Monthly Archives: September 2013

Q & A about the government shutdown

via USA TODAY

I think this is accurate, but then again, it is a media outlet…please let me know if any info is incorrect or biased.

THE BASICS

1. What causes a shutdown? Under the Constitution, Congress must pass laws to spend money. If Congress can’t agree on a spending bill — or if, in the case of the Clinton-era shutdowns, the president vetoes it — the government does not have the legal authority to spend money.

2. What’s a continuing resolution? Congress used to spend money by passing a budget first, then 12 separate appropriations bills. That process has broken down, and Congress uses a stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, that maintains spending at current levels for all or part of the year.

3. Why can’t Congress agree? The Republican-controlled House has passed a spending bill that maintains spending levels but does not provide funding to implement the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democratic Senate insists that the program be fully funded and that Congress pass what they call a “clean” CR.

4. What is a “clean” CR?A continuing resolution without policy changes.

5. Why is this happening now? The government runs on a fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Shutdowns can happen at other times of the year when Congress passes a partial-year spending bill.

6. Could government agencies ignore the shutdown? Under a federal law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without an appropriation from Congress.

7. When would a shutdown begin? When the fiscal year ends at midnight Monday. Most federal workers would report to work Tuesday, but unless they’re deemed “essential,” they would work no more than four hours on shutdown-related activities before being furloughed.

8. When would the shutdown end? Immediately after the president signs a spending bill. As a practical matter, it could be noon the following day before most government offices that were shut down would reopen their doors.

9. How many times has the government shut down in the past? Since 1977, there have been 17 shutdowns, according to the Congressional Research Service.

10. How long do shutdowns usually last? Most last no more than three days. Some last less than a day.

11. When was the longest shutdown in history? The longest was also the most recent: from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 5, 1996. That’s 21 days.

12. Would this shutdown be different from those in the 1990s? Yes. When the 1995 shutdown started, Congress had already passed three of 13 appropriations bills. (They funded military construction, agriculture, and energy and water projects.) Also, more government services are automated.

THE DEBT LIMIT

13. What’s the difference between a shutdown and a debt crisis? In a shutdown, the government lacks the legal authority to spend money on non-essential services. In a debt crisis, the government is mandated to spend money — but doesn’t have the legal authority to borrow the money to spend it.

14. Are the two related? Only by timing, which is somewhat coincidental.

15. When will the government run out of borrowing authority? Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew says it could come as soon as Oct. 17.

16. Has the United States ever defaulted on its debt before? No.

17. If the nation hits the debt limit, will government shut down? That’s a big unknown question. The Treasury Department has said the most likely scenario is that it would delay payments, paying only those bills it can afford, using daily tax revenue.

GOVERNMENT SERVICES

18. Will I still get my mail? Yes. The U.S. Postal Service functions as an independent business unit.

19. Can I get a passport? Maybe, but hurry. The Department of State says it has some funds outside the annual congressional appropriation. “Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100% operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations,” the department says.

20. Can I visit national parks? No. The National Park Service says day visitors will be told to leave immediately, and entrances will be closed.

21. What about campers already in the parks? They will be given two days to leave.

22. Will Washington museums be open? The Smithsonian, the National Zoo and the Holocaust Museum would all be closed. Private museums, such as the Newseum, the Spy Museum and Mount Vernon, would remain open. Rule of thumb: If it’s usually free, it’s probably closed.

23. What about the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts? The Kennedy Center does receive an annual appropriation from Congress, but also runs on ticket revenue and endowment funds. The center expects to stay open through a shutdown.

24. What about the National Archives?All archives and most presidential libraries will be closed, unless they’re operated by a private foundation — as all pre-Herbert Hoover presidential museums are. The Federal Records Center Program, which supports other agencies, would continue to operate because it uses a revolving fund.

