The Billings Outpost

Study: Mine expansion aids growth

University of Montana...

MISSOULA – Montana’s economy could be significantly impacted by expansion at its existing coal mines and development of new mines, according to a study recently completed by The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Expansion of the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker would boost Montana jobs, household income and tax revenues, according to an economic impact study conducted by BBER economist Patrick Barkey.

According to the report, “The Economic Impact of Increased Production at the Spring Creek Mine,” commissioned by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, a proposed increase of coal production by 20 million tons at the mine owned by Cloud Peak Energy would more than double output at the facility and require expansion in capital and equipment, labor force and new purchases of resources such as electricity and work uniforms.

The study found that with a status-quo, no-expansion scenario, by 2018 the project is expected to create 1,421 permanent jobs across a wide range of industries and occupations in all regions of the state. Income for Montana households would collectively increase by more than $58 million.

Projected state government tax revenues on coal production and growth in Montana’s tax base were estimated to reach more than $55 million per year.

BBER’s study found that the Spring Creek expansion also would generate higher rail volume across Montana. Rail and coal jobs pay significantly more in wages and benefits than the state average, and the spending by those workers combined with additional purchases by vendors and suppliers would support hundreds of additional jobs in industries such as construction, retail, health care services and public schools.

BBER director and study author Barkey notes that while a number of coal projects in the state propose new mines, Spring Creek is unique in that it represents growth of an existing operation.

“This is the first study we’ve done that measures growth as a result of coal expansion,” Barkey said. “The results demonstrate that whether we measure jobs, income or output, the economy of the state of Montana stands to benefit significantly from the project.”

BBER is a research center producing economic and industry data for Montana. For more information visit www.bber.umt.edu/.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:23

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MSU Billings student places in global competition

MSU Billings News Services...

Anyone who is a gamer or a natural competitor knows what it means to “level up” in a challenging environment. It comes with tougher encounters, harsher competition and — for those who succeed — a richer feeling of accomplishment.

Last month, a College of Business student at Montana State University Billings found all three when he found himself among the top five competitors in a global simulated business competition.

Tanner Lambert, a finance major from Columbus, participated in this semester’s International CapSim Business Simulations Challenge in the Capstone division, the top level. Of the nearly 1,000 participants worldwide, Lambert finished fifth, putting the MSU Billings student among some of the best business colleges in the world and cementing Lambert’s reputation as a star academic performer in the College of Business. 

Just this past spring, Lambert won the CapSim Foundation Challenge, the precursor to the Capstone challenge.

“I was the only undergraduate to make the finals,” he said in a recent interview. “It was a great experience.”

For Lambert, who turns 26 in January and is set to graduate in the spring of 2013, the Capstone challenge proved to him that he has the work ethic and determination to succeed in the business world. The online simulation had him managing a multimillion-dollar enterprise with multiple markets, labor challenges and financial issues. Decisions are made under deadline pressures, and one wrong assumption can sink an otherwise solid plan.

“How you allocate your resources is very important and your strategy has to be focused and spot on,” he said.

No other MSU Billings student has ever competed in the Capstone level. Lambert said while he was pleased with his overall performance, he especially proud of what the results showed about the level of support and expertise of the MSU Billings faculty.

“Since this was a higher level, it kind of motivated me to show others that we’ve got a good school here,” he said. “This really put MSUB on the map, especially in the business college world. No school our size is in the top 10.”

Lambert graduated from Columbus High School in 2005 and entered the Merchant Marine Academy. After an injury left him unable to complete the academy, he ventured in to the higher education arena, starting first at Montana State University in Bozeman and then transferring to MSU Billings for his business education.

He said he knew he finally found a college home his first semester in the College of Business.

“The faculty and the types of skills they have given me in four years are unbelievable,” Lambert said. “The education is practical and useful and this (the competition) shows the faculty are doing all the right things.”

The energetic and focused Lambert said when he decided to move up a level to the Capstone challenge this fall, he found overwhelming support from his peers and the College of Business faculty. Practice took place during the semester and the final, two-day online competition took place in late November. Lambert said his faculty mentors were with him the whole way. 

“They bend over backwards to help you succeed here,” he said.

The CapSim Challenge is broken into two groups: Capstone and Foundation. While similar in scope, the Capstone Challenge requires students to run a $100 million business whereas the size of the company in the Foundation Challenge is $40 million.

