Sunday, December 29, 2013

Restore Emergency Unemployment Insurance

Restore Emergency Unemployment Insurance    
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program ended on December 28 for 1.3 million jobless Americans. Unemployment benefits will be cut from as much as 73 weeks to 26 weeks.  
Democrats fought to include UI in the year-end budget plan. But the GOP war on workers knows no shame — three days after Christmas, in the middle of winter, 1.3 million families just lost a critical lifeline.   The Senate will vote to renew UI in less than two weeks, but it won’t pass unless we make our voices heard.  

Demand that Congress renews unemployment insurance now.    That's why we created a petition to The United States House of Representatives and The United States Senate.  

Will you sign this petition? Click here:  http://petitions.moveon.org/keystoneprogress/sign/restore-emergency-unemployme-1?source=c.em.cp&r_by=95318   Thanks! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Substantial Stake for Pennsylvanians in Saving Roadless Lands

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Thousands of miles from Pennsylvania, on some of the most remote areas in the country, a battle is brewing to safeguard those lands from oil and gas development and timber extraction. 

Ed Perry with the National Wildlife Federation will be part of that protection effort as he begins work with NWF's Public Lands Campaign

"The whole purpose is to educate my fellow sportsmen and conservationists that there is a huge threat looming to our public lands out there, otherwise we're going to be losing some of the last, best part of our country," he stresses.

Perry says those roadless lands represent some of the greatest hunting, fishing and camping areas nationwide, which are enjoyed by untold numbers of visitors from Pennsylvania and the east coast each year.

He says they need to be preserved for both the tourist dollars they bring in and the jobs they create, and for their environmental value, which is priceless.

Perry points out bills keep surfacing in Washington to sell off tens of millions of acres of national forest and Bureau of Land Management land for their fossil fuel and timber value.

But he maintains that's not where the greatest value of those lands lies.

"In 2010, public lands drew more than 58 million visitors and they spent more than $7.5 billion,” he says. “Outdoor recreation supports three times as many jobs as does the oil and gas industry out west."

Perry says much of the legislation to develop the land has originated in the U.S. House, but has failed to gain traction in the Senate.

He calls it the most important threat to our western public lands that no one knows about.

"There's this old cliché, 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,'” he says. “Well, in this case, it's never truer, that we have to pay attention and educate our citizens and protect these lands."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Environmental Advocates Hail Court Ruling on PA Oil and Gas Act

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A law promoted by Governor Tom Corbett and the natural gas industry as a way to regulate oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania has been ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. Act 13 created uniform standards for drilling to be applied anywhere in the state. The court's 4-2 decision keeps more of the control in that decision-making process with municipalities, according to Adam Garber, field director for PennnEnvironment.

"It means now that local communities can decide to establish their own protections, so they could now say, 'There will be no drilling in residential parts of our area or within two miles of a school.'"

Industry officials said the ruling is a missed opportunity to develop and operate shale gas wells in Pennsylvania responsibly, while Corbett and many other Republicans in the Legislature have called the decision disappointing.

Garber said that, in its ruling, the Supreme Court also addressed the state's relationship with the natural gas industry.

He said the Court was "even saying that they are singling out the gas drilling industry for basically unprecedented power and exceptions to our existing zoning laws and environmental rules, and that that, for the benefit of one particular industry, is unacceptable legally."

Garber said the decision carries even greater weight for the long term.

"The Supreme Court has put real teeth behind the Environmental Rights Act, saying that the Legislature has to seriously consider the health environmental impact and whether they are doing a good job being stewards of our natural resources, and that if they don't do that, the court's going to do it for them."

The state Department of Environmental Protection reports Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation deep underground produced more than 1.4 trillion cubic feet of gas during the first half of 2013, up 57 percent from the same time period last year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Repeaing Obamacare Would Raise Costs, Strip Protections from Pennsylvania Families

From the White House:

THIS IS THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT in Pennsylvania 

Helping ordinary Americans and businesses take advantage of the benefits of the health care law is a top priority for the President and Democrats in Congress. The Affordable Care Act does more than just give millions of uninsured Americans access to health insurance. It helps Americans who already have insurance feel more secure in their coverage, ensuring it'll be there when they need it. This is a pocketbook issue for many middle class families.