25. Will the District of Columbia shut down? The district does not have complete autonomy and relies on an appropriation from Congress to operate. So during the shutdowns in the 1990s, trash went uncollected, and many city departments closed. In a departure from past shutdowns, Mayor Vincent Gray has informed the Office of Management and Budget that he has deemed all city employees “essential.” The district’s own attorney general has declared the mayor’s plan illegal.

26. Will the Patent and Trademark Office be open? Yes. The office can continue to operate off user fees and other funds for at least four weeks before having to shut down.

27. Would food safety inspections continue? Mostly. The Food Safety and Inspection Service would continue all safety-related activities. The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration would continue inspections to the extent they’re paid by user fees, “but inability to investigate alleged violations could hamper corrective action in the long term and could have an immediate impact on members of industry.” The Food and Drug Administration would limit its activities but continue to monitor recalls and conduct investigations.

28. Will the government still release economic data? Probably. The weekly unemployment claims number would still come out, and the September jobs report, due out Friday, probably will, too. The Department of Commerce reasons that some of its data is so economically sensitive that delaying it risks that it will be leaked.

29. Would the government continue to enforce wage and hour laws? The laws will still be in effect, but the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division would suspend operations.

30. Will disaster response be affected? No. However, all “non-disaster” grants — such as state and local preparedness programs — would be postponed, the Department of Homeland Security says.

31. Will e-Verify be affected? Yes. The government system to allow companies to voluntarily check the legal work status of its employees would be shut down.

STORY: Blame game for impending shutdown

GOVERNMENT BENEFITS

32. Would a shutdown put the brakes on implementing the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare?” No. The state-run exchanges for the uninsured would open as scheduled Tuesday. “The marketplaces will be open on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there is a government shutdown,” President Obama said Friday.

33. Why not? Like Social Security or Medicaid, Obamacare is a permanent entitlement that isn’t subject to annual funding by Congress. “Many of the core parts of the health care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn’t be affected,” Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the health care rollout, said last week.

34. Would seniors continue to get Social Security benefits? Yes. Social Security is a mandatory spending program, and the people who send those checks would continue to work under a legal doctrine called “necessary implication.”

35. Can I apply for Social Security benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, change my address or sign up for direct deposit?Yes.

36. Can I get a new or replacement Social Security card, benefit verification statement or earnings record correction?No.

37. Would the government continue to pay unemployment benefits? Yes. The Employment and Training Administration “will continue to provide essential functions, as occurred during the shutdown of 1995,” according to the Department of Labor contingency plan.

38. Will I be able to get food stamps? Yes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded through the Recovery Act and from funds that don’t expire for another year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

39. What about WIC?No money would be available to pay the administrative costs of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. But because it’s administered by states, there may be state funds available.

40. And the federal school lunch program? Schools are reimbursed for these costs on a monthly basis and are allowed to carry over funds from the previous fiscal year. The USDA expects most schools will be able to continue providing meals through October.

41. What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.

42. Can I still get a federally backed loan? Maybe not. “Federal loans for rural communities, small business owners, families buying a home will be frozen,” President Obama said Friday.

43. Does that mean I can’t get an FHA mortgage? No. The Federal Housing Administration says it “will endorse new loans under current multi-year appropriation authority in order to support the health and stability of the U.S. mortgage market.”

44. Does that mean I can’t get a VA mortgage? No. The Department of Veterans Affairs says loans are funded via user fees and should continue. However, during the last shutdown, “loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value were delayed.”

45. Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.

TAXES

46. Would the IRS continue to collect taxes? Yes. All payments would be processed. More than 12 million people have requested an extension on their 2012 taxes, which expires Oct. 15.

47. Will my refund be delayed? Possibly, especially if the taxpayer files a paper return.

48. What about taxpayer assistance? Walk-in assistance centers and telephone hotlines would be closed.

49. I’m being audited by the IRS. Would a shutdown affect me? Yes. The IRS will suspend all audit activities.

EMPLOYMENT

50. How many federal employees would be furloughed? The government has not given an official estimate.

51. Does anyone have a guess? J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government employees, said he expects the number will be 800,000 to 1 million, out of 2.1 million federal employees. That’s consistent with a USA TODAY analysis of 2011 shutdown contingency plans, which found that 59% of non-defense government employees would continue to work.

