Business & Economy
Minnesota to return federal share of health care plan payment PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Grassley Press   
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 12:59

Sen. Chuck Grassley has been investigating the state of Minnesota’s receipt of a $30 million payment from a Medicaid contractor, a health care plan called UCare.  State officials repeatedly characterized the payment as a “donation” and according to internal emails, took pains to avoid repaying any of the $30 million to the federal taxpayers.  Since Medicaid is a state-federal program, any refund must be divided between the state and federal governments.  Today, state officials notified the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that the state of Minnesota has agreed to return the federal government’s share of the $30 million payment.  A U.S. House hearing on Wednesday will explore the situation, and Grassley is scheduled to testify.  Grassley made the following comment on today’s development.

“Key state officials portrayed the UCare payment as a bona fide donation unrelated to Medicaid payments and schemed to keep 100 percent of the money.  These officials failed to disclose to my office all correspondence with CMS, including CMS’ concern about the donation characterization in a July 2011 letter.  State officials have suggested that CMS knew about the payment and did nothing.  Now, the state officials are giving back the federal share of the $30 million payment, even though they continue to say the payment was a donation.  If the payment was a donation, why return the money?  This isn’t the end of my investigation.  Minnesota needs to answer for its actions on the UCare payment.  And the state clearly has structural problems with its Medicaid payments that need examination.  If a state is gaming the federal government to get more out of Medicaid, the state is gaming taxpayers nationwide and ultimately hurting the people who need Medicaid.  Congress needs to make sure this situation isn’t duplicated elsewhere.”


 
Grassley, Thune Seek Answers on Federal Loan to Luxury Car Maker PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Grassley Press   
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 12:37

Monday, April 23, 2012

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. John Thune are asking the Energy Department to explain the selection of a luxury automaker – now described as “troubled” -- for a $529 million federal loan for advanced technology vehicles manufacturing.  The federal government made part of the loan to the Fisker Automotive Corporation, then froze the remaining portion, raising questions about whether the company was vetted properly in the first place.

“The government is responsible for minimizing risk to taxpayers,” Grassley said.  “It’s important to know what went into the Energy Department’s decision to fund the production of expensive luxury vehicles.   The riskiness of loans to companies that may or may not be able to pay them back deserves scrutiny.  The taxpayers can’t and shouldn’t have to subsidize these decisions.”

“There seems to be a troubling pattern developing at the Department of Energy when it comes to providing taxpayer-backed government loans to private companies,” Thune said. “Taxpayers have a right to know why their hard-earned money was used in part to back the production of luxury automobiles overseas, especially in a manner that might not have undergone proper review. I hope Secretary Chu will provide Congress with answers about why this loan was granted and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not at risk.”

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required the creation of a direct loan program from the federal government to car companies through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive program.   Fisker’s two planned vehicles would sell for more than $100,000 and about $50,000.  The high retail prices seem to indicate the vehicles would be out of reach for most Americans, thereby seeming like a questionable choice of investment for a federal program.  Also, the senators questioned whether the company’s vehicle production in Finland diminishes the goal of developing advanced vehicle technology to create jobs in the United States.

The text of the Grassley-Thune letter to Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is available here.

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Governor Quinn Proposes Bold Plan to Stabilize the Public Pension System PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Leslie Wertheimer   
Friday, 20 April 2012 15:26

Plan Eliminates Unfunded Liability by 2042;

Changes Will Save Taxpayers Billions

 

CHICAGO – April 20, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today announced a bold plan that secures public workers’ retirement while fixing the state’s pension problem that has been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement. The proposal is expected to save taxpayers $65 to $85 billion based on current actuarial assumptions. The changes will lead to greater certainty in Illinois’ business climate, respond to concerns from ratings’ agencies regarding the state’s unfunded pension liability and support the continuation of the state’s capital plan that is putting hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents back to work. The Governor’s proposal follows weeks of discussion by the Governor’s pension working group.

 

“Unsustainable pension costs are squeezing core programs in education, public safety and human services, in addition to limiting our ability to pay our bills,” Governor Quinn said. “This plan rescues our pension system and allows public employees who have faithfully contributed to the system to continue to receive pension benefits. I urge the General Assembly to move forward with this plan, which will bring a new era of fiscal responsibility and stability to Illinois.”

 

Illinois’ pension system is now under-funded by $83 billion due to decades of inadequate funding by past lawmakers and governors, and the promise of increased benefits without sufficient revenue to pay for those benefits.   Under Governor Quinn, as annual required contributions increased dramatically, the state paid exactly what the law required into the pension systems. The fiscal year 2013 payment, $5.2 billion, now makes up 15% of general revenue fund spending compared to 6% a few years ago.

