Friday, January 10, 2014

Congress could cut another $8.7 billion in food stamp benefits

Just two months after America’s 47 million food stamp recipients got hit with an automatic $5 billion benefits reduction, Congress is getting ready to cut even more out of the nutrition program. Lawmakers are currently hammering out the details on a finalized 2013 Farm Bill which is likely to reduce food stamp benefits by $8.7 billion over the next decade.

Unlike the $5 billion “hunger cliff,” the Farm Bill proposal would not cut benefits for all food stamp recipients across the board. Instead, it would affect approximately 850,000 households spread across 15 states. The affected households would lose an average $90 per month in benefits, according to a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service.

“It does seem like that $8 billion number is the number that is being cemented into reality here,” said Massachusett’s Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern, a member of the Farm Bill conference committee. The language currently being finalized represents a compromise between House legislation that would have slashed food stamps by $39 billion and a Senate bill that proposed only $4 billion in benefit cuts.

The proposed compromise measure would save $8.7 billion by restricting so-called “Heat and Eat” policies on the state level. The District of Columbia, New York, California, and 13 other states currently use the policy as a way to reduce paperwork and claim additional food stamp benefits for low-income citizens. Read more >>

Thursday, January 9, 2014

23 Reasons to Be Bullish on Gold

Gold Thailand
It's been one of the worst years for gold in a generation. A flood of outflows from gold ETFs, endless tax increases on gold imports in India, and the mirage (albeit a convincing one in the eyes of many) of a supposedly improving economy in the US have all contributed to the constant hammering gold took in 2013.
Perhaps worse has been the onslaught of negative press our favorite metal has suffered. It's felt overwhelming at times and has pushed even some die-hard goldbugs to question their beliefs… not a bad thing, by the way.
To me, a lot of it felt like piling on, especially as the negative rhetoric ratcheted up. Last year's winner was probably Goldman Sachs, calling gold a "slam-dunk sale" for 2014 (this, of course, after it's already fallen by nearly a third over a period of more than two and a half years—how daring they are).
This is why it's important to balance the one-sided message typically heard in the mainstream media with other views. Here are some of those contrarian voices, all of which have put their money where their mouth is…
  • Marc Faber is quick to stand up to the gold bears. "We have a lot of bearish sentiment, [and] a lot of bearish commentaries about gold, but the fact is that some countries are actually accumulating gold, notably China. They will buy this year at a rate of something like 2,600 tons, which is more than the annual production of gold. So I think that prices are probably in the process of bottoming out here, and that we will see again higher prices in the future."
  • Brent Johnson, CEO of Santiago Capital, told CNBC viewers to "buy gold if they believe in math… Longer term, I think gold goes to $5,000 over a number of years. If they continue to print money at the current rate, I think it could be multiples of that. I see a slow steady rise punctuated with some sharp upward moves."
  • Jim Rogers, billionaire and cofounder of the Soros Quantum Fund, publicly stated in November that he has never sold any gold and can't imagine ever selling gold in his life because he sees it as an insurance policy. "With all this staggering amount of currency debasement, gold has got to be a good place to be down the road once we get through this correction."
  • George Soros seems to be getting back into the gold miners: he recently acquired a substantial stake in the large-cap Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX) and kept his calls on Barrick Gold (ABX).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One In Three Americans Lived In Poverty For At Least Two Months In Recent Years

The bad news: in the period from 2009 to 2011, 31.6% of Americans were in poverty for at least two months, "a 4.5 percentage point increase over the prerecession period of 2005 to 2007. What one assumes is the good news, is that poverty was a temporary state for most people. Still 3.5% of Americans were in poverty for the entire three-year period."

It is not exactly clear how that small number foots with the nearly 50 million Americans on foodstamps (whose benefits were just cut by a substantial percentage).