52. Why do some federal employees continue to work during a shutdown? The law — or at least, the Justice Department’s interpretation of it — contains exemptions for several classes of employees: The biggest exemption is for employees necessary to protect public health, safety or property. But property could include government data, ongoing research experiments or other intangibles. Political appointees are exempt because they cannot be placed on leave by law. Employees necessary for the president to carry out his constitutional responsibilities are exempt. Finally, employees whose salaries are paid from sources outside an annual spending bill can still get paid and report to work.

53. Who decides which employees work and which go home? Each agency is responsible for coming up with its own contingency plan, based on guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. Those plans are then sent to the White House for review.

54. Would the president be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The president’s $400,000 salary is mandatory spending. If furloughs begin to affect the government’s ability to process payroll, his paycheck could be delayed.

55. What about White House staff? Some high-ranking presidential appointees are exempt from the Annual and Sick Leave Act of 1951, which means they can essentially be made to work unpaid overtime. Also, any employee necessary for the president to carry out his constitutional duties would be exempt.

56. And the president’s personal aides? The White House has 90 staffers who work in the residence. During a shutdown, 15 of them would stay on the job.

57. Would Congress continue to be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1992, holds that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.” Intended to prevent Congress from voting itself a raise, it also protects members from a pay cut.

58. What about congressional staff? Like other federal employees, they would be deemed essential or non-essential. Essential staff would include those necessary to carry out constitutional responsibilities, such as the parliamentarians, or for protection of members, such as the sergeants-at-arms. Staff of the appropriations committees may also be needed to write the law that would end the shutdown.

59. Would active-duty military be furloughed? No. All active-duty military are essential and should report as scheduled Tuesday, the Department of Defense said Friday.

60. Will civilian defense workers be furloughed? About half of them, or about 400,000, will be sent home, according to the Defense Department’s contingency plan.

61. Would active-duty military be paid during a shutdown? If a shutdown lasts longer than a week, the Pentagon might not be able to process its payroll in time for the Oct. 15 paychecks, Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale said Friday. The House passed a separate bill early Sunday that would appropriate money for active-duty and reserve paychecks regardless of the shutdown — and also pay for support services to make sure they get paid. That bill passed the House 422-0, but still must go to the Senate.

62. Could federal employees simply volunteer their services? No. A 19th-century federal law forbids volunteers because the government doesn’t want them filing claims for back pay after the shutdown is over, according to a legal analysis by Washington attorney Raymond Natter.

63. Would federal employees get paid retroactively, even if they didn’t work? Maybe. Congress granted retroactive pay to furloughed workers after the shutdowns of the mid-1990s, but that wouldn’t necessarily happen again. “I believe this time is going to be much different. This is a much different Congress than the 1995 Congress,” said Cox, federal employee union president. “I’m not sure that they’d even want to go back and pay the people who worked.”

THE LONG TERM

64. How much money would a shutdown save taxpayers? Most likely, it wouldn’t. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says shutdowns cost money in terms of contingency planning, lost user fees and back pay. A government estimate after the shutdown in 1995-96 estimated its cost at $1.4 billion.

65. What effect would a shutdown have on the economy? Economists say even a short shutdown — of three or four days — would begin to shave decimal points off economic growth. A sustained shutdown of three or four weeks “would do significant economic damage,” economist Mark Zandi told USA TODAY.

66. What about the stock market? The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 3.7% during the 1995-96 government shutdown, according to S&P Capital IQ. Stocks quickly rebounded after the government got back to work, rising 10.5% the month after the shutdown ended.

Voter Registration at the Shaw Art Fair

Once again, I’m doing voter registration at the Shaw Art Fair this weekend Oct 5 and 6..  If you are interested in helping out for a few minutes or hours, please let me know.  This is a super-easy way to promote the democratic process – every new voter counts and one is better than none!  We usually get 20 or so new registrants – usually people who have moved and forgotten than they need to re-register.  If you are at the fair and are so inclined, stop by my booth (next to the SNIA table near the Tower Grove Ave. entrance, and grab a clipboard – thanks!

