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Rural News

Wall Street, Seeking Big Tax Breaks, Sets Sights on Distressed Main Streets

The New York Times | Posted on February 21, 2019

Distressed America is Wall Street’s hottest new investment vehicle. Hedge funds, investment banks and money managers are trying to raise tens of billions of dollars this year for so-called opportunity funds, a creation of President Trump’s 2017 tax package meant to steer money to poor areas by offering potentially large tax breaks.Little noticed at first, the provision has unleashed a flurry of investment activity by wealthy families, some of Wall Street’s biggest investors and other investors who want to put money into projects ostensibly meant to help struggling Americans. The ranks of those starting such funds include Anthony Scaramucci, the New York hedge fund executive who served briefly as Mr. Trump’s communications director.More than 80 of the funds have sprung up since January 2018, even though the Trump administration has not finalized regulations governing them. Managers of the funds are seeking to raise huge sums of money by pitching investors on a combination of outsize returns and a feel-good role in fighting poverty.

Why your hospital bill is too high or too low

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 21, 2019

Medical billing systems drive up the cost of commercial health insurance. One way to ease that strain is to get more low-income people on Medicaid. Hospitals have to collect as much as it costs them to take care of their patients. That is hard for small hospitals, most of which are rural. Those costs include not just the services that individual patients realize they received, but also a share of the salary of the maintenance crew, the light bill and the cost of replacing the stained carpet.Different payers have greatly different abilities to pay, so the hospital has to charge its costs to whoever can pay them. Otherwise the hospital will go broke and close.Understanding the general pattern of hospital and medical bills can help a patient or voter understand why Medicaid expansion is important for them, why “self pay” patients are at risk of bankruptcy, and why their insurance bill is so high.


Go for the vacation, stay for the worker subsidy

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 21, 2019

Vermont is offering $10,000 to workers who move with their remote job to the state. It’s part of larger efforts in Northern New England to attract more young people.  When measured by median age, the three Northern New England states (Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) are the three oldest in the country.

Land Use Planning Tools to Reduce Wildfire Risk

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 21, 2019

Timber management on federal lands can be justified for valid reasons — protecting watersheds, conserving wildlife habitat, promoting overall forest health —  but it rarely helps communities confront looming wildfire disasters. The best solutions: better land use planning and improved building designs. The President issued an executive order last month that instructs federal land managers to treat 8.45 million acres of land and cut 4.4 billion board feet of timber. But land use planning, not logging on federal lands, is a more effective tool to confront future wildfire disasters.This President’s executive order represents a significant increase in timber harvest compared to recent years—roughly 80 percent more than was cut on U.S. Forest Service lands in 2017—but is minor compared to cuts in the 1980s, which reached more than 12 billion board feet.Timber management on federal lands can be justified for valid reasons—including watershed protection, wildlife habitat conservation, and overall forest health— but it rarely helps our communities confront looming wildfire disasters in the face of a warming climate and continued home building on fire-prone lands. Better land use planning and improved design of our built environment is our best bet at reducing risk from wildfires.

Arkansas battles over municipal broadband

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 21, 2019

Will Arkansas become the first state to rescind its ban on local-government ownership of internet service providers? With the issue before the state Legislature, citizen input could have an impact on the decision. The real legislation, SB 150, unanimously passed out state Senate committee on February 7. But then the full state Senate hijacked the bill and put compromising restrictions in the wording. Now it’s up to the state assembly to restore the wording back to its original intent.Arkansas is one of 21 states whose legislatures have regulated in varying degrees municipalities’ rights to own networks and sell broadband services. Until now, none of these laws have been rescinded. The Tennessee prohibition on community broadband came close to being overturned in 2017.In real terms, the effect of the ban on municipal networks is that about 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC. 

Innovative Rural Communities Receive National Recognition

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 21, 2019

More than a decade ago, a group of people from Independence, Oregon, asked legacy telecommunications corporations to bring high-speed fiber internet connectivity to their rural community. “They told us ‘we’ll get to you in 10 or 20 years,’” said Shawn Irvine, economic development director for the City of Independence.   “So we got together and decided to just do it ourselves,” Irvine said. “We didn’t want to wait.”  Independence, a town of about 10,000 on the Willamette River, built its own fiber-to-home broadband system, MINET. Today, 85% of local residents subscribe to the municipal utility.  Independence is one of nine communities selected to participate in the 2019 Rural Innovation Initiative. The initiative will help small towns like Independence use their existing high-quality broadband to create more economic opportunity.  

Decriminalizing marijuana aimed at reducing black incarceration rate, Gov. Tony Evers says

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Posted on February 21, 2019

Allowing Wisconsin residents to smoke and sell small amounts of marijuana would reduce the disproportionate rate at which the state's black residents are arrested, Gov. Tony Evers argued. "People shouldn't be treated like criminals for accessing medicine that could change or maybe even save their lives," Evers said Monday at a news conference announcing his plan to legalize marijuana for medical reasons and decriminalize recreational use of small amounts of the plant. "But I also want to make this clear: This is not just about accessing health care," he said. "This is about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity."Evers cited the state's distinction of having the nation's highest incarceration rate among black men, time in prison that can result from police stops prompted by marijuana use. 

USDA and HHS partner to create recovery housing in rural communities

Lake County News | Posted on February 19, 2019

USDA and HHS will partner to create addiction recovery transitional housing in rural  communities. USDA Rural Development and HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, will coordinate efforts to sell USDA’s Real Estate Owned single-family housing properties at a discount to non-profit organizations that provide housing, treatment, job training and other key services for people in substance misuse treatment and recovery. 

Wolves may keep cows off Washington Fish and Wildlife land

Capital Press | Posted on February 18, 2019

Washington Fish and Wildlife may prohibit cattle from some department grazing lands to avoid conflicts with wolves, according to an internal review of grazing policies. The review responds to a wolf population growing in numbers and territory. If the department follows through, some of the 129,459 acres of grazing land owned by Fish and Wildlife likely would be off-limits to cattle.In other places, ranchers would have to sign detailed plans to prevent attacks by wolves with non-lethal measures. In some cases, cattle could be taken off the land to stop the depredations

For 6 Cities on the Great Lakes, the Cost of Water Has Risen Sharply

Governing | Posted on February 14, 2019

For months, the Rev. Falicia Campbell kept a secret from her congregation, her friends and even her adult children. It was a secret she was ashamed to divulge: She was living without running water.Like a growing number of Americans, the 63-year-old Chicago resident couldn't afford to pay her rising water bills. She inherited her mother's house in Englewood, a poor neighborhood on the city's South Side, and last year received a $5,000 bill.Campbell is partially blind and lives on a fixed income from disability payments. She dedicates most of her time to helping her community. Her church includes a resource center that provides food and shelter for poor and homeless people.She couldn't pay off her water debt, and in August her water was turned off. The Chicago Water Department offered her a payment plan but required a $1,700 deposit before restoring her water. She didn't have it.