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1 million could lose food stamps in 21 states, including Wisconsin

More than 1 million low-income residents in 21 states could soon lose their government food stamps if they fail to meet work requirements that began kicking in this month.

The rule change in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was triggered by the improving economy – specifically, falling unemployment. But it is raising concerns among the poor, social service providers and food pantry workers, who fear an influx of hungry people.

Recent experience in other states indicates that most of those affected will probably not meet the work requirements and will be cut off from food stamps.

For many people, “it means less food, less adequate nutrition. And over the span of time, that can certainly have an impact on health – and the health care system,” said Dave Krepcho, president and chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Advocates say some adults trying to find work face a host of obstacles, including criminal records, disabilities or lack of a driver’s license.

The work-for-food requirements were first enacted under the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton and sponsored by then-Rep. John Kasich, who is now Ohio’s governor and a Republican candidate for president.

The provision applies to able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 who have no children or other dependents in their home. It requires them to work, volunteer or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month to receive food aid. If they don’t, their benefits are cut off after three months.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture can waive those work rules, either for entire states or certain counties and communities, when unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. Nearly every state was granted a waiver during the recession that began in 2008. But statewide waivers ended this month in at least 21 states, the largest group since the recession.

An Associated Press analysis of food aid figures shows that nearly 1.1 million adults stand to lose their benefits in those 21 states if they do not get a job or an exemption. That includes about 300,000 in Florida, 150,000 in Tennessee and 110,000 in North Carolina. The three states account for such a big share because they did not seek any further waivers for local communities.

In Tennessee, Terry Work said her 27-year-old deaf son recently was denied disability payments, meaning he is considered able-bodied. And that means he stands to lose his food stamps, even though she said her son has trouble keeping a job because of his deafness.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of people in the county hurt by this,” said Work, founder of Helping Hands of Hickman County, a social service agency in a community about an hour west of Nashville.

Nationwide, some 4.7 million food stamp recipients are deemed able-bodied adults without dependents, according to USDA. Only 1 in 4 has any income from a job. They receive an average of $164 a month from the program.

In states that already have implemented the work requirements, many recipients have ended up losing their benefits.

Wisconsin began phasing in work requirements last spring. Of the 22,500 able-bodied adults who became subject to the change between April and June, two-thirds were dropped from the rolls three months later for failing to meet the requirements.

Some states could have applied for partial waivers but chose not to do so.

North Carolina’s Republican-led government enacted a law last fall accelerating implementation of the work requirements and barring the state from seeking waivers unless there is a natural disaster. State Sen. Ralph Hise said the state was doing a disservice to the unemployed by providing them long-term food aid.

“People are developing gaps on their resumes, and it’s actually making it harder for individuals to ultimately find employment,” said Hise, a Republican who represents a rural part of western North Carolina.

In Missouri, the GOP-led Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to enact a law barring the state from waiving work requirements until at least 2019. The three-month clock started ticking Jan. 1 for 60,000 people in Missouri, where unemployment is down to just 4.4 percent.

“We were seeing a lot of people who were receiving food stamps who weren’t even trying to get a job,” said the law’s sponsor, Sen. David Sater, a Republican whose Missouri district includes the tourist destination of Branson. “I know in my area you can find a temporary job for 20 hours (a week) fairly easily. It just didn’t seem right to me to have somebody doing nothing and receiving food stamps.”

Others say it’s not that simple to find work, even with an improving economy.

Joe Heflin, 33, of Jefferson City, said he has been receiving food stamps for more than five years, since an injury ended his steady job as an iron worker and led to mental illness during his recovery. He said he gets nearly $200 a month in food stamps and has no other income. Heflin was recently notified that his food stamps could end if he doesn’t get a job or a disability exemption.

“I think it’s a crummy deal,” Heflin said while waiting in line at a food pantry. “I think they ought to look into individuals more, or at least hear them out. … I depend on it, you know, to eat.”

Policymakers often “don’t realize a lot of the struggles those individuals are dealing with,” said Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Some are dealing with trauma from military service or exposure to violence and abuse, Chilton said. Others have recently gotten out of prison, making employers hesitant to hire them. Some adults who are considered able-bodied nonetheless have physical or mental problems.

A study of 4,145 food stamp recipients in Franklin County, Ohio, who became subject to work requirements between December 2013 and February 2015 found that more than 30 percent said they had physical or mental limitations that affected their ability to work. A similar percentage had no high school diploma or equivalency degree. And 61 percent lacked a driver’s license.

