The Pimps of Mississippi have made national headlines today in The Washington Post. Embattled and alleged racist law law firm Balch & Bingham has reaped millions while renters, many of whom are People of Color, received nothing.
Is a federal or congressional probe next?
The Washington Post reports:
Across America, state distribution of federal cash meant to help people facing eviction during the pandemic has been uneven and slow. But Mississippi’s program has been one of the more problematic. More than seven months after Congress and former president Donald Trump created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Mississippi had spent only 11 percent of $186.7 million in first-round funding according to the Treasury Department, compared with a national average of 32 percent.
Mississippians are clamoring for the funds: 9,000 people applied to the program in August, up nearly 130 percent from the entire period from March 29 to July 31, said Scott Spivey, executive director of the Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC), the state’s quasi-governmental housing agency charged with running the program.
But tenants and local advocates say it can take more than a month to get a response from the program, which is administered in part by Balch & Bingham, a politically connected Alabama law firm. Hired through a no-bid $3.8 million contract by MHC, Balch & Bingham plays a key role in reviewing and scrutinizing aid applications, a process critics say leads to enormous delays.
But the investigative story rocks the embattled law firm appearing to show high payments for clerical work and what appears to be contradicting statements. The Washington Post notes:
Balch and MHC agreed to a $3.8 million budget for the firm to help administer the program, including a charge of $135-per-hour for the review of 30,000 applications, according to a March letter from Balch to MHC. In addition to the review of applications, Balch’s role in the rental relief program was meant to include helping draft rules and regulations, “designing and overseeing program administration,” and training staff, according to the letter.
[Balch spokesperson Julie Wall] Khoury described the firm’s role differently, though. She said that nearly 100 Balch attorneys and staff have worked on the program, and that its role is “currently limited to compliance review of applications” and providing legal advice on state and federal guidelines. “Balch & Bingham does not manage the RAMP program, nor do we administer ERA funds,” Khoury said in an email.
Did she just insert a stinky foot into her mouth?
How absurd! Balch may not process the rental assistance disbursements, but, for heaven’s sake, reviewing and determining if the application is worthwhile or not has more to do with the delays than hitting the “send the money” button.
The Washington Post adds:
The flow of billions of federal pandemic relief dollars aimed at curbing economic pain across the country appears to have been particularly lucrative for [Balch & Bingham], as it secured several aid-related contracts over the past 18 months and ultimately scored more than $6 million in fees, according to state procurement records and contract documents provided by MHC. Balch has a line of business representing commercial landlords, according to its website, and a Post review of legal filings shows that Balch represented a lender pursuing foreclosure against a family as recently as 2020 — even as it helped administer a separate federally funded program aimed at preventing foreclosures.
The Pimps of Mississippi: a law firm that forecloses and represents apartment owners now involved in rental and foreclosure assistance.
Stinks to high heaven!