The Morning Meeting with Al Tompkins is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas worth considering and other timely context for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
The millions of Americans who hope the federal government will forgive up to $20,000 of their student loans will have to wait at least a couple of more months, and likely longer.
The U.S. Supreme Court wants to hear arguments about the program in February. This is the extent of what the court said:
The Biden administration hoped the court would dismiss the lawsuit from Attorneys General in Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina.
No debt has been canceled so far, but 26 million people have already applied to the program and the government began notifying people a couple of weeks ago that, if and when the courts allow the program to go forward, they are approved.
If the Supreme Court approves, student loan borrowers could erase $10,000 in student loans, and people who got Pell grants could get another $10,000 in relief. To qualify, borrowers must earn less than $125,000 ($250,000 per household.)
While debtors wait for news about their loans, some job recruiters are offering student loan payoffs as part of their hiring. For example, the State of New York just announced it would pay off loans up to $120,000 for psychiatrists willing to work for state health services.
CNN listed some other ways people can seek debt forgiveness, although they are not quick fixes:
• The Public Service Loan Forgiveness programallows certain government and nonprofit employees to seek federal student loan forgiveness after making 10 years of qualifying payments. A qualifying borrower’s full remaining balance is canceled, regardless of the amount. Teachers, social workers, some nurses and doctors as well as government lawyers are some of the types of borrowers who may be eligible.
• The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programcancels up to $17,500 in federal student loan debt for certain full-time teachers who have worked in a qualifying low-income elementary or secondary school for at least five consecutive years.
Math and science teachers who are considered to be highly qualified at the secondary school level, as well as special education teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels, are eligible for the full $17,500 of federal student loan forgiveness. Those who are considered highly qualified and teach other subject areas may receive up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness.
Why so little plastic is recycled
New data from Greenpeace shows that about 5% of the world’s plastic is recycled and the percentage is dropping. Here are the lead paragraphs of the report:
A recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report projects that global plastic use and waste will nearly triple by 2060 with a meager increase in plastic recycling, resulting in a doubling of global plastic pollution.
The United States Department of Energy (U.S. DOE) estimated that the volume of plastic waste in the U.S. rose to 44 million metric tons in 2019, which is about 295 lbs. per person. The plastics and products industries have been promoting plastic recycling as the solution to plastic waste since the early 1990s.
Some 30 years later, the vast majority of U.S. plastic waste is still not recyclable. The U.S. plastic recycling rate was estimated to have declined to about 5–6% in 2021, down from a high of 9.5% in 2014 and 8.7% in 2018, when the U.S. exported millions of tons of plastic waste to China and counted it as recycled even though much of it was burned or dumped.
Why so little? A study of 370 plastics recycling facilities showed that “only PET#1 and HDPE#2 plastic bottles and jugs are widely accepted.” And even when facilities accept the plastics, sometimes a facility does not recycle them. The report gave this example: “The City of Knoxville, Tennessee, also publicly states that it accepts plastics #3-7 at its recycling facility but disposes of them because there is no end-market buyer.”
The plastics industry benefits from recycling facilities accepting plastics even if they do not actually recycle them, because, Greenpeace explains, “To legitimately claim a product as ‘recyclable,’ the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that recycling facilities be available to a ‘substantial majority’ of U.S. residents, defined to be at least 60%, and that the collected product be used in the manufacturing or assembly of a new item.”
You can see from this latest Greenpeace survey that the overwhelming percentage of recycling centers cannot handle most types of plastics, and even when they do, they have the capacity to recycle only 10%-20% of the most desirable plastic types. In other words, the most desirable plastics for recycling are not very desirable.
But why is there such a barrier to recycling plastics when other materials such as cardboard and paper are recycled at a higher rate? Greenpeace found:
Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.
NPR says there are other problems:
There are now thousands of different types of plastic, and none of them can be melted down together. Plastic also degrades after one or two uses.
Some states and countries are addressing the issue by proposing a ban on single-use plastics or charging a deposit for plastic bottles the way, a generation ago, glass bottles required a deposit that would be refunded upon return.
NPR found that the plastics industry has a long history of over-promising the potential for recycling:
The National Association for PET Container Resources, an industry trade group, found in 2017 that only 21 percent of the plastic bottles collected for recycling were turned into new things.
