Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of disunion for working "folks " - Obama offers the sheeple MyRA - just recall the Poland example "folks " ..... Most food stamp payments issued to working Americans for first time ....... speaking of food stamp programs , note another attempt to block transparency shot down by Federal Courts - -- A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can’t use an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act to keep secret how much businesses receive annually for participating in the food stamp program.

( Does MyRA stand for "  My Ripped Arse " ? Which would be the case if the Poland example comes into play ... )

Tyler Durden's picture

Obama Introduces MyRA: The "No Risk, Guaranteed Return" Retirement Savings Bond

"Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA.It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in." - Barack Obama
In other words - if you like your retirement account you can keep your retirement account.

Obama To Unveil Treasury IRAs, Or Planning For A Post-Monetization World

Tyler Durden's picture

Wondering who will take over the mantle of Treasury bond buyer now that the Fed is stepping away? Curious of the government's next steps towards repression and control of wealth? Wait no longer. As the AP reports,President Obama will unveil a new retirement savings plan tonight that allows first-time savers to buy US Treasury bonds tax-deferred for retirement. Of course, this is not the mandatory IRA that remains somewhat inevitable (as the muddle-through fails) but is certainly a step in the direction we alerted readers to a year ago by which the government generously offers to help manage your retirement savings. Two words spring to mind...remember Poland.

Eager not to be limited by legislative gridlock, Obama is also expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work.

Among those actions is a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don't currently offer such plans.

The program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds that eventually could be converted into a traditional IRAs, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration. Those people weren't authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.
Of course, this is not what the CFPB suggested a year ago... We're sure the government is just trying to protect your retirement account from terrorists. From Bloomberg:
The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is weighing whether it should take on a role in helping Americans manage the $19.4 trillion they have put into retirement savings, a move that would be the agency’s first foray into consumer investments.

That’s one of the things we’ve been exploring and are interested in in terms of whether and what authority we have,” bureau director Richard Cordray said in an interview. He didn’t provide additional details.

The bureau’s core concern is that many Americans, notably those from the retiring Baby Boom generation, may fall prey to financial scams, according to three people briefed on the CFPB’s deliberations who asked not to be named because the matter is still under discussion.
But it's getting close.
Though Poland remains the strawman...

Poland Confiscates Half Of Private Pension Funds To "Cut" Sovereign Debt Load

Tyler Durden's picture

While the world was glued to the developments in the Mediterranean in the past week, Poland took a page straight out of Rahm Emanuel's playbook and in order to not let a crisis go to waste, announced quietly that it would transfer to the state - i.e., confiscate - the bulk of assets owned by the country's private pension funds (many of them owned by such foreign firms as PIMCO parent Allianz, AXA, Generali, ING and Aviva), without offering any compensation. In effect, the state just nationalized roughly half of the private sector pension fund assets, although it had a more politically correct name for it: pension overhaul.
By way of background, Poland has a hybrid pension system: as Reuters explains, mandatory contributions are made into both the state pension vehicle, known as ZUS, and the private funds, which are collectively known by the Polish acronym OFE. Bonds make up roughly half the private funds' portfolios, with the rest company stocks.
And while a change to state-pension funds was long awaited - an overhaul if you will - nobody expected that this would entail a literal pillage of private sector assets.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said private funds within the state-guaranteed system would have their bond holdings transferred to a state pension vehicle, but keep their equity holdings.  The funds would effectively be left with only the equities portions of their assets, even this would be depleted, and there will be uncertainty about the number of new savers joining.
But why is Poland engaging in behavior that will ultimately be disastrous to future capital allocation in non-public pension funds (the type that can at least on paper generate some returns as opposed to "public" funds which are guaranteed to lose)? After all, this is a last ditch step which no rational person would engage in unless there were no other option. Simple: therewere no other option, and the driver is the same reason the world everywhere else is broke too - too much debt.
By shifting some assets from the private funds into ZUS, the government can book those assets on the state balance sheet to offset public debt, giving it more scope to borrow and spend. Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski said the changes will reduce public debt by about eight percent of GDP. This in turn, he said, would allow the lowering of two thresholds that deter the government from allowing debt to raise over 50 percent, and then 55 percent, of GDP. Public debt last year stood at 52.7 percent of GDP, according to the government's own calculations.
To summarize:
  1. Government has too much debt to issue more debt
  2. Government nationalizes private pension funds making their debt holdings an "asset" and commingles with other public assets
  3. New confiscated assets net out sovereign debt liability, lowering the debt/GDP ratio
  4. Debt/GDP drops below threshold, government can issue more sovereign debt
And of course, once Poland borrows like a drunken sailor using the new window of opportunity, and maxes out its new and improved limits, it will have no choice but to confiscate more assets, and to make its balance sheet appear better, until one day, there is nothing left in the private sector to confiscate. At that point the limit itself will have to be legislated away, and Poland will simply continue borrowing until one day there are no foreign lenders willing to take the same risk as the nation's private pensioners. At that point, Poland, which is in the EU but still has the Zloty, can just go ahead and monetize its own debt by printing unlimited amounts of its currency.
Of course, we all know how that story ends.
The response to the confiscation was, naturally, one of shock:
The reform is "a decimation of the ...(private pension fund) system to open up fiscal space for an easier life now for the government," said Peter Attard Montalto of Nomura. "The government has an odd definition of private property given it claims this is not nationalisation."

