Friday, January 05, 2024

UPDATED: NRA's tax returns show declines in revenue, assets, member dues; longtime leader says he's quitting

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway, Daily Beast via Getty

Despite its reputation as an organization with a powerful political reach, the National Rifle Association has been on a downward spiral sparked by declining revenue, internal fighting and alleged mismanagement. "Over the last several years, the NRA has experienced a public implosion, as the group loses members and revenue amid serious accusations of mismanagement and corruption," reports Roger Sollenberger of The Daily Beast

NRA's popularity and power began to slide more than a decade ago. Sollenberger writes, "The gun rights group's tax filings and political spending over the last 15 years provides some of the clearest evidence of its downfall. . . . Its most recent tax return, filed in November of this year for 2022, reveals dramatic declines along almost every conceivable metric: revenue, assets, member dues, lobbying, and political spending — with conversely sharp increases in legal costs and deficits."

The New York Times also reported that "On the eve of a legal battle in New York, Wayne LaPierre told board members on Friday that he would step down as the longtime chief of the National Rifle Association" effective Jan. 31. The Times reported that LaPierre "has led the organization for more than three decades. But his resignation came as he faced his gravest challenge yet, a corruption trial in Manhattan amid a legal showdown with New York’s attorney general, Letitia James. Jury selection has already begun and opening arguments were scheduled for early next week."

In 2010, the NRA wielded a powerful lobby. But in the wake of extreme gun violence in the U.S., 15 GOP senators "repudiated the NRA, passing the first meaningful gun control package in decades," Sollenberger writes. "That could be a signal of the NRA's demise, but it also could be interpreted as a reaction to the surging gun violence that continues to this day."

Regardless of why and how political favor and donor sentiment have changed, "The NRA today is in a dismal state. On the income side, 2022 was the fourth year in a row that revenue fell, marking its weakest fundraising year since at least 2008," Sollenberger reports. "Membership dues are at all-time lows, according to available public data, and staffing is at the lowest point since those costs began their downward plunge in 2016." 

Despite those numbers, NRA spokesman Billy McLaughlin said in a statement to the Daily Beast that the NRA remains the largest and most effective gun rights organization. 

A small town in Texas struggles to manage immigration numbers -- its first responders are often overwhelmed

Migrants walk along concertina wire on the U.S. side of the
border in Texas. (Photo by Paul Ratje, The New York Times)
Emergency workers and town officials in Eagle Pass, Texas, have been overwhelmed by the thousands of immigrants who require rescuing from Rio Grande River perils, heat exhaustion or the physical demands of wrangling with border obstacles, as they attempt to cross into the U.S., reports Edgar Sandoval of The New York Times. "This week, a delegation of 60 Republican congressmen, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, gathered in town at the edge of the Rio Grande to call for the Biden administration to stem the immigration surge."

Eagle Pass is home to a border patrol station, but the town is not equipped to handle the number of people crossing. "Many [immigrants] are in urgent need of medical attention when they arrive — help that is only available through a city that is already straining to meet the needs of its own 28,000 residents," Sandoval writes. "The city has had to assign one of its five ambulances full-time to transport injured migrants from the river's edge."

Eagle Pass, Texas (Wikipedia maps)
Meanwhile, the cost of aiding, treating and managing migrants is straining the town's fire department and law enforcement. The Fire Department is "spending about $150,000 a month on ambulance costs responding to migrants alone. . . .That figure does not include overtime, costing more than $30,000 a month, Sandoval reports. "The Eagle Pass police chief, Federico Garza, says his small police force of 74 officers is often diverted from everyday duties to respond to calls of migrants idling on a corner or crossing through a backyard. The sheer number of calls 'can be overwhelming,' he said."

Texas has "long been at the center of U.S. immigration policy," Sandoval adds. "But the area has turned into a key point of friction this year between Republican leaders and the Biden administration, as Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas openly defied federal authority and set up state law enforcement patrols, concertina wire and floating buoys along the border in a bid to keep new migrants out of the state."

