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All results / Stories / Michael Lee Pope

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Connecting the Unconnected

Less than 3 percent of broadband spending to help low-income people gain internet access

About 15 percent of Alexandria students did not have access to the internet when the pandemic began last year, a statistic that reveals how many households in Alexandria are locked out of the modern economy.

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High Interest, Big Money

Lenders of last resort in Alexandria try to buy influence in Richmond.

Alexandria has eight car-title lending locations and two payday lenders, plus a growing number of companies offering online loans at nosebleed interest rates. It’s an industry that’s been under fire in recent years, and now campaign-finance disclosures show these companies are spreading their money around to Democrats and Republicans in an effort to influence the next General Assembly.

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Closing All the Loopholes

Democrats poised to impose new regulations on high-interest lenders.

The days of unregulated high-interest lending may be coming to a close in Virginia. Now that Democrats have seized control of the General Assembly, members of the Legislative Black Caucus say cracking down on predatory lending is one of their top priorities for the 2020 session.

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Absentee Minded

Lawmakers consider bill to assign absentee ballots to precincts where voters live.

On election night, Democrats were shocked by how well Donald Trump was performing in Alexandria. As returns were posted online, concerns were rising among supporters of Joe Biden as the incumbent was outperforming expectations at precinct after precinct.

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Unpaid Taxes Written Off

City often forgives delinquent taxpayers rather than going after them.

In the last decade, Alexandria has written off more than $100,000 in uncollected tax balances. The annual write-off happens every November, just as City Council members are appearing with a giant turkey at City Hall to celebrate Thanksgiving.

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Big Money for Big Biz, Not as Much for Poor

Lawmakers go on a spending spree with billions of dollars from Uncle Sam.

Big business cleaned up this week, taking home the biggest prizes in the special session to spend $3 billion in stimulus cash. Meanwhile, low-income Virginians didn't fare quite as well.

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Loan Sharks in the Water

Lawmakers crack down on predatory lending, although reform won’t happen for eight months.

The LoanMax on Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria is open for business during the pandemic, and colorful signs in the windows announce in English and Spanish that the car-title lender remains open during a stay-at-home order — offering loans at 200 percent annual interest during a time when unemployment claims in Alexandria are skyrocketing. Those kinds of interest rates will be illegal under the Fairness in Lending Act, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last week after lawmakers signed off on some last-minute changes. But the ban on such high-interest lending won’t take effect until New Years Day 2021, which means high-interest lenders have eight months to engage in an unprecedented lending spree during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

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Hunger Rising

Applications for food stamps skyrocket in Alexandria as local economy tanks.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic spike in the number of people in Alexandria with no resources to put food on the table for their families, leading to a skyrocketing number of applications for food stamps as unemployment numbers climb and people in Alexandria suddenly find themselves in an awkward position — asking for help from the government just to buy groceries. Officials at the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services say applications to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have more than tripled since February, before the novel coronavirus pandemic prompted Gov. Ralph Northam to issue a stay-at-home order and shut down most of Alexandria’s economy.

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Being There

How much virtual participation it too much?

Advocates for open government worry about too much virtual participation. Virginia Press Association executive director Betsy Edwards says the law is designed to make sure the public and the press have an opportunity to ask members of the Planning Commission why they voted against a zoning change and or why the mayor voted for a bike lane. She worried that unlimited virtual participation would limit availability to the public and the press to ask questions and get answers.

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Protecting Paychecks

Restaurants, lawyers and consultants in Alexandria receive millions in forgivable loans.

Restaurants in Alexandria received the biggest chunk of federal cash from the Paycheck Protection Program, landing more than 200 forgivable loans and saving about 4,000 jobs, according to new data released from the Small Business Administration. Lawyers, consultants and home health care workers also scored big, landing hundreds of loans and saving thousands of jobs. Ultimately, businesses in Alexandria received more than 3,000 loans and preserved more than 35,000 jobs.

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Pay to Play or Legitimate Representation in Virginia?

Senator’s consulting business takes center stage in primary campaign.

Is two-term Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) a rising star, poised to become chairwoman of a Senate committee if Democrats seize control of the Senate? Or is she an opportunist capitalizing on insider influence for personal gain? That’s a question for voters this June in a primary that pits Favola against challenger Nicole Merlene, who says Favola’s consulting business is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong about Virginia politics.

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Chirilagua in Crisis

More than half of those tested in low-income Hispanic neighborhood are positive for COVID-19.

Azucena Esquival lives in a cramped apartment in the Arlandria neighborhood of Alexandria, where the problem of community spread isn’t just theoretical. The pandemic is in her household. Earlier this month, she tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Another adult in her household paid $300 to get a test, which was also positive. They are living with two people who have not been tested. None of them are currently working, and they have no source of income.

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Furloughed and Waiting

Uncertainty lingers as furloughed workers hope temporary layoffs come to an end.

When Joy Phansond was furloughed from her job as sales coordinator at the Holiday Inn in Old Town, the temporary layoff was initially supposed to last until April 5. Then it was extended to May 5. Then it was extended again until June 5. She suspects that it’ll be extended again until July at least because the hotel business in Alexandria has been slammed by the collapse of tourism, trade shows and conventions.

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Killing the Death Penalty

Lawmakers consider bill to abolish capital punishment in Virginia

Virginia has executed people longer than any other state, a tradition that stretches back into colonial days when Captain George Kendall was executed for treason. Over the years, the commonwealth has executed more than 1,300 people. Now, Virginia may be about to join 22 other states that have abolished the death penalty.

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Nickel and Dimed Behind Bars

Lawmakers take a look at fines and fees charged to inmates at jails across Virginia.

People who were locked up in the Alexandria jail are not staying there for free, and taxpayers are paying only part of the bill.

Living in the Dark

Could you survive without your iPhone? Do you have an evacuation kit? Are you really prepared for the worst?

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Sealing the Record

House and Senate Democrats disagree on how old convictions should be expunged.

For people haunted by a conviction for felony drug possession or misdemeanor disorderly conduct, a debate now happening in the Virginia General Assembly is one that could have dramatic consequences for finding a place to live or landing a job. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow those people to seal their criminal record, expunging old convictions and helping them wipe the slate clean. But Democrats are bitterly divided over how to accomplish that goal.

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