"This is worse than many on the markets had feared," a manager at one of the leading pension funds, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
"The devil is in the detail and we don't yet know a lot about the mechanism of these changes, what benchmarks will be use to evaluate our performance... (It) looks like pension funds will lose a lot of flexibility in what they can invest."
Catastrophic consequences for fund flows aside, the Polish prime minister had a prompt canned response:
Tusk said people joining the pension system in the future would not be obliged to pay into the private part of the system. Depending on the finer points, this could mean still fewer assets in the private funds.

"The (current) system has turned out to be built in part on rising public debt and turned out to be a very costly system," Tusk told a news conference.

"We believe that, apart from the positive consequence of this decision for public debt, pensions will also be safer."
You see, he is from the government, and he is confiscating the pensions to make them safer. Confiscation is Safety and all that...
Polish officials have tried to reassure investors, saying the overhaul avoids the more radical options of taking both bond and equity assets away from the private funds outright.

They say the old system effectively made Polish public debt appear higher than it really is.
Well, once you nationalize private assets, the public debt will indeed appear lower than it was before confiscation: we give them that much.
End result: "The Polish pension funds' organisation said the changes may be unconstitutional because the government is taking private assets away from them without offering any compensation.... This may lead to the private pension systems shutting down," said Rafal Benecki of ING Bank Slaski."
Unconstitutional? What's that. But whatever it is, it's ok - after all the public pension system is still around. At least until that too is plundered. But in the meantime, all such pensions will be "safer", guaranteed.
But best of all, in the aftermath of Cyprus, we now know what the two most recent European blueprints for preserving the myth of solvency are: bail-ins, which confiscate deposits, and pension fund "overhauls", which confiscate, well, pension funds.
And now, back to the global recovery soap opera.

Most food stamp payments issued to working Americans for first time - report

Published time: January 28, 2014 23:03
A sign displays that a shop accepts Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), more commonly known as Food Stamps, in the GrowNYC Greenmarket in Union Square on September 18, 2013 in New York City. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Andrew Burton)
A sign displays that a shop accepts Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), more commonly known as Food Stamps, in the GrowNYC Greenmarket in Union Square on September 18, 2013 in New York City. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Andrew Burton)
Working-age Americans now make up the majority of food stamp recipients in the US, according to a new report highlighting a stark change from the tradition of the elderly being the main recipients, and at a time when lawmakers have agreed to cut funding.
Economists at the University of Kentucky conducted an analysis of government data on behalf of the Associated Press and found that, across all age demographics, food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the most among workers with some college experience.
The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was originally created to assist Americans in times of personal crisis, although one out of every seven US citizens now rely on the program.
The government currently spends $80 billion a year on the program, a sum twice the amount it cost five years ago. The number may only continue to grow, though, as stagnant wages and a slow recovery continues to spread uncertainty throughout the economy.
It is a climate that many critics say fosters inequality, with workers’ wages and salaries, in comparison with corporate profits, increasing at the lowest rate in American history. The situation has become so serious that some economists now speculate that an individual supporting himself with a single low-wage job may simply not be a viable option in the near future.
A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps is becoming more common for the working poor,” Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the Associated Press. “Many of the US jobs now being created are low – or minimum-wage – part-time or in areas such as retail or fast food – which means food stamp use will stay high for some time, even after unemployment improves.”
AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt
AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt

James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky found that in 1998 44 percent of SNAP payments were doled out to people of working age (adults between 18 and 59). Yet the collapse of the dot-com industry combined with a recession in 2001, and then another in 2007 contributed to leaving enough people in duress that the number now exceeds 50 percent.
In 1980 a mere 8 percent of American households with some college training needed food stamps, a number that has jumped to 28 percent this year. Those who completed four-year degrees also saw an uptick, from 3 percent to 7 percent, and high school graduates jumped from 28 percent to 37 percent.
SNAP has been stressed by the disappearance of middle-class employment in the manufacturing sector, globalization, outsourcing, and the introduction of more machines into the workplace.
US President Obama is expected to address the lingering inequality issue in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Forecasters said Obama will explain his stance on executive actions, which do not require congressional approval, and possibly use that power to expand access to job training programs and help the long-term unemployed.
Obama’s speech will come one day after politicians from the House and Senate Agriculture committees announced that have reached an agreement on a farm bill that would limit a drastic House plans to cut government spending, yet also curb benefits by approximately $800 million annually, roughly one percent.
The president is also expected to pledge his effort to raising the federal minimum wage, a decision that – while strongly resisted by Republicans – could increase not only a worker’s quality of life, but also their productivity, motivation, and other employment factors.
Yet officials maintain the number of people relying on SNAP could remain high for some time. Ishwar Khatiwada, an economist for the center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, told the Associated Press that the financial difficulties could continue for another decade.
We do not expect income inequality stabilizing or declining in the absence of real wage growth or a significant reduction in unemployment and underemployment problems,” he said.

Court rules in Argus Leader's favor on 

making food stamp data from businesses 


Jan. 28, 2014   |  
1 Comment
A federal appeals court has ruled that Argus Leader Media can seek government data on how much businesses take in from the food stamp program.
A federal appeals court has ruled that Argus Leader Media can seek government data on how much businesses take in from the food stamp program. / AP file photo
A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can’t use an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act to keep secret how much businesses receive annually for participating in the food stamp program.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected USDA’s argument that a provision in federal law protecting retailers’ application information from disclosure also barred disclosure of how much those retailers were paid by the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
Argus Leader Media had requested information on those annual payments for hundreds of thousands of businesses nationwide enrolled in the program, including 622 vendors in South Dakota that range from grocery stores to gas stations. USDA denied the Argus’ FOIA request, and U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier agreed it had the right to do so.
Tuesday’s appeals court decision reversed that.
“We originally asked for this information in 2011, so this has been a long fight for us,” Argus Leader executive editor Maricarrol Kueter said. “All along we have believed the data should be available for public review, and we’re greatly encouraged by the court of appeals panel’s ruling.”
Spokesmen for USDA did not immediately return a request for comment.
In the appeal proceedings before Schreier, the government had argued that the statute that created the food stamp program required retailers applying for participation to include income and sales tax documents, and forbid the release of that information. USDA said that applied to money amounts businesses earn from food stamp sales once they are enrolled in the program.
But Argus Leader lawyer Jon Arneson countered that information collected from businesses when they apply to accept SNAP payments does not include tax-supported monies they ultimately receive after they are enrolled. And the 8th Circuit appeared to agree in its ruling.
“Because the retailer spending information is not ‘submit[ted] by an applicant retail food store or wholesale food concern ... the information is not exempt from disclosure,” Chief Judge William Jay Riley of the 8th Circuit wrote. “The department, not any retailer, generates the information, and the underlying data is ‘obtained’ from third-party payment processors, not from individual retailers.”

