Posts tagged with Economy
Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to reject a $31.5 million federal grant to start a health insurance exchange stirred up controversy and confusion on Monday.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger told legislators that the state is in danger of not meeting a crucial deadline in implementation of the exchange.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the exchanges are meant to provide online marketplaces where consumers can shop for health insurance and receive subsidies, if eligible.
But Praeger conceded that development of the exchanges and the entire federal health reform law could be altered by legal decisions or the outcome of next year’s presidential and U.S. Senate elections.
“At this point, we just have to look at what is on the books today,” she told the Special Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance.
“Tomorrow this could all change,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who is a vocal critic of the health reform law.
Praeger said even though that’s true, “It’s still important to stay at the table and deal with the uncertainties, otherwise it will be done to us.”
The issue of establishing a state-based exchange in Kansas was dealt a blow in August when Brownback rejected a $31.5 million “early innovator” grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Brownback, who had earlier supported the grant, rejected it, saying there were too many strings attached to the federal funding. He said his administration would not move forward on implementing the ACA until the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on whether the law, signed by President Barack Obama, was constitutional.
Praeger said it is possible the court could rule on the case as early as June.
The exchanges are supposed to be in effect by 2014, and Praeger said the state was in danger of not being able to meet that deadline unless the Legislature next year agreed to move forward.
She said the federal government will implement an exchange in Kansas if the state doesn’t. Kansas would lose some flexibility if the feds put in the exchange, she said.
By Scott Rothschild
Kansas Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, is forming a bi-partisan group that will include citizen input to study options for reducing taxes.
The group will include state senators and members of the public and be charged with creating a more business-friendly environment, Morris said.
"Right now, there are a lot of ideas being floated around, but what they all seem to be missing is citizen input," Morris said. "This isn't something that should be done behind closed doors by a bunch of bureaucrats," he said.
The administration of Gov. Sam Brownback, also a Republican, is working on a tax proposal that will be forwarded to the Legislature when the legislative session starts in January. Brownback's Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan is leading that effort but those discussions and deliberations have not been open to the public. Brownback has said he wants to cut state income taxes.
Morris said he expected several proposals to be up for consideration, including Brownback's, ones that have been proposed in the past by various legislators, and others.
Morris said public input is crucial in devising ways to lower taxes.
"One of the reasons Washington got itself into so much trouble is because they listened to special interest groups instead of the folks on Main Street," he said. "We're not willing to let those same mistakes be made in Kansas," he said.
State Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, and chair of the Senate tax committee, will serve as chair of the tax study group. Others named to the group include state Sens. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, and Vickie Schmidt, R-Topeka. Morris said he will invite Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka to appoint a member.
Public members of the study group will be named once the legislative session starts, he said. The group will be tasked with making a recommendation to the Senate tax committee for action.
By Scott Rothschild
There is a task force in state government that is going to deliver to Gov. Sam Brownback a tax proposal that could affect every Kansan.
But who those task force members are, what their backgrounds are and what stake they have in the outcome have been mostly hidden from the public. There have been no public meetings.
One thing is known: Arthur Laffer, one of the architects of President Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics, “is providing his expertise throughout the process and he will be in the state helping to present the tax plan once it is finalized,” according to Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Laffer is being paid $75,000 for his consulting services, she said.
Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan is heading the effort to give recommendations to Brownback by the end of the year. Jordan has said a task force is near completion of its task.
When Jordan’s office was asked by the Journal-World to provide names of those serving on the task force and other details, the office provided little information.
“People are being pulled into the discussion as their expertise is needed,” Koranda said. “More people are being consulted as time goes on; just about everywhere the secretary goes, people are providing ideas.”
Koranda said that senior Revenue Department staff members Richard Cram, head of policy and research, and Steve Stotts, director of taxation, have been consulted.
“These consultations have also included leaders of the House and Senate tax committees, various state agency heads, economists and business owners. The discussions have not been limited to a set group of people nor have they been scheduled on a regular basis. This is not an appointed group,” she said.
