U.S. House of Representatives Pass Bill to Halt Land Grab

into swiftcurrent lake
WASHINGTON, D.C — The House of Representatives has passed H.R.5078 Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Act of 2014 with a bipartisan vote of 262-152. The legislation is an attempt to halt the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed “Waters of the United States” regulation.

“The proposed WOTUS regulation by EPA and the Corps is a thinly veiled land grab attempt by the federal government,” according to Ed Luttrell, President of the National Grange.  “Recently released maps by the EPA show that virtually every farmer, rancher and landowner would be adversely impacted by this regulation.”

The proposed rule has come under fire because of its breadth of jurisdiction.  Among other things, all perennial, intermittent and ephemeral streams would be part of the rule because they are considered tributaries that are “physically and chemically connected” downstream to traditional navigable waters.

“This Legislation is necessary because, in my view, the EPA does not seem to understand the real world effects these regulations will have on farmers across the country,” according to House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Colin Peterson, D-Minn.  The bill’s original sponsor, Representative Steve Southerland, R-FL, citing the proposed regulation as the very definition of regulatory creep, said “This (regulation) really facilitates a capture of private property using the Clean Water Act and this onerous authority as a tool for imminent domain.”

The Senate is not expected to consider a WOTUS bill until after the November elections. Over 30 senators have sponsored legislation similar to the House-passed version.  The White House has threatened a veto.  Grange members are encouraged to contact their senators during the upcoming October election cycle recess and ask them to vote for legislation to curtail the EPA and Corps regulatory overreach on water in the lame duck (November-December) session of Congress.

Established in 1867, The National Grange, a nonpartisan, nonprofit fraternal organization, is the oldest agricultural and rural community service organization. With more than 2,100 local chapters, the Grange has evolved into the nation’s leading rural advocacy organization and a major benefactor to local communities. There are more than 160,000 members across the United States.

National Grange President’s September Message

The summer season is waning and fall is quickly approaching. Now would be a great time to reflect on what it means to be a Granger and to take the lessons with you to others out in the world. And don’t forget about the 148th Annual National Grange Convention in Sandusky, Ohio. It’s going to be a great one!

Enrollment for New Dairy Farm Risk Management Program to Begins Sept. 2

USDA Launches New Web Tool to Help Producers Manage Unforeseen Economic Challenges

Starting Sept. 2, 2014, farmers can enroll in the new Dairy Margin Protection Program. The voluntary program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also launched a new Web tool to help producers determine the level of coverage under the Margin Protection Program that will provide them with the strongest safety net under a variety of conditions. The online resource, available at www.fsa.usda.gov/mpptool, allows dairy farmers to quickly and easily combine unique operation data and other key variables to calculate their coverage needs based on price projections.

The Margin Protection Program, which replaces the Milk Income Loss Contract program, gives participating dairy producers the flexibility to select coverage levels best suited for their operation. Enrollment begins Sept. 2 and ends on Nov. 28, 2014, for 2014 and 2015. Participating farmers must remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year. Producers have the option of selecting a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.

Dairy operations enrolling in the new program must comply with conservation compliance provisions and cannot participate in the Livestock Gross Margin Dairy insurance program. Farmers already participating in the Livestock Gross Margin program may register for the Margin Protection Program, but the new margin program will only begin once their Livestock Gross Margin coverage has ended.

The 2014 Farm Bill also established the Dairy Product Donation Program. The program authorizes USDA to purchase and donate dairy products to nonprofit organizations that provide nutrition assistance to low-income families. Purchases only occur during periods of low dairy margins. Dairy operators do not need to enroll to benefit from the Dairy Product Donation Program.

Visit FSA online at www.fsa.usda.gov/factsheets, or stop by a local FSA office to learn more about the Margin Protection Program or the Dairy Product Donation Program.

Highway Trust Fund Success!

highway_construction_032612gettyWith your help, both the House and Senate passed and President Obama signed emergency funding for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to continue road and bridge repair and construction until May 2015.  We will need your help again after the new Congress arrives in January to enact permanent funding for the HTF.

 

 THANK YOU

National Grange President’s August Message

Happy August everybody! We’re inching ever closer to the 148th Annual National Grange Convention in Sandusky, Ohio and if you wan’t to be recognized as a Distinguished Grange while at the event, the deadline to apply is August 15th! In addition, watch the video to hear about our great news and find out the types of events that make excellent Grange activities.