Obamacare Cheat Sheet

H/T to Laura Keller for posting this on facebook.  It’s a really good, non-partisan primer on the Affordable Care Act:

via CnnMoney

Many insurance regulations and taxes are already in effect, but the big push begins Oct. 1.

The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to provide affordable coverage for tens of millions of uninsured Americans, provide more comprehensive coverage, and to ultimately reduce costs.

We won’t know whether it hits those goals for some time, but here’s how it could affect you now.

The first thing you need to know

Most Americans must have health insurance by March 31, 2014. A lot of people will keep getting it through work, but for everyone else, states will offer an “exchange” where people can purchase insurance from competing insurance companies.

Enrollment begins Oct. 1, and coverage begins Jan. 1.

How the exchanges will work

Plans will be grouped by tier — platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. The average cost for a silver plan will be $328 per month, but the government will kick in subsidies for those in need.

How the subsidies will work

The federal government will provide subsidies to those who earn 400% of the federal poverty level — $94,200 for a family of four, or $45,960 for a single person.

You will pay what you owe; the government will pay the insurer the subsidy directly.

Will costs go up or down? It depends

Policies are required to have more comprehensive coverage, including mental health and maternity care, and there could be more sick people covered because of Obamacare regulations. Those forces would push insurance rates higher.

But more healthy people will sign up and there will be more competition among insurers, elements that should help lower costs.

Sick and the elderly may pay less

Insurers can’t penalize you for any underlying health problems (except your smoking habit), so you may save if you had been paying more because of a medical condition.

Your choice of a doctor may be limited

To compete, plans may limit you to one-third to one-half of the doctors and hospitals you might have today.

Who will pay a penalty

If you haven’t bought insurance by March 31, 2014, a penalty might be added to your tax bill: the greater of $95 per adult or 1% of household income in 2014, climbing to $695 per adult or 2.5% of income by 2016.

But some people will be exempt: people who would have to pay more than 8% of their income for health insurance and poor adults who live in states that aren’t expanding Medicaid.

How Medicare is affected

Anyone on Medicare can ignore the fuss.

Impact on work plans

Employers are pulling back on benefits and they are blaming Obamacare. But companies have been shifting more of the burden to workers for years.

Meanwhile, the exchanges could provide peace of mind those worried about losing their job. After a layoff, you can usually stay on your company plan for 18 months through COBRA, but that coverage is pricey because you usually have to pick up the entire tab of roughly $16,000 a year.

Impact on small businesses

Companies with 50-plus full-time employees must start offering them health insurance or face stiff penalties. The employer mandate had been set to kick in January 2014, but was pushed back a year.

A 30-hour work week counts as full-time under Obamacare, so some started cutting worker hours to avoid the mandate.

The new law’s rules don’t apply to the vast majority of small businesses. As of 2010, 97% of small businesses have fewer than 50 employees.

A huge majority of those with more than 50 employees already offer benefits. But they could still be affected if their insurance isn’t good enough or sufficiently cheap under new Obamacare rules.

New Development on S. Grand

Per this Lewis Reed Tweet: “Per Planning Commission: New Bailey restaurant coming to South Grand (3150), renovation of long vacant mid-century building.” Dave Bailey is set to transform this S. Grand building.

3150sgrand

via Geo St. Louis

This is quite exciting – there have been many proposals throughout the years on what to do with that old bank building – keep your eyes open for the groundbreaking!

Social Assistance resources

I don’t know why it took me this long to organize all these phone numbers into one place – when people call me for help or ask me who to call for this and that, I looked up the resource each time.  It’s important to know how to help those in our community and how to direct questions.  I’m glad that I am looked upon as a resource and will strive to be so continually.  Please look over this list and add any other resources as you see fit –  I know it isn’t comprehensive.  I appreciate your help.

