Friday, January 30, 2015

More rural residents turning to self-employment, University of Nebraska-Lincoln study says

With rural counties still trying to recover jobs from the 2007 recession, more rural job-seekers could be turning to self-employment to pay the bills. A poll by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that of the state's 75 percent of rural households where at least one person has a full-time job, "43 percent derived a portion of their income from self-employment," Janice Podsada reports for the Omaha World-Herald.

The study says that self-employment numbers greatly increase in or near smaller communities; 58 percent of respondents who live in or near towns with populations less than 500 have at least one self-employed person in their household. Only 31 percent of households in or near communities with 10,000 or more people have at least one self-employed person, Podsada writes. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln graphic)

Some of those numbers might not be a surprise, considering a larger portion of people living in smaller towns are more likely to own farms, with the poll finding that "61 percent of self-employed households in or near the smallest communities have a ranch or farm, 48 percent have a farm-related business, 41 percent have a non-farm business and 11 percent provide contract service to a company,"  Podsada writes. The report is based on responses from 1,943 households sent to 86 counties.

The state of child vaccinations: Some largely rural states above national average, some below

Which states are the best at getting toddlers their recommended vaccinations? While 70.4 of U.S. children ages 19 to 35 months have received all Centers for Disease Control recommended vaccinations, several states, including some with large rural populations, are well above the national average, including Mississippi and Alabama, two states generally at the bottom of most health statistics, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. (For an interactive version click here)
Rhode Island leads the way in vaccinations, with 82.1 percent of all children 19 to 35 months having received their recommended vaccinations, Ingraham writes. Also above the national average are Nebraska (79 percent), Massachusetts (78.5), Connecticut (78.2), Iowa (78), Alabama (77), Maryland (75.8), Pennsylvania (75.5), Utah (75.2), New Hampshire (74.9), Mississippi (74.6), Minnesota (74.1), South Dakota (73.8), Wisconsin (72.8), Kentucky (72.7), Texas (72.5), New York (72.2), North Carolina (72), North Dakota (72) and Washington (70.8).

On the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas is dead last at 57.1 percent, Ingraham writes. Other states well below the national average are Nevada (60.6 percent), Ohio (61.7), Oklahoma (62.7), Alaska (63.9), Arizona (65.1), Montana (65.4), West Virginia (65.5) and New Mexico (65.7).

Many states are also not prepared to prevent and control infectious diseases, says a study by Trust For America's Health, reports the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study found that only 14 states vaccinated at least half their population for season flu, "38 states met the national performance target of testing 90 percent of reported E.coli cases within four days" and 37 states "have in place the necessary reporting requirements to help prevent further transmission of HIV."

The study, which looked at 10 indicators to measure areas of high priority and concern, found that only 27 states and Washington D.C. "met or exceeded the average score for Incident Information and Management in the National Health Security Preparedness Index." (Read more)

FCC redefines broadband to increase speeds; 53% of rural residents lack access to new levels

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday changed the definition of broadband, increasing download speeds from 4 megabits per second to 25 megabits per second and upload speeds from 1 megabit per second to 3 megabits per second, Steve Lohr reports for The New York Times. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who proposed the faster speeds earlier this month, said faster speeds were needed to keep up with the rising demands of American households.

"The impact of the new definition is uncertain, but the standard does guide policy on matters like the national deployment of broadband service, particularly in rural areas," Lohr writes. More than half of rural Americans—53 percent, or 22 million people—do not currently have Internet access at the new levels, while only 8 percent of urban residents lack access to the new speeds.

"The new benchmark standard on speed could also spill over into the current weighing of new rules intended to maintain an open Internet, or net neutrality," Lohr writes. FCC is scheduled to vote on open Internet regulations on Feb. 26. (Read more)

Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf reinstates fracking ban on state parklands

Newly-elected Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on Thursday reinstated a ban on fracking in state parklands, Ben Finely reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. "The executive order protects about a million acres—or 60 percent—of Pennsylvania state parks and forests that sit atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation."