Call to Action: Advocate against the EPA’s new rule on energy

COALITON_BACKGROUNDThe National Grange is working with America’s Electric Cooperatives to advocate against the EPA’s new rule. Tell EPA that its new rule on existing power plants will jeopardize the economy, cause energy prices to skyrocket, kill jobs and penalize low income Americans.

 

 

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION

 

 

National Grange and 332 Patient Groups Join Together to Ask HHS Secretary Burwell to Reduce Barriers to Care in Qualified Health Plans

Urge Administration to Address Limited Benefits, High Cost-sharing, and Lack of Plan Transparency 

Washington, DC (July 30, 2014) — The National Grange, along with three-hundred-and-thirty-two patient groups from around the country, has signed onto a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell calling for immediate measures to reduce barriers to care for patients who have purchased policies through the Health Insurance Marketplace (the “exchanges”). The letter comes as some patients with chronic conditions have faced difficulty accessing crucial medications and other health services they need in some Qualified Health Plans, and as HHS is reviewing plans for 2015.

In the letter, the 333 signatories state, “We, the undersigned patient and community organizations representing millions of patients and their families, have been and continue to be committed to the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)…. We are encouraged by high enrollment numbers in the new Health Insurance Marketplace, and by early data showing low-income people who were previously uninsured are taking advantage of premium and cost-sharing assistance.” However, they add, “At the same time, we are increasingly aware of evidence that new enrollees, especially those with chronic health conditions, are still facing barriers to care.”

Today’s letter to Secretary Burwell builds on the “I Am Essential” campaign that brought together hundreds of patient groups in a coalition that pressed for comprehensive coverage in the Essential Health Benefits. The coalition has been re-launched under the name “I Am (Still) Essential” to address ACA implementation issues and, as stated in its letter, to work with Secretary Burwell on efforts to revise the Essential Health Benefits for future plan years.

“The National Grange believes that all Americans should have equal access to quality healthcare,” National Grange President Edward Luttrell said on Wednesday. “If we can fix some of these core issues, more Americans will be able to achieve a higher quality of living.”

The coalition highlights three areas of concern with the Qualified Health Plans: limited benefits, high cost-sharing, and a lack of transparency and uniformity.

“Patients are grateful that the Affordable Care Act means they cannot be turned away from health coverage because of their medical conditions,” said Carl Schmid, Deputy Executive Director of The AIDS Institute. “But limited benefit coverage, cost-sharing for medications that can reach as high as 50%, and a lack of transparency in several plans mean many patients, particularly those with chronic or complex conditions, are not receiving the care and medications they need.”

In addition to the National Grange, signatories of the “I Am (Still) Essential” letter include such leading national groups as The AIDS Institute, American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, American Lung Association, Easter Seals, Epilepsy Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Lupus Foundation of America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Kidney Foundation, Parkinson’s Action Network, and United Cerebral Palsy, as well as many other national patient organizations and state-based groups and chapters.

In the letter to HHS Secretary Burwell, the coalition asks HHS to enforce the ACA’s non-discrimination provisions, prohibit restrictive formularies and inadequate provider networks, address high cost-sharing, including inappropriate use of coinsurance, and improve plan transparency so that consumers can make informed decisions.

“The ACA was intended to provide quality, affordable health care to patients, but in the first year of implementation, many patients are still facing difficulties gaining access to medications and the specialists that they need,” said Angela Ostrom, Chief Operating Officer & Vice President Public Policy at the Epilepsy Foundation. “By joining together, we hope HHS will hear the patient community’s unified voice and address the need for reforms that ensure meaningful access to care.”

“When vulnerable patients, such as those with mental illness, are denied access to drug coverage, the consequences can be dire,” said Andrew Sperling, Director of Federal Legislative Advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We have outlined some necessary steps that will assure that all enrollees can obtain access to the medications, providers, and services they need to improve and maintain their quality of life, as intended by health reform, so the ACA can deliver on its promises for people with chronic health conditions.”

