Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Sues Access Funding for Scamming Lead Poisoning Victims

A financial counseling company was sued by a federal agency for targeting
cognitively impaired lead-poisoning victims; the victims sold their
structured settlements for significantly lower lump-sum payments.

A Maryland-based financial firm was sued last Monday after the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found evidence of a scheme to take advantage of lead poisoning victims who won court settlements.

The company, Access Funding, came under federal investigation last year for purchasing a large number of lead-paint settlements from awardees primarily in the Baltimore area. In exchange for their structured settlement checks, Access Funding sold them one-time lump-sum payments - often for much less than the value of their settlement. CFPB alleges that Access Funding exploited these individuals, as many awardees suffered from cognitive disabilities that limited their understanding of their settlement deals. The lawsuit further alleges that Access Funding preyed on impoverished communities in the Baltimore area.

"Many of these struggling consumers were victimized first by toxic lead, and second by a company that saw them little more than income streams to be courted and harvested," Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in a recent press release.

Access Funding denies any wrongdoing. According to Access Funding chief executive Michael Borkowski, his organization provided legal financial counsel to consenting individuals.

"We're trying to bring better value to people," Michael Borkowski, Access Funding chief executive, said in a recent press release.

Still, CFPB counters these claims. Nearly all of the lead poisoning victims that Access Funding targeted were barely literate and had documented cognitive impairments. A multitude of Access Funding clients were also impoverished - often living in the same condemned homes they won settlement money against in the first place. They saw these one-time settlements as a quick way to get out of debt. And although these structured settlements are awarded in monthly payments to prevent financial negligence, awardees frequently opt for the lures of one-time settlements.

"They have no experience in managing money, are brain compromised, and history shows they'll likely run through a large cash settlement in a short time," Saul Kerpelman, lead-paint lawyer, said in a recent article.

In one case, an Access Funding client sold $146,00 in future payments for $18,300 upfront; in another case, a client sold a structured settlement of $663,000 for a one-time payment of $50,000. Altogether, a random sample of Access Funding's deals showed that the company purchased $6.9 million of future payments for around $1.7 million - about 33 cents to the dollar.

The lawsuit seeks to tighten structured settlement laws and encourage more oversight to prevent conflicts in interest.

To read more about CFPB's lawsuit against Access Funding, visit the agency's press release page. To learn more about lead work and become certified, visit Zack Academy's lead renovation FAQs.

Please also view a new interview with our Marketing Manager on the benefits of advanced vocational training for contractors.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks releases report on preventing childhood lead poisoning

The President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children released a new federal programs report to prevent childhood lead poisoning. In their report, the task force identifies nearly 60 initiatives currently or tentatively in action. Some of the federal programs include:
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which establishes and enforces lead-content limits in children's products 
  • Environmental Protection Agency's Lead-based Paint Program and Disclosure Program, which establishes lead safety protocols and certification for lead workers, and informs residents of potentially lead-contaminated homes 
  • Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water and Enforcement, which reduces lead in drinking water and repairs public water systems that might have lead contaminated pipes
One of the most promising aspects of the report is its emphasis on cooperation and coordination between federal agencies; an example being Department of Justice taking legal action at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Blood lead levels in children by income

Another promising aspect of the report is the acknowledgment of lead poisoning affecting children of low-income families more than others. According to the report, children living below the poverty line had the highest concentration of lead in their blood samples. One conclusion the report offers is that low-income families might live in older homes not up to current lead safety protocols - several federal initiatives are in the works to remediate and relocate this affected population.

Effects of lead poisoning at different blood lead levels

The report also reiterates the dangers of childhood lead exposure. Acute and high levels of lead exposure can lead to convulsions, abdominal pain, colic and even death, while small but long-term exposure can lead to behavioral and cognitive dysfunction, hearing loss, stunted growth and renal failure. Furthermore, the report notes that children are disproportionately exposed to lead; activities such as crawling and playing in lead contaminated soil or ingesting lead-contaminated particles all contribute.

Blood lead levels in children between 1976 and 2014

Blood lead levels have significantly decreased in children from when the EPA first began tracking it in the 1970s. Still, with recent crises such as Flint, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin, it's clear that federal action is still needed to protect our children. This report brings hope for a continued downward trend in blood lead levels and the possibility of eradicating childhood lead poisoning once and for all.

To read more about the report, visit the President's Task Force on Environmental Health's website. To learn more about lead safety protocols and how you can become certified in lead work, visit Zack Academy's lead certification website.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

USGBC Announces New CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam

The U.S Green Building Council (USGBC) announced Mahesh Ramanujam as its new president and chief executive office this Wednesday, November 16, 2016. Ramanujam, formerly the chief operating office of USGBC, has been endorsed for his commitment to sustainability and his ability to bridge business with technology.

