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Monday, 28 October 2013 03:45

MO officials weighing funding increases

   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - After years of talking about less spending, some Missouri officials now are talking about more.

   Gov. Jay Nixon suggested recently that he would like to spend hundreds of millions of additional dollars on public schools before his term ends in three years.

   There may also be more money available for other programs in the next budget year.

   State departments already have turned in proposed budgets for the fiscal year that starts next July. And advocates for various social services have started making funding pitches to lawmakers.

   Nixon's budget director, Linda Luebbering, says revenues are looking better and there could be room to fund a few more things.

   House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream also says funding increases are possible for some programs.

 

Published in Local News

   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says he plans a "significant down payment" toward his goal of fully funding the state's school funding formula.

   The Democratic governor told a gathering of public school leaders Wednesday he's working to fund the K-12 school formula by the time he leaves office in January 2017.

   The current year's budget provides almost $3.1 billion in basic aid to elementary and secondary schools. State officials project the current funding level would be $556 million short of the target for next year's budget.

   Nixon also said he wants to expand access to early childhood education and will continue implementing accountability measures such as the Common Core education standards.

 
Published in Local News

   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois lawmakers are returning to the state capitol for a second day of their annual fall veto session.

   After getting off to a sputtering start Tuesday, the schedule on Wednesday is shaping up to include a hearing on gambling and more requests by state agencies for additional funds.

   Horsemen and officials from the Illinois racetracks want lawmakers to authorize a law that allows for online betting. And lawmakers are reviving talks on a larger gambling bill that stalled this spring.

   Tuesday also saw a gay marriage rally as part of an effort to make such unions legal in Illinois.

   Lawmakers have yet to address the state's $97 billion pension shortfall and tax incentives aimed at keeping Archer Daniels Midland Company's global headquarters in Illinois.

 
Published in Local News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a measure into law reopening the federal government and averting a potential default.

   The White House says Obama signed the bill early Thursday, hours after the House gave final approval.

   The White House budget office has already instructed federal workers to plan to return to work Thursday morning.

   The measure restores funding for the government through Jan. 15 and extends the nation's borrowing authority through Feb. 7.

   The partial government shutdown started Oct. 1. The U.S. was to reach its debt limit Thursday if no deal was reached.

   As the deal neared final passage in the House Wednesday, Obama said it was now time for leaders in Washington to win back the trust of Americans that was lost during the debt-and-spending crisis.

Published in National News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon has released $1 million in state funding to help rebuild a northeast Missouri vocational school destroyed by fire.

Lawmakers included funding for the Pike-Lincoln Technical Center in the current year's budget, but Nixon vetoed the appropriation.

The Legislature overrode the veto in September. But Nixon then froze the spending while determining if there was enough money in a particular fund to pay for it and whether the fund could legally be used for the project.

Nixon's budget director said Monday that the $1 million for the school had been released last week.

 

Published in Local News

   Normandy officials say it's too soon to say whether the cost of hundreds of students transferring out of the unaccredited district will lead to major budget cuts.  

   Assistant Superintendent of Operations, Mick Willis, told board members Wednesday night that staffing levels, the number of buildings the district can operate and the number of services it can provide are largely driven by the number of students enrolled in the district.

   "We have to pay a lot of attention to enrollment, what those numbers look like," Willis said.  "And then where we should be relative to those enrollment numbers."

   A final budget recommendation will be made to the board in June, after property tax revenues are determined.

   Parents who attended Wednesday's board meeting were more concerned about the district's progress toward accreditation.

 

Published in Local News

   ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Jacob Quick is a fat and happy 4 month old with a big and expensive appetite. Like millions of other poor women, Jacob's mother relies on the federal Women, Infants and Children program to pay for infant formula — aid that is now jeopardized by the government shutdown.

   Pennsylvania and other states say they can operate WIC at least through the end of October, easing fears among officials that it would run out of money within days. But advocates and others worry what will happen if the shutdown drags on beyond that.

