Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm, which seems irresistibly drawn to dubious schemes, apparently is involved with a new one -- this time, in Mississippi -- according to a report at banbalch.com.
Balch, which has historic ties to segregation and white supremacy, now is involved with -- of all things -- a COVID-19 relief fund totaling $200 million. But an NBC News investigative report last week raises questions about where all that money is going and how it is being distributed. The funds are designed to help prevent pandemic-related evictions, but it's not clear that is what's happening. Writes Ban Balch Publisher K.B. Forbes, under the headline,"Balch and the Mississippi Rental Assistance Flop":
Mississippi and its two largest counties received $200 million in federal Covid-19 relief funds to cover back rent, with the aim of preventing evictions, according to NBC News.
“But the vast majority of that money has not been spent, and there are large disparities in who is receiving help, and how quickly they’re getting it, according to a review of the latest program data and interviews with experts and advocates, ” NBC News wrote.
NBC News published the exposé last week with a glaring headline. Here is that headline: "Mississippi received millions in rent aid. But many struggling tenants are still waiting: There are large disparities in who is receiving help, and how quickly they’re getting it." Writes Forbes:
NBC News also reminded us in their report that Balch & Bingham is a truly “talented” firm.
From the North Birmingham bribery scheme that was born at Balch’s offices in Birmingham, to the prolific ghost-letter writing of convicted felon and ex-Balch partner Joel I. Gilbert, from the alleged elderly exploitation of Mrs. B and her $218 million estate, to the alleged targeting, staged arrest, and defamation of an innocent competitor in the Newsome Conspiracy Case, Balch & Bingham appears to have surprised if not duped many.
Now add housing assistance to the list of “talents.”
NBC News Reports:
The Mississippi Home Corporation, which was created by the Legislature and offers assistance to homebuyers, runs the state-level program but has outsourced some of the work to Balch and Bingham, a law firm with a Jackson office. Scott Spivey, executive director of the Mississippi Home Corporation, said the program launched without software that could help speed up the review of applications. Now that a fuller process is in place, he expects to be able to handle hundreds of applications per day going forward.
“I would rather have more money that has been approved for payment than the roughly $2 million that we’re sitting at right now,” he said. “But that just means we have to work harder and play catchup.”
The North Birmingham bribery scandal, alone, is enough to call Balch's integrity into question. The Mississippi-eviction fund seems to raise questions about the firm's competence:
Why in heaven’s name is Balch, a well-connected but allegedly racist law firm, processing housing assistance for homebuyers?
Was there a truly “open-bidding” process to find an “outsource” vendor? Why were not banks, mortgage lenders, or community not-for-profits engaged instead of Balch & Bingham?
Better yet, why was not a cutting-edge online service used to facilitate applications, conduct identity verification, and issue the prompt electronic payment of assistance to homebuyers?
How, we ask, is Balch & Bingham “qualified” to provide housing assistance?
Where is all of this headed? Forbes, who probably could teach a Ph.D.-level course in "Balchology," has some ideas:
We believe the $200 million in assistance could eventually pale in comparison to the fees and retainer that Balch & Bingham could collect for providing a “fuller process” — one full of attorneys, paralegals, and others.
State investigators and media should begin public records requests and make sure an abuse of the system is not happening.
Mississippi, which prides itself on being fiscally conservative, needs to take a hard look at this absurdity for what it is.