His focus includes five areas of growth: the vision for USGBC, providing resources to the community to help lead projects, shaping the culture of the green building movement to inclusive and innovating, making decisions that serve the USGBC community's interests and delivering on USBGC market transformation visions. In a press release addressed to the USBGC community, he explains the sources of inspiration for his goals as CEO.

"I love what I do, and I love knowing that we are working toward the greater good," Ramanujam said.

Ramanujam has a long list of credentials in the business and technology sector. Prior to his position as CEO of USGBC, Ramanujam served as COO; prior to that, Ramanujam served as the chief information officer. Mahesh Ramanujam was also the COO of Emergys Corp. and over a period of 11 years, he has led business transformations at companies such as IBM and Lenovo. He credits his upbringing for passion for sustainability and innovation.

"I grew up in India, where I learned to do more with less. I saw firsthand that communities can be transformed through meaningful investments and true sustainability," Ramanujam said.

With his passion for green building, Ramanujam seeks to propel USGBC and LEED associates. For those interested in being part of a dynamic global industry, Zack Academy offers LEED training nationwide - with many classes even conveniently available online.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Michigan Wins $119 Million for Lead Abatement Project

Extension of Michigan's lead abatement project begins January 1st; the state
was approved $119 million to remove lead hazards from at-risk

Lansing, Mich. (Nov. 14, 2016) The state of Michigan won approval to spend up to $119 million in federal funds to remove lead health violations from the homes of low-income residents. The project, the second waiver Michigan has received to spend additional money, will extend for an additional five years.

The abatement services will target homes with vulnerable residents such as households with pregnant women or members under the age of 19. The federal funding will be used to eliminate or permanently close off lead-based paint and lead dust sources, replace contaminated structures and test samples in surrounding soil. The funding will also cover replacement of exterior lead services lines that connect water mains to homes - fundamental in preventing lead from contaminating the local water supply. 

In communities such as Flint, where pervasive lead poisoning made international news, news of the approval is encouraging.

"Removing lead in homes, including pipes in homes, can greatly decrease the risk of future lead exposure and improve children's health," Dr. Nicole Lurie, director of the U.s Department of Health and Human Services outreach in Flint, said in a recent press release.

Other officials such as Michigan governor Rick Snyder called the waiver approval "great news."

The amendment takes effect this January; the state of Michigan will be identifying high-risk municipalities until then.

For more information about lead abatement certification, visit Zack Academy's lead certification webpage. For more information on the U.S Department of Health and Human Services outreach in Michigan, visit their official website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Zack Academy Partners with M&E Services, LLC to Offer Lead Renovator Classes in Texas

Fort Lauderdale, FL (November 9, 2016) - Zack Academy (www.ZackAcademy.com), the largest online marketplace to find Lead-Safe RRP Training, announced today that it has partnered with EPA Accredited Training Provider M&E Services, LLC to expand offerings of lead paint training in Texas and throughout the country.

Based in Arlington, TX, M&E Services, LLC offers accredited Lead Renovator Initial and Lead Renovator Refresher training. M&E Services’ popular Lead Renovator Certification Initial class covers lead safety training and the required certification exam for contractors doing work in pre-1978 homes and child-occupied facilities.

"M&E Services is a vital lead paint safety trainer in the Texas area. This partnership bolsters our nationwide lead renovator course offerings and adds another exemplary trainer to the Zack Academy Network," said Zachary Rose, founder and CEO of Zack Academy.

Matthew Arnett, Training Manager and Principal Instructor for M&E Services, LLC commented, "We are proud to be in partnership with Zack Academy as an additional RRP Lead Initial and Refresher trainer in their vast national network. This partnership allows us to strengthen our presence in Texas, while we continue to expand our client base throughout all federal EPA RRP regulated states."

About Zack Academy: 
Zack Academy is a leading online marketplace for career-oriented training and certification courses, offering classes and seminars across the United States in areas including software and programming training; construction; contractor licensing and renewal; lead, asbestos and mold certification; LEED exam prep; stormwater and water management; solar training; cleaning/restoration/water damage; business practices; analytics; and more. Zack Academy provides a one-stop shop for career and certification training in partnership with hundreds of local training companies across the United States.

About M&E Services, LLC:
M&E Services, LLC is a Federal EPA Lead Paint Accredited Training Provider for both the initial and refresher lead-safe training courses. Offering courses in a classroom setting at a location best suited for our clients throughout the United States, we utilize interactive training methods and real-life examples to foster student interactions at all times. M&E Services, LLC will travel to any location that works best for our clients and within their time frame. M&E Services, LLC is also a federal EPA Certified Firm and is able to coordinate any regulatory RRP review and internal audit. The Principal Instructor is an EPA RRP Lead Paint Renovator as well as certified in five states that supersede the federal EPA.