But only Republican leaders of the House and Senate tax committees have been consulted so far, she said. Brownback and Jordan are Republicans. Koranda said Democrats will be talked with before a bill is introduced.
She declined to identify any of the business owners lending their advice.
Jordan, a former state senator from Shawnee, has played his hand close to the vest on which taxes will be reduced.
But Brownback is eager to cut taxes, subscribing to Laffer’s theory that reduced taxes produce more business growth, which eventually will result in more revenue to take care of government needs.
He has stated several times he wants to decrease the state income tax.
But others say that after years of budget cuts to schools, social services and public safety, now is not the time to cut taxes.
“I hope when Gov. Brownback looks at Kansas he sees our people, not just dollar signs,” said Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon.
“I have serious questions about what this tentative tax reduction plan will mean for everyday Kansans,” she said. “Will parents continue to see increased class sizes in their kids’ schools? Will abused and neglected children still be left without immediate access to help? Will seniors have to go without Meals on Wheels?”
By Scott Rothschild
Alicia Levin remembers what it was like to be looking around in the higher education job market. And it wasn’t much fun.
Levin is a musicologist, meaning she’s something like a music historian. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in 2009 and finally got hired on a tenure-track position in the Kansas University School of Music this year.
“It was a horrible experience,” she said. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
As universities across the country face state budget shortfalls and are feeling the effects of a slumping economy, it creates a backlog of qualified applicants to fill open professor posts. And for departments looking to hire new positions, the situation has meant they often can attract their top choices among the large pool of applicants to come to the university.
It was a lot of checking up on websites that tracked open positions in the field. Some of the sites allowed users to post updates on how the job searches were going, so she could watch as jobs she’d applied for moved to the phone interview stage, and then through the process until they were filled.
For others, including Jacob Dakon, a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University, the search went a little better. He was able to secure a position on the music faculty right out of his doctoral program.
“I just got lucky,” he said. He said put in 11 applications, and KU was the first to call. He was able to wind up with the position.
“I never heard from any of the other universities,” he said.
The market can vary across the disciplines. The Modern Language Association reported that the number of jobs advertised with the organization stabilized in 2010-11, increasing by 8.2 percent for English positions and 7.1 percent in the foreign languages.
But the positions are still down at about a third below their 2007-08 peak.
The American Historical Association reported that jobs posted with its organization fell 29.4 percent in the academic year 2009-10, to its lowest point in 25 years. The 569 advertised positions “marks a precipitous fall from the historical high of 1,059 advertised positions recorded just two years ago,” wrote Robert B. Townsend, the AHA’s assistant director, who tracks the jobs data annually.
While the available number of jobs were falling, the AHA reported that the number of people earning doctoral degrees continued to rise slightly, up to 989 in 2009-10, from 969 a year before.
Marta Caminero-Santangelo, chairwoman of KU’s English department, said the market has meant more options for her department.
“It’s a buyer’s market,” she said. “We’ve definitely been able to get our top choices.”
For a tenure-track assistant professor position, applications typically range from newly minted Ph.D. candidates to people who already have assistant professorships at other schools, she said. Tenured associate professor posts typically attract associate professors from other schools, she said.
KU hired two new English professors this year — one assistant professor, and one associate professor, Caminero-Santangelo said.
“We’ve got extremely high-qualified people competing for the jobs we’re offering,” she said.
Levin said that more qualified candidates in the pool can contribute to the backlog of people looking for jobs. The people who earned doctorates in 2009 typically will take a non-tenured lecturer position and then try again in 2010, 2011 and so on. Every year, they have to compete with a new crop of candidates, too.
“While it was a difficult process, it was definitely affirming,” Levin said. She said she got great support from colleagues and others along the way. “There’s no group I’d rather be a part of.”
By Andy Hyland
Just because the country remains mired in the Great Recession, with unemployment persisting and wages stagnating and employee security weakening and consumer confidence waning, doesn’t mean that workers and anyone looking for work should wallow in frustration.