(Page 2 of 2)

Arneson said the 8th Circuit’s ruling “emphatically endorses theArgus’ position that the USDA did not have a legitimate basis for asserting the SNAP payment information was protected” under the Freedom of Information Act exemptions.
“Generally, any proponent of open government has to be bothered when government resists or ignores the public’s right of access without sound reason,” Arneson continued. The 8th Circuit’s opinion “effectively eviscerates each of USDA’s arguments and concludes that it sold the District Court on an untenable reading of the relevant statute.”
The Argus Leader requested and then sued for the information amid growing concern in the state and nationally that smaller grocer and convenience stores are responsible for the majority of food stamp fraud. A report released last August by USDA estimated that $858 million annually between 2009 and 2011 was lost through fraud — primarily when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash at a discount to food retailers.
The report noted that smaller grocers and convenience stores accounted for 15 percent of all food stamp transactions but 85 percent of fraud cases. In writing the 8th Circuit opinion, Riley noted that “Congress has clearly indicated its intent to involve the public in counteracting fraud perpetrated by retailers participating in the program.”
Tuesday’s ruling doesn’t automatically mean USDA will be releasing its annual SNAP payment data. The government could ask that the full 8th Circuit hear the case, as opposed to the three judges who ruled in this decision.
With the 8th Circuit decision returning the case to the district court, the government can still try to argue that the information is exempt on other grounds, such as invasion of privacy or disclosure of confidential business information.

Bipartisan Farm Bill deal to cut over $8 billion in food stamps

The final version of the 2014 Farm Bill will include a cut of roughly $8.7 billion to food stamps, affecting 850,000 households across the country. Members of the House and Senate announced the deal on Monday evening, after months of negotiations over the legislation. In a joint statement, the lead negotiators stressed the bipartisan nature of the final bill, which is widely expected to pass.

“This bill proves that by working across party lines we can reform programs to save taxpayer money while strengthening efforts to grow our economy,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.

Households affected by the proposed $8.7 billion cut would lose an average of $90 per month in benefits. This latest reduction comes on top of November’s so-called “Hunger Cliff,” an automatic $5 billion across-the-board cut to every food stamp recipient’s benefits. The Farm Bill cuts would specifically target what critics have referred to as the “Heat and Eat” loophole, which allows certain classes of food stamp users to receive more in benefits.
Some states would be hit more than others. New York City alone could absorb up to 25% of the cuts, spread out across 190,000 households, according to the Food Bank for New York City. The staff of New York Democratc Senator Kirsten Gillibrand confirmed to msnbc that she would not be voting for the legislation.

“Only in Washington could a final bill that doubles the already egregious cuts to hungry families while somehow not creating any additional savings than originally proposed be called progress,” she said in a statement. 

“This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts.”

Despite resistance from some corners of the Democratic Party, the Farm Bill will likely cruise through the House and Senate.

“Most Democrats will vote for this,” said a spokesperson for Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a critic of the food stamp cuts. McGovern will not vote for the bill.

Some Republicans might defect, but not because food stamps are getting cut. Instead, it is likely that at least a few Republicans will vote “no” because they think the cuts are too small. GOP members in the House had originally proposed $20.5 billion in cuts to the food stamps, followed by a separate bill which separated food stamps out of the Farm Bill and slashed the program by $39 billion. The $39 billion proposal passed the House, but the final version of the Farm Bill keeps food stamps where they are and cuts them by a figure much closer to the $4 billion number proposed in the Senate.

The right-wing Club for Growth sent out a statement on Tuesday urging members of Congress to vote against the finalized Farm Bill. One reason for rejecting the bill, according to the statement: food stamps are still included in the Farm Bill.

“At a minimum, these two programs should be voted on as separate, stand-alone bills,” said the Club for Growth statement. “True reform would also include implementing a plan to devolve the food stamp program to the states and eventually eliminate federal agricultural subsidies.”
President Obama has largely been silent on the subject of food stamp cuts. Though the White House has previously threatened to veto the $20.5 billion cut proposed in the House, Stabenow and House Agriculature Committee Chair Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, have both told the press that they expect the president to sign the bill including $8.7 billion in cuts