Dallas Agency Brings Coding In-House to Target Covid-19 Aid

The Dallas Housing Authority’s efforts to distribute Covid-19 housing assistance to the city’s renters were bolstered by a sales software system reconfigured with features that enabled officials to grant aid more quickly and equitably.

The governmental agency, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in August was tasked with distributing $4 million to income-eligible renters before Dec. 31 as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

To meet the deadline and ensure the funds would reach the neediest families, DHA staffers customized an existing software program from Zoho Corp. to automate tasks and map the most economically vulnerable neighborhoods in the city. Zoho’s customer relationship-management software is primarily intended for sales teams.

“If we can leverage technology to move faster but also move with intention, that was really the spirit of what I tried to accomplish here,” said Dr. Myriam Igoufe, vice president of policy development and research at DHA.

The Dallas Housing Authority’s system for managing Cares Act funds is based on customer-relationship management software from Zoho Corp.



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Dallas Housing Authority

The automated system her team built went live in late August and started approving checks to landlords last week.

Early results are encouraging, she said. Staff now have a better understanding of who is applying and from what sections of the city, an important distinction that enables officials to better sense whether the money allocated to one district may run out and adjust plans if needed.

Approximately 1,525 people applied for rent relief funds through DHA, with 388 approved to have checks sent to their landlords in the coming weeks. Sixty-three percent of those accepted applicants came from neighborhoods above the 80th percentile in terms of being the most vulnerable. Without the system they have created, Dr. Igoufe said, distribution wouldn’t have been as targeted.

“This to me means that we are providing much-needed relief to the most vulnerable people in our city,” she said. “A lot of people are months and months behind on their rent, and it’s not a character flaw. It’s Covid.”

Dallas resident Keia Johnson, 27, is on track to have her $1,065 rent covered for two months through the program. Ms. Johnson said she has been unemployed since March—after losing jobs as a dental coordinator and a beauty salon receptionist—and has been cutting costs and borrowing money just to keep up with her rent.

“Unemployment benefits can only do so much. It’s just been a strain. And then, filling out that [DHA] application and seeing them say ‘Congratulations, we’re paying for it,’ has been a relief off my back,” Ms. Johnson said.

DHA started using Zoho about two years ago to better keep track of families applying for federal housing vouchers. Although Zoho allows for some customization, Dr. Igoufe said her team took things a step further, including writing new code, to make it useful for managing rental assistance.

First, they had to figure out which neighborhoods were likely to be the most vulnerable,

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Nikola Pushes Back on Skeptics by Showcasing In-House Tech

(Bloomberg) — Nikola Corp. wants to put allegations of deception behind it with a push to showcase its own innovations and detail how it plans to get its clean-powered trucks to market.

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Executives at the embattled startup are talking to investors to rebut criticism it has no working prototypes and to clarify its business plans after the resignation of founder and former Chairman Trevor Milton. That effort includes highlighting technology with existing or pending patents, explaining the role partners will play and providing better milestones on efforts to start production.

“Our message is the same as it was before,” said Chief Executive Officer Mark Russell in an interview. “We have an ecosystem of partners that have validated what we’re doing. We believe we’re within three years of producing a fuel cell truck and one year of producing a battery-powered truck.”

Nikola executives will also use planned and direct communication to media and investors instead of the social media posts that Milton favored, according to people familiar with the company’s plans, who asked not to be identified.

The charm offensive is an attempt to counter investor skepticism about Nikola’s business model in the wake of a short-seller report last month that questioned the company’s capabilities and claims of progress. Nikola has denied misrepresenting itself, but federal regulators are reportedly examining the allegations against the company and Milton, who has been accused of unrelated harassment claims that he denies.

Shares of the company have fallen almost 50% from their price after going public in June through a reverse merger. The stock pared a decline of as much as 9.3% on Tuesday, trimming losses in early afternoon trading. The stock was down 6.2% to $18.10 as of 1:30 p.m. in New York.

Patents and Software

Nikola has forged technology-sharing relationships with automotive titans Robert Bosch GmbH and General Motors Co., both of which own stakes in the company. That helps underpin the company’s work — and potential value — as a systems integrator for its fast-track projects, including a battery-electric pickup truck and hydrogen fuel-cell semi trucks.

The Phoenix-based startup is also anxious to show investors in-house know-how, including six published patents in the U.S. for innovations such as a purpose-built frame for a fuel-cell truck. It also has several other U.S. patents pending for things like fuel-cell membranes and catalysts, hydrogen storage, fast fueling systems and system control technologies, according to a document seen by Bloomberg News.

While these patents represent future potential, they are many years away from commercialization, according to a person familiar with the matter. For the time being, Nikola will rely on Bosch’s fuel cells for prototypes to be built next year. GM’s fuel-cell technology is viewed by Nikola as more mature than Bosch’s, but it will take a longer time for the fuel cell’s packaging, compression and power management systems to be adjusted to fit the design of Nikola’s trucks, the person said.