In January, the flow of immigrants into Eagle Pass slowed, but some of the efforts hurt the town's economy. "The recent closure of an international crossing known locally as Bridge 1 crippled a local economy that benefits from a steady stream of Mexicans who legally cross every day to eat at restaurants, fill their gas tanks and commute to work," Sandoval reports. "The closure over the holiday season cost the city about $1 million, Rolando Salinas Jr., the mayor of Eagle Pass, said."

When freshwater fish are contaminated by 'forever chemicals,' some are no longer safe to eat

PFAS exposure means some freshwater fish are
labeled 'do not eat.' Photo by Andy Wang, Unsplash
A freshwater fish fry may sound like a delectable dinner, but it may no longer be healthy because substances known as PFAS or 'forever chemicals' have polluted many freshwater fish populations. While the Environmental Protection Agency has been working on PFAS drinking water standards, "Some scientists worry that regulations for freshwater fish are lagging," reports Hannah Norman of KFF Health News. "A recent study from The Environmental Working Group found that just one serving of fish can be equivalent to a month of drinking water contaminated with 48 parts per trillion of the common chemical PFOS."

PFOS and PFOA are part of the PFAS family of synthetic chemicals, which were used to make everything from Teflon to fire-fighting foam. Their chemical structure resists environmental breakdown by nature or the human body, which means they "accumulate in the soil, water, fish and our bodies," Norman explains. According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, human PFAS exposure is "associated to cancer, low birth weight and decreased responses to vaccines. . . . At least 17 states have issued PFAS-related fish consumption advisories, KFF Health News found, with some warning residents not to eat any fish caught in particular lakes or rivers."

When it comes to PFAS levels in fish, the federal government hasn't provided any dietary guidance. Instead, states are setting limits with alarming variations. Norman reports, "'Do not eat' thresholds for the general population range from 25.7 parts per billion in New Hampshire to 800 ppb in Alabama. . . . While the EPA has tested hundreds of fish for PFAS and found some samples with concerningly high concentrations, it has no plans to provide national fish consumption advisories."

There is a bit of good news. Norman reports, "The Food and Drug Administration tested saltwater fish and shellfish sold in grocery stores — including Atlantic salmon and canned tuna — and generally found far lower levels of PFAS contamination."

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Lawmakers in some states are working to provide property tax relief because of soaring home values, increased bills

(Photo by Jennifer Grismer, Unsplash)
Alongside soaring home values, U.S. property taxes have increased, leaving some homeowners struggling to pay eye-popping bills. "The typical home value in Idaho increased from $275,852 in November 2019 to $434,224 this November — a 57% increase over four years, according to data provided by real estate giant Zillow, which tracks the average of the middle one-third of home values," reports Kevin Hardy of Stateline. Property tax rates are "generally set by local governments, not legislatures. But public pressure has compelled lawmakers in several states, including Idaho, to use surplus state revenues to mitigate property tax hikes."

Commenting on the public outcry, Idaho state Rep. Jason Monks told Hardy, "The biggest problem was they just went up so quickly. … I think that's one of the reasons why it became this rallying cry from the people asking for tax relief." Jared Walczak, vice president of state projects at the Tax Foundation, a pro-business research organization, told Hardy: "In virtually every state where the legislature meets this year, property tax relief bills will be filed. This is a front-of-mind issue for many legislators across the country."

However, intervening in property taxes is complex, and failure to do it correctly could leave some coffers empty because the money is being used for tax relief. "The effort across the country to provide property tax relief has sparked some concern that states could go too far, jeopardizing revenue for school districts and local governments," Hardy explains. "And some policymakers worry about overly broad relief that could benefit the wealthiest property owners at the expense of those most in need."