Both competitions require participants to manage the business’s product development and finances, including selecting a strategy for their company, redesigning its product lines or creating new ones, as well as figuring out the company’s marketing and sales plans. In the Capstone challenge, developers throw in labor negotiations as well.

And just like the “real world,” during the competition, students have investors to answer to, sales goals to meet and competition to monitor.

The CapSim Challenge is also an opportunity for students to compete with other aspiring business leaders from around the world and to prove their own skills as a potential CEO or successful entrepreneur. This year’s event included over 1,600 students from several countries including Australia, Taiwan, India, Canada as well as the United States.

For more information on the MSU Billings College of Business and its programs, go to msubillings.edu/cob or call 657-2812.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:20

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Job growth top priority, Chamber survey finds

Montana Chamber of Commerce...

HELENA – Creating good jobs remains the top priority for Montanans, according to a new survey.

The Power Base (P-base) is an annual scientific survey of 600 Montana voters on a variety of business and political issues with a margin of error of 4.1 percent. The poll is commissioned by the Montana Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to determine what Montanans think about important economic issues facing our state. Here are some of the results:

Economic development

Without a doubt, creating good-paying jobs is the top priority for Montanans. A full 31 percent listed it as the top issue the Legislature should address this coming session, with lower taxes and a balanced budget a distant second at 16 percent.

For top pocketbook concern, healthcare costs continue to dominate with a plurality of 25 percent, and taxes coming in at 17 percent.

As in prior surveys, the P-base shows Montanans want to see more business growth, especially in high wage businesses like the natural resource industries.

For example, 83 percent of Montana voters want the state to encourage more timber, 77 percent want more oil and gas development, 71 percent want more coal development, and 71 percent want more mining.

In fact, the support comes from majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents polled on every industry category.

Montanans are still pessimistic about the national economy, but there are signs of improved attitudes. Half of voters believe the U.S. economy is on the wrong track (down from 66 percent last year) as opposed to 34 percent who think we are on the right track. A majority of voters believe the state’s

economy is better off with 52 percent saying we’re on the right track vs. 23 percent saying wrong track.

 State issues

Respondents in the poll stated they hope the Legislature rejects bills that force employers to have guns on company property or to allow concealed weapons in bars and banks. Both ideas were presented in bills last session and are expected to be introduced again.

Montanans are split on whether school funding levels are adequate with 43 percent saying they are adequate, 43 percent inadequate. A plurality of respondents favored a complete repeal of the business equipment tax – 38 percent support repeal while 25 percent oppose.

Federal issues

A majority of voters would like Congress to rein in or stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing new regulations that affect new coal mines with 52 percent opposed to additional regulations and 36 percent supportive.

In addition, 81 percent of voters support free trade agreements with other countries that allow Montana commodities and products to get exported.

To see the results of the full poll, go to www.montanachamber.com/2012P-Base.pdf.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:18

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Jobless rate falls

HELENA – Montana’s unemployment rate dropped below the 6 percent mark in November, dipping 0.2 percentage points to 5.8 percent. The national rate also decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 7.7 percent.

“We are finishing 2012 with good economic news for workers during the holiday season,” said Labor Commissioner Keith Kelly. “There still is some uncertainty with federal spending levels and the national economic outlook, but Montana’s economy has gained momentum this year and our economic prospects for 2013 are strong. We continue to outperform the nation.”

Montana’s total employment, which includes payroll workers, the self-employed, and agricultural workers, increased by 522 jobs over the month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Although payroll employment estimates indicated a 1,300 job decline over the month, these preliminary estimates are fairly volatile, and the three-month trend remains positive.

Over-the-month job losses of a thousand each occurred in the government and construction industries, with job gains in most other industries.

Even including the preliminary job losses posted this month, construction employment has gained over the last year, adding about 1,600 jobs.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined by 0.3 percent in November due to a 7.4 percent fall in the gasoline index.

The energy index dropped 4.1 percent, while the food index increased by 0.2 percent. Continued increases in food prices are expected due to widespread drought this year. Core inflation, measured by the all items less food and energy index, rose 0.1

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:19

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Funky Shark to pay fine

HELENA – Bozeman resident Scott Wacker and his company, Funky Shark, have been fined $40,000 for illegally selling investment opportunities, according to a news release from Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica J. Lindeen.

