Nevada News Briefs
December 3, 2013
Farmers: We'd be thankful with a new Farm Bill
RENO — Nevada's agricultural community would probably be a lot more thankful this holiday season if Congress would pass a new Farm Bill. Zach Allen, communications director, Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers throughout the state are feeling a great sense of uncertainty. He said no Farm Bill means crop insurance and other government programs are in jeopardy, causing economic doubts for farmers – and for banks that lend them money. The Farm Bill delay is also delaying insurance payments for crops lost to this year's drought, he said.
"You had the Farm Bill down and then also, with the shutdown of government, it's put everything behind in terms of getting stuff settled, insurance-wise," he explained.
A major cause of congressional delay on this issue is the ongoing battle over cutting billions of dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Food Stamps. The Senate has approved $4 billion in SNAP cuts, while the House approved trimming $40 billion from the program. The two sides have been trying to work out a compromise number.
Agriculture contributes more than $5 billion a year to Nevada's economy, Allen said. It is the state's third biggest money-maker, behind gaming and mining. The Farm Bill delay is hurting the Silver State and much of the nation's economy, he warned.
"The Farm Bill supports the nation's farmers, ranchers, forestry, food security and rural communities," he said, "and it has a huge impact toward the farmers and also the supply chain that is involved with agriculture."
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Alfalfa, beef and dairy make up the biggest sectors of Nevada's farm economy, Allen said.
Congress: Rolling back
home buyers' protections?
LAS VEGAS — This year, many Nevada homeowners are thankful for signs of a recovering housing market and new rules limiting uncontrolled fees linked to the mortgage meltdown.
But legislation in Congress would roll back some consumer protections, making it more costly for Nevada homebuyers.
Gary Kalman, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending, says the new rules are working to ensure that banks don't issue mortgages to borrowers who aren't capable of repaying.
But the legislation, known as the Mortgage Choice Act, would undermine what Kalman considers a fair and balanced compromise.
"There are many lenders and even banking trade associations that said they can live with the rule as is," he explains. "There's just certain players that are trying to squeeze out every last dollar from a borrower that they can.
Current policies scheduled to go into effect Jan. 10 would cap points and fees for mortgages at 3 percent of the total loan amount.
Backers of the Mortgage Choice Act argue the current regulations are too stringent and changes are needed to clarify the definitions of points and fees.
If the Mortgage Choice Act passes, the 3 percent cap on fees set to go into effect in January goes away.
Kevin Whelan, campaign director of the Home Defenders League, says the cap ensures lender profitability without hidden fees that drive up home-buying costs.
He says families are still hurting from previous lending practices that weren't supposed to continue.
"And I've seen home ownership and community well-being stripped from families by the deliberate campaign of predatory and deceptive lending by the big banks," he says, "and by people that were working in collaboration or collusion with big banks."
Kalman says there is nothing in the legislation that would benefit homebuyers. In fact, he believes new policies are needed to ensure the housing market – which is key for the entire economy – recovers for individual home owners, not just banks or private investors.
"The housing market is a $10 trillion market," he says. "Stability, certainty is what the lenders are going to need in order to make sure that the market continues to grow."
Program helps students
with disabilities get jobs
RENO — Young people with disabilities in the Reno area are gaining job skills through a first-of-its kind program in the Silver State. Vocational Opportunities for Inclusive Career Education (VOICE) helps students with resumes, portfolios, job interviews and other skills.
Kelly Wales, Student Support Services coordinator, Washoe County School District, developed the program. She said the students spend much of their school day in a work environment.
"They are working in businesses; they're job shadowing and job training in things that interest them and then give them the skills to be prepared for competitive employment in the future," Wales explained.
VOICE currently has more than 30 students ages 18 to 22 who have all graduated from high school or earned a GED. They live with an intellectual or physical disability, she said.
Several students from the program already are working at jobs in the child-care industry, at a grocery store or for a juice manufacturer. Wales said the employers involved seem very pleased with the students.
"They say, 'This is the best employee I have ever had. They are on time, they are here every day, they rarely call in sick, they have a tremendous attitude,'" Wales said.
Educators in the Las Vegas area and elsewhere in Nevada are interested in developing a VOICE-style program, she added.
Report: Child deaths in Clark County continue decline
LAS VEGAS — Child deaths in Clark County dropped 29 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to an annual report by the Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy.
The numbers are down from 311 in 2008 to 222 last year.
Tara Phebus, executive director at the Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy at UNLV, says with 66 accidental deaths last year, accidents remain the leading cause of preventable child death.
"Motor vehicle accidents, drowning incidents, accidental suffocations – those are what makes up that 66 number," she explains.
In addition to accidental deaths, the report shows that 127 children died from natural causes in 2012, and the others were homicide, suicide or undetermined causes.
Phebus credits the reduction in child deaths to greater focus on child safety education over the past few years. She says a lot of it comes down to parents keeping a close eye on their kids.
"Overall in terms of injury prevention with kids is really just ensuring that appropriate and adequate adult supervision," she stresses. "Some of these things really could be prevented by that."
The report recommends continued educational outreach centered on safe sleep environments for infants, motor vehicle and pedestrian safety and substance abuse prevention among young adults.