than you might think about retired government workers. Investment managers rack up hefty fees managing money for giant pension funds. CalPERS, which manages some $300 billion of California pension money, is now changing the game by cutting back half its money managers.

CalPERS believes it has way too many people managing its money, charging way too much. Public pension funds have enough trouble just finding enough money to pay retirees, so they’re all under pressure to cut expenses.

It’s not that CalPERS is dropping Wall Street to go its own way. It’s more about buying in bulk, says Leora Friedberg, a University of Virginia economics professor. 

“They’re going to then concentrate a bigger share of their total funds with a smaller group of managers,” Friedberg says. 

CalPERS wants to more easily track performance and drive a harder bargain on those fees. Some on Wall Street could make more money. Others will lose out.

And CalPERS is just the beginning, says Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at UC Berkeley.

Other pension funds could follow suit, forcing Wall Street investment managers to fight harder for business by slashing fees.

The CalPERS fight is also a reminder to regular folks with 401(k)s and other human-size investments. Take a close look at the fees you pay, or they could devour your savings.

Mark Garrison: CalPERS believes it has way too many people managing its money, charging way too much. Jean-Pierre Aubry is with the Center for Retirement Research, where he looks closely at public pension funds.

Jean-Pierre Aubry: It’s among the highest, so it’s really one of the top ten in terms of the fees it pays compared to the other largest plans in the nation.

These funds have enough trouble just finding enough money to pay retirees, so they’re all under pressure to cut expenses. It’s not that CalPERS is dropping Wall Street to go its own way. It’s more about buying in bulk, explains University of Virginia economics professor Leora Friedberg.

Leora Friedberg: They’re going to then concentrate a bigger share of their total funds with a smaller group of managers.

CalPERS wants to more easily track performance and drive a harder bargain on those fees. Some on Wall Street could make more money. Others will lose out. And CalPERS is just the beginning, says Berkeley’s Steven Davidoff Solomon.

Steven Davidoff Solomon: CalPERS is the 800-pound gorilla of pension funds.

With heft, comes influence. Other pension funds could follow suit, forcing Wall Street investment managers to fight harder for business by slashing fees. The CalPERS fight is also a reminder to regular folks like us, with 401(k)s and other human-size investments. Take a close look at the fees you pay, or they could devour your savings.

Steven Davidoff Solomon: The lesson here is pretty simple. It’s keep your eye on the ball, don’t have too many funds, make sure you know what you’re getting out of your investments.

Even if you don’t have CalPERS’ $300 billion to work with, you can still play it smart with what you’ve got. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

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