In Pennsylvania, the benefits of the health care law are real, and the repeal plan pushed by Republicans in
Congress would undermine or eliminate them across the board, reversing critical consumer protections and
driving up costs for millions of Americans. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, in Pennsylvania:

• 3,151,000 individuals on private insurance have gained coverage for at least one free preventive health care service such as a mammogram, birth control, or an immunization in 2011 and 2012. In the first eleven months of 2013 alone, an additional 1,011,700 people with Medicare have received at least one preventive service at no out of pocket cost.
• The up to 5,489,000 individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, cancer, or diabetes – including up to 657,000 children – will no longer have to worry about being denied coverage or charged higher prices because of their health status or history.
• Approximately 2,260,000 Pennsylvanians have gained expanded mental health and substance use disorder
benefits and/or federal parity protections.
• 1,242,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians will have new health insurance options through Medicaid or private health plans in the Marketplace.
• As a result of new policies that make sure premium dollars work for the consumer, not just the insurer, in the past year insurance companies have sent rebates averaging $77 per family to approximately 123,600 consumers.
• In the first ten months of 2013, 207,000 seniors and people with disabilities have saved on average $856 on prescription medications as the health care law closes Medicare’s so-called “donut hole.”
• 91,000 young adults have gained health insurance because they can now stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
• Individuals no longer have to worry about having their health benefits cut off after they reach a lifetime limit on benefits, and starting in January, 4,582,000 Pennsylvanians will no longer have to worry about annual limits, either.
• Health centers have received $109,338,000 to provide primary care, establish new sites, and renovate existing centers to expand access to quality health care. Pennsylvania has approximately 260 health center sites, which served about 671,000 individuals in 2012.

Moving forward, the President and Democrats in Congress are committed to improving the health care law and fixing it when the need arises. Every day more uninsured Americans are signing up for plans as the website gets faster and more people with insurance are benefiting from the law.

Yet instead of working to fix the law, Republicans in Congress have tried and failed to repeal it more than 40 times. Repealing the law completely would raise premiums, allow discrimination based on pre-existing
conditions, force women to pay for preventive services like mammograms, and eliminate discounts seniors get on prescription drugs.

It’s time for Republicans in Congress to stop refighting old political battles over health care, because the real cost of repeal will hit home for many hardworking families in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Lifesaving Gift: Give Blood This Holiday Season

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - At hospitals and clinics across the state, the need for blood knows no season, but donations tend to drop this time of year. That's why officials are urging Pennsylvanians to consider rolling up their sleeves to give a lifesaving gift.

Between school vacations, inclement weather and busy schedules, said Dan Fox, a communications manager for the American Red Cross, the number of donations declines over the holidays while the need for blood in local hospitals remains constant.

"These could be car accident victims, trauma victims; they could be people undergoing surgery, women going through childbirth, premature babies, cancer patients," Fox said. "Every two seconds, somebody in this country needs a blood donation."

Many people don't think about giving blood until they hear about hospitals facing shortages or there's been some sort of major tragedy, Fox said, stressing that blood donations need to be on hospital shelves before emergencies hit.

"It's vitally important to donate blood not just when you hear about a natural disaster or something on the news," he said, "because that way we can make sure that blood is available to all patients who need it."

Although nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood, less than 10 percent actually do it each year.

The American Red Cross estimates that one in 10 people admitted to the hospital will require a blood transfusion. In Pennsylvania, donors must be at least 16 years old, in good health and weigh more than 110 pounds.

More information is online at RedCrossBlood.org.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Seniors Saving Because of Affordable Care Act

NEW CMS Report: 25.4 Million People On Medicare Received At Least One Preventive Service At No Cost To Consumer During 2013. 

“According to new data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today, more than 25.4 million people covered by Original Medicare received at least one preventive service at no cost to them during the first eleven months of 2013, because of the Affordable Care Act. Today’s news comes after last month’s announcement showing that the health care law also saved seniors $8.9 billion on their prescription drugs since the law’s enactment. ‘Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of seniors have been able to receive important preventive services and screenings such as an annual wellness visit, screening mammograms and colonoscopies, and smoking cessation at no cost to them,’ said CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.  