“There should have been more thought on how we look at employment and not thinking that people are sitting there, getting food stamps because they are lazy and don’t want to work,” said Octavia Rainey, a community activist in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Some states have programs to help food stamp recipients improve their job skills. Elsewhere, it’s up to individuals to find programs run by nonprofit groups or by other state agencies. Sometimes, that can be daunting.

Rainey said people who received letters informing them they could lose their food stamps sometimes were placed on hold when they called for more information – a problem for those using prepaid calling cards. And in Florida, food aid recipients received letters directing them to a state website for information.

“A lot of these folks, they don’t have computers, they don’t have broadband access,” said Krepcho, the Central Florida food bank executive. “That’s ripe for people falling off the rolls.”

State of Indiana paid $1.4 million in fees to fight gay marriage

The Indiana attorney general’s office says the state had to pay more than $1.4 million in fees to plaintiffs’ attorneys in its unsuccessful attempt to maintain its ban on same-sex marriages.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana in October, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to let stand two federal court rulings that said the state’s ban and refusal to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere was unconstitutional.

That resolved the five lawsuits in favor of the plaintiffs, leaving the state to foot the legal bills.

The Indianapolis Star reports the most costly case at $650,000 involved Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, a Munster couple who fought to have their marriage recognized as Quasney was dying of cancer. That became the lead case in Indiana on same-sex marriage.

‘Ferris Bueller’ glass house sells for $1.06M

The Chicago-area home where Ferris Bueller’s friend Cameron famously “killed” his father’s prized Ferrari finally has a new owner.

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the modernist home in Highland Park sold for $1.06 million.

Craig Hogan is regional director at Coldwell Banker Previews. He wouldn’t say who bought the four-bedroom, steel-and-glass house built on the edge of a wooded ravine.

The house, built in 1953 by Mies van der Rohe-protege A. James Speyer, was first put on the market in 2009 listed at $2.3 million.

The sleek house was featured in John Hughes’ 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as the home of Cameron Frye, played by Alan Ruck. After the Ferrari crashes through the glass into the ravine, Ferris tells Cameron: “You killed the car.”

Former beauty queen must pay Miss USA pageant $5 million for defamation

A federal judge in New York has upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that a Pennsylvania beauty queen must pay the Miss USA pageant $5 million for defaming Donald Trump’s pageant organization.

Sheena Monnin resigned as Miss Pennsylvania last year, saying the Miss USA contest was rigged. She claimed another contestant learned the names of the top five finishers hours before the show was broadcast. Monnin said she decided to turn in her crown as soon as those same contestants were named during the show.

She posted a series of messages on Facebook and spoke publicly about her claims. Trump’s Miss Universe Organization sued Monnin for defamation and an arbitrator ruled against her in December. The arbitrator said Monnin’s allegations cost the pageant a $5 million fee from a potential 2013 sponsor.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken upheld the arbitrator’s decision. Monnin had sought to have it overturned based on three grounds: the arbitrator overstepped his authority, his decision disregarded law, and she didn’t know the arbitration hearing was taking place. The judge disagreed.

Monnin, of Cranberry, Pa., said in a Facebook post that she is glad the truth is out there, regardless of the outcome.

“This is not about me being a `sore loser’ or wanting my `15 minutes of fame'” she wrote. “This is about the MUO’s admission under oath that they manipulate the judges’ results to suit their own ends. This is not what they advertise to the public.”

Pageant organizers claimed Monnin resigned because she disagreed with a decision to allow transgender contestants. They made public text from an email they said Monnin sent citing the decision to allow natural-born males into the competition as the reason for her resignation. A transgender contestant was initially denied entry to the Miss Universe Canada pageant because she wasn’t born female, but Trump overruled that decision.

Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island won the Miss USA pageant that year.

Monnin wrote on Facebook page that her legal fees amount to more than $50,000 and she needed financial support, including a link for donations.

Trump’s lawyer said he applauded the judge’s decision but was surprised Monnin stood by her story.

“I’m shocked to see that she has yet to learn her lesson. I thought she would be smarter the second time around,” attorney Michael Cohen said.

Tax Day study: U.S. has largest pay gap in world

The new executive pay watch, prepared by the AFL-CIO, was released on Tax Day and shows that the world’s largest pay gap exists in the United States, where CEOsof the largest companies made 354 times the average income of the average rank-and-file worker.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said the pay gap is by far the widest in the world. In 2012, CEOs received on average $12.3 million while the average rank-and-file worker took home around $34,645, according to Trumka, who said the new data confirms CEO-to-worker pay disparities have increased dramatically over the past several decades.