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell "imposed the ban in 2010, and his Republican successor, Tom Corbett, lifted it last year," Finley writes. "Corbett had projected up to $95 million in revenue from leases that would have been signed." Throughout his campaign, Wolf said he would reinstate the ban, if elected. Wolf beat Corbett by a count of 54.93 percent to 45.07 percent.

The oil and gas industry was not happy with the move, Don Hopey reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Pennsylvania has 2.1 million acres of state forest and has issued oil and gas leases for about 700,000 acres—more than 130,000 acres of that for Marcellus Shale deep wells."

"The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has approved more than 1,000 Marcellus Shale gas wells on forest lands, and about 600 of those wells have been drilled on 230 wellpads," Hopey writes. "But there is room on existing leases for as many as 6,000. If all of those wells are drilled and developed, approximately 25,000 forested acres would be converted for roads, pipeline right of ways and wellpads."

Scripps Howard Awards include one for community journalism; entry deadline is Feb. 10

The Scripps Howard Awards program offers $180,000 in prizes in 17 categories, including the Community Journalism award. Eligible work is anything that was distributed online, on-air or in print during 2014. Deadline for entry is Feb. 10. Winners will be announced on March 17 and honored on May 21 at a gala in Denver. For more information or to submit entries click here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Logging is deadliest occupation in U.S.; several rural jobs have nation's highest fatality rates

Some of the most deadly jobs in the U.S. are primarily rural occupations, and logging workers have the deadliest job of all, Max Ehrenfreund reports for The Washington Post. Logging workers have a fatal occupation rate of nearly 90 deaths per every 100,000 full-time workers.

After logging, fishing related jobs are the second deadliest occupation, with about 77 deaths per every 100,000 full-time workers. Next was aircraft pilots and flight engineers; other extraction workers; roofers; refuse and recyclable material collectors; mining machine operators; drivers/sales workers and truck drivers; farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers; electrical power line installers and repairers; construction workers; taxi drivers and chauffeurs; maintenance and repair workers; grounds maintenance workers; police and sheriff's officers; painters, construction and maintenance; athletes, coaches, umpires; firefighters; electricians; and bus and truck mechanics. (Post graphic)

Taxi drivers and chauffeurs are most likely to be murdered on the job, with eight deaths per every 100,000 workers. Police and sheriff's officers were second, followed by food service managers; first-line supervisors retail sales workers; cashiers, construction workers; retail salespeople; and drivers/sales workers and truck drivers.

Senate expected to pass Keystone XL Pipeline bill today; lack votes to avoid presidential veto

The Senate is expected to approve the controversial $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline today but still lacks enough votes to override a presidential veto, which is something President Obama has said he will do if the bill passes, Elana Schor reports for Politico. The House approved a Keystone XL Pipeline bill earlier this month.

On Wednesday the Senate went through a dozen amendments from both parties and will weigh several more today "before taking a final vote on legislation that would override Obama’s authority to decide on a permit for Keystone," Schor writes. "Only one of those amendments got attached to the bill, but the few changes already made to the Senate’s pipeline measure require the House to make the next move before it goes to Obama’s desk. The House has not yet settled on whether to vote to approve the Senate’s Keystone bill or go to a conference committee, a House GOP leadership aide wrote by email, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity."

On Wednesday the Senate "rejected Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) amendment to block Obama’s plan to protect part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) bid to fast-track new natural gas exports and a measure on the government’s role in preparing for the effects of climate change," Schor writes.

Advocacy groups sue EPA to try to force action on pollution from industrial livestock farms

Eight advocacy groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency "to try to force federal action on air pollution from industrial livestock farms," Bruce Henderson reports for the Charlotte Observer. "The lawsuits say the chemicals wafting from farms that raise thousands of chickens, hogs and other animals hurt human health and cause environmental problems."

The groups—The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Clean Wisconsin, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Association of Irritated Residents—"say the estimated 20,000 industrial farms produce more than 500 million tons of manure a year, three times the amount of human waste," Henderson writes. "The farms typically store the manure in open pits and spray liquid waste to irrigate farm fields."