Rental Assistance

http://www.rentalassistance.us/ci/mo-st_louis

Food Assistance

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/cgi-bin/id/cityfoodbanks.cgi?city=St.Louis&state=MO

Free Rehab centers

http://www.freerehabcenters.org/city/mo-saint_louis

Homeless shelters and services

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/cgi-bin/id/city.cgi?city=St.Louis&state=MO

Programs and services for health care

http://www.dss.mo.gov/pr_health.htm

SNAP application

http://www.dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/

Dept of Social Services resource list

http://www.dss.mo.gov/famhelp.htm

Society of St. Vincent De Paul of St. Louis – They run several different programs for people in need. Call the organization at (314) 531-2183. Find help with:

Car repairs – They partner with local garages to fix a car if it is needed for work or medical reasons.

Free medications – If you can’t afford to pay for your prescription or do not have health insurance, receive a voucher for free medications.

Legal counseling – They can arrange for qualified individuals to get free legal advice. Learn more.

Also receive access to food, clothing, and other emergency aid.

Social workers can also help people apply for other financial aid. Some of it is directly offered by the charity, and other resources are provided from referrals. Continue Saint Louis St. Vincent assistance programs.

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri – Lawyers from this organization provide free legal assistance to the low-income and others in 21 counties of eastern Missouri, including Adair, Macon, Scotland, Clark, Marion, Shelby, Franklin, Monroe, St. Charles, Jefferson, Montgomery, St. Louis, Know, Pike, Lewis, Ralls, Warren, Lincoln, Washington, and Schuyler. Their main offices are in Hannibal and St. Louis. Dial (800) 444-0514 to apply.

Heat-Up St. Louis – This particular program may be able to provide energy and heating bill assistance grants ranging from $100 to $600 to low income and other qualified applicants. Heat-Up St. Louis Inc. is an all-volunteer, regional charity that focuses on helping the disabled, low income, and elderly individuals and families with paying their delinquent energy bills. Help is available both in St. Louis and throughout the following counties. Call the agencies below for more information or to apply for help.

St. Louis City – Call the St. Vincent DePaul 314-531-7837,

Domestic Violence

Lydia’ House
[www.lydiashouse.org]Redevelopment Opportunities for Women
[www.row-stl.org]St. Martha’s Hall
[www.saintmarthas.org]Women’s Safe House
[www.twsh.org]YWCA [www.ywcastlouis.org]

St Louis City resources

http://stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/human-services/homeless-services/continuum-of-care/Continuum-Services.cfm

 

 

 

St. Margaret of Scotland School Announces Community Alliance for Education

St. Margaret of Scotland School and four prominent community service organizations announce the formation of the Community Alliance for Education.  Cardinal Glennon Foundation, St. Louis University, Gateway Greening, and the Missouri Botanical Garden are partnering with St. Margaret of Scotland School to expand the educational opportunities of students and their families.

“Our new relationship with these esteemed groups will allow our students educational opportunities not possible without the alliance.  We are happy to announce the Community Alliance for Education, and believe that it speaks to the vitality and growth of our school here in the City of St. Louis,” said Father Matthew O’Toole, Pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church.

The alliance members will offer:

  • Cardinal Glennon Foundation:  Will work with students, teachers, and parents to develop healthy eating habits and active life choices.
  • St. Louis University:  Will work using St. Margaret of Scotland School science teachers as mentors for teachers in training at the university, and help to provide college volunteers to work as tutors with students at the school.
  • Gateway Greening and the Missouri Botanical Garden:  Will work with St. Margaret of Scotland School students in the Dragon’s Grove Garden at the school to learn the cycles of the seasons and how to plant and harvest throughout the year.

The alliance will be formally announced to the community at an event on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at the school located at 3964 Castleman Avenue, St. Louis, MO, 63104. Please contact Chris Thetford thetfordcl@gmail.com or by phone at 314-681-4719 with media questions.