Nutrition Subcommittee Holds Hearing to Review SNAP Recipient Characteristics and Dynamics

2/26/15

Today, Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN-2), Chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, held a public hearing to review the characteristics and dynamics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. [SNAP is the former Food Stamp Program.] The committee will conduct a full-scale review this Congress in order to improve and strengthen the program for its intended recipients. This hearing follows yesterday’s full committee hearing on the past, present, and future of SNAP…
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(The following are several excerpts from links included in the above press release. – Admin.)
* [SNAP is] the largest welfare program in both the number of recipients and the amount of spending, yet the program lacks a clear mission and the data reveals that it is not helping lift people out of poverty. (This and the next comment come from different sources. – Admin)
*SNAP has become one of the most effective antipoverty programs overall, especially at lifting non-elderly households with children out of deep poverty.
*Currently 18 different programs provide food assistance, and while many of them do not fall within this committee’s jurisdiction, they do serve SNAP recipients. In addition, a range of low-income benefit programs are offered at the local, state and federal levels.  On top of that, a web of non-profits and community service providers exist to provide assistance.
* SNAP provided benefits to 46.5 million people in an average month in fiscal year 2014, slightly down from 47.6 million people in an average month in fiscal year 2013. The average monthly benefit in fiscal year 2014 was also down to $125 per person from $133 per person in fiscal year 2013.
*Today, 1 in 7 Americans receive assistance from SNAP at a cost approaching $80 billion, making it the second largest means-tested transfer program in terms of cost after Medicaid.

Cutting IRS staff leads to cutting taxpayer services and collections

The Washington Post
By Joe Davidson
2/26/15

…Cuts to IRS staff mean cuts in service to taxpayers.

That’s the message Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, delivered to a House Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday. She described an agency with stark declines in customer service.

“From January first through February 14th this year, the IRS answered only 43 percent of the calls it received from taxpayers seeking to speak with a customer service representative, and those taxpayers who managed to get through sat on hold an average of about 28 minutes,” she said. “By comparison, during the same period last year, 77 percent of taxpayers got through and waited on hold an average of about 10 minutes. The IRS is now only answering the most basic of tax-law questions through April 15, and none after that. And it is no longer preparing tax returns for the most vulnerable taxpayer populations: elderly, disabled and low-income…

…“The IRS’s budget has been reduced by about 17 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since FY 2010,” which (Olson) said so far has resulted in almost 12,000 fewer employees, a 12.3 percent drop. There are projected cuts of several thousand more during this fiscal year.

This adds up to “the worst levels of taxpayer service since at least 2001, when the IRS implemented its current performance measures,” Olson said…
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The FCC approves strong net neutrality rules

The Washington Post
By Cecilia Kang and Brian Fung
2/26/15

The Federal Communications Commission for the first time classified Internet providers as public utilities Thursday, a landmark vote that officials said will prevent cable and telecommunications companies from controlling what people see on the Web.

The move, approved 3 to 2 along party lines, was part of a sweeping set of new “net neutrality” rules aimed at banning providers of high-speed Internet access such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable from blocking Web sites they don’t like or auctioning off faster traffic speeds to the highest bidders…

…The rules ban Internet providers from several specific activities: They can’t block or stop Web services such as Netflix. They can’t slow down or “throttle” content from particular Web sites. And they can’t speed up a Web site’s traffic, particularly in exchange for money.

The rules also apply to wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, which provide Internet service to tens of millions of smartphones and tablets….
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THIRD HOUSE: Rep. Culver says ‘world would be a better place,’ without Indiana State Teachers Association

goshennews.com
By JULIE CROTHERS julie.crothers@goshennews.com
2/21/15

GOSHEN — As tensions rose surrounding the topic of Indiana’s embattled education system, state Rep. Wes Culver on Saturday took a shot at the Indiana State Teachers Association.

“The world would be a better place without the ISTA,” Culver said, eliciting gasps and negative reactions from the crowd of nearly 100 — mostly educators — gathered for the bi-weekly Third House meeting at the Goshen Chamber of Commerce.

