News Day – February 2: Health at risk, MN not-so-nice for minorities, Punxsatawney Phil and more

Health at risk No, not salmonella this time — the bigger health risk comes from lack of money. Kathlyn Stone, writing in the TC Daily Planet, tells the story of Jean Bender, who “is worried about the next round of Health and Human Services cuts that will make it harder to afford the care needed by her developmentally and physically disabled child.” Chen May Lee reports in the Star Tribune that more than a thousand local health care employees have been laid off since last year, and big construction projects have been postponed as the recession means people just can’t pay for health care.

“In the past, people were delaying vacations or new automobile [purchases],” said Steve Hine, director of labor market information at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. “This time around, they’re even cutting back on their health care.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet reports on the debate in the legislature over single-payer health care reform.

Minnesota not-so-nice “Economically, Minnesotans are blessed with a Lake Wobegon, above-average life. As long as they’re white,” writes Richard Chin in the PiPress. In appalling and statistically-backed detail, he goes on to describe a state where whites are better off than the rest of the nation as measured by income, unemployment and poverty levels, and black Minnesotans are worse off, and where the gaps between white and black Minnesotans continue to grow. Read the whole article for an alarming wake-up call.

Punxsutawney Phil: ONLY six more weeks of winter! I’ve never understood why the groundhog seeing his shadow was so bad. Here in the northland, ending winter on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of suffering through another round of March blizzards, sounds pretty good.

DTV or no TV? If the scheduled switchover to all-DTV goes ahead as planned on February 17, more than six million U.S. households will see nothing but snow on their screens, according to the latest Nielsen figures. After Senate voted unanimously to delay DTV until June, the House voted down the delay, but now is scheduled to take a second look later this week. Funds for the $40 coupon to apply toward the cost of a digital converter box ran out weeks ago. (And then there’s the whole problem of antennas and of which wall in which room of your home a converter box/antenna set-up must be situated in order to work.) Martin Moylan reports on MPR that MN broadcasters are split on whether the delay is needed, and that some think it will cost them up to a thousand dollars a day to delay the switch.

Nullifying the amendment Conservation and arts advocates succeeded in getting the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed to guarantee additional funding, because, they told voters, the legislature and governor couldn’t be counted on to maintain commitments to the outdoors, clean water, parks and arts projects. Now, reports Dennis Lien at MPR, they charge that Gov.Tim Pawlenty is about to slash arts adn conservation funding so that the amendment, instead of bringing new funding, will substitute for traditional funding sources. They point to a 50 percent cut for the State Arts Board and regional arts councils, a $1.9 million cut from MPCA clean water funds and $1.3 million from the DNR division of waters, along with a $5.5 million cut from the DNR’s fish and wildlife division. In the Strib, Doug Smith writes that DNR Fish and Wildlife funds will be cut, losing all of the $2.8 million general fund dollars previously allocated. That leaves the division funded “almost entirely” by hunting and fishing license fees, reducing funds for research on fish and wildlife populations and habitat, land and water habitat management, environmental review, shoreline restoration funds, and conservation officers.

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