   "What's going to happen to my baby?" asked Jacob's mother, Cierra Schoeneberger, as she fed him a bottle of formula bought with her WIC voucher. "Am I going to have to feed him regular milk, or am I going to have to scrounge up the little bit of change I do have for formula or even baby food?"

   WIC serves nearly 9 million mothers and young children, providing what advocates say is vital nutrition that poor families might otherwise be unable to afford.

   Schoenberger, for example, said her son goes through about $40 worth of formula a week. "It's like a car payment," said the unemployed mother of three.

   The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — better known as WIC — supplies low-income women with checks or debit cards that can be used for infant formula and cereal, fruits and vegetables, dairy items and other healthy food. WIC also provides breast-feeding support and nutrition classes. Poor women with children under 5 are eligible.

   Just before the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had warned that states would run out of WIC cash after a "week or so." Now the agency says WIC should be able to provide benefits through late October, with states using $100 million in federal contingency money released Wednesday and $280 million in unspent funds from the last budget year.

   If the aid dries up, desperate moms will probably dilute their babies' formula with water to make it last longer, or simply give them water or milk, said the Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, head of the National WIC Association, an advocacy group. Pediatricians say children under 1 shouldn't drink cow's milk because they can develop iron deficiency anemia.

   "These mothers have trust and confidence in this program, and that trust and confidence has been shaken by Congress," Greenaway said. "This is just unconscionable."

   Danyelle Brents, 22, a single mother of three, receives about $200 a month in vouchers for food and formula for her two children and baby. She is being hit doubly hard by the shutdown: She is a contract worker for the Federal Aviation Administration who catalogs records for aircraft certification, and is furloughed. Now, with her baby going through 10 cans of formula a month, she might lose key help with her grocery bill.

   "That's a lot of money, $15 a can," she said. "Now that I'm out of work, WIC is how I support my family. ... I'm scared at this point to go buy anything extra."

   Groups that fight hunger say they are also concerned about the confusion that needy mothers may be feeling. Though most WIC offices are open, many mothers mistakenly assumed that benefits were cut off.

   Advocates are also worried that there will be a cumulative effect as other, smaller government feeding programs run out of money.

   Adding to the uncertainty: While USDA has said that food stamps are guaranteed to continue through October, it is unclear what will happen after that.

   In Pennsylvania, whose $208 million WIC program supports 250,000 women and children, all local WIC offices remain open and benefits are being dispensed as usual. The state Health Department said it has $25.5 million on hand to continue operating the program through October. Ohio said it has enough money to last through the second week of November.

   "Ohio WIC is open for business!" proclaimed the headline on a state website.

   Utah's WIC program, though, immediately closed its doors Tuesday in the wake of the government shutdown, meaning that families who hadn't already received their October vouchers were out of luck and new applications couldn't be processed. The state got $2.5 million in USDA funding on Thursday, and WIC offices throughout the state planned to reopen by noon Friday.

   Charitable groups were already filling the void. A Facebook group called "The People's WIC — Utah" was launched hours after WIC offices closed, matching up families in need with those able to donate formula and other food.

   In Layton, about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, a donation drive was planned for Saturday, with organizers asking for fresh fruits and vegetables, unopened baby formula and other necessities.

   Food banks, meanwhile, are bracing for a surge in requests for help if WIC runs out of money.

   Linda Zimmerman, executive director of Neighbors In Need, which runs 11 food banks in Massachusetts, said her organization already provides a lot of baby formula to its clients, most of whom get WIC aid as well.

   "I think they're truly nervous," Zimmerman said. "We're going to have to be doing a lot of work to make sure we can keep up with need for infant formula."

   In some places, grocery stores refused to honor WIC vouchers, assuming they wouldn't get paid. Terry Bryce, director of Oklahoma's WIC program, said WIC officials called and emailed grocers to assure them the program is still funded.

   In New Jersey, Patricia Jones said she is worried about losing her WIC assistance.