‘Prevention and early detection are so vital to ensure that Americans are healthy and Medicare is healthy. The Affordable Care Act makes Medicare stronger and improves the wellbeing of millions of beneficiaries who have taken advantage of preventive services and wellness visits.’ Today’s announcement exceeds the comparable figure from last November, when an estimated 24.7 million people with Original Medicare received one or more preventive benefits at no out of pocket costs by this point in time during 2012.  When factoring in Medicare Advantage utilization rates and a full year of experience, an estimated 34.1 million people with Medicare took advantage of at least one preventive service in 2012.  Moreover, in the first eleven months of 2013, more than 3.5 million beneficiaries with Original Medicare took advantage of the Annual Wellness Visit established by the health care law – a significant increase from the 2.8 million who used this service by this point in the year in 2012.  Before the Affordable Care Act, Medicare recipients had to pay part of the cost for many preventive health services. These out-of-pocket costs made it difficult for people to get the important preventive care they needed. For example, before the Affordable Care Act, a person with Medicare could pay as much as $160 in cost-sharing for a colorectal cancer screening. Today, this important screening and many others are covered at no cost to beneficiaries (with no deductible or co-pay). The Affordable Care Act helps tear down a significant barrier for some seniors to staying healthy and helps their care providers prevent, identify and treat problems early.” [CMS Press Release, 12/17/13]

·         For a State-by-State breakdown, go to: http://downloads.cms.gov/files/Preventive_Services_Utilization_by_State_Jan-Nov_2013.pdf

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fair Lending On The Line In Pennsylvania?

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA 

HARRISBURG, Pa. – With many Pennsylvania communities still reeling from the damage done by the housing meltdown comes legislation that could spell major trouble for current and future homeowners. 

Craig Robbins, executive director of the citizens advocacy group ACTION United, says the Consumer Mortgage Choice Act would undermine a law set to take effect next month that ends hidden fees and points in mortgages, and limits fees to 3 percent.

"We really think that Congressman (Michael) Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) needs to make a decision here,” Robbins says. “Is he standing with the big banks, or is he going to stand with people of Pennsylvania and his district to ensure that we have fair loans and fair lending practices?"

During the housing meltdown, critics say tricks and traps for buyers generated more profits for lenders and their associates, which encouraged those involved in the loan process to steer borrowers into risky loans, no matter the borrower's ability to pay or even qualify for the loan amount.

Predatory lending connected to foreclosures gutted neighborhoods in Pennsylvania.

Robbins says the state cannot afford another economic hit like that.

"You would think we would've learned our lesson,” he stresses. “We need to have reforms, and that's partly what's been done here. Any effort to roll that back is just terrible."

Chart: People losing unemployment due to congressional budget deal



People Losing Access to Emergency Unemployment Compensation 
Through December 2014 if Program Expires as Scheduled
StateUnemployed losing access to benefitsStateUnemployed losing access to benefits
Alabama48,100Nebraska16,700
Alaska23,300Nevada60,300
Arizona67,000New Hampshire8,500
Arkansas40,300New Jersey260,100
California836,100New Mexico25,500
Colorado72,800New York383,000
Connecticut85,100North Carolina0*
Delaware13,800North Dakota7,900
District of Columbia18,200Ohio128,600
Florida260,400Oklahoma33,000
Georgia164,700Oregon76,100
Hawaii13,300Pennsylvania262,500
Idaho20,300Puerto Rico80,200
Illinois230,500Rhode Island21,700
Indiana69,300South Carolina52,400
Iowa35,500South Dakota1,600
Kansas35,300Tennessee79,000
Kentucky53,200Texas285,200
Louisiana30,400Utah20,200
Maine18,100Vermont5,100
Maryland82,600Virgin Islands3,500
Massachusetts141,000Virginia69,900
Michigan189,700Washington94,100
Minnesota65,500West Virginia24,700
Mississippi37,600Wisconsin99,000
Missouri84,500Wyoming6,700
Montana14,300
*Emergency Unemployment Compensation is not available in North Carolina because earlier this year, the state cut weekly UI benefit levels in violation of federal rules that require states that accept emergency federal benefits to maintain their benefit levels.
Source: Department of Labor and Council of Economic Advisers

Job Protection Isn’t Enough: Why America Needs Paid Parental Leave

Heather Boushey, Jane Farrell, and John Schmitt

Twenty years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, was signed into law. The FMLA granted certain workers new and important rights, including the ability to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave after a birth or adoption, but it fell short in at least two important respects.