During the meeting, Culver, R-District 49, and Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-District 12, outlined issues of “misconception” and “misinformation” they said were to blame for fueling part of an ongoing and well-documented feud between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the State Board of Education. Both the Republican-dominated House and Senate have passed bills that would strip Ritz of her automatic chairmanship of the Board of Education.

“There’s a lot of misinformation that gets put out there by different groups,” Yoder said. “…Sometimes blatantly twisting the truth to enhance or to move forward an agenda and it disgusts me. What it does is it muddies the water and it makes the waters toxic and you suddenly have a ‘we’ versus ‘them’ attitude and you end up where we’re at.”

While Yoder alluded to the misconception, Culver said the Indiana State Teachers Association was to blame.

“ISTA breaks up communities,” he said. “They’re the ones that have you and I against each other when we’re after the same thing.”

Culver added that part of the issue seems to be taking care of itself as ISTA’s membership has declined 4 percent each year for several years.

According to the organization’s website, ISTA represents more than 45,000 public school teachers and education support professionals, staff in state higher education institutions, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers.

“We’re all on the same boat,” Culver said, “but they tend to talk about these bills that aren’t going to be heard or they stretch the truth or they say we hate teachers or that politicians hate teachers.”

Goshen High School teacher Marilyn Graber responded to Culver’s comments.

“Wes, to say that about ISTA, which gives me a voice as an educator, is wrong,” Graber said. “It’s the only way that I have a voice in my profession. To say that it’s not important or that it harms the whole state is being so disingenuous. That is so hurtful as a teacher to say that my organization that I have fought for, that I’ve paid money to help protect my job and help me to the very best job I can in my classroom is causing the major problems in the state. I just can’t buy that. That is hurtful.”

ISTA President Teresa Meredith said in an email Saturday that Rep. Culver’s remarks were “not productive.”

“Maybe his world would be better off without ISTA, but certainly not the lives of public school kids and all the teachers and support staff who serve them every day,” Meredith said. “Charter-promoting, takeover promoting, private corporate promoting … instead of programs to help kids. We all should be concerned about what the Legislature is doing.”

Meredith said educators are feeling no respect or value for the work they do.

“It is time for bashing to stop — bashing of teachers, of support professionals, and of the associations they choose to belong to and participate in that seems to keep showing up in proposed legislation,” she said.

Meredith also said although membership has declined in recent years as teachers retired and were not replaced in many school corporations, the decline seems to have “leveled off.”

“Schools have cut as far as they can and are starting to hire again,” she said, “so we believe we are potentially poised for growth again.”

Other education news

Local lawmakers on Saturday commented on several other education-related bills moving through the Legislature.

Yoder said the Senate on Monday will consider a plan to shorten the ISTEP test by three hours by eliminating the Social Studies portion of the test and making other minor tweaks.

“(Lawmakers) are trying several small things to lower it as much as possible,” he said.

Senate Bill 1, which would allow the state Board of Education’s chairperson to be chosen by the board instead of automatically appointing the Superintendent of Public Instruction, passed through the Senate chamber 33-17.

Yoder said the bill is different from the House version because it would also strip Gov. Pence of some of his appointees.

“The governor wasn’t real pleased with us on that and superintendent Ritz is obviously not pleased,” Yoder said. “They’re all upset about it at this point so we must be finding more of that middle ground.”

Culver explained House Bill 1005, which would provide a $200 tax credit for teachers who purchase classroom supplies.

Another bill Culver discussed calls for a 2.3 percent boost over each of the next two years for education.

Gov. Pence had allocated a 1 percent increase to education spending the first year and a 2 percent increase the second year, Culver said.

House Bill 1001 changes that allocation to 2.3 percent for both years and would use funding that would have been used for building projects at state-owned colleges and universities, Culver explained.

The state owns colleges such as Indiana University, Purdue University and Ball State and would otherwise have paid for building projects using cash, he said.

“The House said ‘no, get a loan for those,” Culver said.