   "You're affecting families that haven't done anything to you," said Jones, a 34-year-old mother of five. Because of the shutdown, she was turned away from the Social Security Administration office in Newark when she tried to get printouts of her children's Social Security numbers to renew her welfare and WIC benefits.

   ___

   Associated Press Writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Samantha Henry in Newark, Tim Talley in Oklahoma City, Bridget Murphy in Boston and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this story.

Published in National News

   Despite the federal shutdown that has closed hundreds of National Parks Service sites, World War II veterans from St. Louis were able to visit their memorial in Washington D.C. yesterday.  

   It was initially feared the veterans, on Honor Flights from Missouri and Illinois, many in their nineties, wouldn't be allowed to view the memorial because of the shutdown.  

   On Tuesday, images of vets stepping past ribbons and barricades to access the site garnered negative national attention.  But yesterday, 29 local veterans were welcomed by Park Service rangers at the site.

Published in Local News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Taking out a mortgage. Getting married in a park. Going for a fall foliage drive. Cashing a check.

 

Who knew that so many random activities of daily life could be imperiled by a shutdown of the federal government?

 

Americans are finding that "the government" entails a lot more than the stereotype of faceless D.C. bureaucrats cranking out red tape.

 

And so it is that two dozen October weddings, including nine this week, are in jeopardy because they're scheduled for monument sites on the National Mall. Ditto for a New Jersey couple planning to marry at the Grand Canyon.

 

Mike Cassesso and MaiLien Le's permit to get married Saturday on the lawn near the Jefferson Memorial looks to be among the casualties, giving rise to a new Twitter hashtag for their #shutdownwedding. They're looking at alternate sites, including the restaurant booked for their reception.

 

Also canceled: a weekend Ku Klux Klan rally at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

 

Want to take a drive along Virginia's popular Skyline Drive to take in the fall colors in Shenandoah National Park? Not till the government reopens.

 

It's not just romance, tourism and public events that are in jeopardy.

 

Consider the Wisconsin farmer who can't cash a check for a cow he sold.

 

Ben Brancel, the state's agriculture secretary, said that because the farmer has a loan from the Farm Service Agency, he can't cash the check without both his own signature and one from an FSA official, unavailable during the shutdown.

 

"Our advice to him was he was going to have to wait, that there wasn't anything he could do about it," Brancel said.

 

Ready to buy your first house?

 

Borrowers applying for a mortgage can expect delays, especially if the shutdown is prolonged. That's because many lenders need government confirmation of applicants' income tax returns and Social Security data. Mortgage industry officials say they expect bottlenecks on closing loans if the shutdown stretches on for more than a few days.

 

In addition, low- to moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-insured mortgages for single-family homes from the Federal Housing Administration can expect longer waits because of sharp reductions in FHA staffing.

 

Even workers who get their paychecks from a state government aren't safe from the ripple effects of a federal shutdown.

 

An assortment of state workers around the country are on furlough because the money for their jobs includes dollars from Washington. Among those are hundreds of workers at Arkansas' Military Department and one at the Crowley's Ridge Technical Institute, a vocational school in Forrest City, Ark.

 

In Illinois, the furloughs include 20 workers in the state Department of Employment Security and 53 in the Department of Military Affairs.

 

"These are the first, and there may be more," said Abdon Pallasch, the state's assistant budget director.

 

Want to escape the shutdown worries with a bike ride on the C&O Canal, a popular 184-mile trail and national park between Washington and Cumberland, Md.?

 

Closed. Those thinking of ignoring the closure notice and going anyway should consider this: Restrooms will be locked and handles removed from water pumps along the way.

 

One possible silver lining to shutdown annoyances writ small and large: The whole thing could serve as a teachable moment for all those people who tell pollsters that they want budget cuts — as long as they aren't directly affected.

 

"As time goes by, more and more people see these little things that they took for granted," said Ed Lorenzen, a policy adviser at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group pushing for spending discipline.