Nikola plans to show investors its competitive edge in hydrogen-powered vehicles that

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MPs heal in-house football team dispute

While the nation battles the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, some parliamentarians have been preoccupied with a crisis of their own – who runs the MPs’ football team. And, though it might be known as the beautiful game, things have turned ugly.

A row has been brewing for months, with long-serving senior Labour MPs taking the drastic action of calling on their colleagues to boycott involvement in running the group in protest at the behaviour of its new Tory chair.

However, a deal has now been brokered for a Tory-Labour power-sharing agreement so harmony can be restored to the dressing room.

It comes after a hotly contested claim emerged that the Conservative MP Karl McCartney effectively mounted a takeover of the all-party parliamentary football club earlier this year when he became chair with the backing of Tory colleagues.

In a bid to kick McCartney into touch, the Labour MPs Clive Betts (a former chair of the group), Ian Murray and Justin Madders emailed Labour colleagues on Monday saying: “Karl McCartney proposed himself Chair and brought a number of Conservative colleagues to support him without any discussion with Labour colleagues.”

They added: “We have been trying to seek compromise with Karl to continue to ensure the collegiate and consensual way we have always operated but he has refused. Ian Murray and Clive Betts have had Zoom conversation with Karl today and he is unwilling to run the group in the all-party cooperative spirit it has always operated. We would ask that no Labour members agree to be an officer until joint agreement is reached.”

However, after the row emerged on Tuesday – first reported by Politico London Playbook – a deal was reached to resolve the disagreement, with Madders due to be appointed co-chair of the group. “In the end, it was a hard-fought 90 minutes but football has been the winner,” Madders joked to the Guardian.

After reaching the compromise, Madders and McCartney released a joint statement on Tuesday saying: “We have an OGM later today when it is expected that Justin Madders will be joining the Group as Co-Chairman (with Karl McCartney) and his election will provide cross-party management of the Group.

“It is expected at the same time that a number of other Labour Members will be joining as Vice-Chairmen, as well as other Members of both Houses. The UKPFC APPG has always been open to all Members, and is inclusive, and can now move forward and concentrate on what it was meant to do: playing more football, as well as raising the profile of the many good causes and charities the team support.”

McCartney denied claims of a takeover, telling the Guardian: “The minutes of the 2020 AGM show I did not propose myself to be chairman at all; in fact I was nominated and seconded by a number of parliamentary colleagues who were present at the meeting in person, and Clive Betts (who was in the chair in person in the room) did not put himself

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State Police uncovered more trooper payroll issues last year. This time, they kept it in-house

When indictments were unfurled, his name was never mentioned. The state’s largest law enforcement agency never forwarded its investigation to prosecutors. The agency released it only last month, in response to a records request the Globe filed in December.

Lynch, who resigned as union president last year while facing union dissent, remains on the force today as a supervisor, relocated to a barracks that was at the center of the overtime fraud scandal. He collected $62,900 in overtime pay through August of this year, records show, significantly more than he earned in any year over the last decade.

Lynch’s case raises questions about how seriously the department handles pay abuse and how many other troopers may have escaped sanctions.

Dennis Galvin, a retired State Police major and president of the Massachusetts Association for Professional Law Enforcement, said prosecutors should examine the case.

“This continues to smear the image of the Massachusetts State Police,” he said. “It does not provide confidence that significant and meaningful changes have been made.”

In a statement, State Police spokesman David Procopio said the department never shared details with prosecutors because Lynch’s misconduct was “administrative in nature” and “relatively minor.” Procopio said Colonel Christopher Mason has since made changes to “foster a culture of accountability,” and the department “has reiterated to its members that such actions are not permissible under policy and implemented mandatory training.”

Procopio declined to say what discipline Lynch faced, but records reviewed by the Globe show he received a letter of counseling — the second-lowest form of discipline — ordering him to reread internal policies and not violate them again.

Governor Charlie Baker, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment, as did public safety Secretary Thomas Turco.

Reached by phone, Lynch said: “I’m not going to comment on this.”

The internal investigation determined Lynch was paid more than the actual hours he worked, including for a shift along the 2017 Boston Marathon route. He also had overlapped work assignments and changed the start time of paid details without authorization, including detail shifts directing traffic for Sunday services at a Revere church.

The department also found he had “misrepresented his knowledge” to a superior officer when first questioned. The department told the Globe it ultimately did not consider this lying, a more serious charge.

While the investigation does not identify how much he earned improperly, a conservative estimate is at least $2,000 during the four months investigators examined.

By comparison, troopers criminally charged or suspended without pay in the overtime scandal were accused of fraudulently collecting from nearly $3,000 to more than $51,000 over three years.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey declined to comment, but confirmed the office was never notified of Lynch’s case. US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office declined to comment.

Brenda J. Bond-Fortier, a law enforcement expert and Suffolk University professor, said Lynch’s case is likely to anger taxpayers.

“People want assurances that the organization is changing, and these kinds of cases work against them,” she said.

This is

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