The loans would free up a few hundred million dollars to be allocated toward education.

“The upside is education got more money. The downside is we’re borrowing money to pay for education, so we’ll be paying for that over the next 30 years,” Culver said. “…I don’t see that as a healthy plan for us continuing to do.”

Obama’s Expected Keystone Pipeline Veto Is Likely to Be the First in a Wave

(Summary of Bills vetoed including brief description, 1789-present – Admin.)

NYTimes.com
By Michael D. Shear and Coral Davenport
2/22/15

WASHINGTON — Wielding the weapon of his pen, President Obama this week is expected to formally reject a Republican attempt to force construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But in stopping the transit of petroleum from the forests of Alberta to the Gulf Coast, Mr. Obama will be opening the veto era of his presidency.

The expected Keystone veto, the third and most significant of Mr. Obama’s six years in office, would most likely be followed by presidential vetoes of bills that could emerge to make changes in the Affordable Care Act, impose new sanctions on Iran and roll back child nutrition standards, among others…

…If Mr. Obama takes the veto path in his last two years in office, he could easily surpass the 12 vetoes of his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush. He will not come close to the 635 vetoes that President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued during his 12 years in office or the 414 by President Grover Cleveland during his first term. But Mr. Obama might match the 37 by President Bill Clinton or the 44 by the first President George Bush…
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Committee Approves Bill to Replace No Child Left Behind, Improve K-12 Education

(“Education Week” states the following will have floor debate Feb. 25 & 26 with a final vote on Feb. 27th. – Admin.)

Committee Approves Bill to Replace No Child Left Behind, Improve K-12 Education
The Student Success Act will reduce the federal footprint, empower parents and education leaders

WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 11, 2015 -The House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today approved the Student Success Act (H.R. 5). Introduced by Chairman Kline and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), this responsible legislation will repair the nation’s broken K-12 education system by reducing the federal footprint, restoring local control, and empowering parents and education leaders to hold schools accountable. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 21 to 16.

“The Student Success Act helps provide American families the education system they deserve, not the one Washington wants,” said Chairman Kline. “I want to thank all my colleagues for engaging in a robust debate and offering their ideas to improve education. We have a lot of work ahead, and we will continue to move forward in a manner that is open, transparent, and fair. America’s parents, teachers, and students have waited long enough for a new law that helps every child in every school receive an excellent education. This important bill will move us closer toward that goal, and I look forward to continuing the debate in the weeks ahead.”

“The status quo in our nation’s K-12 education system is hurting students,”said Rep. Rokita, “and the committee has taken a bold step in a new direction. Today we signaled to moms, dads, teachers, administrators, and state officials that we trust them to hold schools accountable for delivering a quality education to every child. I am honored to have led this effort with Chairman Kline, and I look forward to advancing these important reforms through the House and Senate and enacting them into law. It is time to place control of our nation’s classrooms back in the hands of the parents and educators who know their children best.”

As passed by the committee, the Student Success Act:

  • Replaces the current national accountability scheme based on high stakes tests with state-led accountability systems, returning responsibility for measuring student and school performance to states and school districts.
                        
  • Ensures parents continue to have the information they need to hold local schools accountable.
                      
  • Repeals more than 65 ineffective, duplicative, and unnecessary programs and replaces the maze of programs with a Local Academic Flexible Grant, helping schools better support students.
                            
  • Protects state and local autonomy over decisions in the classroom by preventing the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting Common Core or any other common standards or assessments, as well as reining in the secretary’s regulatory authority.
                                                  
  • Empowers parents with more school choice options by continuing support for magnet schools and expanding charter school opportunities, as well as allowing Title I funds to follow low-income children to the traditional public or charter school of the parent’s choice.
                     
  • Strengthens existing efforts to improve student performance among targeted student populations, including English learners and homeless children.

To read opening statements, review amendments, or watch an archived webcast of today’s markup, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/markups.

Ritz would lose post as board chair under bill passed by Senate

(Vote results for all Senate members on SB 1 are  shown on a screen shot following this article and also here. –  Admin.)

