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In years before outbreak, investment in public health shrunk – CityNews Vancouver

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In the decade before Michigan and its largest city became the latest hot spot for the deadly coronavirus, officials were steadily, and at times dramatically, cutting back on their first line of defence against pandemics and other public health emergencies.

Approaching bankruptcy, Detroit disbanded most of its public health department and handed its responsibilities to a private non-profit. When the department reopened in 2014 in the back of the municipal parking office, its per capita budget was a fraction of other big cities’, to serve a needier population.

In Ingham County, home to the capital city of Lansing, then-Public Health Director Renee Branch Canady sat down at budget time every year for seven straight years to figure out what more to cut.

“It was just chop, chop, chop,” Canady said. By the time she left in 2014, all the health educators, who teach people how to prevent disease, were gone.

What happened in Michigan also played out across the country and at the federal level after the 2008 recession, which caused serious budget problems for governments. But as the economy recovered, public health funding did not, a review of budget figures and interviews with health experts and officials shows.

A shortfall persisted despite several alarming outbreaks, from H1N1 to Ebola, and has left the U.S. more vulnerable now to COVID-19, experts say. In normal times, public health workers are in the community, immunizing children, checking on newborns and performing other tasks. In a health emergency, they’re tracing outbreaks, conducting testing and serving as “first responders” when people fall sick — efforts that are lagging in many states as the coronavirus spreads.

“Our funding decisions tied their hands,” said Brian Castrucci, who worked with health departments in Philadelphia, Texas and Georgia and is now president of the de Beaumont Foundation, a health advocacy organization.

The cuts came under both Democratic and Republican administrations. While there is no single number that reflects all federal, state and local spending, the budget for the federal Centers for Disease Control, the core agency for public health, fell by 10 per cent between fiscal year 2010 and 2019 after adjusting for inflation, according to an analysis by the Trust for America’s Health, a public health research and advocacy organization. The group found that federal funding to help state and local officials prepare for emergencies such as outbreak has also fallenshrunk — from about $1 billion after 9-11 to under $650 million last year.

Between 2008 and 2017, state and local health departments lost more than 55,000 jobs — one-fifth of their workforce, a major factor as cities struggle to respond to COVID-19.

“It definitely has made a difference,” said John Auerbach, Trust for America’s Health CEO and a former public health director in Massachusetts.

New York has seen the most COVID-19 cases in the U.S., but numbers are surging in places such as Detroit, where those testing positive nearly tripled in the week between March 28 and Saturday, when officials said the city was approaching 4,000 cases, with 129 deaths. A more robust health system could have done more earlier to track down and isolate people who were exposed, said the city’s former health director, Abdul El-Sayed.

State spending on public health in Michigan dropped 16% from an inflation-adjusted high point of $300 million in 2004, according to a 2018 study.

Some of the funding problems, Canady and other public health advocates believe, stem from a fundamental belief in smaller government among Republican governors, including former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who called for “shared sacrifice” after the state’s auto-dependent economy was battered by the recession.

In Kansas, then-Gov. Sam Brownback ran what he called a “red-state experiment” to cut taxes. State spending on its Public Health Division, outside of federal funds, dropped 28% between 2008 and 2016.

The cuts meant a “shifting of responsibility for services from the state level to the county level,” Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said in an interview. “And we saw that in public health.”

In Maine, then-Gov. Paul Le Page’s administration stopped replacing public health nurses who were dealing with families in the opioid crisis. The number of nurses fell from around 60 to the low 20s before the Legislature tried to reverse the action.

Although agencies often receive emergency funding when a crisis strikes, the infusion is temporary.

“Decisions are made politically to support something when it becomes an epidemic,” said Derrick Neal, a public health official in Abilene when Ebola surfaced in Texas. “And then as time passes, the funding shrinks.”

In Oklahoma, state funding for the Department of Health still hasn’t returned to its levels of 2014, when a combination of slumping oil prices, tax cuts and corporate breaks punched a giant hole in the state’s budget. When state revenues later improved, the money went to other priorities.

“It’s much easier to cut funding for public health than it is to start taking away benefits from people or access to care for people,” said former state Rep. Doug Cox, an emergency room doctor.

Castrucci said the problem with providing more money only at times of emergency is it doesn’t allow time to recruit and train new workers.

“We waited until the house was on fire before we started interviewing firefighters,” he said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Associated Press reporters David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

Sara Burnett, The Associated Press

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Varcoe: Risks rising on Alberta's multibillion-dollar pipeline investment – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

The Dakota Access ruling has also shown that even existing pipelines can face legal uncertainty.

“Even if you have the pipeline running and in service, they can ask you to get rid of it,” said Coleman.

Despite the potential pitfalls ahead, other experts feel the gamble is worth it.

Richard Masson, former CEO of the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission, believes the rationale behind the investment still stands.

Demand for Canadian heavy oil remains strong with Gulf Coast refiners, while competing production from Venezuela and Mexico has dwindled.

The province decided to use its only leverage — its commercial options — to propel the project ahead.

“The fundamental business case is there,” Masson said.