The full text of the letter to HHS Secretary Burwell along with the signatories can be found at: http://bit.ly/stillessential

National Grange Supports the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act

Medicare reforms needed to protect rural access to home health for vulnerable seniors

177006807WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Grange expressed support today for the Securing Access Via Excellence (SAVE) Medicare Home Health Act introduced last week by Congressmen Greg Walden (R-OR) and Tom Price (R-GA) to restore funding for skilled home health services that are vital to American seniors, particularly those living in rural parts of the country.

The SAVE Medicare Home Health Act halts the 3.5 percent annual across-the-board payment cut inflicted on the Medicare home health benefit on January 1 beginning in 2015 and replaces it with reforms that include measures to keep patients in their homes. The legislation establishes a program to reduce hospital readmissions and strengthen care quality, which will achieve the same Medicare savings as the arbitrary “rebasing” cut, while also safeguarding patients and their healthcare providers.

“We thank Congressmen Greg Walden and Tom Price for taking an important legislative step to protect access to a vital Medicare service that so many seniors and disabled people in our country rely on for healthcare,” National Grange President Ed Luttrell said Tuesday. “We are especially aware of the unique needs of America’s rural communities and are encouraged by reforms like the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act that ensure healthcare is available to every person who needs it, no matter where they reside.”

Unless corrected, the funding cuts to home healthcare put seniors, caregivers and their families at serious risk for losing access to care. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that because of this cut, “approximately 40 percent” of home health agencies will be operating at a net loss by 2017, risking the care of 1.3 million seniors and nearly 500,000 healthcare workers.

Analyses by Avalere health demonstrate that Medicare beneficiaries are older, poorer, sicker and more likely to be from an ethnic or racial minority than the Medicare population as a whole. Additionally, many of these home health beneficiaries reside in rural communities, where the nearest medical facility is miles or hours away from their home.

For many of these seniors with chronic and acute conditions, travelling long distances for care is impractical. If they lose access to skilled home healthcare due to arbitrary funding cuts, many will be forced into costly intuitional care or worse, forego needed medical care altogether.

Established in 1867, The National Grange, a nonpartisan, nonprofit fraternal organization, is the oldest agricultural and rural community service organization. With more than 2,100 local chapters, the Grange has evolved into the nation’s leading rural advocacy organization and a major benefactor to local communities. There are more than 160,000 members across the United States.

URGENT: Calls Needed from Grangers to Support Votes by House and Senate on Highway Trust Fund

actionalertBACKGROUND

As you might have read, the Highway Trust Fund, federally funded by an 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax, starts running out of funds this August. The Highway Trust fund gas tax has not been raised in more than 20 years and the rate of revenue increase has fallen behind as vehicles have become more fuel efficient, creating a $16 billion shortfall.

Agriculture depends on a well maintained road infrastructure to get farm products to market and food distribution to consumers. For a while, it looked as though Congress would punt until the November/December lame duck session to tackle funding, essentially stopping nearly 30% of current active road projects by September. A bipartisan sense of urgency seems to be growing and both the Senate and House are moving bills through their respective committees led by Senate Finance Chairman Wyden (D-OR) and House Ways and Means Chairman Camp (R-MI).

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee yielded to Republican demands and have agree to provide $10 billion to keep the highway trust fund (HTF) solvent until into 2015.  This is in line with the timeframe of the House Ways and Means Committee.  This timeframe will allow time for longer term solutions for HTF to be considered by the new Congress and will remove some of the political partisan jockeying that is skewing policy issues the rest of this year. The House will likely have the legislation on the floor calendar sometime later this week. The Senate has not calendared it yet, but will likely move on it within the week to 10 days. That’s important because the bills have several other differences that must be resolved in a Senate-House Conference Committee, then the Conference Report goes to both chambers for final passage before HTF can be sent to the President to sign , who has indicated he has not hesitation in signing such legislation. There’s barely enough time for all these procedure before the five-week recess begins August 1.

GRANGE POLICY

“The National Grange strongly supports the continuation and reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). We support removing the HTF from the federal budget. We oppose any proposal that would change the concept of dedicating all federal motor fuel taxes to the HTF to be used for highway and highway related purposes. The National Grange supports the creation of a Federal Mass Transportation Trust Fund from user tax revenues separate from the HTF and highway user taxes. The National Grange opposes increasing the federal gasoline tax for purposes other than the HTF and reaffirms its position that all funds received from highway fuel taxes be used only for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. The federal and state governments should not use these funds to balance their budgets or fund other programs.  We oppose impounding HTF monies as a means of enforcement of federal laws.”

