Farmers in most of the country are left largely with the same health-insurance options they have faced in the past when it comes to the law, though a new experiment is starting in Minnesota with a farmer health-insurance cooperative. The idea of a farmer health-care cooperative had been kicked around in Minnesota since 2009 but had faced multiple regulatory stumbling blocks. At the end of last year, Minnesota farmers complained to state lawmakers that the insurance exchange was collapsing down to one insurance option across much of the exchange and as many as seven counties in the state were looking at no insurance option. Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation last spring specifically allowing farmers and their employees to form a health-care cooperative."It will fill a need in the individual marketplace for the people who have gotten hammered by the premium increases," said Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. "This is where all the farmers fall, and this is an attempt to correct that."The cooperative, called 40 Square, is a self-insurance plan that operates like most insurance policies with a deductible, copays and a percentage of out-of-pocket costs. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are waived for routine preventive care, and there are standard costs for prescription drugs. A summary of 40 Square plans offers annual deductible options for families from $3,000 to $13,100 in different plans.To sign up for 40 Square, a Minnesotan has to farm and have at least one common-law employee -- a person who receives a W-2 for working on the farm. If the insurance is attractive, a farmer who is a sole proprietor might consider working with an accountant to provide a seasonal contractor, or relative, with wages and taxes withheld to issue a W-2 rather than treat that person as an independent contractor with a 1099 form."If your spouse does the books and you issue him or her a W-2, you can consider the farm an employer with a common-law employee," said Charlene Vrieze, project manager for 40 Square.Farmers require an employee because the cooperative is regulated under a Department of Labor regulation dealing with employer-employee benefits.Farmers also purchase stock to join the cooperative, which amounts to a $100 voting share stock and a $1,000 common stock, which will be paid throughout the first 12 months of membership in 40 Square. The cooperative also requires farmers to offer 40 Square insurance to employees for at least three years.
After harvesting a corn or soybean crop, farmers may plant a cover crop for a variety of reasons—to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve water quality. Now there’s another reason. University of Illinois research shows that migratory birds prefer to rest and refuel in fields with cover crops. “Here in the Midwest, we’re in one of the major flyway zones for migratory birds, where there once was plenty of habitat for grassland birds to safely forage and rest during their migration. Now that agriculture is the dominant landscape, they’re finding it harder to get the resources they need on the way to their breeding grounds,” “We think cover crops, such as cereal rye, likely provide migrating birds with more vegetation and a safe area to escape from the elements and from predators,” Wilcoxen says. “Cover crops also increase insect abundance, another food source for birds. The increased number of insects allows migrants to fuel up faster and move on to their breeding grounds.
Cash-strapped agencies use private contractors to the detriment of local communities. Hawkinson’s assertion that manual labor such as tree-planting, thinning timber and fuel-reduction logging is the kind of work that no modern Americans want to do comes up over and over again. There is, of course, a built-in conundrum in the question: As long as we have thousands of poor migrants, willing to plant our trees for $13.85 per hour or less, and as long as local Americans are actively discouraged from taking such jobs, we’ll never know the answer. But I do know that at one time, when wages were comparatively high, I preferred woods-work over any other employment, and I knew plenty of people across the West, and in the South, who felt the same way. McIver echoed the point that the Forest Service, starved by budget cuts and firefighting costs, typically awards multi-year contracts to bigger, out-of-state, low-bid contractors that use the H-2B workers because it has little choice. The agency does not give preference to local crews. That may be more efficient, she said. “But efficiency was only one factor in the equation — what do you tell the people in Mineral County, Montana, about jobs and schools, where it is 93 percent public land, and what work is getting done on those lands isn’t available to anybody who lives there?”
The Vermont House Rural Development Caucus will hold a public hearing at the Statehouse, from 5-7 p.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 7, to hear from municipal, business, education, and nonprofit interests in rural Vermont about what issues are the most pressing. The Rural Development Caucus, also known as the Rural Economic Development Working Group, is a nonpartisan group of Vermont lawmakers that seeks to ensure that the needs of rural Vermont are considered when public policy is contemplated, debated, or enacted
Efforts to convince Tyson Foods Inc. to build a proposed $320 million chicken complex in Sedgwick County, Kan., include a letter signed by all five county commissioners, according to a published report. The letter said the panel is “ready to collaborate with (Tyson) regarding this venture and leverage many of our important partnerships." The letter touted the county’s “land mass, transportation system and agricultural framework to support the Tyson facilities,” the report said. Also signed by the county manager and assistant Wichita city manager, the letter reportedly was sent about one month before this weekend’s meeting at which about 75 community members gathered to discuss their concerns about the project. The newspaper report noted that some of the commissioners do not believe the letter commits them to vote to approve the project, which possibly would be located outside of city boundaries and would give county officials the final word.