The lawsuits "ask the court to force EPA to rule on two petitions that advocates filed in 2009 and 2011," Henderson writes. "Experts say the farms release large amounts of ammonia, an irritating gas, methane, a greenhouse gas, and hydrogen sulfide, known for its rotten-egg stink. They have linked those emissions to health problems including burning eyes, breathing problems, headaches, anxiety and blood pressure spikes." (Read more)

Drug dealers and terrorists using drones; unmanned aircraft are hard to detect or stop

Drones are becoming the hot new toy for criminals and terrorists because they are unmanned and difficult to detect and stop, Jack Nicas reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Law-enforcement officials have discovered criminals smuggling drugs and other contraband across the U.S. border and into prisons using the types of consumer drones increasingly popular with entrepreneurs and hobbyists. And authorities in the U.S., Germany, Spain and Egypt have foiled at least six potential terrorist attacks with drones since 2011." (Associated Press photo: Police last week in Tijuana, Mexico found this crashed drone that they suspect was carrying drugs from Mexico to the U.S.)

Features that have made drones attractive for businesses and photographers—they are small, easy to fly and can capture high-definition images—also make them a potentially powerful tool for criminals and terrorists, Nicas writes. "U.S. authorities are worried that the problem is growing and that drones could be modified to mount attacks with explosives or chemical weapons, according to a presentation this month by federal intelligence and security officials to their counterparts in law enforcement and people who oversee critical infrastructure."

Earlier this week a drone crashed onto the White House lawn. While the operator said he lost control of the drone, the incident raises safety concerns about the inability to "track drones to protect potential targets like critical infrastructure, government buildings, prisons and crowded stadiums," Nicas writes. That has led to a growing industry working to build devices to detect incoming drones and alert authorities. (Read more)

Radar not allowed on rural Mississippi roads; officials say radar would save lives, increase safety

A long-held fear in Mississippi that equipping rural law enforcement with radar guns will lead to speed traps has prevented sheriff's departments and local police from gaining permission to use the devices to catch speeders on rural roads, Andrea Williams reports for WTOK Newscenter 11 in Meridian, Miss. Law enforcement officials, who say radar guns would help catch speeders on dangerous roads and make roads safer, are pushing for legislators to change the law. (Associated Press photo by Ryan Moore: Mississippi has one of the highest rates of roadway deaths in the U.S.)

"The Mississippi Code of 1972 prohibits county sheriff departments from using radar to clock speeders. The devices are only used by most city police departments and the Mississippi Highway Patrol," Williams writes. The Mississippi Sheriffs Association has for years tried and failed to lobby lawmakers for the right to use radar to identify speeders on county roadways."

The issue is expected to come up again during this year's session, Williams writes. House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden (R-Meridian) told Williams, "We have so many good roads now around our county where you can drive about as fast as you dare if you're not obeying the law; we have so many young people out there that are doing that. My own opinion is that rural radar would probably be a good thing in the hands of an effective law enforcement agency."

Nationally, traffic fatalities on rural roads rose between 2011 to 2012—from 17,769 to 18,170—according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mississippi had 630 fatalities in 2011 and 582 in 2012, the largest drop of any state. But 25 percent of Mississippi's rural roads are in poor shape, ninth worst in the nation, says a report by The Road Information Program, funded by lobbies interested in highways and their safety.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Costs of child care services keep rising; more working mothers means more child care is needed

In an age when more mothers with small children work—60 percent of mothers with young children worked in 2013, compared to 28 percent in 1975—more and better child care services are necessary, Justin Feldman reports for Journalist's Resource. In his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue or a women’s issue and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us." Obama proposed a new annual tax cut of up to $3,000 per child. (U.S. Census Bureau graphic)
Many states with large rural populations are severely lacking in quality child care services. Child Care Aware of America in 2013 ranked each state by its child care centers, scoring states up to 10 points in 15 categories. The average score was 92, which equates to a number grade of 61 for a national average of D. No state received a grade higher than C, and 21 states received a failing grade. Idaho easily came in dead last with only 23 points. Following Idaho was Nebraska, 47; California, 51; Louisiana, 57; Alabama, 67; Maine 76; Wyoming, 79; South Carolina, 80; Iowa, 81 and Mississippi, Connecticut and Arkansas, 82. New York led all states with 116 points.