- Page 267, 2013 Journal of Proceedings

CALL TO ACTION (Please call immediately.  July 17 is too late!)

We need you to call your SENATORS and REPRESENTATIVES and urge them to push their leadership for floor action on the HTF short-term financing bill THIS WEEK.

Make sure to tell them it is important to maintain provisions in the bills to fund the HTF into 2015 and ASK THEM TO VOTE IN FAVOR OF THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND BILL when it comes to the floor.

Remind them that you are calling as a Grange member, an organization whose more than 160,000 members support the continuation and reauthorization of the HTF and would like to stay updated on their action.

Unfair Phone Tax Opposed by North Alabama Patriots Tea Party, Community Action Association of Alabama, and Five National Groups

July 22, 2014

Governor Robert J. Bentley
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL, 36130
Dear Governor Bentley:

We, the undersigned national and state-based organizations represent Alabama citizens who oppose unfair taxation. We also speak for Alabama’s seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and low-income residents. Today, we have taken the extraordinary step of joining together to urge you to direct Alabama’s 911 Board to repeal its unfair and prohibitively expensive Emergency 911 (E-911) tax on participants in the federal Lifeline program.[1]

Alabama’s E-911 Board has gone where no other state has seen fit to go before: It has for no valid public policy reason imposed a punitive phone tax targeting the poorest of its poor residents who receive wireless Lifeline telephone service at no cost.[2] This move should be overruled by your office as soon as possible.

It is even more troubling that Alabama’s poorest residents are required to pay one of the highest, if not thehighest E-911 tax in the country.[3] Attorneys General in other states including South Carolina[4], Tennessee[5], and Rhode Island[6], have provided sound legal reasoning for why Lifeline participants in those states should be exempted from paying E-911 taxes. We believe that Lifeline customers who receive support, landline or wireless at no cost, should not be required to pay E-911 fees.

On August 1, 2014, the monthly E-911 tax imposed all telephone subscribers in Alabama – including participants in the federal Lifeline program– will increase from the current $1.60 to $1.75 per month. Members of the unelected and unaccountable state 911 Board[7] imposed this tax hike on Alabama citizens, at a rate that is far above typical E-911 taxes in comparable states. Indeed, the $1.75 monthly charge amounts to an exorbitant 19% percent tax on all Lifeline participants– residents in the state who are least able to afford such an outrageously high fee. Imposing the $1.75 E-911 tax on Lifeline subscribers tangibly reduces the full federal rate of $9.25 in Lifeline benefits that program participants are entitled to. The impact of the 19% E-911 tax on low-income Alabama Lifeline households is even more egregious for those participants who decide to purchase additional minutes and are subsequentlycharged a tax twice. Think about what this means in practical terms: A low-income person who used a Lifeline wireless phone to get or keep a job – possibly even to migrate off social services – is now being actively discouraged by the state of Alabama from doing so.

While we fully support the critical work of Alabama’s emergency first responders, funding for such services should not come on the backs of its neediest residents. Our diverse coalition of state and national organizations stands united in opposition to Alabama’s excessive and unfair E-911 tax on no cost Lifeline participants, and strongly advocate that no other state follow in the footsteps of such misguided policy. We urge you and leaders in Alabama’s state legislature to direct members of Alabama’s 911 Board to exempt Lifeline participants from one of the nation’s highest E-911 taxes. Doing so will protect Alabama households from this excessive taxation and its unjust burden on the state’s poorest residents.

Respectfully,

Alliance for Generational Equity
Consumer Action Partnership of Alabama
Community Action Partnership
Consumer Action
National Consumers League
The National Grange
North Alabama Patriots Tea Party

 [1] Created in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission, the Lifeline program initially provided discounted landline service to qualifying low-income individuals. The program was extended to include wireless telecommunications services in 2005. Today, qualifying low-income Lifeline participants may choose to receive free monthly wireless telephone service. Additional information on Lifeline program available at: http://www.fcc.gov/lifeline

[2] See: http://al911board.com/rules/lifeline-service-collection-9-1-1-service-charge

[3] E-911 Fees vary by state and jurisdiction. Alabama’s current rate of $1.60, and August 1, 2014 rate of $1.75 surpasses that for any State wireless E-911 fee. For a full list of E-911 fees by state as of January 1, 2014, see: http://www.nena.org/?page=911RateByState

[4] State of South Carolina, Office of the Attorney General, letter to State Rep. Leon Joe Howard, October 10, 2011.

