Entries in Georgia (9)


Georgia Family Tries to Buy Back Foreclosed Home from Bank

The Gearing Family(HELEN, Ga.) -- Of the nearly 1.9 million homes that went into foreclosure last year, few owners had any thoughts about sticking around. They packed up their bags and left.

But not the Gearings of Helen, Ga., a small town about 25 miles from the North Carolina border. They are trying to buy back their foreclosed home from the bank to avoid an eviction on Nov. 5, but nothing about the process has been easy.

Jeannette and Bill Gearing and their seven children, by their own account, were doing "very well" six years ago. In 2006, they built and moved into their five-bedroom dream home. Then the recession hit.

Bill Gearing, 54, a salesman, had invested a large portion of the family's savings in real estate beginning in the late 1990s, including a farm and their home. He also had started a small business in early 2005; it provided farm equipment and had a fully stocked nursery.

The $1.4 million mortgage on their 5,500-square-foot home has monthly payments of nearly $7,000. With a major drought in the area and the economic downturn in full swing by 2009, Bill's customers began to go out of business and so did his company. The mortgage payments were too much for the family.

They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2011. Their home was foreclosed on the following July.

"My husband did very well," said Jeannette Gearing, 42. "We worked very hard, obviously. We're just victims of the economy just like everyone else. It affected everybody on all levels."

Her husband continued to work as a salesman, but he makes about a quarter of what he used to earn. To try to earn more money, Jeannette has cleaned houses and worked as a substitute teacher while taking care of her children, ages seven to 17. An aunt who has Alzheimer's disease also lives with the family.

Jeannette said there didn't seem to be any options to save their home because the mortgage was so high.

"We just didn't know who to call," she said.

A loan modification seemed overwhelming as well.

"My husband started packing when we were notified of the foreclosure," she said. "I didn't give up."

Earlier this year, the Gearings found renewed hope when a family friend contacted them and said he would be willing to purchase the home at its current market value so they could continue to live in it. They would pay the friend, who has so far chosen to remain anonymous, back over time. While the Gearings' financial situation hasn't improved much, they now say they have hope that they can stay in their home.

Meanwhile, the number of foreclosure filings in the country dropped to a five-year low in September, according to the foreclosure listings firm RealtyTrac.

The family friend compared their home to other neighboring homes that have sold for much less than their original worth, and submitted a cash offer of $300,000 to an attorney they thought represented U.S. Bank.

But it was complicated. The Gearings said they had difficulty figuring out who owned their home after the foreclosure. A number of financial firms seemed to have some involvement in the ownership of it.

Initially, they had tried contacting U.S. Bank, which was identified on their foreclosure filings. A friend of the Gearing children started a petition on, initially asking U.S. Bank to allow them to purchase the home. The petition was signed by nearly 200,000 people.

They eventually learned that U.S. Bank was only the trustee for their foreclosed home, which is owned by a trust. They later were directed to Chase, which they confirmed only earlier this month is the mortgage servicer.

A spokeswoman for Chase said the bank has spoken to the family to try to resolve the issue.

"In servicing a property, we follow the investors' guidelines to avoid foreclosure when possible and to minimize the loss in the case of foreclosure," Chase said in a statement. "After foreclosure, we seek to sell the home for fair market value."

The family said Chase has now said it may be willing to entertain an offer if an independent appraisal is conducted on the home first. On Thursday, Chase sent a real estate agent to assess the home's value. On Tuesday, an appraiser is scheduled to visit.

Jeannette said she has looked at apartments in the area so the children can continue going to school, but she has struggled to find spaces large enough for the family. If they are evicted, she said they would still likely try to buy the home. But moving with seven children and their aunt is something the Gearings would like to avoid.

When asked if the Gearings' family friend would be willing to pay a higher price to meet the appraisal value, Jeannette Gearing said they would be willing to pay a "fair" price for the home.

"I'm glad something is happening," she said. "Hopefully it will be a good thing and we can get something resolved."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Ga. Woman Seeks Apology After Being Slammed for Using Food Stamps

Courtesy Cindy Nerger(NEW YORK) -- Is a $15 gift card enough to compensate for public humiliation at your local grocery store? According to one Georgia woman, the answer is absolutely not.

Cindy Nerger, 28, who relies on food stamps to feed her family, said she was brought to tears after being embarrassed by a manager at a Kroger store in Warner Robbins, Ga.