A third of young children—6.7 million—receive care from a non-relative on a regular basis, says the U.S. Census Bureau, Feldman writes. "For infants in center-based care, the average annual cost ranges from $5,496 in Mississippi to $16,549 in Massachusetts; for 4-year-olds, care in a center ranges from $4,515 in Tennessee to $12,320 in Massachusetts, according to Child Care Aware. Childcare workers (excluding preschool teachers) continue to be paid some of the lowest wages of any professional field—just $21,490 on average."

Costs continue to rise to enroll children in care, Feldman writes. A 2013 Census Bureau report said parents of children under 5 paid an average of $179 per week, or $9,300 per year. "While the cost of child care increased over time, the percent of family monthly income spent on child care has stayed constant between 1997 and 2011, at around 7 percent. A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that families earning less than $18,000 annually spend about 40 percent of their income on childcare (compared to 7.2 percent of income for all families)." (Read more)

Conservationists say monarch butterflies are still in danger, despite increase in numbers

Despite an estimated 56.5 million monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico, up from a record-low 34 million last year, conservationists say numbers are still too low and continue to call for the species to be granted endangered species status, Laura Zuckerman reports for Reuters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last month the popular orange-and-black butterfly may warrant federal Endangered Species Act protections tied to declines in cross-country migrations because of farm-related habitat loss."

Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, "said the latest population estimate for monarchs is the second-lowest since surveys began in 1993 and that the butterflies faced the possibility of extinction without habitat and other protections that would come with adding the insects to the U.S. federal endangered and threatened species list," Zuckerman writes.

Conservationists say "increased cultivation of crops genetically engineered to withstand herbicides that kill native vegetation like milkweed" is to blame for population losses, Zuckerman writes. Roundup used by Monsanto has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields, where most of the butterflies are born, conservationists say. (Read more)

Republican-led Indiana to expand Medicaid; other Republican governors considering expansion

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, one of many Republican leaders whose state withheld from expanding Medicaid under federal health reform, announced on Tuesday that he has reached an agreement with the Obama Administration to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Maureen Groppe reports for The Indianapolis Star. Indiana will become the 28th state to expand Medicaid.

Indiana's plan, called HIP 2.0, begins Feb. 1, Groppe writes. Indiana "has estimated more than 300,000 Hoosiers—or 56 percent of those newly eligible for Medicaid—could enroll in the first year, and more than 400,000 would sign up during the second year."

Since Republicans gained control of Congress in November, several Republican-led states have moved to expand Medicaid, including Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. "If all six states now considering expansion plans win federal approval, more than 600,000 additional people could be eligible for Medicaid coverage," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline.

"Despite the offer of billions in federal dollars, Republican governors and lawmakers in many states have rejected the deal, fearing they could lose their jobs if they were seen cooperating with the Obama administration on a law most conservatives disagree with," Vestal writes. "Some states also worry that even the 10 percent share may be too much for them to afford or that the federal government will scale back its contribution sometime in the future." (Stateline map)

Feds lack funding to properly inspect all 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines

Tuesday's fireball explosion of an interstate natural gas transmission line in West Virginia is the latest in a string of incidents involving natural gas lines that have gone mostly unnoticed this year and call attention to the need for more funding and personnel to ensure pipelines are properly inspected, Mark Clayton reports for The Christian Science Monitor. (West Virginia State Police photo: A fireball is seen across Interstate 77 in Sissonville, W. Va, after a natural gas pipeline exploded in flames near Charleston)

Less than one month into 2015 the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has already reported 80 incidents involving natural gas transmission lines, and 38 were classified as significant, Clayton writes. Accidents and fires have caused seven injuries and $44 million of damage. There have been another 71 incidents with nine fatalities and 21 injuries involving natural gas distribution lines, which bring gas directly to residential and commercial customers in and around major population centers.

