Category Archives: Opinion

View Point – Federal Crop Insurance – July 29, 2015

Federal Crop Insurance Gets Failing Grade

By John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we’ve heard from farmers across the Midwest and Great Plains about the negative impacts of federally subsidized crop insurance for over a decade. A farm safety net is important to help family farmers mitigate risks, but there are real concerns with the current crop insurance program. The best way to begin addressing those concerns is through honest assessment of the crop insurance system.
Toward that end, the Center for Rural Affairs recently released a crop insurance report card, entitled: Promises vs. Performance: A Report Card Evaluating Federal Crop Insurance. Most of the grades awarded are not what parents would hope to see on their own child’s school report, and the accompanying Policy Brief offers further analysis and recommended reforms to improve the performance of the crop insurance system. In overall performance, crop insurance received a failing grade (www.cfra.org/crop-insurance-reform).
Subsidizing the nation’s largest and wealthiest farms on every acre, every year, regardless of crop prices, production or farm profitability, puts America’s natural resources at risk. And, absent reform, crop insurance gives mega-farms an advantage in bidding up land costs, driving their smaller neighbors out of business, and preventing the next generation of farmers from ever getting started.
The impact crop insurance will have on future years of farming practices is significant, making reform of the federally subsidized crop insurance system vitally important to the future of rural and small town America.

Healthy Conversations – July 29, 2015

Incorporating Healthy Activities Into Your Vacation Plans

It’s summer time and that means vacation is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Just because you’re taking a break doesn’t mean you should take a break from being healthy. As you gather items to pack your suitcase, don’t forget to pack clothing and shoes to get in some exercise during your time away.
There are plenty of ways to keep up a healthy lifestyle while still enjoying your time off. For starters, be realistic. There’s a good chance that you will break from your normal routine while on vacation. Set obtainable goals and find alternate ways to stay healthy as you enjoy vacation.
Fit in casual physical activity – The change of scenery can give you added motivation to explore — and burn some calories in the process! Moving naturally throughout the day can be just as good for you as a run or workout. Walking on the beach burns more calories than walking on pavement. Swimming is a low-impact activity and great workout for those near the water. Skip the cab – biking to and from destinations is an easy way to soak in the surroundings and fit in a little exercise.
Have a glass of wine – According to a study at the University of Alberta, consuming a glass of red wine has the same physical performance, heart function and muscle strength benefits as working out for an hour at the gym. Two four ounce glasses are recommended for men and one for women. Enjoy the heart healthy benefits of wine responsibly. Consume more than the recommended amount and the health benefits are lost.
Relax – Vacation is vacation, so let the stressors float away. According to the Mayo Clinic, if left unchecked, stress can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Read a book or sit and watch the sunset. Taking time away from your work is important. Shut off the phone, wait on the emails and live in the moment.
Regular exercise has been shown to help control weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. It’s also a natural antidepressant and can help you generally feel better. In order to reap those rewards, you need to develop good habits at home and take them with you anywhere you go, including vacation.
Have a creative way to add exercise and healthy activities into your vacation routine? Visit Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s social network, MyBlue Community on Wellmark.com, and share your ideas with other Wellmark members. It’s full of real people having real conversations. People with similar questions, interests, ideas and challenges — all helping each other.

Practical Money Matters – July 29, 2015

By Nathaniel Sillin

Make Sure Your Freshman Gets a Money-Smart College Start

Does your college-bound freshman know how to handle money at school?
Campus life can test even the most disciplined young adults on money matters. In the final weeks before you help your student pack up for the dorm, it’s a good time to pack in some money lessons as well.
Start with what college will cost. On average, the Class of 2015 graduated with a little over $35,000 in student loan debt, according to Edvisors (http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/05/08/congratulations-class-of-2015-youre-the-most-indebted-ever-for-now/). Depending on your financial situation and how you’ve planned for your child’s college education, start with an overview of how your student’s college costs will impact your finances now and after graduation.
If your child will be paying off personal or student loans once they graduate, discuss how that reality should define financial choices throughout college. That doesn’t mean saving every penny and having no fun at all, but such a talk should reinforce how handling money intelligently, setting priorities and getting a jump on savings can position your child for a much stronger financial start upon graduation.
Train them to budget. If your child hasn’t learned budgeting skills (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting), it’s time for a crash course. Budgeting is the first essential skill in personal finance. Teaching children to budget now gives them a head start on dealing with post-graduation debt or long-term goals like affording a home or car. Because teens often live their lives on smartphones, familiarize yourself with the growing range of budgeting apps (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/04/27/budgeting-apps-affect-spending-habits/26190991/) to keep their money management on course.
Talk through on-campus banking and credit needs. Many parents start their kids with custodial savings and checking accounts at their local bank when they are younger. If your bank has branches in the teen’s college town, that relationship can easily continue. Responsible credit card use is also wise to start in college. Keep in mind that The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (or Credit CARD) Act of 2009 requires that anyone under 21 without independent income have a co-signer to qualify for a card. As such, you’ll be able to keep track of your child’s credit use. However, if they default, you’ll be on the hook – so monitor your child’s bank and credit relationships closely until you agree they’re ready to manage them on their own.
Cover credit monitoring and identity theft. With smarter online thieves emerging every day, your child is at risk of identity theft from the minute he or she is assigned a Social Security number. While most teens generally don’t have a credit report until they start earning a paycheck at age 16, be on the lookout for fraudulent activity earlier (http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0040-child-identity-theft) and make sure they get in the habit of ordering the three free credit reports (https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action) they are entitled to each year. Throughout college, consider sitting down with children so you can review their annual credit reports together.
Bottom line: There’s plenty to do in the final weeks before your kids leave for college. Don’t forget to reinforce important money lessons before they go.

