Monday Roundup: N.C. Rural Center Cuts

Proposal to trim future Social Security payments • Number of states crack down on covert videos at animal handling facilities • Promoting the health insurance exchanges • A German town improves amenities to try to stem population loss. 

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A Hand in Hand, Young and Old Approach: A small town in Germany taps volunteers in an effort to stem a loss of population. This video report is from the English service of Al Jazeera, the news agency based in Qatar. (See story at the bottom of the Roundup).

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Rural development programs in North Carolina take a hit in Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget. The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center’s state-appropriated budget would drop by nearly two-thirds, from $16 million to $6 million.

The Rural Center serves the state’s 85 rural counties with a variety of programs to promote economic development and infrastructure.

Critics of the proposed cuts have pointed out that Gov. McCrory seemed to be singing a different tune during his State of the State Address to the N.C. Legislature. In that January address he said North Carolina needed to do more to help small towns hit by the recession. “We’ve got to work with the small towns in North Carolina,” he said. “There are too many people hurting in those small towns.”

The governor’s proposed budget would also eliminate $65 million to fund development efforts in poor counties. Those funds, which support the Golden LEAF Foundation, come from the federal tobacco settlement. Instead of going to discrete economic development activities, the money would go into the state’s general fund.

Proposed Social Security Cuts. President Obama appears to be putting Social Security and Medicare on the bargaining table for his upcoming budget proposal, which will be released Wednesday. The proposal would, in effect, reduce future cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, an idea known as “chained CPI.”

Rural communities are nearly twice as dependent on Social Security payments as big cities. In 2009, a study by the Daily Yonder’s Roberto Gallardo and Bill Bishop found that payments from Social Security made up 9.3% of total income for rural residents, while such payments made up 5% for people living in large cities.

‘Ag Gag’ Bills. Indiana and Tennessee are likely to vote in the next few weeks on so called “ag-gag” bills, legislation that animal rights activists say will prevent them from bringing animal cruelty cases to light.

The New York Times’ Richard A. Oppel Jr. looks at the number of state legislatures that have responded to activists’ undercover activities by passing laws illegalizing the shooting of covert video at animal handling facilities.  In Indiana the proposed legislation went so far that it had to be redrafted because of First Amendment concerns.

The care and treatment of animals that produce, or become, our food can be a touchy, emotion-laden topic. The Times reporter provides one perspective that helps balance the discussion, without defending the abuses that some videos have brought to public attention:

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbies for the agricultural and meat industries, criticized the mistreatment seen on some videos. But the group cautions that some methods represent best practices endorsed by animal-care experts.

The videos may seem troubling to someone unfamiliar with farming, said Kelli Ludlum, the group’s director of Congressional relations, but they can be like seeing open-heart surgery for the first time.

“They could be performing a perfect procedure, but you would consider it abhorrent that they were cutting a person open,” she said.

Health-Insurance Exchanges. Only 17 states and the District of Columbia have signed up to run their own health-insurance exchanges as part of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. That means the federal government will have to manage the process for folks in 33 other states who need to shop for health insurance, a key part of health-insurance reform.

Some advocates are worried about how well the federal government will recruit and manage consumers who need insurance, according to a story by Kaiser Health News and USA Today. Although the story doesn’t specifically address rural consumers, we’ve heard from other sources that rural areas will face special challenges when it comes to getting people enrolled in health-insurance exchanges. 

A wide range of nonprofit organizations are champing at the bit to get started promoting sign ups for health care insurance. But they face a lack of national coordination, little funding to add programs to do the work and not much publicity help from the White House.

President Obama needs to “use the megaphone” says Dan Mendelson, CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health and a former Clinton administration official who helped promote the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the 1990s. Mendelson says that so far “the administration has not focused on reminding the public that purchasing health insurance will soon be ‘an obligation that everyone has,’ whether they like it or not,” Kaiser Health News reports.

German Response to Brain Drain. Americans aren’t alone in being concerned about the perceived exodus of young people from rural communities.

Nick Spicer of Al Jazeera’s English news service reports on the German town of Altena that is trying to reverse a 40% decline in population. One approach is to use volunteers to keep community services running while reducing the tax burden. For young families, the town also offers free babysitting for working parents.

“We are doing more to engage people directly in their own town,” says Mayor Andreas Holstein.  “To give them a way to help the town, to help themselves, to be engaged, to do something for other people. I think it’s a way for the future.”

 

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