Rebecca Craven, program director of watchdog Pipeline Safety Trust, told Clayton, "There are never enough inspectors at the state or federal level to adequately cover all the pipelines. They can't physically spend enough time with each operator or pipeline to be able to do a thorough job and conduct regular inspections. They do what they can—enough to comply with their requirements."

There are 2.5 million miles of pipeline operated by about 3,000 companies, but PHMSA only has funding for 137 inspectors, Clayton writes. In 2010 the agency had 110 inspectors on staff and in some years averaged 24 employees. (Read more)

Oklahoma Supreme Court to hear homeowner's suit against oil companies for earthquake damage

An Oklahoma homeowner's lawsuit claiming two oil companies are responsible for an earthquake that damaged her home will go before the state Supreme Court in a case that could set the precedent for future earthquake claims, Ziva Branstetter reports for Tulsa World. "An attorney for one of the companies has said the lawsuit, if successful, would cause energy companies to abandon wastewater disposal wells across the state."

In 2014, Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 564 of magnitude 3 or higher, compared to only 100 in 2013. Some state and local officials have publicly acknowledged that the surge in earthquakes is linked to the oil and gas industry's use of injection wells for wastewater.

Sandra Ladra of Prague is suing New Dominion LLC, a Tulsa-based oil and gas company, and Spess Oil Co., based in Cleveland, Okla. for damage from a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in 2011 "alleging the companies operated wastewater disposal wells that triggered" the earthquake near Prague, Branstetter writes. New Dominion attorney Robert Gum told a Lincoln County judge during a hearing in October, “These wells will become economic and legal-liability pariahs." (Read more)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drones could cut costs in searching for oil and gas field hazards; technology still lacking

Drones could significantly cut the costs of searching by air for hazards in abandoned or forgotten oil and gas fields, Laura Legere reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Currently, helicopters equipped with magnetic sensors are used to fly over plots in Pennsylvania at a cost of about $2,000 per hour. Unmanned aircraft can do the same job at a projected cost of $3. (Gazette photo by Darrell Sapp: This Identified Technologies drones is customized to collect images, data or gas readings) 

Right now the wait is on for someone to develop a magnetic sensor just as sensitive as the full-sized helicopter’s but small, light and energy-efficient enough to fit on the remote-controlled machine without hindering its flight, Legere writes. Richard Hammack, a physical scientist for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, told Legere, “Companies are developing now much smaller magnetic sensors that are lighter, and they have less power draw. As soon as that’s developed we’re going to give them a ride.”

Lux Research released a report in October that "found that the market for commercial uses of drones will grow to $1.7 billion in 2025, with oil and gas applications as one of the largest segments—worth $247 million—after agriculture, hobbyists and utilities," Legere writes.

While the oil and gas industry waits for technology to catch up, they are also waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to release rules for commercial drone use. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled in November that drones are aircraft and are subject to existing aviation laws. Until FAA rules are put in place, most commercial use of drones remains illegal. Rules are not expected until September. (Read more)

Researchers blame Wal-Mart for obesity epidemic, say buying in bulk increases obesity

The rise of obesity in America can be linked to the availability of cheap food sold in bulk from warehouse stores like Wal-Mart, according to a study researchers from Georgia State UniversityUniversity of IowaUniversity of Virginia and University of Louisville released this week, Danielle Paquette reports for The Washington Post. Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in the U.S. and a staple of many rural areas.

Charles Courtemanche, assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University, told Paquette, "We live in an environment with increasingly cheap and readily available junk food. We buy in bulk. We tend to have more food around. It takes more and more discipline and self-control to not let that influence your weight.”

