Editorial Roundup: Mississippi – Miami Herald

The (McComb) Enterprise-Journal. July 13, 2021.

Editorial: Time to end this property custom

When disaster strikes, as it has regularly in recent years in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and ice storms, it should be all but automatic that residents in areas with significant property damage will get government assistance if needed.

The Washington Post website, however, reported Sunday that sometimes applications for assistance are rejected. The denial of help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is especially pronounced among Black residents in the South, largely because of the way property is transferred to heirs.

“More than a third of Black-owned land in the South is passed down informally, rather than through deeds and wills, according to land use experts,” the Post reported. “It’s a custom that dates to the Jim Crow era, when Black people were excluded from the Southern legal system. When land is handed down like this, it becomes heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which families hold property collectively, without clear title.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that such property ownership transfers, without a clear title, is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black residents. Without specific titles to property, residents are not eligible for federal loans and grants, including FEMA disaster assistance.

The Post analyzed a decade’s worth of FEMA applications for individual and household assistance — 9.5 million total — and reported that the agency denies requests for help when an individual or family cannot prove title to their property. In majority-Black counties, the national denial rate is twice as high, but in some parts of the South, especially western Alabama, the rejections are much more frequent.

The Post based its story in Hale County, Ala., population 15,500, where it said 35% of requests for disaster assistance after tornadoes touched down in March got denied because of land ownership questions.

FEMA has been discussing this issue since at least 2005, when Hurricane Katrina barreled through Mississippi, Louisiana and several other states. After that storm, 20,000 property owners did not get federal help. And in 2017, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, 80,000 requests for assistance there were denied.

The story noted that there is no legal basis for requiring disaster victims to prove property ownership. FEMA, the Post said, created that mandate on its own in an attempt to weed out scammers who get away with up to 1% of the agency’s relief money.

The story makes it clear that FEMA should consider exceptions to its property title rule while figuring out how to solve this problem for the long term. But one solution is obvious: Families passing down homes or land without legal titles is a custom that’s got to end.

As the Post observed, this informal transfer of property between generations developed because Black people did not have access to the legal system in Southern states. But that was decades ago — half a century or longer in most places. Black residents now have full access, and it should be used.

This is not just a western Alabama problem. The story included a map of Southern states from Louisiana to South Carolina. Virtually all counties in the five states had applications rejected for FEMA assistance since 2010 because of title issues. The map indicated a rejection rate of about 10% in every Southwest Mississippi county. These rejections can be avoided.

A true disaster, one that badly damages a home, is a statistical rarity — until it actually happens. It is shameful that a vestige of Jim Crow has an effect on federal aid today, but there is a remedy. Anyone who lacks a clear title to their property should obtain it promptly.

___

Tupelo Daily Journal. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Time to get politics out of vaccination discussion

What a sad difference three months makes.

In March, Mississippi was among the first states to open limits on vaccination eligibility, allowing anyone 18 or older to start receiving shots to prevent against COVID-19 infections. Despite rampant misinformation and crazy conspiracy theories coming from social media and cable talk show hosts, leaders throughout Mississippi were united in their strong and vocal encouragement for people to get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, that was not a sign of things to come. Today, Mississippi ranks last in the percentage of people who have received at least one shot (37%) and who are fully vaccinated (33%).

What’s worse is that most of our leaders in Mississippi – from local to state to federal levels – have grown mostly silent in their calls for people to get vaccinated. This despite the emergence of the more dangerous delta variant and the fact that we are seeing an increase in positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19.

On Friday, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs held a press conference sounding the alarm about this perilous combination. He and other state health officials recommended anyone over the age of 65 or people with underlying health issues – vaccinated or not – to avoid all large indoor gatherings. Recommendations also included everyone 12 and older be vaccinated and those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.

The push for vaccinations is not a socialist plot or a communist takeover. The government is not trying to take your guns or your Bibles or implant you with microchips via vaccinations. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, or voted for Trump or Biden or wrote in your mama’s name for president.

Unfortunately, it seems that too many in this country believe just the opposite. Recent surveys show an almost partisan divide, with Democrats and Independents having been or are getting vaccinated versus anywhere between 35% and 50% of Republicans who say they are not going to get vaccinated. And the main, overwhelming reason given for the latter is the belief that the push for vaccinations is somehow politically driven.

We need our leaders to step up and start educating people about the realities of our situation. We need them to be vocal in calling out and correcting the falsehoods that are being spread.

We also need leaders to focus on improving vaccination rates among minority populations and in more rural areas that may be lacking in access.

There is little doubt that we will overcome COVID-19 and reach a critical mass of resistance and immunity among our population. The question is how will we get there?

The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer people who will get sick or die from COVID-19, and the quicker we as a nation will put this pandemic behind us.

___

The (Columbus) Dispatch. July 8, 2021.

Editorial: Starkville wise in its approach to scooters

It’s a new issue, but an old problem.

On Tuesday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen again opened the door for the return of Bird Scooters, which provides scooter rentals as a ride-sharing service. The scooter service had been banned twice by the Board of Aldermen (including an override of a veto by Mayor Lynn Spruill) as a risk to public safety and the possibility of lawsuits against the city.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Bird agreed to indemnify the city from any legal action that could result from injuries related to the operation of the electric scooters, which can travel up to 15 mph.

The board will also hold two public meetings to get feedback on a city ordinance that governs the operations of these scooters.

That neither of these measures were taken before Bird first began operations in Starkville in March might seem, in retrospect, a no-brainer mistake. Yet history clearly shows that when new modes of transportation arrive, it often takes time to understand them and fashion reasonable regulations for them.

The best example is, of course, the automobile. When Henry Ford developed the first assembly line, a process that allowed for mass production and, as a result, a boom in automobile sales, cities at first found it difficult to understand the impact on automobiles and how best to regulate their uses to ensure order and public safety.

Cars arrived well in advance of any laws that governed them. There were no stop signs, traffic signals, lanes, speed limits, pedestrian crossings or even right-of-way rules, mainly because none of these laws were necessary when traffic was confined to pedestrians, horses or streetcars.

Among the earliest driving laws was one that required a motorist have someone walk in front of the automobile waving a red flag to warn people of the auto’s pending arrival.

Those early laws, many of them ridiculous, evolved over time as society began to understand how automobiles could be safely operated in urban settings.

But it took a while.

Certainly electric scooters are not likely to revolutionize transportation on the scale of the automobile, but their arrival, not unlike the arrival of the automobile, has exposed areas where existing laws do not account for the new mode of transportation.

Starkville’s initial ban on the scooters came after reports of people riding them on the sidewalk, down highways or under the influence of alcohol. There were some who viewed them as a menace, which isn’t a new idea, either. Some cities initially banned automobiles for the same reasons.

Starkville leaders found themselves with two choices: Either ban the scooter outright or develop a plan to safely accommodate them.

We believe the city acted wisely in choosing the latter and applaud the board for making sure citizens have some say in how the scooter regulations are crafted.

END