Give yourself a boost by working harder when it comes to seeking advancement, employment or anything else related to a career.
In short: Be better by showing how you’re better.
“Experience alone is not enough,” said Carol Rau, owner of Career Advantage, a Lawrence-based employment consulting firm, where clients receive help with job searches and résumé writing. “That will just allow you to apply. Remember, if there’s a listing that says ‘10 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree required,’ and you have that, so does everyone else.”
“The thing you have to focus on is to go above and beyond the experience,” she said.
It’s a familiar refrain by professionals connected with human relations, job searches and other fields affiliated with employment: Simply listing where you’ve worked, what jobs you’ve had and the responsibilities you’ve held may be impressive, but it often takes more to stand out in an increasingly crowded job market.
Clearly communicating what you’ve done, how much business you’ve generated, how many efficiencies you’ve identified and how many positives you’ve provided for an employer can help, they say. Think numbers, percentages, returns.
Evidence that you can get things done.
“You have to know what your own strengths are and what makes you different from people who do the same things you do,” said Lyne Tumlinson, who runs Career Lift LLC, another Lawrence consulting firm that works with individuals, groups and organizations to make the most of their talent — and, increasingly, as a career coach for employees hoping to move up and former employees looking to land new jobs. “That makes you stand out. Otherwise, you become a commodity.”
Whether you are looking for advancement in your current job or are working to get hired at a new job, the two professionals say there are a few things everyone should do:
• Do your homework. Find out exactly what an employer wants and then figure out, exactly, how you can make that happen.
• Focus on results. “What successes have you had?” Tumlinson said. “And what problems did you overcome?” Such details on a résumé should allow a reviewer to determine how you might fit into the company’s plans, especially when compared with people who simply list their jobs and responsibilities. Rau’s take: “If there’s a way to quantify or measure what you did as an employee, those are powerful statements. … That shows you’re the best qualified.”
• Be proactive. “It’s very frustrating to send off a lot of résumés and sit and wait,” Rau said, so consider having a reference — preferably someone within the company you’re targeting — make unsolicited contact with the company’s hiring professionals or others in charge, even before you send in a résumé and cover letter. “It sounds very bold, but — in this market — you have to do anything you can to get an interview,” Rau said. “The goal of a résumé is to get an interview. … You need to get your foot in the door and somehow be considered to get an interview.”
Among Tumlinson’s clients is Joel Wagler, who spent 25 years working in customer-service, management and ownership positions. After closing his business, The Mail Box, in December, he’s been busy applying for jobs in the area.
He admits having been lost early on — not unusual for someone who had last interviewed for a job back in 1985, when he landed work stocking groceries in Hutchinson — but is encouraged by his direction since signing on with Career Lift.
Wagler knows he has plenty to offer and is working to see that potential employers see the benefits he can bring to the job beginning on Day One.
“I know what to look for,” said Wagler, who is using Tumlinson’s advice during confidential sessions to target traditional markets and explore new opportunities, a direction he’s happy to share. “I’m confident with my résumé. I don’t lack confidence in myself."
“You can’t control what the employers are doing, but you can control how you go about it. That’s what I’m doing.”
By Mark Fagan
The idea of hand-me-downs sounds pretty good in this economic climate, no?
In theory, yes, but the execution can be tricky.
Good intentions can easily be quashed by a high activity level, a harsh winter, a dive into a mud pit or any other number of adolescence-related wild cards.
Take Jamie Davison’s two sons, Eric, 13, and Adam, 9. Eric is as gentle as a teen can be with his clothes, shoes and playthings.
That’s good news for his younger brother, Adam, who at age 9 is in a good spot to inherit whatever Eric manages to keep intact.
“Nike withholds really, really well, and Eric has always taken really good care of all of his clothes and everything, so it’s been really simple to pass it down,” the Lawrence mom says, before laughing with her much more destructive boy, Adam. “Had it been the other way around and Adam would’ve been first — forget it, we would’ve been in so much trouble because Adam is really, really rough on his everything. Sorry, baby!”