“He said, ‘Excuse me for working for a living and not relying on food stamps like you,’” Nerger said the manager told her.

The man’s comment came after Nerger and two other store employees disagreed over whether her total purchase was eligible for food stamps — the employees had insisted that roughly $10 of her bill was not covered. She said the manager ultimately told the employees to “just give it to her.”

After Nerger then stressed that she had been right all along, the man made his “working for a living” remark, she said.

“I turned around and realized how many people heard him and how many saw that happened and I was so embarrassed… I started crying,” she said.

In a statement to, a Kroger spokesman said, “We deeply regret our customer’s experience. The comments made were not reflective of our company’s policy. We value all of our customers. Please know that we have taken immediate steps to make sure something like this never happens again.”

The spokesman did not reply to a follow-up message asking for more information, but a local Georgia television station reported that Kroger had transferred the manager at the center of the controversy to another store.

Nerger said the reason she and her family — she is married with a daughter — must rely on food stamps is because her husband’s carpentry business isn’t profitable enough to support the family.

Meanwhile, Nerger must devote 12 hours every night to a dialysis treatment to combat her kidney disease, which she’s struggled with since the age of 11. She’s been on a kidney transplant list for five years and hopes that someday, after a successful transplant, she can become a working member of society. She would like to attend college to major in child psychology.

“There’s just so much stigmatism put on people on food stamps. They’re just some losers who don’t want to work. That isn’t the case in every situation,” she said.

Nerger’s account of her run-in with a Kroger manager went viral after she posted it to her Facebook page, prompting friends to encourage her to post a message to a local television station. The station ended up contacting her and doing a story.

Kroger, meanwhile, responded to a complaint Nerger passed on through the store’s national customer service line by apologizing and offering her a $15 gift card. Nerger said she rejected the offer because she doesn’t plan on shopping at Kroger again.

What she wants, she said, is an apology directly from the manager, whom she also believes should be demoted from his job and trained how to treat customers properly.

She stopped short of saying the man should lose his job.

“I didn’t want anybody to be in the food stamp line with me,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Two New Nuclear Reactors Win Federal Approval -- The construction of two new nuclear reactors won federal approval Thursday, making them the first to be built in the U.S. in the decades since the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979.

The U.S. Nuclear and Regulatory Commission gave the go-ahead to Southern Company of Atlanta to add two reactors to its existing pair at the Vogtle Plant in Waynesboro, Ga.

Unit 3 is projected to begin operating in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017.

Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Company, heralded the move as a "major step" at a news conference.

"The two new units at Vogtle will set a new standard of safety and efficiency in nuclear energy," he said, adding that the company's budget and goals are on schedule.

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Only one member of the five-person U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Chairman Gregory Jaczko, dissented, citing safety concerns following a triple meltdown last year at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

"Significant safety enhancements have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima, and there is still more work ahead of us," Jackzki said in a statement. "Knowing this, I cannot support issuing these licenses as if Fukushima never happened."

Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, told ABC News that Southern Company will have to meet a very specific list of safety criteria and standards set forth for the operation of new nuclear reactors in a post-Three Mile Island era.

"The license that we will be issuing includes both permission to build the reactor and conditional permission to operate the reactor, and only if the acceptance criteria is met," Burnell said.

During the review process, Burnell said, the community was given "several opportunities" to voice its opinions about the environmental impact of the project.

The two new units represent a $14 billion capital investment in Georgia, according to a release issued by the Southern Company.

Peter Bradford, who was a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the time of the Three Mile Island crisis, said building the new reactors wasn't a reasonable economic decision.

"The problem has never been construction permits," Bradford told ABC News. "Investors just don't want to take the risk."

There are currently 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Georgia Couple Pleads With Bank of America in Music Video

Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- A frustrated Georgia couple whose closing date for a Bank of America loan has been delayed three times decided to plead their case through song in a homemade music video that quickly caught the bank’s attention.

The couple, Ken and Meredith Williams, has been waiting 79 days to close a loan for a new house. They have been paying fines to the seller for the delays, including $50 a day for the past week.

“Bank of America you’re making me so mad. I want to buy this house, really bad,” Ken Williams sings in the video while playing the guitar. “My credit score is 798. Don’t worry ’cause my payments will never be late.”

