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Rural News

How Iowa became an Obamacare horror story

Politico | Posted on October 25, 2017

But Iowa’s marketplace is arguably in the worst shape in the country at a time when Republicans are intent on dismantling Obamacare, creating further stress on the wobbly exchanges. And Trump’s decision to gut funding for outreach and marketing activities ahead of open enrollment is likely to have an outsize effect in a state in which many customers are certain to be confused by their options. How did Iowa get to this precarious point? Decisions in Washington and Des Moines certainly played a role, but critical choices by state regulators, insurers and other key players also contributed to the tumultuous climate. For many Iowans—as many as 72,000 could be affected by Medica’s rate increase—it means terrible options for obtaining medical care. It was always going to be difficult to build a viable individual insurance market in a predominantly rural state like Iowa. One big reason for that: Insurers have little bargaining power with major health care providers that they need to create viable networks for their customers. California, which has a thriving Obamacare marketplace, has more than four times as many residents per square mile than Iowa.But there were also crucial developments that further undermined Iowa’s marketplace from the outset. The state’s dominant insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which controls about three quarters of the state’s market, decided not to sell plans on the Obamacare marketplace from the outset. There was just one other state nationwide, Mississippi, where the dominant Blue plan opted not to participate. State regulators also made a critical decision during the first open-enrollment season in 2013: They decided to allow plans that don’t meet the coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act to remain in place. That became possible after the Obama administration, facing an intense backlash over canceled plans and the disastrous launch of, gave states the option of grandfathering in noncompliant plans. As of May, more than half of the state’s individual market—roughly 80,000 individuals—remained in noncompliant plans. Nationwide, that figure is closer to 10 percent, according to data crunched by Charles Gaba, who runs a blog that tracks Obamacare enrollment.That meant a huge chunk of potential customers didn’t shop for coverage on the fledgling marketplace because they already had plans. And since those Iowans were able to get coverage prior to Obamacare’s prohibition on discriminating against individuals with expensive medical conditions, it’s almost certain they’re disproportionately healthy. The end result: A much smaller and more costly population ended up enrolling through the marketplace.

How smart farms are making the case for rural broadband

Magic Valley | Posted on October 25, 2017

New smart farm technologies can give America’s growers the ability to monitor crop conditions in real time, respond to technical problems before machinery breaks down in the field and consult with the world’s foremost agronomic experts with the push of a button. That is, as long as they’ve got five bars of service and plenty of internet bandwidth. If not, the smartest piece of technology isn’t worth its weight in good, quality fertilizer. And, according to Eric Lescourret, the Director of Strategic Marketing at AGCO Corporation, that dearth of rural bandwidth is the bottleneck that’s standing between American farmers and the next great breakthrough in agricultural productivity.“That’s the dilemma, that our farmers out there are collecting more data for every seed they plant than they can process,” Lescourret says. “All of them are located in rural areas, and the broadband infrastructure is not keeping up.” “There are a lot of areas that are very slow,” Lescourret says of AGCO’s use of Smart Farm technologies in rural areas. “We still have to rely on USB sticks to transfer data, and the reason is we don’t have cellular data coverage. If we don’t have it, we can’t transfer the data accurately.”And in a business like farming where hours and minutes can be the difference between success and failure, Lescourrett says having to hand deliver data from the farm site to agronomy experts could do more than endanger the source of America’s food crops-it risks the nation’s strategic geopolitical standing with its trade partners and competitors.


Klamath farmers lose ‘takings’ lawsuit

High Country News | Posted on October 25, 2017

The Klamath River, in southern Oregon and Northern California, once hosted the West Coast’s third-largest salmon run, until dams and irrigation disrupted it. During severe drought in 2001, the feds shut off farmers’ water to save endangered fish and uphold tribal water rights. The farmers sued for $29 million plus interest for the federal “taking” of their water. In 2002, they got to irrigate, but the resulting salmon die-off enraged tribes. Stakeholders eventually negotiated an end to the fighting. In late September, Federal Claims Judge Marian Blank Horn ruled that the government’s actions did not require compensation. While acknowledging the farmers’ hardships, Horn said the water cut-off was forced by senior rights held by the Klamath, Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes. The decision will help “protect the economies and traditions of tribal and coastal communities that rely on salmon and other fish,” said Todd True, an Earthjustice senior attorney, in a statement.

