Beltway Insider: Obama Signs Farm Bill; SNAP Cuts; January Job Reports; EUI Bill Fails; Putin Reigns at Sochi

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President Barack Obama signed H.R. 2642, the Agriculture Act of 2014, into law this week deeply disappointing advocates of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who expected the president to veto any version that included SNAP cuts.


According to Gallup, President Obama's job approval, over the past week remained steady at 41% of those polled who approve of his effectiveness as President and those who disapprove of his effectiveness as President also remained the same at 51%.

President Obama Signs Farm Bill; SNAP Benefits Cut

President Obama introduced the Agriculture Act of 2014 indicting the legislation "was not perfect" it did however provide protections to vulnerable Americans even as it included cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture addressed the members of the media this week, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, to discuss some of the finer points of the Agriculture Act of 2014.

The SNAP program directly impacts the lives of senior citizens, people with disabilities, and working men and women and their children, over 40million families receive some form of SNAP Benefits.

With 92% of SNAP beneficiaries falling into those four categories, it is estimated that less than 1million recipients, according to the White House, will be affected by the cuts resulting in a maximum of $90.00 reduction, for a family of four, in monthly benefits.

"I'm very thankful that we're dealing with that kind of reaction to the SNAP program as opposed to the $40 billion cut that was proposed in the House, which would have taken 2 to 3 million people off of the program and we wouldn't have had the opportunity to bring those people into the program," Secretary Vilsack said

The safety nets created in 2009 to ensure that those in need received SNAP benefits throughout the economic recession were limited. In theory the economy is improving and unemployment is slowly coming down, those who qualify for the benefits still exists in even greater numbers simply due to the economic situation over the past five years.

The cuts don't factor in price index per state. Some SNAP participants travel some distance to purchase food at lower cost, they spend additional monies in transportation, others may be fortunate to have neighborhood groceries that sell at a low cost maximizing the benefit without subtracting from the household budget.

"What we've essentially done and what the Congress has essentially done is they've basically said, look, those people who qualify for food stamps and for the SNAP program they're going to have a slightly higher bar to cross before they qualify, "Secretary Vilsack said.

January Job Reports Shows Slow Signs of Continued Recovery

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released January Job Numbers this week and the news continues to reflect the slow signs of recovery as the overall unemployment rate decreased .04% from 7.0% to 6.6%.

Adding just 113,000 non-farm jobs to the economy, while paltry and under expectations, maintains the upward economic recovery trend and resulted in an overall drop in unemployment to the lowest in more than five years, and a .06% decline since October, 2013.

Long-term unemployed, defined as those who have been without employment for more than 27 weeks declined by 1.1million over the past year.  The president has recognized this demographic of 3.6million Americans as the slowest to regain pre-recession strength and has created a task force designated to address this group.

Senate Fails to Pass UI

President Obama is continuing to lead the charge as the Senate failed again, by one vote, to pass the emergency unemployment insurance benefits the White House has been championing since the expiration in December.

"It is disappointing that Republicans in the Senate chose to again deny emergency unemployment insurance for 1.7 million Americans who need this vital lifeline to support their families as they actively search each and every day for a job," said Jay Carney White House Press Secretary.

Congress has stalled the passage of the emergency unemployment insurance holding the American people hostage as they continue to suffer with the unexpected loss of financial assistance, which breaks the upward economic momentum.

"Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable – especially given the high long-term unemployment rate," Carney said.

The proposition isn't dead and Senator Harry Reid, (D –NV), has indicated he will attempt to advance the bill again. The president stated in his state of the union address that one area that he must work with congress on is raising he national minimum wage above $10.00 per hour.

UI Insurance and Unemployment Benefit Loops Holes

The recent failure of the Senate to pass emergency unemployment insurance has caused, once again, bi-partisan bickering over the state of the economy and has resulted in reflection of actual unemployment numbers.

The recent release of Labor Statistics is reflective of the national unemployment average they do not reflect actual, state by state unemployment numbers. Unemployment, contrary to the numbers, the cheerleading white house, still rages with 18 states at 7.0% or above the national average.

Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee all have a state unemployment rate of 7.0% or higher and California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada are at 8.0% or above. The state unemployment rate for Rhode Island is a staggering 9.1% and an astonishing 15.4% for Puerto Rico.

Ohio, at 7.2%, a battleground state with 18 electoral votes, creates even more hardships for unemployed workers as the state unemployment compensation laws mandate that workers must complete a twenty week minimum.

The second determining criteria that masks the true unemployment numbers in the mid western state, Ohio workers, who are employed part-time at 20 hours, earning 10.00 an hour, in a state where the minimum wage is $7.95, and complete the 20 week mandatory claim time cannot collect unemployment benefits as Ohio also mandates workers earn at minimum $233.00 per week to be deemed eligible to collect any benefits.

California, New York and most other states, have not had one or both determining criteria, since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2009, which allows for greater transparency in actual unemployment.

Workers returning to the drastically changed workforce believing that at the minimum they would collect Unemployment benefits at the lowest level have zero income protection by the state should they face lay-offs.

Putin Reigns at Sochi

President Vladimir Putin welcomed the world to Sochi, Russia as the Games of the XXII Winter Olympiad opened, without the slightest ripple of security threats, in a dazzling celebratory display lasting just over three hours.

 The United States, maintaining  security protocol and aware of the security concerns, sent an official delegation that included former Homeland Security Director Janet A. Napolitano, who was chosen to lead the United States Delegation.

The delegation also includes Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Robert L. Nabors, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Mr. Brian A. Boitano, Olympic gold medalist, figure skating, Ms. Caitlin Cahow, Olympic silver and bronze medalist, women's ice hockey.

President Putin, former head of the KGB, as lead agency and host nation has security measures seen and unseen guarding the XXII Winter Olympics. His global reputation, as elevated security measures are surrounding the seaside village, is on the line.

The Sochi security strategy, as in any modern game in any nation, falls under the Russian military.  Putin has 70,000 soldiers in ready alert patrolling the Olympic Village and Russian military missile launchers are stationed in the hills above the village, prepared should the need arise to shoot down any incoming airplane targeting, reminiscent of 9-11, the Olympic Village.

The United States continues to offer assistance and remain in a ready mode, with aircraft carriers headed to the Black Sea. Security, a concern for every nation, remains on heightened alert and on the minds of all involved with the Olympics.

Sochi Opening Ceremony

Fisht Olympic Stadium was transformed into an interactive time machine, an attention grabbing, absorbing live presentation, celebrating life in Russia while communicating the struggles and progression of the Soviet Union and its people.

The United States television audience of 37million saw nothing except the celebration of life in Russia with light shows, dancers wearing long LED lights performing to Swan Lake, a flying girl who appeared to walk ahead, the next rising generation, performance artists of every kind, dancers, mimes, acrobats, children, men, women, a celebration of life that included all kinds.

The Opening Celebration of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russian Federation were completed by the lighting of the Olympic Flame by former Russian Olympic champions, figure skater, Irina Rodnina and, the hockey player, Vladislav Tretiak.




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