Thirty years ago, CEOs were paid 42 times that of rank-and-file workers in the U.S.

For Wisconsin, the AFL-CIO survey shows:

• The average CEO pay was $4,907,639 in 2012.

• Average worker pay in 2012 in Wisconsin was $38,869.

The union’s Executive PayWatch is the most comprehensive searchable online database that tracks CEO pay at S&P 500 companies.

In addition to the new data, Trumka said PayWatch explores how CEO-backed groups such as the Business Roundtable and Fix the Debt are “drumming up a deficit scare to conceal their efforts to get more tax cuts for corporations, while hacking at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for working people.”

Trumka said, “American chief executives continued to do very well for themselves last year, while workers struggle to make ends meet. We are calling out the hypocrisy of rich CEOs who have the gall to ask for corporate tax cuts to be paid for by squeezing the retirement security of working America. The American public deserves to know the truth about their self-serving agenda.”

Closing a corporate tax loophole that allows U.S. multinational companies to avoid taxation on overseas profits would raise $42 billion in new revenue in 2013 alone, according to the AFL-CIO.

PayWatch also contains a Mutual Fund Votes Survey, which examines votes cast by the largest mutual fund families regarding CEO pay to help investors compare how mutual fund families voted on compensation issues, and a map that allows users to compare and contrast CEO pay ratios of top executives.

On the Web…

http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/CEO-Pay-and-You

House Republicans spend $1.5 million to defend anti-gay law

The U.S. House’s top two Democrats are criticizing congressional Republicans for spending nearly $1.5 million over the past 15 months to defend the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer say House Speaker John Boehner is wasting taxpayer money in defending the 1996 law.

The law signed by President Bill Clinton denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize such marriages.

President Barack Obama announced last year that the Justice Department would no longer defend the constitutionality of the law.

After that, Boehner convened the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend it.

Several federal courts this year have ruled against the law, which likely will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court this term.

Gay rights group donates $1 million to ballot campaigns

The country’s leading gay rights group is donating $1 million to campaigns in four states where gay marriage is on the ballot this fall.

The Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign is donating $250,000 apiece to allies in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. It brings the group’s total spending on the issue this year to nearly $5 million.

Voters in Maine are voting on whether to legalize gay marriage. In Minnesota, the vote is whether to ban gay marriage in the state constitution. In Maryland and Washington, voters will decide whether to uphold laws authorizing gay marriage passed earlier this year.

Polls have shown increasing support for gay marriage around the country, but so far backers have not been able to translate that into a ballot box win.

“This is a tipping point year in the fight for marriage equality that requires significant investment,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “We are committed to making sure this is the year that our opponents can no longer claim Americans will not support marriage equality at the ballot box.”

HRC has established a special ballot measure PAC to aid funding of all four states.

“Bans on marriage for same-sex couples have sent the devastating message to young people that they cannot grow up to live their dreams and be full and equal citizens,” said Griffin. “This is the year we will change that.”

Gay marriage generates $259 million for NYC

Officials estimate gay marriage has had an economic impact of $259 million on New York City in the past year.

The figure was issued this week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

One year ago, New York became the largest state to legalize gay marriage.

Officials say at least 8,200 same-sex marriage licenses have been issued. That accounts for more than 10 percent of the 75,000 marriage licenses issued in the city since July 24, 2011.

The economic estimate came from 1,700 straight and gay couples who were surveyed about wedding expenditures.

The city’s tourism agency used their responses to estimate the total economic impact per wedding.

The $259 million includes the approximate amount that each wedding guest would spend at the city’s restaurants and hotels.

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New social network targets gay men

Fabulis, an online social network for gay men, is getting a new name, new features, and significant new funding.

The new name is Fab and the company that runs it recently raised $1.75 million in new funding. Investors include the initial backer, the Washington Post Co.

The new funding is in addition to an earlier $1.25 million in angel financing.

The social network claims to have 112,000 members. New features include an index of gay-friendly places with accompanying rankings, reviews, tips and photo uploads, complementing the site’s interactive profiles and database of gay-relevant events.

Fab.com also offers an iPhone app, which includes the ability to check in, identify your current location, rate places, name the people you’re with, upload images and more.

The company was founded earlier this year by Jason Goldberg, the former CEO of Jobster who started Socialmedian. Goldberg says Fab is adding 5,000 new users a week and that he has been “thrilled” by the reception so far.

The startup says 40 percent of its members log in at least 10 times per month, while 25 percent visit more than 50 times per month.

WiG tried the site but was unable to gain access, even going through Facebook as required.