Colorado lawmakers are trying for a measured approach, which is difficult when the state's "landscape ranges from rural ranching communities to booming urban and suburban markets," Hardy reports. Democratic state Rep. Marc Snyder told Hardy: "I've been struggling with this. It's really hard to come up with a statewide solution when you have such a variety of situations in Colorado."

Democratic state Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy said he "wants to ensure that Colorado's school and fire districts have the revenue sources they need to operate well. But he's wary of tax relief that is overly broad," Hardy adds. Kennedy told him: "I want to make sure that whatever we do to provide property tax or rent assistance is done in the most targeted way possible so that we're actually giving the dollars to the people that need them, rather than doing across-the-board cuts."

Out-of-pocket prescription expenses can be painful -- here are some steps to control costs

Retail drug prices vary. Shopping around can
save money. (Photo by Jake Dockins, WSJ)
Ringing in the new year can mean the costly reset of health insurance deductibles, but understanding new caps and limits on prescriptions can make out-of-pocket expenses more manageable. "The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 contained some of the most sweeping drug-price provisions ever enacted," reports Peter Loftus of The Wall Street Journal. Beyond the law's changes, there are several steps people can take to "put a lid on drug costs."

Beginning in 2023, insulin costs were capped at $35 per month for Medicare recipients. Loftus explains, "You can check the websites of the three main insulin manufacturers — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — to see if the price of your insulin is being cut." If you carry private insurance, the cap does not apply.

The reduction act also "expanded the list of vaccines that seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D can receive at no cost," Loftus reports. Details are available here.

Check with your provider to see if swapping out your costly brand-name drug for a generic is an option. Loftus adds, "There's also a newer category of drugs called biosimilars, which are close copies of brand-name biologic drugs such as Humira, the high-selling drug for autoimmune diseases. . . . Here is the growing list of approved biosimilars."

Take time to compare costs. "Prices for the same drug can vary widely depending on where you buy it," Loftus writes. "For generics, check out the growing number of online discount prescription services. The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. offers generic drugs at a 15% markup plus pharmacy and shipping fees by cutting out pharmacy middlemen and negotiating directly with manufacturers. offers various pharmacy services, including one that provides eligible medications for $5 a month, found here."

To read about when to consider skipping insurance and to find links to more savings options, you can read Loftus's full article here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

2023 was a tough year in many ways, but saw significant positive developments in science and medicine

The first pill to treat postpartum depression was
approved in 2023. (Photo by Hollie Santos, Unsplash)
Despite wars, the most mass killings since 2006, and the hottest average temperatures in human history, "2023 also was a year with significant positive developments, including in scientific research and medicine," report Victoria Bisset and other Washington Post staff members. Not only does some good news about the past year provide comfort, the Post points out that "research has indicated that uplifting news can provide an emotional buffer against distressing news and feelings of hopelessness — and even encourage optimism or action." Here are some things the Post listed:

The World Health Organization approved a new malaria vaccine that has been shown to be much more effective than the only previous vaccine against the potentially deadly disease. The U.S. has about 2,000 cases of malaria each year, most of them contracted in other nations.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the first pill to treat postpartum depression, which affects up to one in five women who can "experience intense hopelessness and, in rare cases, psychosis — and it can last for years," the Post notes. "The new drug is taken once a day for two weeks and, unlike the existing treatment of an IV injection that may take as long as 60 hours to administer in a health-care setting, it can be taken at home."

The FDA also approved two gene-therapy treatments for sickle-cell disease, "a rare and debilitating condition that affects around 100,000 Americans, most of them Black. The disease causes extreme, constant pain and can drastically cut the life span of those affected," the Post notes. "Both are intensive, expensive procedures — and require chemotherapy, which has significant side effects. But patients who have received the treatments have spoken of its profoundly beneficial impact on their lives."

Scientists made progress in understanding dementia, the Post reports. One study "suggested that lifestyle habits, including regular mental and physical activity, eating a healthful diet, and regular social contact were linked with a slower rate of memory decline," the Post reports. "Another found that living in areas with more natural green spaces was associated with lower rates of hospital admissions for diseases including dementia, while separate research indicated that the use of hearing aids could cut the risk of cognitive decline by nearly half."