Even with Eric’s gentle nature, Davison says there’s a certain segment of outerwear that’s difficult to keep in the hand-me-down rotation: shoes.
Between sports, growth spurts and seasonal changes, Davison guesses she buys shoes for Eric and Adam every two months. Sometimes it’s more often than that, depending on the sport being played or the everyday wear and tear.
Davison, along with Halston Rucker of Brown’s Shoe Fit Company, 829 Mass., and Kris Bailey, owner of Blue Dandelion, 841 Mass., offered some tips on how to get those shoes you get your kids for this school year to survive until they outgrow them and (possibly) beyond.
Get the most bang for your buck. This should go without saying, but buy the best shoes you can afford for your children.
Davison says that like many moms she thought she’d try to save money with her oldest son by buying him cheap shoes, figuring that at the rate he was growing, it would be silly to buy anything else. Turns out that’s not how it worked.
“When (Eric) was about 3 or 4 and really started to become active as a little toddler, it probably only took me a year to figure out he has to have a good shoe,” Davison says. “This is sad, but they have to be name-brand. Because they won’t last if we don’t.”
Rucker says he has many parents like Davison come in after disappointing experiences with cheaply made shoes.
“It always comes down to you get what you pay for,” Rucker says. “Certain brands are more durable than others. But it really just comes down to fit. If the shoe fits properly, it’s going to last a lot longer.”
Check the durability. Some shoes look great on the rack but can fall apart in no time flat when thrust into action by a busy child.
Rucker has some clues as to how to check for proper durability. The first test is to check the soles. He says to hold up a test shoe and press on both the heel and the tip. The shoe should bend where the ball of the foot would be rather than in the middle of the sole. If it make a “U” shape rather than a checkmark, you might not have the best shoe.
“That’s true with kids and adult shoes,” Rucker says of the bend test. “They’re made with different durability, though.”
He says that to check a shoe to see if it’s still good enough to live on as a hand-me-down, look at it from behind. If the inner wall of the shoe leans in or out, it’s probably too worn.
Bailey adds that for young children, she’s found that shoes made primarily of leather tend to wear best on little feet. And for the best fit, look for companies that make only kids’ shoes, rather than adult shoe companies moving into kids’ shoes, she says.
Buy big, but not too big. You probably want your kid to get shoes just a bit on the big side, since those growth spurts can come out of left field and when the mortgage payment is due. But be reasonable when thinking big, say our experts.
“With adult shoes you only have to do half the width of the thumb on there just to give extra flex of the dorsiflexion,” Rucker says, adding that with older children, it’s OK to buy them that big, but not much bigger.
The rule is slightly different for new walkers, says Bailey. You don’t want to go too big and make walking an even more difficult proposition.
“I try to recommend to people that if they’re buying their first pair of shoes for a child that’s just learning to walk, not to get them way too big because they just trip,” says the mom of four.
Know your soles. Infants and new walkers should start with soft-soled shoes and work up to something with a more rigid sole. This helps strengthen the muscles in their feet, Bailey says.
“When I was a child you needed to have the lace-up shoes to support the ankles of a new walking baby — that flat, hard-bottom sole. But the recommendation now is that you actually need to develop those muscles,” she adds. “The more flexible, the better. And sometimes people will come in and say they put a stiff shoe on their child at a store, a new walker, and they’ll say the child won’t walk in the shoes because they just don’t feel right.”
Weatherproof. If you are certain your kids’ shoes might have hand-me-down potential, it’s good to keep them fresh and happy by investing in a weatherproofing spray.
“You can buy it pretty much anywhere,” Rucker says. “Basically, just put three coats of that waterproofing spray on there and it helps close up some of the cells that’s in that mesh. And helps keep the stains off there in the first place.”
By Sarah Henning
Hoping to appease Gov. Sam Brownback and the state Legislature, the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday approved a slimmed-down budget request and put a major Kansas University building project proposal on hold.