Obesity in America has surged from 1960, when 13 percent of adults were obese, to 2012, when 35 percent of adults were obese, Paquette writes. The first Wal-Mart store opened in 1962, the first Sam's Club in 1983 and the first Wal-Mart Supercenter in 1988. In addition to Wal-Mart, numerous other warehouse-style stores, like Target and Costco, have followed Wal-Mart's lead by selling in bulk.

The study found that opening an additional Wal-Mart store "per 100,000 residents increased an area’s average body mass index by 0.24 units, or 10.8 percent of the sample obesity rate," Paquette writes. Researchers wrote, “These estimates imply that the proliferation of Wal-Mart Supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s.” (Read more) (Growth of Wal-Mart since 1962)

Verizon agrees to $5 million settlement with FCC for not investigating low rural call answer rates

Verizon agreed to a $5 million settlement with the Federal Communications Commission for failing to investigate low call answer rates for long-distance and wireless calls in 26 rural areas in 2013, Alina Selyukh reports for Reuters. Verizon received $2 million in fines and agreed to spend $3 million in the next three years to develop a system for automatic identification of rural call completion complaints, monitor call answer rates, hold workshops and sponsor an academic study on ways of detecting and resolving rural call problems."

FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement: "All Americans, no matter where they are located, have a right to make and receive phone calls. Phone companies are on notice that the FCC will hold them accountable for failures to investigate and ensure that calls go through to the rural heartland of the country."

Newspapers should keep tabs on state legislatures for proposed bills moving legal ads to Internet

Community newspapers should keep an eye on their state legislatures and be aware of any proposed or pending bills to move legal ads out of newspapers and onto government websites. The Michigan House passed a bill in December to do just that, and several other states, such as Tennessee, have proposed similar bills.

"City councils, county commissions, school boards and other public bodies are required to provide special notices of special meetings, for example, because those notices must list all items to be discussed," Frank Gibson, public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association writes in an column in The Leader in Covington, Tenn.

"Public notices are required for public hearings on land zoning changes, proposed budgets and taxes, certain ordinances, annexations and when the government plans to use its ultimate police power—the use of eminent domain to take private property," Gibson writes. "Public notices are like the third leg of a stool—with the open records and open meetings laws."

"Proposals have been made in Tennessee and other states to move those disclosure notices solely to government websites," Gibson writes. "That would be tantamount to eliminating public notices as they have historically been. Anyone looking for a public notice would have to know exactly what they are searching for and when and where to look. Instead of going to their local newspaper where they have always gone to see notices, citizens would be left searching for 'a needle in a haystack.' Public notices need to be made available as widely as possible." (Read more)

Becker's Hospital Review names 50 rural hospital CEOs to watch

Becker's Hospital Review announced its list of 50 rural hospital CEOs to know. The presidents, CEOs and administrators on to the list "are dedicated to advancing healthcare in their communities and are tackling the challenges of providing healthcare in rural or small towns with vigor," Ayla Ellison, Akanksha Jayanthi and Heather Punke report for Becker's.

"For this list, 'rural' was defined as being located outside of a major metropolitan area or healthcare hub," Becker's writes. "Leaders were selected for inclusion through an editorial process where a number of factors were considered, including awards received; local, regional and national leadership positions held; and their organizations' recent performance." Becker's also accepted nominations. To see the list, click here.

Farm Foundation hosting free forum on Wednesday; live audiocast with slides available

The next Farm Foundation forum, "Tools to Fund Agricultural Research," will be held from 9-11 a.m. (EST) on Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. For those unable to attend the free event in person, a live audiocast that includes PowerPoint slides is available. Questions can be submitted by those participating via audiocast. To register to attend in person click here. To register for the audiocast click here

Presenters are: Keith Fuglie of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, who will provide an overview of public and private research trends, including the funding model used in Australia; Dr. Harold Browning of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, to discuss that industry-led research effort; Steve Rhines of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, who will discuss the potential role of agricultural research organizations in financing agricultural research; and Matt McKenna of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, who will discuss this non-profit corporation authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill to combine public funding and private donations in support of agriculture research. (Read more)