Federal Ban Leaves Thousands of Pets Behind in Puerto Rico

Daily Beast | Posted on October 25, 2017

Animals larger than 20 pounds aren’t being allowed on planes, forcing families to choose between their two- and four-legged loved ones. Meanwhile, shelters are overflowing. The majority of the airlines leaving San Juan do not allow families to be accompanied with many pets. This is because federal authorities have taken custody of cargo compartments in order to transport supplies, and the feds are not allowing animals larger than 20 pounds to fly, according to Sylvie Bedrosian, president of Pet Friendly Puerto Rico. Bedrosian estimates that about 2,000 locals left their pets behind as a result of the embargo.

Rural broadband bill signed by Gov. Brown

Record Bee | Posted on October 25, 2017

Among hundreds of bills signed into law on Sunday by Governor Jerry Brown was the rural broadband measure championed by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D — Winters), Several past efforts to increase funding to close the connectivity gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” known as the “Digital Divide,” were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications and cable companies. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators of both houses and both parties, consumer advocates, and representatives from the telecommunications and cable industries to invest in broadband access and rural development.The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide. The CASF does not depend upon General Fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small, existing surcharge on in-state phone bills. The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98% of California households. AB 1665 expands this goal to 98% of households in every geographic region of the state. This new goal creates a target that cannot be achieved by serving urban and suburban areas alone; it will ensure broadband infrastructure projects funded by AB 1665 are focused in rural California.

Governor Cuomo Announces $5 Million for County Fair Infrastructure Improvement Projects

New York Governor | Posted on October 25, 2017

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced $5 million is being awarded to county and youth fairs across the State through the 2017 Agricultural Fairgrounds Infrastructure Improvement Program. The funding will be divided equally among the State's 52 eligible local fairs, with each receiving an award of $96,153 to offset the cost of improvements and renovation projects, including new construction, that support New York's agricultural industry. This second round of funding approved in the New York State Budget builds on the $5 million allocated for county fairs in 2016.

Still Waiting for FEMA in Texas and Florida After Hurricanes

The New York Times | Posted on October 25, 2017

According to interviews with dozens of storm victims, one of the busiest hurricane seasons in years has overwhelmed federal disaster officials. As a result, the government’s response in the two biggest affected states — Texas and Florida — has been scattershot: effective in dealing with immediate needs, but unreliable and at times inadequate in handling the aftermath, as thousands of people face unusually long delays in getting basic disaster assistance. FEMA has taken weeks to inspect damaged homes and apartments, delaying flood victims’ attempts to rebuild their lives and properties. People who call the agency’s help line at 1-800-621-FEMA have waited on hold for two, three or four hours before they even speak to a FEMA representative.Nearly two months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, and six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, residents are still waiting for FEMA payments, still fuming after the agency denied their applications for assistance and still trying to resolve glitches and disputes that have slowed and complicated their ability to receive federal aid. One of the most significant problems FEMA has had in Texas and Florida is the backlog in getting damaged properties inspected. Contract inspectors paid by the agency must first inspect and verify the damage in order for residents to be approved for thousands of dollars in aid. FEMA does not have enough inspectors to reduce the backlog, and the average wait for an inspection is 45 days in Texas and about a month in Florida, agency officials said.

In Congress, an effort to curtail national monuments

High Country News | Posted on October 25, 2017

On Oct. 11, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a proposal from its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to overhaul the Antiquities Act. Bishop’s “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” would severely constrain the power of the president to designate national monuments. It would limit the size of monuments a president could designate as well as the kinds of places protected. The 1906 Antiquities Act allows a president to act swiftly to protect federal lands facing imminent threats without legislation getting bogged down in Congress. Many popular areas, including Zion, Bryce and Arches national parks in Bishop’s home state, were first protected this way. Under Bishop’s legislation, any proposal for a monument larger than 640 acres — one square mile — would be subject to a review process: Areas up to 10,000 acres would be subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act, while those between 10,000 and 85,000 acres would require approval from state and local government. The bill would allow emergency declarations, but they would expire after a year without congressional approval. It would also codify the president’s power to modify monuments — a power that has been contested in light of the Interior Department’s recent recommendations that President Donald Trump reduce the size of several monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. 

US manufacturing growth rate at a 13 year high

Global Manufacturing | Posted on October 23, 2017

The US manufacturing industry grew at the fastest pace in 13 years last month according to new statistics from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). 17 of 18 sectors within the manufacturing industry reported growth within the month of September, with only furniture makers showing a decline.

Bill banning use of performing elephants passes both houses of NY legislature

New York State Senate | Posted on October 23, 2017

The bill was passed by the Senate on May 23rd by a unanimous vote of 62-0. The Assembly version of the bill, A464B, sponsored by Assemblywoman Paulin, was passed on June 6th by a vote of 56-6, and is now set to be delivered to Governor Cuomo.