Wacker also agreed to pay back more than $834,000 to investors to resolve a restraining order Lindeen’s office filed against him in October. The restraining order stopped Wacker from soliciting new investors or spending any of the investment money he had already raised.

Last September, Wacker began recruiting investors for his penny-auction website, FunkyShark.com. By the end of October, Wacker had raised more than $1 million from investors across the world.

The flurry of transactions in Wacker’s personal and business accounts led his bank to file a suspicious activity report, which was referred to Lindeen’s office. After reviewing the report, investigators suspected Funky Shark was a pyramid scheme and requested a restraining order to prevent additional investors from getting involved.

On Oct. 30, Wacker posted a notice on Funky Shark’s website explaining that its investment program “may violate certain securities laws in the United States.”

In the two months it operated, Funky Shark paid nearly $378,000 in commissions to participants who recruited new members.

Those commission payments left Funky Shark unable to repay all of its participants in full, so Wacker agreed to pay $270,000 out-of-pocket to make investors whole.

“Mr. Wacker stepped up to the plate and repaid his investors,” said Lindeen.  “Often when we handle these types of cases, there’s simply no money left to repay participants. But for a number of reasons, this case is unique. Mr. Wacker didn’t understand what he was getting into, and he has expressed his commitment to setting things right.”

In August, Lindeen’s office issued a consumer alert about a penny auction pyramid scheme called ZeekRewards. More than 1,200 Montanans had invested $3 million in that scam before the Securities and Exchange Commission shut it down.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:19

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Farmers at fiscal cliff

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection...

HELENA – Months ago, farmers were the first to see what’s over the so-called fiscal cliff of budget cuts and tax hikes. That’s when the Farm Bill expired, leaving many agriculture programs without funding, including conservation titles, rural development and beginning farmer initiatives. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says there will be no new Farm Bill until sometime next year. 

Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says, however, that Congress really needs to address the problems that Farm Bill “limbo” has caused. 

“Congress will need to at least pass an extension of the Farm Bill before it goes home, he said, “and even in the extension there are going to be important decisions about the pie gets divided, about how the federal government invests in rural America.”

Hassebrook predicts there will be reductions in spending in the new Farm Bill, but he says he hopes they will be targeted in ways that don’t harm mom-and-pop operations.

“By capping farm payments and crop insurance premium subsidies to mega-farms, subsidies that essentially subsidize them to drive smaller operations out of business. And secondly, it can cut by reducing crop insurance subsidies to folks who are tearing up marginal grasslands.”

He says the failure to pass a Farm Bill has created uncertainty for rural communities, especially with the lapse in rural economic development components in the bill.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:13

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Billings native gets post

James Souza, a Billings native, has assumed the position of vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s in Boise, Idaho, and the Treasure Valley.

Dr. Souza graduated from Billings Senior High School in 1984. He received a degree in biology at the University of Montana and was a WWAMI scholarship recipient.

He completed medical training in pulmonary and critical care at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.

He was named Teacher of the Year by the WWAMI Regional Medical Association and Physician Leader of the Year by the Idaho Medical Group Management Association.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:11

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Lactose intolerance hinders milk marketing

FLASH IN THE PAN

By ARI LEVAUX - @arilevaux

The folks behind Got Milk? have been keeping busy. The California Milk Processor Board, which trademarked the famous slogan and accompanying milk-stache, has recently taken to defending its intellectual turf – including an acronym that sounds like milk, which many people first learn about on dirty websites.

OC Weekly reports that a complaint has been filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization, an international body under the United Nations umbrella, against the web domain gotMILF.com.

This is not the first time the owners of Got Milk? have gone after purveyors of GotMILF-related content (MILF being a popular acronym for hot postpartum female). In 2010 the board sued a T-shirt maker over shirts that read “Got MILF?”

While on its MILF hunt, the California Milk Processer Board itself became the subject of several complaints about false advertising, one of which led to the board being busted by the Federal Trade Commission for claiming that dairy products can treat and prevent obesity. (This claim appeared alongside a white bathing suit-clad, milk-mustachioed Sheryl Crow, among others).

There is a lot to be said about dairy products. They contribute immensely to the cuisines of many cultures, and contain a tremendous amount of calcium. Dairy products are not, however, necessary for human health, survival or well-being.

Consumers and parents should remember this when listening to the urgent spiels of dairy councils and other state and national bodies that are funded by producer check-off fees, and profess to be deeply concerned with you and your children’s health. These groups, headed by Dairy Management Inc. and its puppet the National Dairy Council, have a simple mission: to create demand for milk, on behalf of the supply side.