Monday, January 26, 2015

States trying, and failing, to tax e-cigarettes

E-cigarette use is on the rise in recent years, especially among teens in rural areas, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose rules to give it authority over e-cigarettes, an industry that accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual sales. While industry members and users claim e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes and actually help reduce smoking, state officials say e-cigarettes should be considered the same as tobacco and have tried—and mostly failed—to place taxes on e-cigarettes, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. (Povich photo: A vape shop in Sunset, Utah)

Minnesota and North Carolina tax e-cigarettes, but last year 12 states—Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington—failed to pass proposed taxes on e-cigarettes, Povich writes. States such as Utah, Indiana, Washington and New Jersey are trying to tax e-cigarettes this year, while last week Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder "vetoed a package of bills designed to regulate and tax e-cigarettes, saying it wasn’t tough enough."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, told Povich, “I feel strongly that we should tax electronic cigarettes similar to the way we tax other tobacco products. There are some who think these new products are not harmful, but just like traditional cigarettes, they contain nicotine and other toxic and addictive substances. Flavoring and marketing targeted to make these products enticing to youth is particularly concerning.”

Among adults, e-cigarette use rose from 3.3. percent in 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2013, and the number of cigarette smokers who used e-cigarettes increased from 9.8 percent to 36.5 percent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Povich writes. More than 1.78 million—or 10 percent—of middle and high school students said they have tried e-cigarettes, according to a study from 2011-12 by the CDC. The Utah Department of Health said that 5.8 percent of teens and pre-teens said they used e-cigarettes last year.

The e-cigarette industry says it is being targeted with tougher standards than cigarettes and is rolling out people like Utah truck driver Brian Fisher—who claims e-cigarettes saved his life—to promote their cause, Povich writes. Fisher, who was diagnosed with lymphoma five years ago, told Povich, “I tried everything to get off cigarettes, and couldn’t do it. I found out about vaporizers, and they saved me, basically." (Read more)

Women less likely to run for state legislature if it means time away from children, study says

Because women do the majority of child rearing, they often opt for job flexibility over political positions that require large amounts of time away from home, says a study by Yale University, John Sides reports for The Washington Post. As a result, "the farther away a state legislative district is from the state capital, the less likely it is that there will be at least one female candidate in that district or a woman serving as state legislator."

Study author Rachel Silbermann asked a national sample of undergraduates if they would rather take a job in Congress five hours away or a job as a state legislator at distances of either 15 minutes or five hours away. She said women were twice as likely as men to pick state legislator over Congress if the state capital is closer to home.

"The common thread in these analyses is the fact that time spent traveling to and from work is particularly burdensome for those who spend time caring for children," Silbermann writes. "Thus, elected offices that require a politician to travel a long distance will, all else equal, be less attractive to those who expect to spend more time caring for children."

Women only make up 19 percent of members of Congress, 24 percent of state legislators and 10 percent of governors, Silbermann writes. Women in public office are less likely than men to be married (88 percent of men compared to 71 percent of women), more likely to be divorced, separated or widowed (25 percent women, 6 percent men), less likely to have children under 6 (3 percent women, 6 percent men) and less likely to have children under 18 (14 percent women, 22 percent men).

Rural areas are cutting obstetrics services; cite insurance concerns related to new standards

Pregnant women in rural areas are having to travel farther to give birth, as more rural hospitals eliminate obstetrics services. From 1985 to 2000, the number of hospitals offering obstetrics services dropped by 23 percent, says a study by the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, John Lundy reports for the Duluth News Tribune. In 2008, only 6.4 percent of obstetrician–gynecologists practiced in rural areas, says The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Overall, 49 percent of U.S. counties lacked an OBGYN in 2010. (Best Places map)

In rural Minnesota, hospitals are being forced to cut obstetrics services, Lundy writes. Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital in Ely, Minn., announced last month that it is discontinuing obstetrics services this summer, and Cook County North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais, Minn. is expected to make a similar decision this week because of insurance concerns. The hospital averages 9.5 births per year.