Simply Put – July 29, 2015

By Mike Whittlesey

Last week’s RAGBRAI visit to La Porte City can only be described as a valiant effort that came up short. I’m referring, of course, to pie. On Thursday, July 23rd, the community learned first-hand that the voracious (and legendary) appetite RAGBRAI riders have for pie is a well-deserved one, indeed. The 1,500+ slices of pie prepared by the American Lutheran Church were gone by 1 PM. More than 1,000 fry pies offered at the Amish Family Foods booth were happily devoured before the day was done. And that’s not counting the pie for sale at the Sacred Heart and St. Paul United Methodist church booths.
While the effort to meet the pie demand may have disappointed some of the late-arriving guests making the ride from Cedar Falls to Hiawatha, clearly the effort to show riders and their support personnel a good time in La Porte City did not. The combination of near-perfect weather and local citizens highly motivated to offer a healthy dose of LPC hospitality to riders coming to Iowa from all around the world had many offering words of thanks to bystanders as they pedaled out of town.
If there is one word that can sum up the RAGBRAI experience, it is TEAMWORK. Many riders make the journey accross the state as part of a team, and the creative names and uniforms they display are an important part of the RAGBRAI culture, each with its own unique story to tell.
The sense of collegiality shared among riders on the daunting 462 mile journey from Sioux City to Davenport was clearly evident on the streets of La Porte City, as cyclists used commands such as “rider on!” and “rider off!” to express their intentions to those riding around them. When potentially dangerous obstacles along the road were encountered, riders were also quick to warn those behind them with a shout and pointing of the arm at the offending terrain.
The safety of participants is clearly the number one concern for RAGBRAI organizers. That accidents along the way become newsworthy events is a tribute to just how few serious injuries are incurred over the course of the ride, a remarkable feat considering how many moving parts there are making the trip across the state.
Hosting the world’s largest bike ride for the first time in 32 years, teamwork was essential for those planning La Porte City’s role as a pass-through community along the 2015 RAGBRAI route. Over the five month process of planning for “Ride LPC 7-23,” the steering committee held fast to its commitment to closely adhere to the guidelines and recommendations established by RAGBRAI organizers. The end result affirmed those efforts, as Main Street vendors enjoyed a tremendously successful day serving riders who thoroughly enjoyed the time they spent in La Porte City.
Given the feedback from riders in 2015, La Porte City will not have to wait another 30+ years to receive another invitation to host RAGBRAI. Taking what has been learned from this year’s experience, the goal will be to make the next one even better. That’s a lot of pie!

Practical Money Matters – July 22, 2015

by Nathaniel Sillin

Making Summer More Energy Efficient

It’s expected to be a hotter summer this year, but don’t confine your money-saving efforts to the thermostat.
The warm months can be the best time to focus on cutting year-round energy costs (http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/electricity.cfm). Free of snow, ice and wind, it’s easier to spot problems, do repairs and budget for energy-efficient appliances and fix-up projects that can save considerable money in the future.
Your first step should be better tracking and analysis of the energy you buy. The most common sources of energy spending are home utilities and fuel costs for vehicles. However, if you own a vacation home, operate a business within your residential space or have different vehicles for land or water, see if you can separate those numbers so you can more clearly identify usage patterns month to month and find ways to cut back.
Think about an energy audit. Whether you do it yourself or pay for the services of a certified professional summer is the best time to do a basement-to-rooftop energy audit (http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/professional-home-energy-audits). Some utility companies have home energy audits online so you can see where your energy is going. Prospective homeowners might make an energy audit part of their home inspection process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2014, the average American spent 60 percent of their energy dollars heating rooms and water. Another 16 percent goes to lighting, cooling and food refrigeration. The remainder, nearly a quarter of total home energy uses, covers all miscellaneous energy use in the house.
Then focus on the thermostat. In the summer, confine heavy air conditioning use to the hottest nights, and the rest of the time, try to set the thermostat a little higher than you do now. For example, the U.S. Energy Department says that setting your air conditioning to 78 degrees instead of 72 can save between 6-18 percent on your summer cooling bill. Before you spend money on a programmable thermostat or convert your real-time utility billing to a budget plan, note that some research questions their value (https://today.duke.edu/2015/04/autopay). First, see how much you can save by shutting off vents and doors and drawing curtains in unused rooms and spaces. If you don’t have pets, you may consider setting your thermostat significantly higher than 78 before you leave for work.
Lights out. We’ve all been admonished to turn off the lights when we leave a room, but there are other things we can do to capture random, or “vampire,” energy waste. Sensors, dimmers and timers can reduce lighting use, and installing power strips can keep computers, microwaves, cable boxes, DVRs and high-end TV sets from sucking energy even when they’re not turned on. Unplugging between uses works too.
Check for tax credits and rebates. Make a call to your tax professional, check the Internal Revenue Service’s website (http://www.irs.gov/uac/Form-5695,-Residential-Energy-Credits) and EnergyStar.gov for news on residential energy credits for specific replacement appliances and energy-saving improvements to your home. Keep in mind that Congress traditionally acts late each year to renew old credits or to approve new ones.
Consider energy-smart landscaping. Keep in mind that well-placed trees and shrubs can shield a home from the sun and the elements year-round and potentially save 25 percent on energy costs annually.
Cars, gas, and public transportation. If you drive, consolidate errands, fill up your tank at cheaper times and consider smartphone apps to find low gas prices for commuting and vacation use. And if you don’t regularly use public transportation, start testing it during the summer. The additional walking most people do when they take public transportation has health benefits as well.
Bottom line: This summer, don’t just try to keep cool. Save money by changing your year-round energy behavior.