Then again, one needs to read further in the report to realize that even the good news is not all that good: "poverty was a persistent condition for many; among the 37.6 million people who were poor at the start of the period — January and February 2009 — 26.4 percent remained poor throughout the next 34 months." And once again there are good and bad news:

The many people escaped poverty: 12.6 million, or 35.4 percent, who were poor in 2009 were not in poverty in 2011.  That's the good.

As some moved out of poverty, others moved into it. About 13.5 million people, or 5.4 percent, who were not in poverty in 2009 slipped into poverty by 2011.  That's the bad.

Netting the "churn", nearly 1 million Americans dipped into poverty more than they dipped out of it. Along the lines of what one would expect in a New Normal "recovery." Read more >>

Monday, January 6, 2014

Jobless workers enter free fall

English: Homeless woman in Toronto.
The pickup truck will probably be the first thing to go.

It’s the first new car that Jeremy Botta has ever bought, using his savings from working for more than 14 years at the same auto repair shop. “I bent over backwards—I worked almost a 100 hours a week on my salary to turn that store around,” said Botta, 37, who was laid off in April after the shop changed owners.

Unemployment insurance has allowed Botta to keep up with his car and mortgage payments. But on Dec. 28, he became one of the 1.3 million unemployed Americans to lose their emergency federal benefits when Congress declined to extend the program.

Democrats and a few Republicans have vowed to revisit the issue when the Senate returns on Monday with a vote scheduled for a three-month extension. President Obama will also urge a benefit extension last week.

In the meantime, unemployed workers like Botta are already making contingency plans to get by without the jobless aid. And economists warn that the loss of aid will discourage some to stop looking for work altogether.

“If it comes down to it, I’ll have to sell the house,” says Botta, who bought the place in Bend, Ore., just months before he suddenly lost his job, which netted him as much as $60,000 in a good year. Having already raided his retirement savings, Botta thinks he’ll need to take three or four part-time jobs, working 60 to 70 hours a week just to get by without the unemployment checks. Read more >>

Friday, January 3, 2014

The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2013

Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum ,2007.
The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2013, adding $524 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 300 wealthiest individuals.

The aggregate net worth of the world’s top billionaires stood at $3.7 trillion at the market close on Dec. 31, according to the ranking. The biggest gains came in the technology industry, which soared 28 percent during the year. Of the 300 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2013, only 70 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.

“The rich will keep getting richer in 2014,” John Catsimatidis, the billionaire founder of real estate and energy conglomerate Red Apple Group Inc., said in a telephone interview from his New York office. “Interest rates will remain low, equity markets will keep rising, and the economy will grow at less than 2 percent.”

Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp., was the year’s biggest gainer. The 58-year-old tycoon’s fortune increased by $15.8 billion to $78.5 billion, according to the index, as shares of Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, rose 40 percent.

Gates recaptured the title of world’s richest person on May 16 from Mexican investor Carlos Slim. Gates’s fortune has also benefited from a rally in stock holdings that include the Canadian National Railway Co. and sanitizing-products maker Ecolab Inc., which rose 34 percent and 45 percent respectively. Read more >>

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How Pharmaceuticals Came To Be The 4th Leading Cause Of Death In America

Prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death in America. (1) People know this to be true, they know it to be appalling, but it’s still seen as incomprehensible and absurd. How could medicine hurt so many people?

We all know that side-effects happen, but they are thought to be rare. They must be rare, right? We all know some good, kind, generous, thoughtful doctors who want nothing more for their patients than health and happiness, so they certainly aren’t giving their patients drugs that hurt them, are they?

We know that the FDA is a federal bureaucracy, so it must be too restrictive of the pharmaceutical industry, right? And the FDA is supposed to protect consumers, so we’re as safe as we can be, right? And people can sue, so the legal system must be keeping the bad aspects of the medical system in check, right?

All of these questions, and many more, bring up some cognitive dissonance for people when they’re faced with the fact that prescription drugs, used as prescribed, kill an inordinate a number of people. It brings up the questions. Read more >>

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Health law may hit midsize businesses hardest

The new year will bring tough new health care decisions for many businesses, especially those that are too small to easily absorb new costs and too big to think about dropping coverage, experts say.