With enrollment assistance resources so strapped, it will be hard to reach out to rural consumers. “We had a booth at the PRIDE festival in Atlanta last Sunday, and someone said, ‘Why are y’all even here? Isn’t Obamacare dead?’” Ammons said. “And if they think that in Atlanta, you can only imagine what they think in south Georgia.”Health economist William Custer, who teaches at Georgia State University in Atlanta, echoed those fears about increases in the number of uninsured in rural Georgia.The effects of less insurance will be felt hard in those areas, he explained. Nearly half of the state’s counties, most of them in rural areas, do not have an OB-GYN. Seven hospitals in rural Georgia have closed within the past four years. Several have closed their labor and delivery units. If people in rural Georgia lose insurance rather than gain it, efforts made in recent years by state leaders to stanch financial bleeding at rural hospitals could be jeopardized, Custer said.“This is really the big worry. The problem in Georgia is that we have very different geographics, very different demographics and very different health care. These changes this year really seem to be pushing us even more to two Georgias,” Custer said.
A class-action lawsuit filed last week in Benton County, Ark., Circuit Court accuses two rehabilitation programs of violating Arkansas law prohibiting slavery by forcing drug addicts to work for free at chicken processing plants and a plastic manufacturing facility under threat of incarceration. The plaintiffs are addicts with drug charges ordered by the courts to enter Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR) and Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP), ostensibly to receive treatment for addiction.“Instead of receiving treatment, however, Plaintiffs were forced to work for various businesses in Arkansas performing demanding, dangerous manual labor for no pay. Those who are injured on the job are threatened with jail to coerce them into continuing to toil; those who are unable to work are actually jailed,” the lawsuit states.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation that will amend state law regarding agritourism, clarifying the legal responsibilities for both farm operators and visitors. This legislation establishes limited liability protections for the inherent risks of inviting the public onto a farming operation.Agricultural tourism and outdoor recreation activities that include horseback riding, u-pick Christmas trees and fruit orchards, along with tours of wineries and maple operations, all now have a new line of defense against frivolous lawsuits. Under the legislation, farms must have proper signage to delineate pathways and buildings open to the public, adequately train employees involved in agritourism, take reasonable care to prevent foreseeable risks and post warnings to visitors about inherent risks of participating in activities on working farms.
You know that a proposed oil and gas lease is really, truly an awful idea when even Governor Gary Herbert, Utah’s normally pro–fossil fuel development leader, is against it. This summer, Herbert wrote to federal officials, asking them to defer planned oil and gas lease sales near Dinosaur National Monument and Zion National Park. While the Bureau of Land Management did eventually decide to delay two planned lease sales near Dinosaur National Monument and defer the auctions on another three parcels near the entrance to Zion, conservation groups and some former National Park Service officials remain on high alert. They warn that the Trump administration’s rush toward “energy dominance” and its promise to increase oil, gas, and coal extraction on federal lands threatens dozens of protected sites across the country.In North Dakota, federal officials are considering auctioning a 120-acre parcel adjacent to Teddy Roosevelt National Park for oil and gas exploration, a site that is already ringed with the oil infrastructure that popped up on the prairie during the Bakken boom. In New Mexico, new oil and gas development might be coming soon to the desert lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the government is also considering offering new oil and gas leases at sites near Hovenweep National Monument, on the Utah-Colorado border; near the Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming; near Capitol Reef National Park in Utah; and in proximity to New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park
In his book “Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One,” economist Thomas Sowell describes an insight he gained while he was an undergraduate at Harvard. After the young Sowell had enthusiastically listed the benefits of a favorite public policy proposal, his professor asked “And then what will happen?” over and over until Sowell began to see the unintended consequences that would surely follow.When lawmakers stop at stage-one thinking and don’t anticipate what happens next, the consequences are often worse than the problem the policy was intended to solve in the first place. Thus the road paved with good intentions leads to Prohibition crime syndicates, home building on flood plains backed by cheap government insurance, decrepit housing projects, and endless military involvement in faraway places.Earlier this week, Denver City Council committee members engaged in stage-one thinking when they approved a ban on cat declawing within the city limits with little exception. The full council will take up the proposed ordinance early next month. If approved, Denver would join eight cities in California with similar prohibitions on the procedure. Proponents assume that if they outlaw declawing, cat owners will simply not do it. True, some Denver residents will respond this way. Others, however, will go to a vet in the suburbs. Still others will choose not to adopt a cat or to relinquish a cat to a shelter if they are unable to control the scratching behavior. A declaw prohibition would not pose a major deterrent to cat ownership, but it would affect the lives of some cats for the worse. A cat is better off declawed and in a home than in a shelter or put down.