 

The Governor’s proposal provides for 100% funding for pension systems by 2042 and makes the following changes to the current plan:

 

·         3% increase in employee contributions

·         Reduce COLA (cost of living adjustment) to lesser of 3% or ½ of CPI, simple interest

·         Delay COLA to earlier of age 67 or 5 years after retirement

·         Increase retirement age to 67 (to be phased in over several years)

·         Establish 30-year closed ARC (actuarially required contribution) funding schedule

·         Public sector pensions limited to public sector employment

 

In consideration for the changes above, employee pay increases will continue to be counted in the calculation of their pension and employees will receive a subsidy for their health care in retirement. The state can no longer provide current levels of both pensions and retiree healthcare to employees upon retirement.  Currently 90% of retired state employees pay nothing for their healthcare costs.  States comparable to Illinois in size and demographics provide little to no assistance for retiree healthcare costs.

The Governor’s plan also calls for phasing-in the responsibility for paying normal costs of pensions to each employer, including school districts, community colleges and public universities.

 

This plan reflects the discussions of the working group.  The working group continues to work in an effort to find full consensus on all elements of the proposal. Members of the pension working group include Sen. Mike Noland, Sen. Bill Brady, Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Rep. Darlene Senger.

 

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Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Visits Iowa Company to Promote Job Creation Through the Manufacturing of Biobased Products PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by USDA Communications   
Friday, 20 April 2012 15:20

DES MOINES, Iowa, April 20, 2012 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today toured a Midwest facility that is using plant-based materials to manufacture ingredients used in dietary supplements and in personal care products for Americans, as well as in agriculture. Kemin is working to add six new manufacturing facilities, three new research facilities and a new corporate headquarters building, creating nearly 100 new jobs. This is an example of how manufacturing products from biobased materials is creating jobs across the country and—coupled with a broader Obama administration effort to promote an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy"—is reducing our reliance on foreign oil.

"Promoting production of biofuels and embracing biobased products have helped reduce dependence on foreign oil to less than 50 percent and will continue to help reduce our reliance for years to come," said Vilsack. "Innovative companies like Kemin are part of a broader biobased economy that supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs producing the energy and goods that the world needs from renewable resources grown here at home. If we are able to produce more energy here at home and build a manufacturing economy producing biobased goods, we'll generate middle-class jobs and strengthen our economy in the long run."

Creating new markets for the nation's agricultural products through biobased manufacturing is one of the many steps the Administration has taken over the past three years to strengthen the rural economy. Since August 2011, the White House Rural Council has supported a broad spectrum of rural initiatives including a Presidential Memorandum to create jobs in rural America through biobased and sustainable product procurement, a $350 million commitment in SBA funding to rural small businesses over the next 5 years, launching a series of conferences to connect investors with rural start-ups, creating capital marketing teams to pitch federal funding opportunities to private investors interested in making rural and making job search information available at 2,800 local USDA offices nationwide.

Since taking office, President Obama's Administration has taken historic steps to improve the lives of rural Americans, put people back to work and build thriving economies in rural communities. From proposing the American Jobs Act to establishing the first-ever White House Rural Council – chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack – the President is committed to a smarter use of existing Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.

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Progress Iowa Statement on March Jobs Report PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Matt Sinovic   
Friday, 20 April 2012 15:10
Figures released by Iowa Workforce Development show 1,600 lost jobs in March. Branstad and Republican Legislators are not doing enough to help Iowans seeking work

DES MOINES - Progress Iowa issued the following statement today in response to jobs figures released by the Iowa Workforce Development this morning, which showed Iowa losing 1,600 jobs in March 2012:

 

“Today’s report showing the loss of 1,600 jobs proves that Terry Branstad and Iowa House Republicans are nowhere near meeting Branstad’s promise of creating 200,000 jobs,” said Matt Sinovic, Executive Director of Progress Iowa. “While the rest of the country is putting people back to work, Terry Branstad and House Republicans are making it harder for Iowans to find work.”


“The latest job figures show that Iowa is 31,267 jobs behind where it should be to be on pace to meet the jobs promise. Branstad promised to create 200,000 jobs over five years and should have created almost 47,000 jobs already. Terry Branstad and Iowa House Republicans need to stop making the problem worse by decimating workforce services and start investing in Iowa’s workers.”

 

“Out-of-work Iowans need the closed workforce centers to reopen so they can receive quality face-to-face job search assistance. Iowa Republican legislators need to stop destroying jobs by proposing budget cuts that slash vital public services. Because of Terry Branstad and Republican legislators’ poor leadership, Iowa is not seeing the full benefit of the national economic recovery.”

 

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