Without downplaying the historical significance of the FMLA’s guarantee of job-protected leave for a majority of U.S. workers, this review of Census Bureau
data from the first two decades of the FMLA suggests that the law had a limited impact on the frequency of parental leave and no impact on the likelihood that parental leave is paid.


Report - PDF pdf_small 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Document Reveals Legislator’s Taxpayer-Funded Ties To Right-Wing Group



From our Keystone Accountability Watch page www.Keystone AccountabilityWatch.org

You may have seen this recent editorial from the Patriot-News detailing the relationship between some Pennsylvania lawmakers and right-wing lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It lays out how the major corporations and wealthy individuals who fund ALEC use the organization to covertly lobby for controversial laws. It also cited a recent pledge considered by the group, that would require the elected officials who are its members to “put the interests of [ALEC] first.”

This raises serious questions about those elected officials who are ALEC members and makes it plain why some elected officials may not want to be identified as being ALEC members. The editorial quoted State Senator Jake Corman saying he was never a member of the group. In fact, this document (pg. 10), shows that not only was Senator Corman an ALEC member, but that taxpayers paid for his membership!
The same document also details trips taken by legislators to ALEC-sponsored events. Taxpayers footed the bill for travel and meals. It is inappropriate for our legislators to spend public money on a private lobbying organization that requires them to put the organization ahead of their constituents.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fifty Protesters Braved the Snow to Rally at Sunoco Logistics, Oppose Mariner East Pipeline


Groups Oppose Fracking Exports Due to Climate, Air, Water, Health Impacts

PhiladelphiaFacing snow, wind, and cold, fifty protesters held a spirited rally at Sunoco Logistics headquarters in Philadelphia today. Protecting Our Waters, Clean Air Council, and 350 Philadelphia joined in pushing Sunoco Logistics to drop their plans for the Mariner East Pipeline, which would enable overseas export of natural gas liquids from the Delaware River.

In a move that Iris Marie Bloom, Executive Director of Protecting Our Waters, says is part of “growing resistance to large corporations’ destructive dreams of turning the Philadelphia area into a shale energy hub,” the organizers object to the export of natural gas liquids: “The NGLs’  life-cycle impacts on air, water, climate and health throughout extraction, processing, and transport are over the top.”  

“Even while shalefield residents struggle to replace their water after it’s been ruined by shale gas drilling, spills, blowouts, waste dumping, toxic waste leaks and other problems, nobody can replace air. Nobody can replace climate – we’ve only got one. That’s why we’re committed to outright stopping fracking exports from the Mariner East pipeline. This is a human rights issue,” said Bloom.

Aarati Kasturirangan of 350 Philadelphia said, “Who stands to gain from this pipeline? Sunoco’s executives. Who stands to suffer from poor air quality, rising temperatures, surging seas, and superstorms to come? All of the people of Philadelphia. 350 Philadelphia stands with our fellow Philadelphians.”

Matt Walker of Clean Air Council said, “The Mariner East pipeline upgrades at the Marcus Hook facility will increase harmful air pollution for residents in the greater Philadelphia region, an area with high asthma rates. Philadelphia received a failing grade for air quality this year from the American Lung Association.” 

The Mariner East Pipeline, if completed, would bring natural gas liquids (NGLs), propane and ethane, over 300 miles across Pennsylvania, through Southeastern PA to Marcus Hook. First, about half a million gallons a day of natural gas liquids will be exported to Norway from a Delaware River dock just across the state line in Delaware. That number will then increase to over one million gallons a day.

Sunoco plans to complete the pipeline despite the fact that three similar pipelines, including two natural gas liquids pipelines, have exploded into 300-foot tall fireballs just in the past 3 months (IL, TX, MO). At least one of those exploding pipelines is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which owns Sunoco Logistics.

