Robert Benincasa

Robert Benincasa is a computer-assisted reporting producer in NPR's Investigations Unit.

Since joining NPR in 2008, Benincasa has been reporting on NPR Investigations stories, analyzing data for investigations, and developing data visualizations and interactive applications for NPR.org. He has worked on numerous groundbreaking stories, including data-driven investigations of the inequities of federal disaster aid and coal miners' exposures to deadly silica dust.

Prior to NPR, Benincasa served as the database editor for the Gannett News Service Washington Bureau for a decade.

Benincasa's work at NPR has been recognized by many of journalism's top honors. In 2014, he was part of a team that won an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award, and he shared Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards with Investigations Unit colleagues in 2016 and 2011.

Also in 2011, he received numerous accolades for his contributions to several investigative stories, including an Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, an Investigative Reporters & Editors Radio Award, the White House News Photographers Association's Eyes of History Award for multimedia innovation, and George Polk and George Foster Peabody awards.

Benincasa served on the faculty of Georgetown University's Master of Professional Studies program in journalism from 2008 to 2016.

Update: The CITES convention officially adopted the musical instruments exemption on Wednesday.

An international endangered species convention meeting in Geneva is close to exempting musical instruments from trade restrictions on rosewood.

The restrictions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — commonly referred to as CITES — went into effect in 2017, after strong demand for high-end rosewood furniture in China led to conservation worries and violence in areas that produce the wood.

An audit of the federal system that fines mining companies for unsafe conditions found no evidence that more than $1 billion in mine safety penalties over 18 years deterred unsafe mining practices.

The four-year long audit from the Office of Inspector General of the Labor Department says its analysis of Mine Safety and Health Administration accident and violations data "showed no correlation between penalties paid and the safety of mine operations."

For many families, the nightmare of a catastrophic flood is only just getting started when the waters recede. But that nightmare — one that has become increasingly common across the United States — may be worse depending on who you are.

If they had known, they never would have bought the house on Bayou Glen Road. Sure, it was a beautiful lot, tucked in a bend of the creek, backyard woodsy and wild, the neighbors friendly and the street quiet. A little piece of nature just 20 minutes from downtown Houston. It was exactly what John and Heather Papadopoulos — recently married, hoping to start a family — were looking for in 2007. They didn't think much about the creek that ran along their yard, aside from appreciating the birds it attracted to the neighborhood.

Greg Kelly's grandson, Caden, scampers to the tree-shaded creek behind his grandfather's house to catch crawdads, as Kelly shuffles along, trying to keep up. Kelly's small day pack holds an oxygen tank with a clear tube clipped to his nose. He has chairs spaced out on the short route so he can stop every few minutes, sit down and catch his breath, until he has enough wind and strength to start out again for the creek.

At a meeting in Geneva today, the treaty organization that shook the music industry with new trade regulations on rosewood took formal action to clarify and potentially ease some of the regulations.

Rosewood is a prized "tonewood" used for musical instruments from guitars to clarinets and oboes.

The treaty cracked down on the material's international movements late last year to combat worldwide depletion of rosewood trees, driven by China's burgeoning demand for rosewood furniture.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Dan Katz has two cellos. The better one — the one he prefers to play with the orchestra — is 200 years old and has rosewood tuning pegs. When the orchestra went on an 11-concert European tour in January, he purposefully left it home.

"I worry with that instrument about international travel now, because of those pegs," Katz said after rehearsing for a performance of Schubert's Ninth Symphony earlier this month.

This story is part one of a two-part investigation. Read part two here.

Ellen Bethea sat alongside her husband's hospital bed after doctors told her that Archie, the man she had been married to for almost five decades, wouldn't make it.

"As soon as everybody else was asleep and I was sitting there with him, he passed on," she remembers. "So I think he kind of waited for me to be with him."

Wells Fargo & Co., Fifth Third Bank and U.S. Bank said Friday that they will stop offering "deposit advances," a kind of payday loan that had come under fire by federal regulators last year.

With about $1.5 trillion in assets, Wells Fargo was the largest bank offering the costly, low-dollar loans. Regions Bank announced an end to deposit advances earlier this week.

One of several banks that offer payday loans is getting out of the business.

Regions Bank announced Wednesday that it will discontinue its "deposit advance" product known as Ready Advance.

Deposit advances are small, costly loans that bank customers take out between paychecks, and pay back automatically when a scheduled direct deposit comes through.

A payday loan is a costly form of credit operating on the fringes of the economy. That's why the target of a new crackdown by federal regulators may surprise you: Instead of a forlorn-looking storefront with a garish neon sign, it's your familiar neighborhood bank.

A small but growing number of banks, including some major players, have been offering the equivalent of payday loans, calling them "deposit advances."

That is, at least, until bank regulators stepped in Nov. 21 and put new restrictions on the loans.

Last year, the federal government made accessibility standards at playgrounds mandatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act so that children with disabilities can more easily play alongside typical kids.

But whether children with disabilities are able to enjoy their new civil rights to play may depend on where they live, and the design decisions their cities and towns made when they built local playgrounds.

For 3-year-old Emmanuel Soto, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, the local playground's design doesn't work.

Remember running around the playground when you were a kid? Maybe hanging from the monkey bars or seeing who could swing the highest?

It wasn't just a mindless energy burn. Many have called play the work of childhood. Play teaches children how to make friends, make rules and navigate relationships.

But for kids whose disabilities keep them from using playgrounds, those opportunities can be lost.