Friday is their fourth scheduled closing date and, as of that morning, they had not yet heard from the bank. But it looks like their musical plea was a success. In a statement to ABC News, Bank of America spokeswoman Christina Beyer Toth said the following:

“We apologize for the delay in closing Mr. Williams’ loan. We are on target to close his loan today.  For the inconvenience, we have provided him a credit at closing.”

One of places where Williams sings in the video is in front of a Bank of America in Lawrenceville, while his wife dances around in the background.

Meredith Williams initially had the idea of putting together a timeline of all of the delays and using Twitter to get someone’s attention using Bank of America’s customer service Twitter account, @BofA_help.

“We’re more than qualified. We’re buying a really cheap house and it shouldn’t be really difficult,” Ken Williams told ABC News. “We just felt really powerless like we had no leverage.”

Ken Williams works in marketing and his wife works in development. Both work at large organizations in downtown Atlanta and wanted to move to a smaller house closer to work.

While Meredith Williams was writing the timeline, Ken Williams began writing the song. Meanwhile, their friends were bombarding the Twitter account with messages about the couple. They set up a blog with the timeline, their story and the video.

“We didn’t want to sound unreasonable,” he said. “A lot of people are mad at Bank of America for different reasons and I didn’t want to be another angry voice with profanity, so we thought we’d take a different angle with it.”

The upbeat video is both funny and direct.

“Why can’t a house go fast when a buyer’s got cash, pre-approval and two cats?” he sings. “It takes time, obviously, a month or even two but now we’re looking at three.”

Ken Williams made the video on Saturday and posted it to YouTube on Sunday afternoon. By 10 a.m. on Monday morning, Bank of America called the couple.

“I can certainly tell that a fire has been lit under the people who have been working on our loans,” Ken Williams said. “They’ve become very responsive all of a sudden.”

He said the matter “escalated really fast” and the couple received phone calls from a representative of the bank’s CEO.

Even though Ken Williams has not heard from the bank yet about today’s scheduled closing, he hopes this will be the big day.

“All I want is to have a home, and a front yard for my garden gnome. Bank you’ve got to close this loan!” Williams sings at the end of the song. “We can sign the papers and grab a beer, then you take my money for 30 years. Bank you’ve got to close this loan!”

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Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wrong Lottery Ticket Wins Georgia Woman $25 Million

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(SAVANNAH, Ga.) -- A woman in Savannah, Georgia has an inattentive clerk to thank for a $25 million lottery windfall she won on Sept. 14.

Kathy Scruggs, 44, tells the Savannah Morning News, "I asked for a Mega Millions ticket, and the lady gave me a Powerball ticket."  I just took it anyway.  So I bought Powerball and Mega Millions."

That twist of fate paid off -- big time.  Scruggs matched all of the winning numbers in the Powerball drawing, netting a $25 million jackpot.

Scruggs, who is unemployed and has been "looking and looking" for work, now plans to travel, and launch some charitable efforts with her winnings.  But, as the saying goes, charity begins at home.

"I’m going to build my mom and grandmother a home.  That's my first focus," Scruggs says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Thousands Camp Out for Job Fair as Jobless Rate Rises

Comstock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Thousands of unemployed people waited overnight, camping out in their business suits and office heels and braving the tormenting heat in Atlanta to stand in line for a job fair Thursday. Authorities treated 20 people for heat exhaustion as they struggled to keep the line moving and get people moved inside.

The incredible turnout at the job fair comes on the heels of the state labor commissioner's announcement that Georgia's jobless rate rose.

The state unemployment rate increased to 10.1 percent in July from 9.9 percent in June. The unemployment rate for African-Americans stands at 15.9 percent, far above the national rate of 9.1 percent.

July marks the 48th consecutive month that Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate.

The line was full of hopefuls who waited for hours in a line that wrapped around the Atlanta Technical College where the event was held.

The "For the People Jobs Initiative," hosted by U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson and sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, is a series of job fairs and town halls at some of the urban areas hit hardest by unemployment and the financial crisis.

The enormous turnout in Georgia created miles of traffic that clogged southwest Atlanta.

Thousands showed up for an opportunity to meet the 90 employers who attended the event, eager to jumpstart their job search. The fair provided job seminars such as resume writing and mortgage modification workshops.

The immense crowd at the two-day fair is another unneeded reminder of the dire state of the American economy.

"I believe the recent lack of leadership in Washington is a contributing factor to the overall lack of confidence in the economy," said Mark Butler, Georgia's labor commissioner. "Due to this lack of confidence, we are seeing a business community that is hesitant to make further investments in this economy."