There is no evidence that this natural gas liquids pipeline would be safe for Pennsylvania residents, and tremendous evidence that it will harm human health both acutely, through air and water impacts from shale gas infrastructure; and long-term, through climate impacts.

Background:

Protesters aim to prevent the NGLs from being exported by Range Resources using the Mariner East pipeline, citing:
  • Climate impacts from every phase of shale gas drilling, extraction, processing, transportation, storage, and use
  • Negative health impacts from air emissions during every stage of NGL production, including drilling, fracking, fracking flowback waste, the MarkWest refinery, compressor stations and more. Multiple pathways of exposure include water, air, and food. 
  • Pipeline safety issues: where’s the evacuation plan for 300 miles of Mariner East pipeline? Three 300-foot fireballs in just the past three months shows this is not safe. 
  • Mariner East pipeline completion would harm land, trees, wildlife, and violate property rights by taking land for private profit using eminent domain. 
  • Pennsylvania’s air is being rapidly degraded by heavy fracking; Chester suffers from terrible environmental racism with intense air pollution, and Philadelphia gets a failing grade on air. This is the time to decrease, not increase, toxic air emissions. 
  • This project goes in the wrong direction altogether: as the suffering from Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy to Typhoon Haiyan shows, we must devote ourselves to a sustainable future 100%. It’s a matter of human rights. According to World Health Organization, “Besides environmental and economic damage, the ultimate impact of climate change is a toll on our most precious resource – human lives and health." 
  • Ordinary people like Joseph Giovannini are being and have already been displaced by toxic emissions from the MarkWest refinery in Houston, PA, the starting point of the Mariner East Pipeline. The MarkWest refinery is degrading public health.

Today’s GOP, In Two Numbers

From our friends at American Progress Action

Today’s GOP, In Two Numbers

Last week, President Obama laid out a sweeping agenda to combat income inequality, strengthen the middle class, and extend ladders of opportunity to those striving to enter it. He also challenged the GOP to put forward their own ideas instead of just rejecting whatever he proposes. We have yet to see any new ideas from the Republicans but their opposition to the president’s agenda of economic empowerment is still going strong.
Two numbers perfectly illustrate the almost cruel indifference shown by today’s GOP toward the concerns of the millions of Americans who are struggling to get by:
  • 4,831,590: That is the number of low-income Americans who will not receive health coverage through Medicaid simply because Republican governors and legislatures are refusing to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. Because the expansion is almost entirely paid for by the federal government, states refusing to expand the program will forego billions in tax dollars, even as providers remain on the hook for uncompensated care provided to the uninsured. Texas will lose out on more than $9 BILLION, while Florida is leaving more than $5 BILLION on the table.
real_victims-53
  • 1,300,000: That is the number of unemployed Americans who willimmediately lose their benefits come January if Republicans in Congress refuse to extend long-term unemployment benefits, which would be an unprecedented move during a period of persistently high unemployment. The number who stand to lose their benefits would climb to 3.6 MILLION by the end of 2014. In addition to unnecessarily causing added misery for millions of struggling families, letting the extended benefits lapse would also deal a blow to the economy to the tune of 240,000 lost jobs as well as reduced growth. Over the weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to justify the GOP’s intransigence by making the bizarre argument that extended benefits are somehow harmful to the unemployed and do them a “disservice.”
BOTTOM LINE: If Republicans want to appeal to a broader group of Americans, they should stop putting politics ahead of people. The policies Republicans are pursuing will needlessly punish millions of Americans who can least afford it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Concerted Attack: Who’s Behind the Push to Eliminate Retirement Security?

A Concerted Attack: Who’s Behind the Push to Eliminate Retirement Security?

With members in each of the 50 states and an annual war chest of $83 million drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, and the multinational drug company GlaxoSmithKline, the State Policy Network is the center of a coordinated attack on retirement security for hard working public employees.  In recent documents released by The Guardian, it has been revealed that since 2009, SPN affiliates in fourteen states have authored reports on public pension reform, focusing on decimating the pensions for teachers, firefighters, corrections officers, and other public service workers.  Typically, these pensions average a mere $19,000 a year.  The requests to the Searle Foundation solely focused on pension reform total nearly $500,000 over the last few years. 