The low reprocessing rates are at odds with plans from the oil and gas industry. Industry lobbyists say they plan to recycle every piece of plastic they make into something new by 2040. In interviews with NPR, industry officials were unable to explain how they planned to reach a 100 percent recycling rate.
An NPR investigative report found in 2020 that industry officials misled the public about the recyclability of plastic even though their own reports showed they knew as early as the 1970s and 1980s that plastic could not be economically recycled.
This new data is a clear opportunity for you to ask around your community what recyclers do with the stuff people send to them and to ask local governments what plans they have to increase recycling. Christmas season is a big generator of all kinds of recyclable and unrecyclable waste. Educate people before they buy. I like to buy things that come in minimalist packaging. But small packages are easier for shoplifters to steal, and therein lies a conflict for retailers.
Have college rankings lost their allure?
College rankings, hospital rankings, and TV ratings all have one thing in common. If your school/hospital/station is ranked where you want it, then you love the rankings and say they are right on. If the list puts you in the sewer, then we can expect complaints and criticisms. Which is why this protest is a little different. Deans of 10 of the top 15 law schools on US News and World Report’s latest rankings say they won’t send their data to the ranking systems anymore. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported:
Less than one week after the dean of Yale Law School announced she would no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World Report on its annual rankings, several of her peers have followed suit. As of Tuesday, deans at 10 of the 15 top-ranked law schools had said they would stop sending their data to U.S. News.
The collective revolt came quickly — and with barbs. In their announcements, the deans criticized the algorithm that U.S. News analysts use to produce the rankings. “The rankings rely on flawed survey techniques and opaque and arbitrary formulas, lacking the transparency needed to help applicants make truly informed decisions,” wrote Kerry Abrams, dean of Duke Law. The methodology creates “perverse incentives,” wrote Jenny Martinez, Stanford Law School’s dean.
There have been complaints for some time that some schools fudge their data. The Obama administration built an alternative to the U.S. News and World Report system called College Scorecard. The government website includes listings of what former students earn, how much they owe, the diversity on campus and how the school compares on graduation rates. Make no mistake, this is top-of-mind stuff for high school seniors right now. The old saying is if you smelled the Thanksgiving turkey and have not applied for the school(s) you want to attend, you are running late.
How for-profit hospice services are now 30% of the field
ProPublica explored the world of profit-making hospice care which is as dodgy as it sounds like it could be:
For-profit providers made up 30% of the field at the start of this century. Today, they represent more than 70%, and between 2011 and 2019, research shows, the number of hospices owned by private-equity firms tripled. The aggregate Medicare margins of for-profit providers are three times that of their nonprofit counterparts. Under the daily-payment structure, a small hospice that bills for just 20 patients at the basic rate can take in more than a million dollars a year. A large hospice billing for thousands of patients can take in hundreds of millions. Those federal payments are distributed in what is essentially an honor system. Although the government occasionally requests more information from billers, it generally trusts that providers will submit accurate claims for payment — a model that critics deride as “pay and chase.”
The ProPublica story is peppered with horrific tales that seem to find their way into polluting the good work of dedicated charitable professionals who built hospice care as a dignified way to live out one’s final days:
Some hospice firms bribe physicians to bring them new patients by offering all-expenses-paid trips to Las Vegas nightclubs, complete with bottle service and private security details. (The former mayor of Rio Bravo, Texas, who was also a doctor, received outright kickbacks.) Other audacious for-profit players enlist family and friends to act as make-believe clients, lure addicts with the promise of free painkillers, dupe people into the program by claiming that it’s free home health care or steal personal information to enroll “phantom patients.” A 29-year-old pregnant woman learned that she’d been enrolled in Revelation Hospice, in the Mississippi Delta (which at one time discharged 93% of its patients alive), only when she visited her doctor for a blood test. In Frisco, Texas, according to the FBI, a hospice owner tried to evade the Medicare-repayment problem by instructing staff to overdose patients who were staying on the service too long. He texted a nurse about one patient: “He better not make it tomorrow. Or I will blame u.” The owner was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for fraud, in a plea deal that made no allegations about patient deaths.
This is one of those hard-to-tell stories because hospice seems to be universally admired as caring and selfless. I read this story with disgust and hope that it will open the eyes of regulators who will clean up the business for the truly angelic hospice workers who make up most of the care and for the vulnerable patients who need it.