The general inefficiency in Washington is precisely the reason why the Congressional Black Caucus launched the fair, said Mahen Gunaratna, a representative for Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who will host Miami's Job Initiative fair.

"The Congressional Black Caucus decided to take matters into their own hands," said Gunaratna. "They are tired of Republicans' inaction that prevents bills from moving forward. This is a real tangible opportunity for our constituents."

And the people in the lines have not yet given up despite the relentless weather, miles of traffic, lines and months of unemployment.

Two more "For the People Jobs Initiative" fairs are set to take place in Miami and Los Angeles later this month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Georgia Leading the US with 14 Bank Closures in 2011

ABC News(CLAYTON, Ga.) -- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said Friday that financial authorities closed Mountain Heritage Bank in Clayton, Ga.  This is the 48th bank to fail this year and the 14th in Georgia, making that state the nation's leader in failed banks.  Since 2008, Georgia has closed 65 banking institutions, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The 48 banks seized so far in 2011 is still lower than that of the first have of 2010.  The Wall Street Journal reports that 157 banks had failed by the end of last year -- the highest since the end of the savings and loan crisis in 1992.

All deposit accounts at Mountain Heritage Bank, with the exception of certain brokered account deposits, are being transferred to First American Bank and Trust Co. in Athens, Ga. under a purchase-and-assumption deal with the FDIC, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Before the close, Mountain Heritage reportedly had $103.7 million in assets and $89.6 million in deposits between its two branches.  According to the FDIC, the bank's failure could end up costing the Deposit Insurance Fund about $41 million.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FDA Finds Unsanitary Conditions at Kellogg's Cookie Plant

Scott Olson/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- FDA investigators discovered unsanitary conditions, flies and dangerous bacteria earlier this year at a factory that makes Keebler and Famous Amos cookies.
In a June 7 letter sent to Kellogg’s, the director of the FDA’s Atlanta office warned that foods made at the company’s cookie factory in Augusta, Ga., “have been prepared, packed, or held under unsanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth.” More troubling, agency investigators also found Listeria monocytogenes throughout the facility.
Harmless to most people, Listeria can be a serious health risk for children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Kellogg's Company spokesman Kris Charles told ABC News in an email that the plant “produces a variety of Keebler and Famous Amos cookies.”

“While the FDA did not identify specific concerns with the food, we take this situation very seriously,” Charles wrote. "We have undertaken a number of aggressive actions to address their concerns including comprehensive cleaning and extensive testing. We have confidence in the safety of our food.”

The FDA said baking the cookies would be likely to kill the bacteria but went on to warn Kellogg’s, “the positive environmental swabs are indicators of insanitary conditions in your facility and demonstrate a failure of cleaning and sanitation operations that may allow for contamination of foods with filth or pathogens.”
This is not Kellogg’s first problem with Listeria in Georgia. In 2009, as reported by ABC News and others, Kellogg’s shut down and sanitized an Eggo frozen waffle plant in Atlanta after discovering Listeria monocytegenes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Georgia's New Deal: New Job Opportunities for All Unemployed

Photo Courtesy - Georgia Department of Labor(ATLANTA) -- Georgia's high unemployment rate of 10 percent has labor officials scrambling to prevent more people from joining the ranks of the unemployed, and ultimately to bring the number down.

The state's labor department has created a new work program for every unemployed person in the state. The program allows an unemployed person to approach an interested employer, and work under a trial period while getting trained. The state underwrites the cost of that work for six weeks.

When it works, it's a win-win for everyone. An employer gets a state-sanctioned worker for free; in exchange, the worker gets new hope that at the end of the trial period, they will be hired.

Under the Georgia program, those workers who qualify for unemployment insurance will continue to receive their payments during the six weeks they're in the trial period. Those workers who don't qualify for unemployment insurance will get a $600 stipend from the state.

A smaller version of the idea, called Georgia Works, has already been proven successful. It resulted in permanent jobs for several hundred people last year.

Georgia's labor commissioner, Michael Thurmond, said the program works because employers and employees get a custom-fit. Additionally, the unemployed get personally invested in the job. There is really no risk for either party, he said.

Of the thousands of unemployed workers who enrolled in the program, 36 percent were hired permanently within the first six weeks and 63 percent found jobs within the next 90 days.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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