The total increase sought by the regents was $31.8 million, down from the nearly $60 million that higher education institutions had sought. The request will now go to Brownback’s budget office. Brownback will propose a state budget in January for the Legislature to consider.
The biggest hit by the regents was to community colleges for technical education. Studies have indicated that workforce-related training is underfunded and needs a $60 million increase.
A staff proposal recommended $20 million, but, on a 4-3 vote, the board lowered that to $8 million.
Regent Fred Logan Jr. of Leawood said the $20 million request would produce “eye-rolling” among state leaders.
But Regent Tim Emert, a former Senate majority leader from Independence, said that asking for a lower amount at the start of negotiations was not a good strategy.
“I am no fortune-teller, but you will not get the $8 million. You might get closer to the $8 million” if the original recommendation is higher, he said.
Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt of Inman said she agreed with Emert, but because of the tight budget situation and Brownback’s stated support of technical education, she was willing to “gamble” and ask for $8 million in the hopes of getting the full amount.
Regent Kenny Wilk of Lansing told community colleges not to get discouraged,
saying that the budget request was part of “an ongoing conversation.”
Logan also successfully decreased the requested inflationary increase from $18.9 million to $12.7 million, saying that the lower figure was closer to the Midwestern regional inflation rate.
KU had sought a new $5 million annual appropriation to help pay off a bond issue for a proposed $78 million medical education building. The current facility, built in 1976, is obsolete, in need of repair and too small for proposed expansion, KU officials have said.
But Regent Chairman Ed McKechnie of Arcadia said there needed to be more work on funding proposals to pay for the building. The board sent both the KU medical building and a proposed expansion of the veterinary medicine program at Kansas State back to a regents committee for more study.
Board members said they were confident that later this year they would forward the medical building project to Brownback’s office for budget consideration.
KU officials said the new building is crucial to their efforts to train more doctors for the state.
As far as other KU requests, the board approved asking for $3 million in new funding to hire highly-sought-after research professors, and $1.9 million more for a medical scholarship program.
The board also recommended a 2.6 percent increase in student financial assistance systemwide.
By Scott Rothschild
A host of controversial decisions that have been made recently by Gov. Sam Brownback will be aired before legislators today.
“We need information and we need rationale for some of the decisions that have been made,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, who is a member of the House-Senate Health Policy Oversight Committee.
The committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer on why Brownback returned to the federal government a $31.5 million grant that he earlier supported.
Brownback has said there were too many strings attached to the grant that would have helped Kansas implement a health insurance exchange in compliance with the federal health reform law, called the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, and vice chairwoman of the committee, said she agreed with Brownback’s decision. Landwehr said implementation of the exchange “was a moving target.” She added, “Why should we put pressure on ourselves for a piece of legislation that we don’t believe in in the first place?”
Landwehr has led the charge at the state level to oppose the Affordable Care Act. Brownback, a Republican, voted against it when he was in the U.S. Senate and has said it should be repealed. The state of Kansas is a party to a legal challenge to the law.
But Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, also a Republican, has disputed Brownback’s too-many-strings complaint, saying that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had been extremely accommodating to states that had received the “early innovator” grants to work on the exchanges.
Praeger is scheduled to brief the committee on the status of the health insurance exchange, which under the ACA would serve as a one-stop shop for hundreds of thousands of Kansans to purchase insurance and determine eligibility for coverage subsidies.
Since Brownback returned the $31.5 million grant, the administration said work on the exchange will not go forward, but Praeger has said planning continues in her agency because, under the law, the exchanges have to be in place by 2014.
On another front, Brownback is catching heat from some in his own party for signing a contract worth $135 million to overhaul the state Medicaid computer system. Brownback officials said the contract will make it easier to catch Medicaid fraud and determine eligibility for the program that serves more than 300,000 Kansans.