Release Contact:
Peter Sfraga
Marketing Manager

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

HUD Announced Settlement Between East Chicago Housing Authority and a Fair Housing Organization

Source: New York Times
In a recent blog post we discussed how nearly 1,000 residents were displaced in an East Chicago lead crisis. Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an agreement between the East Chicago Housing Authority and a fair housing organization, which resolved multiple complaints of housing discrimination, which stemmed from displacement issues.

According to a HUD Press Release, "The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, on behalf of residents, alleged the East Chicago Housing Authority violated the Fair Housing Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act with respect to the relocation of residents at West Calumet Housing Complex due to soil surrounding the complex being contaminated with lead and arsenic. The Shriver Center’s complaints alleged the housing authority engaged in discriminatory housing practices in its management of the relocation because residents were being moved into poor, segregated communities with similar or serious levels of environmental contaminations. The agreement resolves the complaints and serves as the foundation to ensure residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex are relocated in a coordinated manner to safe housing in areas of opportunity.

Terms of the agreement include relocation benefits; the full return of most security deposits; mobility and relocation counseling for households; enhanced mobility and relocation counseling for households with a member who has a disability and/or elevated blood lead levels; expedited assessments of proposed new units for households with residents with elevated blood lead levels, or those who currently have an impairment associated with lead poisoning; the creation of a housing mobility program to provide households with information about opportunity areas; higher rent subsidies to households as a need-based reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities and families with children with elevated blood lead levels; and on-site risk assessments to determine and report the existence, nature, severity, and location of lead-based paint hazards in any potential new units. Read the agreement for the complete list of terms."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Home Efficiency without Wasting Electricity

Whether you are a homeowner or rent an apartment, we all pay for electricity. I bet you wouldn't mind if that monthly bill was a little bit smaller. If you are a homeowner, there are plenty of home improvements you can make that can help, but making small changes to your daily life can also make a big difference in your energy consumption. 

It’s the ripple effect. Your small household changes are the drop of water which starts the ripple. No, you are not going to save the world by being energy efficient, but a little goes a long way. There are many ways to do more with less. Being very organized does not mean that you are being energy efficient, but it could. Here are some ideas on how to work smarter, not harder, while saving energy along the way.

Pots and Pans

You should know how much food you are making and pick a pot or pan accordingly. Yes, this is going to include some organization on your part with regard to where you store your pots and pans. Try to arrange them via size and shape for easy recognition. If you are not making a large amount of food, use a different size pot or pan. Smaller pot and pans use less energy to heat up. Don’t pull that big frying pan out if you are only going to fry a few eggs for yourself. Opt for the small pan over the small burner to avoid using excess energy that's not helping cook your food.

Choose Energy Efficient Blinds
If bulking up your insulation is not your idea of a fun weekend event and you don't want to shell out the necessary funds to pay someone to do it professionally, you could try this. Use thermal shades on your windows instead of or over existing blinds. In the summer months, it will keep the room cold, blocking the sun's hot rays. During winter, it will keep the heat from escaping, retaining the heat. You will use less energy to cool and heat your house or apartment during all the seasons of the year. Saving you money while consuming less energy.

Landscape with a Plan
If you have a yard and decide to start planting trees and shrubbery, think about their location beyond what looks good where. Yes, that tree looks nice on the side yard, but if you plant it so it shades the air conditioner as well, you could be saving money on your electric bill. You could also plant trees on the East or West side of your house to block a lot of the direct sunlight. You might be able to save up to $250 a year on heat and air conditioning. Your yard can be beautiful and save you money, just by placing your plants in the right place.

Pay Attention to Your Pool. Having your own pool for family and friends to enjoy is great. But once you factor in the filters, heater, pumps, and so on, they can certainly be energy guzzlers. One great way to cut down on the amount of electricity your pool is using is to turn off your heater and throw a solar cover over your pool. That way your pool will be well-protected while using the sun’s rays to make the water an enjoyable and comfortable temperature.

Fill Up the Dishwasher
As a child I remember dreading the thought of dish duty. Now I am very thankful for the dishwasher, especially when I have company. When washing dishes, wait until you have enough dishes before running the dishwasher. You use much less water and energy when you wait for the dishwasher to have a full load. Also, the dishwashers made today are meant to blast off hard to clean plates, so don’t rinse them off and put them directly in the machine.

Conserving energy while also saving money helps people personally and saves the environment. No matter how small, we all have to do our part to help keep our surroundings beautiful. These small changes are the drop of water that starts the ripple effect in a calm pond. Be the Drop. Start the Change.

Image by Foto-Rabe via Pixabay

Paul Denikin runs a blog, called DadKnowsDIY.com where he writes about simple, eco-friendly home repair projects.