These groups’ public message focuses on bone health and calcium. Health professionals are privy to an expanded version of this narrative, as they are schooled in how to manage “cultural behavior patterns” like “dairy avoidance.”

A different narrative, with different terms, is used in statements they make to dairy producers, or on public documents like the 990 tax forms. This narrative is more profit-oriented, and uses phrases like “barriers to consumption” and “unmet market.”

One significant barrier to dairy consumption is lactose intolerance, a condition that afflicts various ethnicities differently, hitting blacks, Asians, and Latinos the hardest. Thanks to the pro-milk propaganda that every American is subjected to from infancy on, millions of minority children are being inundated with the idea that they must consume something that makes them feel terrible, or else they’ll grow up weak and fragile.

On Nov. 13, the National Dairy Council held an online seminar titled “Fact or Fiction? Learn the Truth About Lactose Intolerance and Discover Real Life Solutions to Maintaining Good Nutrition.” Its intended audience was doctors, nurses and dieticians, all of whom could all earn continuing-education credit for participating.

The council’s approach to dairy sensitivity is that anyone who thinks they have a problem should see a doctor, and anyone not diagnosed with lactose intolerance should consume three servings of dairy a day or risk the consequences. A medical diagnosis of lactose intolerance involves proof of low lactase activity-lactase being the enzyme that digests lactose in the gut.

Now here’s where things get a little crazy. People diagnosed with lactose intolerance, the presentation argues, should nonetheless continue to consume as much dairy as they possibly can, using strategies like mixing dairy with other foods, or ingesting live enzymes while consuming dairy products.

Andy Bellatti, a dietician and writer at his Small Bites blog, is a fan of plant-based diets. I asked him about the importance of dairy to healthy bones, because he’s been vocal on Twitter about what he considers the industry’s propagation of misinformation.

“The dairy industry loves to push calcium as the only important nutrient for bone health because calcium is the only one it can brag about,” he told me via email. In fact, as Bellatti wrote in a July 2011 post, calcium is but one of several important nutrients for bone health, along with vitamin K and magnesium (which helps regulate calcium absorption). Many non-milk sources of calcium, such as kale and Chinese greens, have great levels of these other bone essentials, he wrote.

“When one considers the array of nutrients required for optimal bone health, it becomes clear that while milk offers a few benefits, it is far from the perfect and complete beverage the dairy industry aggressively markets,” Bellatti wrote.

If so, promoting dairy as the only nutrient necessary for strong bones could actually be a detriment to bone health. Certainly, suing people for selling GotMILF related content isn’t going to help anybody’s bones.

When I first heard about the complaint against gotMILF.com, I did what any sensible man would do, and went to the site. I found no MILFs, only a site under construction. I then decided to check out GotMilk.com, and what I found there was legitimately disturbing. And worse, it’s directed at kids.

GotMilk.com is dominated by an image of a chemistry set in a box called the Imitation Milk Kit. Clicking it starts you playing a game called The Science of Imitation Milk, in which the snark runs strong. I’m without space or patience to describe this weird game, but click it if you don’t mind being mildly disturbed.

The ruthlessness with which soy, almond, coconut, and other milk alternatives are thrown under the bus, along with the lactose-intolerant brown and yellow people who depend on them, is shocking.

I’ve known since my 20s that I’m sensitive to dairy products, and can’t handle as much cheese and cream as I would like to eat, for congestive and digestive reasons. I didn’t need a medical diagnosis. I stopped eating it, and noticed how much better I felt.

Making sure I took in enough calcium to compensate for my dairy avoidance was a serious task. I also had to make sure I was getting enough vitamin D and other nutrients that milk is fortified with. I tasted my way through a range of imitation milks before settling on almond milk as my milky fluid of choice. I switched to mayonnaise instead of cheese, and I eat it with meat and vegetables.

And I’m happy to report that the dairy avoiding lifestyle is treating me fine.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:12

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A cold, frosty, get-rich-quick scheme fails

By JAMES O. SOUTHWORTH - Special to The Outpost

In 1947, 17 years old, I was callow and unhappy with my life. I felt guilty about my personal life, by my lack of schooling, ashamed of our living conditions in the Beet Shack in Park City with no mother to herd me.