 

He said the shutdown could serve as a reminder that "you're not going to be able to the balance the budget just by cutting spending in Washington that doesn't affect people."

 

___

 

Associated Press writer Andrew Miga contributed to this report.

Published in National News

NEW YORK (AP) — From New York's Liberty Island to Alaska's Denali National Park, the U.S. government closed its doors as a bitter budget fight idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers and halted all but the most critical government services for the first time in nearly two decades.

 

A midnight deadline to avert a shutdown passed amid Congressional bickering, casting in doubt Americans' ability to get government services ranging from federally-backed home loans to supplemental food assistance for children and pregnant women.

 

For many employees of the federal government, Tuesday's shutdown meant no more paychecks as they were forced onto unpaid furloughs. For those still working, it meant delays in getting paid.

 

Park Ranger and father-to-be Darquez Smith said he already lives paycheck-to-paycheck while putting himself through college.

 

"I've got a lot on my plate right now — tuition, my daughter, bills," said Smith, 23, a ranger at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio. "I'm just confused and waiting just like everyone else."

 

The impact of the shutdown was mixed — immediate and far-reaching for some, annoying but minimal for others.

 

In Colorado, where flooding killed eight people earlier this month, emergency funds to help rebuild homes and businesses continued to flow — but federal worker furloughs were expected to slow it down.

 

National Guard soldiers rebuilding washed-out roads would apparently be paid on time — along with the rest of the country's active-duty personnel — under a bill passed hours before the shutdown. Existing Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans' services and mail delivery were also unaffected.

 

Other agencies were harder hit — nearly 3,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors were furloughed along with most of the National Transportation Safety Board's employees, including accident investigators who respond to air crashes, train collisions, pipeline explosions and other accidents.

 

Almost all of NASA shut down, except for Mission Control in Houston, and national parks closed along with the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo. Even the zoo's popular panda cam went dark, shut off for the first time since a cub was born there Aug. 23.

 

As the shutdown loomed Monday, visitors to popular parks made their frustration with elected officials clear.

 

"There is no good thing going to come out of it," said Chris Fahl, a tourist from Roanoke, Ind., visiting the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Hodgenville, Ky. "Taxpayers are just going to be more overburdened."

 

Emily Enfinger, visiting the Statue of Liberty, said politicians need to find a way to work together.

 

"They should be willing to compromise, both sides, and it discourages me that they don't seem to be able to do that," she said. "They're not doing their job as far as I'm concerned."

 

Joe Wentz, a retired federal employee from Lebanon, Va., visiting San Francisco with his wife, bought tickets to visit Alcatraz on Thursday — if it's open.

 

Wentz said he's frustrated that some politicians are using the budget to push changes in the Affordable Care Act.

 

"We've been disgusted a long time that they're not working together," he said.

 

The shutdown was strangely captivating to Marlena Knight, an Australian native visiting Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. She was confounded that the impasse focused on the nation's health care system — an indispensable service in her home country.

 

"We can't imagine not having a national health system," she said. "I just can't believe that this country can shut down over something like a national health system. Totally bizarre, as an Australian, but fascinating."

 

It turns out an institution as massive as the federal government takes some time to grind to a total halt: Many federal workers were being permitted to come in Tuesday to change voicemail messages or fill out time cards. But after that, they were under strict orders to do no work, even check their email.

 

With no telling how long the budget standoff will last, even programs not immediately affected could run out of cash.

 

Barbara Haxton, executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association, said its preschool learning programs would be in jeopardy if a shutdown lasted more than two weeks. March's automatic budget cuts meant nearly 3,000 children lost access to services and there could be dire consequences if the budget standoff drags on.

 

"It's not as though this is a throwaway service. These are the poorest of the poor children," Haxton said. "And our Congressman still gets his paycheck. His pay doesn't stop and his health insurance doesn't stop."

 

___

 

Associated Press reporters Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., Terence Chea in San Francisco and Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

Published in National News
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