“On balance, it’s a big risk decision, but . . . I would still say it’s the right call. We need Keystone XL.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

cvarcoe@postmedia.com

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UCP government to use grants to attract petrochemical investments to Alberta – Globalnews.ca

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The UCP government has introduced a new incentive program it believes will attract billions of dollars worth of investment in the petrochemical sector, employing tens of thousands of Albertans.

The Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program will offer direct grants to companies that decide to invest in Alberta. Companies will qualify if their facilities are up and running by 2030.

“The sky is the limit for the benefits this industry can provide to Alberta,” Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity Dale Nally said while announcing the program.

“Beginning now, we’re going to set our sights much higher.”

The new program won’t be a competition. All projects that meet requirements set out by the province will be eligible to receive funding. Those details are still being worked out, and it’s not known how much money the government will end up paying out.

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“From our perspective, if we’re getting return on investment that we need, and we’re getting billions of dollars of infrastructure development happening — and of course resource revenues for Albertans — then we’re not going to put a hard stop on it,” Nally said.

READ MORE: Canadian petrochemical growth spurt expected despite rising desire for fewer plastics 

That answer isn’t good enough for NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who believes an announcement without details can’t be considered a clear plan.

“This minister had almost nothing to do for the last 15 months, and to bring forward an announcement like this, with so little information, I ask the question, what has he been doing?”

While in government, the NDP brought forward a number of petrochemical diversification programs itself, including one that uses royalty credits to attract investment. The second phase of that program is still ongoing.

The industry itself believes this new program will be successful, and could attract $30-billion worth of investment over the next decade.

“Our members are looking at tens of billions of dollars of projects right now,” said David Chappell, the board chair of the Resource Diversification Council. He is also a senior vice-president with Inter Pipeline.

“As companies spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on projects, before they decide whether they go ahead or not, they can count on this in their economics.”

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According to the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, the chemicals sector in Alberta is already worth more than $12 billion, and directly or indirectly employs more than 58,000 people.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Benefits of investing in a Registered Education Savings Plan RESPs

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A registered education savings plan (RESP) is widely known for the benefits it provides and its versatility in being able to use it whenever the need crops up. However, there are many other benefits of investing in these accounts that can help you in getting returns in the long run. Let us have a look at the most prominent benefits of investing in RESPs.

Investing in the registered education saving plan is a safe way to save funds for the said purpose. Let us consider why you should invest in RESPs.

Aided by the government – The federal government, through the Canada Education Savings Grant, adds 20% per dollar to your savings, with an annual limit of $ 500. The maximum limit for a lifetime is $ 7,200 per child. In the case of families with a lower income, choosing to invest in such funds can be a great deal. Henceforth, anyone eligible as per the rules and regulations can apply for it.

Taxable in the hands of the beneficiary –

When the beneficiary/child enrols for any post-secondary education program, they are eligible to get access to payments (also known as – educational assistance payments) from their funds. These payments are composed of a specific investment income and government grants.

Also, the tax on these assistance payments remains taxable on the hands of the person registered as the beneficiary. It is a strong possibility that the students do not have their income and are likely to fail to pay tax on such payments. However, the RESP withdrawal transactions are kept charge free. Learn more about taxes and RESPs here.

Flexibility in transfer –  RESPs can be a great alternative; then, you need to do the funds from your registered education savings plan to your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP).  As per the rules, you’re allowed to transfer $50,000 from your RESP funds to your retirement savings plan. Hence, the amount is freely transferable.

Easy setup – Easy access and set up is another great benefit of investing in the registered education savings plan. Almost anyone can set up an individual account for their child. The funds can grow faster when additional contributions come from friends and other family members when the contributions make the funds sustain for long.

Longevity – There are chances that the beneficiary may choose to defer their education plans once they pass high school. Since the funds in RESPs are accessible for a period of 36 years, they can utilize the funds whenever they feel like giving it a start. However, it is always advisable to go through the rules to ensure that there are no specific restrictions on this.

How do RESPs work?

RESP is an account that enables you to initiate investing for your child’s post-secondary education. In each case, the government contributions are subject to taxation only if they are withdrawn or paid for the beneficiary. As long as the recipient takes enrollment in any academic program, the fund is for the beneficiary.

The fund is to aid expenses for part-time or full-time studies in any academic program. It can be for trade, school, college or university. However, this payment entirely depends upon the RESP contribution made by the account holder into the RESP account. Also, the required contributions should be regularly made into a Registered Education Savings Plan to gain government grants.

It is important to note that as long as there is an appropriate confirmation of admission or enrollment in an educational program, the accumulated funds are for his purpose. Also, you can support the miscellaneous expenses for the education of the beneficiary using this fund. Hence, most certainly, almost anyone can open an RESP account for a child, naming them as the beneficiary.

Government Grants and RESPs

 

Since it is a government-aided fund, there are various benefits of it. However, there are several downsides to an RESP that should be known to anyone who intends to open an account in it. For example, if the child decides not to attend the college or university, the government will gets back its funds. However, the account holder can keep the funds belonging to his share, or any money made out of it.

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