"For Cook County's hospital, the tipping point came in the form of a report received in late October from Coverys, its professional liability insurer, said Kimber Wraalstad, the hospital's administrator," Lundy writes. "The hospital's level of obstetrics care falls short of current accepted standards in five areas, the report from Coverys found." The biggest problem is that guidelines established by ACOG say access to an emergency cesarean section must be available within 30 minutes. The nearest available C-sections from the Cook County hospital are 110 miles away in Duluth. (Read more)

Obamacare efforts target rural areas with low enrollment; deadline is Feb. 15; it's a local story

Plenty of misinformation is still floating around about federal health reform, inhibiting enrollment in rural areas. With the second annual open-enrollment deadline a little more than two weeks away, and state and national media not focused on the subject like they were a year ago, it's a good time for rural news media to educate readers, listeners and viewers about Obamacare.

“A lot of people in rural areas get information from word of mouth, and last year there was a lot of negative background noise,” Dr. Dan Derksen of the University of Arizona College of Public Health, told Caitlin Schmidt of the Arizona Daily Star. “Last year, it was new for everyone. Now it’s Round 2, and people know people who enrolled last year, and they can talk about it.” (Star photo by A.E. Araiza: Edilia Quiroz of United Community Health Center discusses the law with health-care professionals, case managers and social workers)

After the first enrollment period last year, "one of the lowest enrolled groups were people who live in rural and remote areas," Schmidt reports. During the second enrollment period, which ends Feb. 15, advocates in Arizona and other states have put more emphasis on enrolling rural residents.

Manufactured homes, a staple of rural areas, cost less, but come with higher interest rates

After several years of declining sales of manufactured homes—more commonly known as mobile homes or trailers—sales are beginning to climb. While manufactured homes are cheaper than houses, they come with high finance rates, which in the long run make the homes a bad investment, Lance George, Director of Research and Information at the Housing Assistance Council, writes for the Daily Yonder. More than half of all manufactured homes are located in rural areas, a large portion of them in the South.

Sales of new manufactured homes were at 58,000 in 2014, up from 56,300 in 2013, George writes. There are about 6.8 million occupied manufactured homes in the U.S., with manufactured homes selling for an average price of $64,000, compared to $269,000 for a newly constructed single family home. (For an interactive version click here)
While it might appear that manufactured homes are a better deal, "the majority of manufactured homes are still financed with personal property, or 'chattel,' loans," George writes. "With shorter terms and higher interest rates, personal property loans are generally less beneficial for the consumer than conventional mortgage financing. Roughly 60 percent of manufactured home loans in 2013 were classified as 'high cost' (having a substantially high interest rate) which is more than eight times the level of high cost lending for newly constructed single family structures."

"Manufactured homes are typically sold at retail sales centers where salespersons or 'dealers' receive commissions, often exacerbating these finance issues. In some cases, dealers resort to high-pressure sales tactics, trapping consumers into unaffordable loans," George writes. (Read more)

Modern Farmer paid staff walks out, leaving future of quarterly magazine up in the air

The future of Modern Farmer—a magazine that has never been geared toward your everyday farmer—could be in doubt, after its remaining paid editors walked out on Friday, Kim Severson reports for The New York Times. Despite more than 1 million unique page views per month and support from big-name advertisers, the fate of the quarterly with a circulation of 100,000 had been in question for months.

In December, founder Ann Marie Gardner left, and the spring issue was canceled, Severson writes. "Gardner remains in a dispute with Frank Giustra, a hard-nosed Canadian financier who owns a majority of the company. But after the remaining editorial staff members departed Friday, Giustra’s public relations firm said in an emailed statement that plans for a summer edition were underway, and any replacement hires 'will continue to reflect the high standards of reporting that Modern Farmer has had in the past.'” Currently the editorial content is in the hands of two interns whose tenure ends Feb. 1. (Read more)