This year, seven states requested assistance for similar reports and campaigns on pension reform: AZ, CO, IL, MN, MO, NJ, and PA for a total $285,000.  Evaluations of success for each SPN affiliate range from union reactions, policymaker interactions, and increasing “brand” identity.  Every single proposal, however, evaluates success based on legislative victories.

ARIZONA: 
Goldwater Institute for Public Policy
$40,000

The request focuses on a litigation strategy to “stop public employee pension benefit manipulation.”  Through a legal analysis of a states’ constitutional gift clause, the Goldwater Institute intends to push pension reform.  “Success will be evaluated based on whether two lawsuits invoke the gift clause to achieve pension reform and inspiring at least five SPN affiliates to sending letters of inquiry to appropriate government sources for information on pension spiking.”

COLORADO: 
Independence Institute
$40,000

The proposal focuses on a “campaign” for linking the Colorado public employees’ retirement age to the retirement age of Social Security eligibility.  The Independence Institute intends to “write a policy brief” and will “get out the message” by using media relationships and other platforms.  The II intends to also canvass two test counties.  Success will be determined through polling the general public before and after canvassing the two counties.  Ultimately, the introduction of legislation will be the measure, and final goal.

Illinois: 
Illinois Policy Institute

$40,000

The request focuses on “reform of the Chicago’s public employee pension system.” IPI plans to design a defined contribution plan for the City of Chicago and then conduct a campaign promoting their reforms.”  The request includes the use of an actuarial scoring in order to give the plan “more credibility.” 

The Guardian also revealed aspects of the request from IPI, rather than just the request summary.  This information is insightful as to the full lobbying and behind the scenes maneuvering IPI has already done on the issue.  The proposal says that "Mayor Emanuel has privately expressed the need for 401(k)-style changes to truly achieve reform.The institute plans to "leverage the leadership potential of Mayor Emanuel … as the spark for wider pension changes in Illinois." It adds that "friendly legislators would be welcome to draft legislation modeled on our policy work and work in tandem with Mayor Emanuel to move it forward in the legislative process."[i]


MINNESOTA: 

Center for the American Experiment
$40,000

CAE plans to publish a report “debunking myths about Minnesota’s public sector pensions”.  Using public education, media hits, and direct lobbying in the legislature, CAE success will be evaluated on the quality of attendees at public events.  Specifically, CAE will evaluate success on “media hits, union reactions, and whether the paper is picked up by potential allies.

MISSOURI: 
Show-Me Institute
$25,000

The research proposed by Show-Me will be based on Missouri’s three separate defined benefits plans and how the plans “restrict the school’s ability to attract quality personnel.”  The report will focus on “the negatives of the current system”, asses the popularity of alternatives, and promote free market reforms.  Success is to be measured by “the placement of an op-ed, policymaker’s citing the work and legislative victories.”  Clearly, Show-Me is lobbying, and looking for legislators to give the report credibility.

NEW JERSEY: 
Common sense Institute of New Jersey
$50,000

Focusing on compensation for unused, earned sick leave, the campaign proposed by CINJ intends to detail how much taxpayers will save if the practice is curbed.  Success will be measured by media hits, legislative victories, and increasing the esteem of the CINJ “brand”. 

Interestingly, The Guardian released a few aspects of the proposal from CINJ, noting a cooperation with Governor Chris Christie:  “The grant bid that emanated from New Jersey… floats the idea of a campaign to support the efforts of the Republican governor Chris Christie in ending the ability of public employees to claim untaken sick days and vacation leave in their retirement packages.  The proposal states, "Governor Chris Christie has been waging a war to eliminate this practice; and CSINJ would like to provide ammunition." The title of the proposal is illustrative – Busting the Boat Checks – referring to the phrase Christie uses to denote the watercraft retirees are claimed to buy on the back of sick and holiday leave payments.  When contacted by The Guardian, CSINJ's president, Jerry Cantrell, “denied that the grant bid involved any element of lobbying, insisting instead that his group was providing a service that in the past might have been done by the decimated local media.”