I had a ’33 Ford V8 coupe as I had been working on the railroad for a couple of years. The Ford had, I believe, the first V-8 motor. I didn’t like it too well, as at this time I was mostly ashamed of everything.

I had a good friend named Fred Russell who was about my age. Like me, he was a little unhappy with the life he was leading, and we talked about the brand new atomic energy plant that was hiring people at Hanford, Wash.

We decided to take my Ford and go out there and get us a good job and get rich. It was in January and Montana was colder than hell back then. We packed up what we thought we needed and put it in the rumble seat and took along an extra blanket.

This ’33 Ford had what they called a manifold heater. The heat was sort of funneled around the manifold. A little plate on the floorboard let you open or close it by sliding it up or down.

Those heaters worked good in July but left a little to be desired when it was cold. And at 20 degrees below zero, it was zilch. So Fred and I decided to take turns driving 100 miles while one of us would cover up with the blanket and then switch off and the blanket guy would have to drive 100 miles. It did work out, but it seemed a fella was always cold.

We stopped in St. Regis at a little highway restaurant to warm up and get something to eat. Jim Ed Brown was on the juke box singing “Little Jimmy Brown.” It was beautiful and sad, but we were on our way to the adventure of our 17-year-old lives.

Mullen Pass was solid ice. When we were on our way down, the little Ford would actually slide down on the wrong side of the highway on the curves, but two young guys at 17 years who were going to live forever didn’t pay it much mind. We made it through the mountains and hollered at Yakima as we went through and off through the desert sagebrush to Hanford.

We made our way to the headquarters and proudly presented ourselves to these lucky people who were going to hire two fine hands. Lo and behold, the weather was so bad that they told us that they wouldn’t be hiring anybody for about two weeks.

Wow.

We checked our financial situation, and if I remember right, we had about $30 between us. This was a setback.

We didn’t have enough to get back home, so I came up with a brilliant idea. My older brother, Robert, lived in Oakland, Calif. We could go there and move in with him and perhaps get rich there. I knew Robert had all kinds of money.

So off we went down through Oregon, colder than hell. Taking turns driving, we mostly drove 24 hours a day the whole trip.

Fred was driving when we reached the California line. The sun, of which we hadn’t seen much, was out. The roadside was green and looked wonderful.

Fred said, “Let’s pull over and get some sleep.” It looked so good that we did pull over and “glub,” the Ford sank to the axles in mud. One of us had to stay with the Ford, so I hitched a ride to the next little town and hired a guy to come pull us out. It cost about $15 or $20.

But we were on our way again, perhaps a little gun shy by now. We made it into Oakland, found our way through the city and found my brother’s place.

We stayed a couple of days with him, and Fred and I could see that there wasn’t much available for us there and by now we were a little homesick. I borrowed $50 from Bob.

After we had got out of the mud on the California line, we were stopped by a Highway Patrol officer. He looked the Ford over, mumbling, “Montana license,” and someone in the past had taken the old lights off the Ford and installed sealed beam tractor lights on the front fenders.

They were really good lights, but the way they were put on, the vibration of the vehicle running would slowly push them up into the sky or way down onto the ground. And one of us would have to stop and get out and adjust them again, so we could see down the road.

The Highway Patrolman scratched his head after hearing our tale and told us, “Don’t drive this vehicle after dark in California.”

So we took off from my brother’s place in Oakland, and we were heading home. After traveling quite a while through the day, we were starting up the Sierra Nevada Mountains

It was getting to be dusk. A large highway sign warned us that to pass through these mountains, you had to have chains on. The snow was already a foot or two deep on the sides of the road. I had thrown an old pair of chains in the trunk as an afterthought. We pulled over and went to work putting these chains on.

They were old and busted here and there, but we managed to get them on, adjusted the headlights and took off up the mountain hoping to make it through Bonner Pass.

It started snowing, and the chains we had on were slapping the fenders, making the damndest noise. One of the chains flew off, but we just kept going.

This was a two-lane highway at the time, and we looked closely at the cars coming down for a patrolman. Then the other chain came off, and something told me to stop, get the chain and throw it in the trunk.

We adjusted the lights and again headed up the mountain. Sure enough, here came a Highway Patrolman down the mountain. As soon as we could, we stopped and adjusted the lights as they were in the treetops. We took off and the Highway Patrolman came up behind us with lights on.