Available at: http://2hsvz0l74ah31vgcm16peuy12tz.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/howard-l-j-os-9334-10-10-11-E911-fees1.pdf

[5] State of Tennessee, Office of the Attorney General, Opinion No. 09-87, “Allocation of Emergency Communications Fund; “Safelink” Program, May 18, 2009. Available at:http://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/op/2009/op/op87.pdf

[6] State of Rhode Island, Department of the Attorney General, letter to House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, October 12, 2012. Available at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxeciyBfSNSATVh3dnNzbktJNEZrQUlLRlhIeFBvWTRjSkcw/edit

[7] See: http://al911board.com/article/9-1-1-Rate-Change-effective-August-1-2014

Governor Urged to Overrule One of the Highest Wireless E-911 Phone Tax in U.S.; Conservative and Consumer Groups Unite to Warn of Danger of “Unaccountable” State Board’s Actions.

MONTGOMERY, AL. – July 22, 2014 – A diverse group of seven in-state and national organizations – including the Community Action Association of Alabama and the North Alabama Patriots Tea Party – today urged Governor Robert Bentley to overrule the “unelected and unaccountable” Alabama 911 Board’s imposition of what appears to be among the worst phone taxes of its kind in the nation. A major concern: For the first time, the increased E-911 phone tax targets the poorest of Alabama’s poor participating in the federal wireless Lifeline program.

The two Alabama groups were joined by the Alliance for Generational Equity, Consumer Action, Community Action Partnership, National Consumers League, and The National Grange. The joint letter is available online at http://bit.ly/ALphonetax.

Set to go into effect on August 1, 2014, the Alabama 911 Board hiked the monthly E-911 tax imposed on telephone subscribers in Alabama from the current $1.60 to $1.75 per month — one of the highest wireless E-911 taxes of any state. For the first time, the state’s E-911 charge will be extended to federal ‘no-charge’ Lifeline Wireless program participants, amounting to an exorbitant 19 percent tax on the very Alabama residents who, by definition, are least able to afford it. In less than a year, the Alabama 911 Board, which is appointed by Governor Bentley, has increased the E-911 tax by an astounding 150 percent. By comparison, Florida Governor Rick Scott just signed into law a reduction in the E-911 tax rate from $.50 to $.40 per month.

In the letter, the groups write: “We … oppose unfair taxation [and also] speak for Alabama’s seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and low-income residents. Today, we have taken the extraordinary step of joining together to urge you to direct Alabama’s 911 Board to repeal its unfair and prohibitively expensive Emergency 911 (E-911) tax on participants in the federal ‘no-charge” wireless Lifeline program. Alabama’s E-911 Board has gone where no other state has seen fit to go before: It has for no valid public policy reason imposed a punitive phone tax targeting the poorest of its poor residents who receive wireless Lifeline telephone service at no cost. This move should be overruled by your office as soon as possible … Think about what this means in practical terms: A low-income person who used a Lifeline wireless phone to get or keep a job – possibly even to migrate off social services – is now being actively discouraged by the state of Alabama from doing so.”

Other highlights of the letter include the following:

“It is even more troubling that Alabama’s poorest residents are required to pay one of the highest wireless E-911 taxes in the country. We believe that Lifeline customers who receive support, landline or wireless at no cost, should not be required to pay E-911 fees.”

“While we fully support the critical work of Alabama’s emergency first responders, funding for such services should not come on the backs of its neediest residents. Our diverse coalition of state and national organizations stands united in opposition to Alabama’s excessive and unfair E-911 tax on no cost Lifeline participants, and strongly advocate that no other state follow in the footsteps of such misguided policy. We urge you and leaders in Alabama’s state legislature to direct members of Alabama’s 911 Board not to impose the nation’s highest wireless E-911 tax on federal wireless Lifeline benefits. This will protect Alabama households from excessive taxation and remove an unjust burden on the state’s poorest residents.”

MEDIA CONTACTS: Will Harwood, (703) 276-3255 or wharwood@hastingsgroup.com.