PENNSYLVANIA: 
Commonwealth Foundation
$35,000

Per the request summary, the Commonwealth Foundation intends to “demonstrate the need for, and best practices in, public pension reform” by publishing a report that defines “the pension problem.”  The Commonwealth Foundation intends to “conduct a campaign explaining the problem and release a reform plan.”  Success is to be evaluated by “legislative victories, number of policy maker interactions, and number of speaking engagements.”



                As mentioned in The Guardian article, these SPN affiliates are coordinating across states, intentionally crafting proposals that can be used and replicated in other states.  The Searle Foundation notes and summaries include information regarding past Searle Grant History from 2009 to 2012.  Previous requests on pension reform came from seven states, totaling $209,500 in research grants that were approved.  From 2009-2012, the pension reform focused grant requests came from AL, MA, MD, MI, NH, NM, and NY.  What is unclear is if other requests from other SPN affiliates to study pension reform were submitted in this time frame but had been denied

ALABAMA: 
Alabama Policy Institute
$30,000
2009: Analysis of Alabama’s Unfunded Liabilities.  Low quality, low impact. 

MASSACHUSSETS
Beacon Hill Institute
$29,500
Pension Reform.  Research report not completed. 

MARYLAND: 
Maryland Public Policy Institute
$30,000
2010: Pension Reform.  Low quality, low impact. 

MICHIGAN: 
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
$30,000

2010: Pension Reform.  Although they did not accomplish the policy change they had hoped for, their work was well covered by the press and played a demonstrable role in the debate over reform legislation.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy
2011: Pension Reform
$30,000


NEW MEXICO: 
Rio Grande Foundation
$30,000
2010: Government Retiree Problem.  High quality, high impact.

NEW YORK: 
Empire Center for New York State Policy
$30,000
2009: The Public Pension Bomb... and How to Defuse It.  High quality, high impact.





Friday, December 6, 2013

Pennsylvania is Number 3! In Average Student Loan Debt

PA also 4th in Percentage of State Students Graduating with Debt

HARRISBURG, PA—The results of a new state-by-state survey by the Institute for College Access and Success show Pennsylvania has the 4th highest percentage of college graduates with student loan debt and the 3rd highest total student loan debt in the nation. Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill said these latest statistics show the importance of adequately funding higher education and solving the student loan debt crisis.

"These are top ten lists Pennsylvania should not be on,” said Morrill. “The student loan debt crisis isn't just hurting borrowers and their families, it is a drag on our economy that will prevent Pennsylvanians from buying a home, starting a business or make investments in their future."

The study by the Institute found that 70% of students graduating in Pennsylvania in 2012 had student loan debt, the 4th highest percentage in the nation.

In addition, Pennsylvania ranked 3rd in terms of average debt amount per student at $31,675.

Also of concern is the finding that the average student loan debt, already the second largest form consumer debt in the nation and estimated to exceed $1.2 trillion, increased 10% over the last year.

One attempt to solve this problem is the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2013 (HR 1330), introduced by Rep. Bass, Karen [D-CA-37]. There are currently 51 co-sponsors, none from Pennsylvania.

Excessive student loan debt is impeding economic growth in the United States. Faced with excessive repayment burdens, many individuals are unable to start businesses, invest, or buy homes. Because of soaring tuition costs, students often have no choice but to amass significant debt to obtain an education that is widely considered a prerequisite for earning a living wage.

Another solution would be for Pennsylvania to enact legislation to help students and their families. In Wisconsin, the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act was introduced that would:
  • Create a state authority to help borrowers refinance their student loans, just like you can a home mortgage;
  • Allow borrowers to deduct their student loan payments on their state income taxes;
  • Require borrowers be given detailed information before entering into loan agreements, offer counseling to students and parents on the implications of student loans and require the state to collect and disseminate information about private lenders and maintain a ranking system; and
  • Track information about student loan debt in the state to help policy makers better understand the depth and breadth of the debt crisis.
“Pennsylvania needs to deal with this problem now or find its economy will be harmed for generations,” added Morrill.

The entire report can be viewed here: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/classof2012.pdf


Keystone Progress is Pennsylvania’s largest online progressive organization, with over 250,000 subscribers.  KP uses traditional field organizing, the internet and new media to organize online at the state and local level; and utilizes cutting-edge earned media strategies to promote a progressive agenda and counter right-wing misinformation.