After the usual procedure, he says, “Where are your chains?”

I said, “Oh, officer, sir, we had them on, but they came apart. I showed him the broken one that I had thrown into the trunk.

“Well,” he finally said, “you are leaving California with this pile of junk.”

And we were near the pass and the Nevada line. He said, ”Go on and don’t bring that vehicle back to California.”

“Oh, thank you, kind sir,” I said. And we were off through the pass and down the mountain, slipping and sliding. Nevada was cold and dry.

We made good time. When we got up out of Idaho Falls, the weather was getting much colder and when we reached West Yellowstone, it was near 30 below.

We were so cold that we pulled up in front of a hotel lobby. It was about 1 a.m., no attendant, real nice and warm. We settled down in a couple of plush chairs and were dozing there till about 6 a.m. We didn’t want to get arrested for vagrancy, so we went to the Ford and lo and behold, the Ford wouldn’t start.

It was the first and only time that old beat-up hummer had failed us. We talked a guy into giving us a pull and the Ford cracked right off, and down the road we went. We were only gone about seven or eight days.

Did we learn anything? Possibly.

I knew it was good to be home with my dad, brother and sisters. And my dad had gotten a little smarter, but he got real smart when I went into the service the following year.

I guess I had this itch and it wouldn’t go away: I had to go out “there.”

James O. Southworth lives in Billings and plays in the band Southbound.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 December 2012 18:28

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Fiscal cliff debate could hurt Montana seniors

OPINION

By JOY BRUCK - AARP Montana State President

As the debate in Washington rages over how to avoid the fiscal cliff before the Jan. 1 deadline, some lawmakers are using Social Security and Medicare as bargaining chips.

Among the proposals under consideration by legislative leaders is an effort to reduce the Cost of Living Adjustment or “COLA” that is regularly made to Social Security benefits.

The proposal on the table would change the way the COLA is calculated by moving to a “chained consumer price index” or chained CPI. The proposal is complex, but the result is easy to understand – this change would cut benefits to current and near retirees across the nation by $112 billion over the next 10 years.

How would that COLA change affect Montana retirees and their kids and grandkids? The math is staggering – this one seemingly small change would cut benefits to retired Montanans by almost $390 million over the next decade.

For thousands of older Montanans living on fixed incomes, the chained CPI is not the minor “tweak” that some say it is. Instead, it’s a significant benefit cut that will make it harder for Montana’s elderly to make ends meet.

The proposal assumes that when the cost of something you normally buy goes up, you will substitute a lower-cost item. This theory falls short since many seniors spend much of their money on prescription drugs, utilities and heath care costs that keep going up, but that don’t have a lower-cost substitute. When you look at the numbers, it is easy to see how harmful this change could be.

According to the Census Bureau, Montana has a greater percentage of its citizens relying on Social Security for 50 percent or more of their income than any other state in the nation. More than 139,850 Montana seniors rely on Social Security. Of those, 63.2 percent or about 88,385 Montanans count on Social Security for at least half of their income.

The average Social Security benefit paid to a retiree in Montana is $1,116 per month. This modest amount keeps more than 71,000 older Montanans out of poverty and allows many thousands more to live their retirement years independently and with peace of mind.

AARP believes Montanans have earned their Social Security by paying in every paycheck and they deserve a thoughtful, open debate about how to strengthen the program, not a last minute deal that will hurt seniors and their kids and grandkids.

Another harmful proposal being discussed in Washington is raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. This proposal would take away guaranteed health coverage from younger seniors, increase costs for existing seniors and shift costs onto employers and our state.

Currently, 144,658 Montanans are enrolled in Medicare. If Congress were to raise the Medicare eligibility age, in the future about 20,470 Montanans would be left without health care coverage – forcing them into the private insurance market at considerable expense – estimated at over $2,000 per year. In addition, a Kaiser Family Foundation study concluded that removing the youngest and healthiest older Americans from the Medicare risk pool would increase premiums for those remaining in the Medicare program.

Instead of making shortsighted changes to Medicare, Washington needs to work to lower health care costs throughout the health care system.

AARP believes Montanans and all Americans deserve responsible solutions to Medicare and Social Security, not a short-sighted deal that will hurt all of us. That’s why we’re fighting to stop harmful cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of a deal to pay the nation’s bills. To join our fight and have your say about the future of Medicare and Social Security, go to earnedasay.org.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 December 2012 18:19

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