Meanwhile, the FDA approved, for the first time, a drug that modestly slows Alzheimer’s disease. While difficult questions about safety, effectiveness and cost remain, many neurologists say that having a drug that slows Alzheimer’s is nonetheless a milestone after years of failed trials.

Younger people might not think that beef is 'what's for dinner,' so marketers try new ways to promote consumption

With jaunty music playing in the background, beef ads
promote red meat as a way to "elevate" meals. (NCBA photo)
In 1992, the Beef Industry Council launched its marketing campaign: "Beef. It's what's for dinner." In the decades since the mantra's kick-off, beef has remained an iconic American meal centerpiece. However, younger generations might not necessarily share a love of red meat, and the industry is preparing to shift its focus to keep younger consumers eating beef for dinner.

Earlier this year, a study from Tulane University in New Orleans found that "a relatively small number of Americans are responsible for the lion's share of beef consumption — and those eaters tend to skew older and male," reports Matt Reynolds of Wired. Hillary Makens, senior executive director of public relations at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, "disputes the study's findings. She shared data from the NCBA's beef tracking survey that found that Gen Z and millennials were more likely than older respondents to have reported eating beef the previous day."

Despite conflicting evidence, one thing is clear, "The beef industry is paying closer attention to younger Americans. The meat marketing agency Midan Marketing has published blog posts calling Gen Z 'tomorrow's meat industry' and urging beef marketers to tout their meat's high protein content to appeal to younger consumers," Reynolds writes. "The rise of marketing beef as 'low carbon' might also be a way for the industry to appeal to younger generations who tend to be more engaged than older consumers with climate change."

Daniel Rosenfeld, a Ph.D. student at the University of California who studies the psychology of meat-eating, told Reynolds, "Unless beef consumption becomes remarkably sustainable, I think younger generations will always have a stronger moral opposition to eating beef on purely environmental grounds."

Tulane study researcher Diego Rose "coauthored a paper sketching out the greenhouse gas reductions that would happen if Americans significantly cut their meat intake," Reynolds reports. Some groups viewed the study's suggestion as anti-beef and claimed that President Joe Biden's climate change policies could limit Americans to "one hamburger a month." Commenting on the polarized interpretation, Rose told Reynolds: "It's silly. You can continue to eat beef but in lower quantities."

Rural communities need to find affordable child care solutions to support sustainability and growth

The lack of child care stifles rural growth.
(Shutterstock photo)
The lack of child care has plagued many U.S. families, but the gap is more prevalent in rural America. "Data collected before the pandemic shows that more than half of Americans lived in neighborhoods classified as child care deserts, areas that have no child care providers or where there are more than three children in the community for every available licensed care slot," reports Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez of KFF Health News. "Other research shows parents and child care providers in rural areas face unique barriers. Access to quality child care programs and early education is linked to better educational and behavioral outcomes for kids." Programs also help parents connect with additional social services that support healthy families.

Without access to affordable child care, rural families will continue to face tough choices that "threaten the sustainability and longevity of rural communities," Rodriguez writes. "The dearth of child care exacerbates workforce shortages by forcing parents, including those who work in health care locally, to stay home as full-time caregivers, and by preventing younger workers and families from putting down roots there."

Affordable child care directly increases family incomes and supplies local businesses with a larger labor pool. Rodriguez adds, "A rural health advisory committee report shows that when center-based care is readily available in a community, the percentage of mothers who use that type of care and are employed doubles from 11% to 22%."