TheStatehouseFile.com
By Adam Lee
2/17/15

INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate passed a controversial bill Tuesday that removes state Superintendent Glenda Ritz as the chair of the State Board of Education and give its members the ability to elect their own leader.

Senate Bill 1, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, would end an arrangement unique to Indiana and Oklahoma, which are the only states in which the elected superintendent of public instruction automatically serves as chair of the state board of education.

The bill also alters the composition and governance of the board. The number of members would drop from 11 down to nine. Four of those members would be appointed by the governor, two by the House speaker and two from the Senate president pro tem. The state superintendent would continue to serve on the board.

Those members would then choose a chair, which could be the superintendent. Holdman said the bill also allows the board to hire an executive director and staff to help tackle problems more efficiently.

The proposed change in policy has created strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, said that he had an “obligation to speak on behalf of the 1.3 million people” that voted for Ritz to be superintendent. Lanane called SB 1 dangerous and said it is a dispute over policy. He questioned how much more power legislators would take from the superintendent in the future.

“Somebody wants to take the superintendent of public instruction to the proverbial woodshed,” Lanane said. “It’s a woodshed made of politics by politics and for politics.”

But Sen. Brandt Hershman, R- Buck Creek, said SB 1 is about policy rather than the politics. He said the bill does not strip her of her power and she will continue to be an important factor in education.

“She has a budget of millions of dollars and a staff of hundreds of employees that will continue to have the responsibility of implementing the policy” the General Assembly sets, Hershman said.

Sen. Brent Waltz Jr., R-Greenwood, said the way the current board operates is dysfunctional – pointing out that Ritz had walked out on a board meeting and sued other members of the board. He said it is legislators’ responsibility to correct the process.

Others, including as [sic] Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, agreed there is dysfunction but argued that the bill would make things worse. He said taking away the superintendent’s position as chair and expecting her to be cooperative is going to cause more problems.

The bill passed the Senate 33-17 and now moves to the House, which has already passed legislation to remove Ritz as chair but does not change board appointments.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday that he supports letting the state board choose its own chair and objected to the characterization that it was stripping her of authority. However, Pence said he does not support provisions to reduce the number of appointments he can make to the State Board of Education.

Adam Lee is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

SB 1

Congress and missed work weeks

The House and Senate are not in session today, Presidents’ Day. However, neither are they tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The same is true for two more weeks near the end of March and the first part of April. During the remainder of the year there are several more such weeks. Take a look at the calendars: House and Senate. You will note some differences in the two calendars.

A different Senate calendar refers to these weeks as “State Work Period.”

It’s not a matter of nothing to do. Yesterday, in The Indianapolis Star, a USA Today graphic was included that shows the looming deadlines beginning with funding for the Department of Homeland Security with a deadline of February 27th with others to come up in the following weeks.

What are your thoughts on these calendars?

President’s 2016 Budget in Pictures

National Priorities Project
By Jasmine Tucker
2/9/15

President Obama recently released his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal. Budgets are about our nation’s priorities: What are we going to spend money on? How are we going to raise the money we want to spend?

Though the budget ultimately enacted by Congress may look very different from the budget request released by the president, the president’s budget is important. It’s the president’s vision for the country in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, and it reflects input and spending requests from every federal agency.

These pictures tell the story of the priorities found in the president’s budget.


President’s Proposed 2016 Budget: Total Spending

This chart shows how President Obama proposed allocating $4.1 trillion* in total federal spending in fiscal year 2016, an increase of more than 5 percent over the total 2015 spending level. This includes every type of federal spending, from funding for discretionary programs like infrastructure improvements and job training to mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare, as well as interest payments on the federal debt. Social Security and labor, Medicare and health programs, and military spending will make up 76 percent of the total budget, leaving just 24 percent, or $957 billion of the $4.1 trillion total, to spend on all other programs.

* Spending on Government (administration) is less than zero and omitted in the total spending pie chart. Lower than zero spending can occur when segments of government have surpluses from previous years that they return to the federal government.

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