Most rural residents live within 10 miles of a grocery store. But people living on tribal lands often have much farther to travel.

[imgcontainer right] [img:distancetofood.png] [source]Economic Research Service[/source] Most rural residents live within 10 miles of a grocery store. But people living on tribal lands often have much farther to travel. [/imgcontainer]

Some 200 small and rural hospitals got a good deal in the recent “cliff” settlement in Congress, Kaiser Health News reports

The hospital industry in general wasn’t pleased with the bill Congress passed late New Year’s Eve. Only half of the $30 billion needed to avert a 27 percent Medicare fee cut for doctors was included in the bill.

But the final bill did extend for another year a program that pays extra for small hospitals (under 100 beds) in rural areas that treat a high proportion of Medicare patients.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Michael Clifford, chief financial officer of Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale, Pa., in the rural northeastern corner of that state. “We are looking forward to being in the black from operations because of the money.”

The hospital expects to retain about $2 million in extra Medicare funding because the program was extended, he said. 

The program began in 1990 but was allowed to lapse in September of 2012. Democrat Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa were the two senators who got the funding in the final bill.

Here is a list of the hospitals that receive money from the Medicare Dependent Hospital Program. 

New Food Rules — The Food and Drug Administration has proposed new rules on food safety, what the AP calls the “most sweeping food safety rules in decades.” 

An estimated 3,000 deaths a year are due to foodborne illness. The rules proposed Friday will require new procedures for both farmers and food manufacturers.

Separate ‘Race’ For Rural Schools? — Diette Courrege asks if the feds should hold separate competitions for grants for rural school districts. 

She notes a recent article by Andrew Hysell with Save the Children, finding that some competitions for federal education grants “are resulting in few rural winners.”

As Courrege writes, this is “not a new issue.” But it is a big issue, and one that works a hardship on small, rural districts. 

Yes, the competition we’re talking about is the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top grant program for schools.

Postal Rescue — Among the pots left simmering on the stove by the old Congress is the U.S. Postal Service, which is losing $25 million a day. 

Reuters reminds us that the Senate passed a bill last year that would have ended Saturday mail delivery and eased an onerous, Congress-imposed obligation to prepay benefits. But the House Republicans never voted on this legislation.

So, the mess sits there, waiting resolution. 

Also, Save The Post Office has a detailed explanation of how prefunding of retiree benefits has put the Postal Service in a deep financial hole.

Pat Roberts Bumped — Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is the new ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, the top Republican spot on the committee. 

Cochran pushed out Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who had the spot previously. Remember, Congress will be writing a new Farm Bill later this year.

Peterson on New Farm Bill — Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, has written a mad-as-hell letter to House Speaker John Boehner, telling him he sees no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake “the fool’s errand” of writing another five-year farm bill in the new session of Congress. Well, here’s the full quote:

“I see no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake the fool’s errand to craft another long-term farm bill if the Republican Leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered,” Peterson writes. “You and your Leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 Farm Bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies, or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you.”

Read more

See the full letter here

Wind and Rural Jobs — The American Wind Energy Association estimates that the decision by Congress to extend the production tax credit for land-based wind projects saved up to 37,000 jobs in the industry. 

Such estimates are always to be taken as very generous estimates. But Tom Lutey reports that other times when the tax credit expired, there were huge decreases in the number of wind installations.

Words for Vilsack — Nate Wilson, a retired New York dairyman, has some words for Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who recently said rural America needed to have an “adult conversation” about the decline of rural communities. Wilson writes in the Observer of Dunkirk, New York: 

The reality, had Vilsack the sagacity to confront it, is far different: rural kids are not forsaking their rural homes; they are being exiled from them by the very policies Vilsack has built his agricultural policy career on.

Ignored are inconvenient details: several decades of “The Cheap Food Policy,” that destroyed the dreams of two generations of aspiring young U.S. farmers. This created the evils of industrialized farming: fewer farmers on huge mono-crop farms getting ever bigger and, ironically, ever less diverse.

Current national farm policy resulting in unsustainable commodity prices that often cannot even return the farmers’ production costs. These are the true causes of rural depopulation and the decline of America’s small towns, not the contrived imaginings of Vilsack’s clueless thought processes.

According to Vilsack, America’s farmers are doing just fine: record farm income, record farmland values – and for current corn and soybean farmers, he’s correct. However, the desperate plight of America’s livestock farmers is overlooked.

Continuing to blame unsustainable livestock feed prices on last year’s drought, he disingenuously refuses to connect the problem to its original source – the Administration’s slavish adherence to the Renewable Fuel Standard. This creates a government policy contrived class of “winners,” (corn and soybean farmers) whose prosperity starkly contrasts with a class of policy created “losers,” (livestock farmers) brought about by the Obama Administration’s poorly designed social engineering. 

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