Pandemic-era grants helped rural child care providers stay afloat, but that money has dried up, leaving providers struggling to maintain pandemic-level wages. "The Biden administration requested congressional approval of $16 billion to extend the pandemic-era child care stabilization program," Rodriguez reports. "But it doesn't have enough support to continue the funding, despite nearly 80% of voters supporting increasing federal funding for states to expand their child care programs,"

Without federal dollars, state and local governments are working to support child care policy and funding. "In Alabama, lawmakers approved $42 million last year in the state budget for child care. The Missouri state legislature approved $160 million for child care," Rodriguez notes. "Voters in rural Warren, Minnesota, narrowly approved a half-percent sales tax to support a child care center struggling to stay open."

Census survey shows 'brain drain' continues in rural states, but there are ways to address it

Holding onto and attracting younger residents can
slow or reverse brain drain. (HiveBoxx photo, Unsplash)
Merriam-Webster's defines brain drain as "the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions." For rural places, the loss of educated younger residents deeply affects the community's ability to thrive. "New data from the Census Bureau's 2022 American Community Survey shows many rural states continue to experience brain drain or an outmigration of individuals with a bachelor's or advanced degree," reports Lisa Faust Prater of Successful Farming. The Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska "has been tracking the trend since 2010."

Josie Schafer, director of CPAR, "attributes the outmigration to changing workforce dynamics, including job availability, opportunities, and pay," Prater writes. "Housing is another contributing factor. She says although there are many job openings in the state, 'It is likely they perceive more opportunities elsewhere.' . . . In addition to losing talent, when this segment of the population leaves, they take their taxable income with them."

The survey showed other states, including Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, had brain drain dilemmas like Nebraska. But if people were leaving these states, where did they go? Prater reports, "States experiencing brain gain, or a net gain of college graduates, include Montana, Colorado, South Dakota (although only 27), Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Florida showed the greatest brain gain."

While solutions to brain drain may seem daunting, some states and local governments have made gains in plugging the losses. Georgia launched a program in high schools called "Building a STEAM Workforce in Rural Georgia" that stated its goal was to "create and replicate high-quality experiential learning opportunities" that encourage younger people to stay by teaching them a local trade or business. Some small towns in Minnesota have had success wooing urban residents by promoting the beauty and mystique "country living" as simpler and more enjoyable. Among websites and articles that address preventing or reversing brain drain, "improve broadband" is a common suggestion.

When a town's major employer closes, changes and uncertainty abound

Noel has been in the poultry business since the 1950s.
(Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell, The Daily Yonder)
When one business dominates a town's economy, its closing can create a domino effect of change. Noel, Missouri, pop. 2,100, became one of those towns. In August, Tyson Foods "announced that it was shuttering the town's poultry processing plant, and by October, it was closed – eliminating about 1,500 jobs," reports Kaitlyn McConnell for The Daily Yonder. "It leaves a question other communities have faced: What is the next chapter in a place that so heavily relied on one employer for the town's collective income?"

Unlike nearby Ozarkian towns, Noel boasted "cultural diversity, in contrast to the rest of the region, which is still largely white," McConnell writes. "In the 2020 Census, more than 1,450 residents of Noel – nearly 70% of the town's population – identified as Asian; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander."

McConnell writes, "I drove to Noel in late November, the first time I was in town since it became known that Tyson would shutter the plant. A handful of vehicles remained in the plant's parking lot as I drove by. Tyson's bright-red logos are gone, but discoloration remains." 

Just weeks after the plant closed, "many of the immigrants have already moved away," McConnell writes. "The Hispanic residents seem to be the ones most likely to stay. . . . Another change is at Community Baptist, which closed its doors in late November. The reasons for that are complex – there were ongoing issues tied to funding – but the proverbial straw broke the camel's back when all the ethnic congregants left."

The town's mayor, Terry Lance, told McConnell: "Losing that many jobs is going to naturally affect every other business in town, from the grocery stores to everyone. We really don't know just how much yet."

McConnell writes, "In a typical Ozarkian make-do-or-do-without attitude, Lance is looking for the silver lining. Maybe the former plant can simply be torn down, Lance says, and the town can revert to its deeper tourism roots."