These midsize businesses, particularly those with 50 to 200 workers, are having the toughest time affording escalating health care costs, says Nancy Taylor, a health care lawyer with Greenberg Traurig.

"I'm most worried about them," she says.

Federal regulators define small businesses for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act as those with 50 or fewer employees, so a midsize company by some definitions could be one 51 or 1,000 or more workers. A mandate for businesses with 50 or more employees to provide insurance to all full-time employees was delayed for a year. But businesses are already bracing for 2015.

Three ways midsize employers are feeling it:

•Taxes and fees.

Most of the largest employers are self-insured, which means the companies cover employees' claims, while insurance companies help administer the plans. Starting in 2014, businesses that are fully insured -- as opposed to self-insured -- will be hit with an $8 billion tax that is estimated to add 2%-3% to premiums for each covered employee.

This tax is expected to increase every year for the next several years. By 2018, It's expected to be about 4%. A so-called reinsurance fee of $63 for every person covered by a plan also kicks in for the new year. Read more >>

Monday, December 30, 2013

Unemployment Benefits Lapse Severs Lifeline for Longtime Jobless

Laura Walker, a 63-year-old paralegal, has been looking for work since January, when she was laid off from a California law firm. Until today, she could count on $450 a week in federal unemployment benefits for help.

Now, those checks will disappear, just as they will for 1.3 million other Americans whose emergency aid ran out Dec. 28.

“Not all of us have savings and a lot of us have to take care of family because of what happened in the economy,” said Walker, of Santa Clarita, who said she has applied for at least three jobs a week and shares an apartment with her unemployed son, his wife and two children. “It’s going to put my family and me out on the streets.”

The program, started during the recession, was intended to help jobless people after they exhausted state benefits, typically lasting six months. House Republicans resisted continuing the benefits without budget cuts elsewhere to cover the cost. Keeping it running another year would cost $25 billion and spur the economy enough to create about 200,000 jobs, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.

“It lacks compassion for the victims of the recession and, economically, it’s shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, which backs policies that help low-income workers. “The timing is very premature. The evidence is that people who want work can’t find it.” Read more >>

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rise of the $2,000 designer sweater

Designer sweaters that creep towards $2,000 in price are becoming equally commonplace as four-figure handbags and high-heels. Brands including Christopher Kane, The Row, and Bottega Veneta say that their sweater designs – which are primarily unassuming with simple shapes and colors – boast the kind of quality to justify their price tag.

An unadorned, cream-colored cotton cardigan by Bottega Veneta is currently on offer for $2,200, and similarly pared-down, cashmere-silk look by Donna Karan is being sold for $1,995.

Embellished novelty designs are also ranking high in the sweater category. Mr Kane’s cropped cashmere design with sequin embroidery is priced at $1,510, while another floral piece, by American designer Jason Wu, can be found for $1,995.

If a ‘most expensive sweater’ superlative existed, however, this season’s winner would likely be a $4,490 hand-knitted style by The Row, which is made from an Italian cashmere-wool blend.

The cable knit sweater, which made its much-lauded debut on the label’s fall 2013 runway, costs more than two times the price many of Prada’s classic handbag styles, and nearly four times that of a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Read more >>
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Local courts reviving 'debtors' prison' for overdue fines

English: A photograph of an engraving in The W...
As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new "debtors' prison" -- referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off.

Reforms eventually outlawed the practice. But groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union say it's been reborn in local courts which may not be aware it's against the law to send indigent people to jail over unpaid fines and fees -- or they just haven't been called on it until now.

Advocates are trying to convince courts that aside from the legal questions surrounding the practice, it is disproportionately jailing poor people and doesn't even boost government revenues -- in fact, governments lose money in the process.

"It's a waste of taxpayer resources, and it undermines the integrity of the justice system," Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU's National Prison Project, told Read more >>
Enhanced by Zemanta