But critics, such as Rep. Charlotte O’Hara, R-Overland Park, said the mostly federally funded contract was just another step toward implementing the ACA. The Brownback administration has denied this charge, but state insurance officials say part of the work under the contract will be making the system compatible with the ACA. In addition, shortly after Kansas announced the contract with Accenture, the technology services company settled a $63.7 million lawsuit with the federal government. The company was accused of fraud, bid-rigging and taking kickbacks. Accenture denied the allegations but said it was settling to avoid more costly litigation.
Colyer is also scheduled to give an update on his effort to reform Medicaid, the $2.8 billion federal-state funded program. Brownback has said the state must find ways to deliver Medicaid services at reduced cuts. Critics fear that Brownback’s plan will result in more needy Kansans not getting assistance.
The committee also is expected to hear from Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. on the effect of SRS office closings on caseloads and Medicaid application processing times.
When announcing on July 1 the closing of nine SRS offices, Siedlecki said those served by the offices could travel to nearby cities or access services online.
The closure announcement caused a public uproar, and local officials in several of the affected cities, including Lawrence, came up with local tax funds to keep the offices open for at least two years.
By Scott Rothschild
Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. on Friday announced a host of policy changes for programs that provide assistance to low-income Kansans.
“These changes represent a significant change in policy, in that they treat all households equally, and create fairness across the system,” Siedlecki said in a news release.
Siedlecki said the changes would help eliminate fraud and abuse, and save from $10 million to $15 million, which would expand SRS’ programs to get folks back to work.
“Getting people jobs is our first priority,” Siedlecki said.
The new policies will affect programs that provide tens of thousands of Kansans with food stamps, child care assistance and temporary assistance. They are set to take effect starting Oct. 1 and should be fully in place by Jan. 1.
Many of the changes will affect the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. TANF is available to families earning less than 32 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,350, so 32 percent of that is $7,152 per year. The average monthly benefit under TANF is $290 per month; the maximum is $429 per month.
Here are the announced changes:
• All those receiving help under TANF will be required to participate in a job search at the time of application.
• Families may opt to receive a one-time payment of $1,000 for emergency hardships and forgo entry into the TANF program for one year.
• A “soft” 48-month lifetime limit will be imposed on TANF benefits.
• People who knowingly and deliberately commit fraud will lose eligibility permanently.
• The income of all members of a household will be included in calculating food stamp eligibility.
• The income of an unmarried boyfriend or girlfriend as part of a household will be counted to determine eligibility for temporary assistance and child care assistance.
• People receiving temporary assistance must provide proof that their children are enrolled in school.
• Child care assistance recipients will be required to work a minimum of 20 hours per week. Students already are required to work at least 20 hours per week.
In 2010, the TANF program served nearly 37,000 families per month, child care assistance had an average of 20,319 people per month and nearly 260,000 Kansans received food assistance.
By Scott Rothschild
The Kansas unemployment rate for August increased — the first monthly increase in more than two years — as the state job market continued to struggle, officials reported Thursday.
The jobless rate for August was 6.9 percent, up from 6.8 percent in July and down from 7.1 percent in August 2010. The seasonally adjusted rate for August was 6.7 percent, up from 6.5 percent in July and down from 7 percent in August 2010.
“Overall there has been no noticeable improvement in the Kansas labor market since April,” said Tyler Tenbrink, an economist with the Kansas Department of Labor.
“This lack of employment growth has manifested itself in an increased unemployment rate for the state. This is the first increase in the statewide unemployment rate since July 2009,” Tenbrink said.
Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee said, “It is difficult for Kansas to recover from a significant recession without faster-paced job growth.”
Statewide, Kansas gained 2,500 private-sector jobs since July but lost 4,800 government jobs, according to the report.
Claims for unemployment compensation also increased.
There were 21,420 initial claims for unemployment benefits in August, up from 19,706 initial claims in July and an increase from 17,632 in August 2010.
There were 231,076 continued claims in August, up from 192,155 in July and a decrease from 235,654 in August 2010.
Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback said he was encouraged by the “trajectory” of private-sector job growth in Kansas. “We need to accelerate it,” he said.
He added, “The likelihood of public-sector jobs being sustainable in the near term is not high.”
By Scott Rothschild