Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unemployment Benefits: As Other States Cut Back, Oregon Gives More

Image Credit to Huffington Post

While some states have been cutting unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, Oregon has made its benefits more generous.

People laid off through no fault of their own are eligible for up to 99 weeks of aid in 25 states. But last month, Oregon lawmakers gave the long-term unemployed an additional six weeks of benefits. That means that in Oregon, where the unemployment rate stands tall at 10 percent, so-called "99ers" -- people who've burned through all 99 weeks without finding work -- can now theoretically become "105ers."

Last week was the first payable week of the brand-new Oregon Emergency Benefits program. Portland resident Harold Treinen told HuffPost he'd started receiving the benefits last week after joining the ranks of the 99ers about a month ago.

"It’s saving me, is what it’s doing," said Treinen of the new program. Treinen, a 57-year-old financial analyst, said he was laid off in in March 2009 and had relied on unemployment insurance during his fruitless job search. When his benefits stopped last month, he found himself in survival mode. "I had like a two or three week gap. You just have to shut everything down. You have to say, 'I can’t do anything.'"

The Congressional Research Service estimated that as of last October, 1.4 million Americans had been out of work for 99 weeks or longer.

For those who receive maximum aid, the benefits cycle like this: The state initially provides up to 26 weeks and the federal government provides the rest through two programs. The first is Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides up to 53 weeks of benefits broken into four "tiers," and the other is the Extended Benefits program, which provides the final 20 weeks. (Recent efforts to provide more weeks of federal benefits have stalled.) The programs can combine to provide fewer than 99 weeks depending on a state's unemployment rate.

The Oregon Employment Department expects 17,000 Oregonians to qualify for the Oregon Emergency Benefits program, which is funded with $30 million from the state's unemployment trust fund, according to spokesman Craig Spivey. The program will last until July 2 or whenever the money runs out. The extra benefits in place today actually represent the third time Oregon lawmakers have given an extra boost to the super-jobless, with previous programs in 2010 providing up to 6 or 13 weeks of aid.

At the same time Oregon is taking steps to increase aid, other states are effectively cutting it. Several are allowing the federal Extended Benefits program to expire by choosing not to update the arcane "trigger" used to determine a state's EB eligibility. A high unemployment rate is one condition; the other is that the rate must be 10 percent higher than in either of the two previous years. When it reauthorized the federal unemployment benefit programs in December, Congress invited states to modify their triggers to encompass an additional previous year, since unemployment rates in most states have risen dramatically from what they were three years ago but have held relatively steady over the past two years.

North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin let the program die on April 16, and the Arizona State Legislature has adjourned for the year without taking up the issue. Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. are expected to "trigger off" EB come May.

Lawmakers in Michigan and Missouri acted to preserve EB, but at the same time they cut state benefits to 20 weeks, making them the only states that provide fewer than 26 weeks for newly unemployed people. Twenty weeks will be all that remain once the federal programs expire in January, unless Congress decides to reauthorize them, which is an open question.

Treinen, for his part, said he's been participating in monthly networking sessions with other unemployed workers organized by Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, where he's had some interview coaching and a chance to polish his resume. He suspects his age is a significant barrier to finding a new job.

"Because I’m middle aged -- you can’t prove it, but there’s definitely a bias there, even though you would think experience would carry some weight," he said. "There’s no way to prove it. It’s sad for a lot of reasons. I’m a team player."

Article Credit to Huffington Post.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On Morning Of Big Budget Vote, GOP Leaders Spare A Moment To Chat Unemployment (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON -- On the morning of an important and uncertain vote to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives spent a few minutes chatting with two Democrats from the Congressional Black Caucus about their bill to help the long-term unemployed.

Image Credit to Huffington Post

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) strolled out of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)'s office Thursday talking to Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). Cantor declined to comment on the meeting before parting ways with the two Democrats.

"Speaker Boehner encouraged us to work with the House Ways and Means Committee to move this bill forward, and while we will certainly do so, we maintain that these long term unemployed workers deserve a floor vote now," Lee said in a statement after the meeting. "Frankly, where there is a will there is a way, and we hope that the Republican leadership will show some serious will to move this vital effort forward."

"We'll have to see what they do, but they clearly understand the desperate situation that people are in," Scott said.

Earlier this year, Lee and Scott introduced a bill to give the long-term jobless an additional 14 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. (Currently, federal and state jobless programs combined provide up to 99 weeks of benefits in some states.) The bill went nowhere, as it would cost roughly $16 billion and the new Republican majority has no appetite for new spending.

But after Lee and Scott said they'd be open to looking for budget cuts to offset the cost of the unemployment benefits, Boehner and Cantor agreed to meet with them. Lee said they didn't talk about cuts during the meeting, however.

"We didn't talk about that because we still maintain it's an emergency," she told HuffPost. "They understood this very well. There was no conflict about this being an emergency."

Boehner's office declined to comment on the meeting.

Most Democrats insist federally-funded extended unemployment benefits be given an "emergency" designation, exempting them from "pay as you go" budget rules. The benefits serve a two-fold purpose: to provide a cushion for layoff victims and to stimulate the economy, since the unemployed tend to spend their benefits quickly on necessities like food and shelter. Some economists say offsetting the cost of the benefits counteracts some of that stimulative impact.

Some four million people will exhaust their unemployment benefits this year, according to a White House estimate. Yet the Lee-Scott bill is not likely to become law anytime soon, as deficit reduction has become Washington's top priority. No Democratic leaders have suggested they would support "paying for" extra benefits with budget cuts, and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus suggested in a meeting with President Obama that the bill would be too costly.

Nevertheless, Lee and Scott pledged to plod on.

"We're going to strategize and work on this and figure it out, but we're still focused," Lee said. "We didn't leave the meeting saying there's nothing left to do. We have plenty to do to move this along, and that's what we're going to do."

The meeting had originally been scheduled for last Thursday, but Boehner had to cancel because he was summoned to the White House for last-minute negotiations on a budget deal that would avert a government shutdown. A vote on that deal will be held in both the House and Senate later on Thursday.
Crew of 42, a blog about the CBC, posted a video of Cantor, Lee and Scott emerging from Boehner's office.

 Here's a video link of Lee and Scott after the meeting!

Article Credit to Huffington Post

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lee County School District releases Browder's 2010 W-2 tax form

Posted: Apr 11, 2011 9:34 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 11, 2011 10:53 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY – Dr. Jim Browder left the Lee school district during a deepening budget crisis that's been forcing the district to lay off employees and consider digging into its reserves just to stay afloat.
Four in Your Corner Investigator Rob Koebel now showing you exactly how many of your tax dollars ... went to Dr. Browder. He's uncovered the former super's w-2 from last year.

Image Credit to Fox 4 News, Cape Coral/ Fort Myers, Florida

Adding up the numbers you might not be surprised its way over the roughly 160 grand he was being paid a year as superintendent. Something one former school board member warned could hurt the district big time if the economy didn't turn around.

Reporter Rob Koebel asks, "Why don't you take a look at the bottom line figure there?"

Bob Chilmonik says, "WOW -- Oh My!".

Former School Board Member Bob Chilmonik checks out ex- Lee County Superintendent James Browder's W-2 tax form from 2010.

Chilmonik says, "The first thing that comes to my mind is academic Enron we have children going without needed services in the school district".

The bottom line -- including his salary, perks and buys out -- Browder made 418,000 bucks. Almost a half a million dollars. The bill picked up by you --- the taxpayer.

Chilmonik says, "Its gone too far I am hopeful that the public now is engaged on this and we need to bring salaries under control".

Chilmonik who sits on a search committee to help select the new superintendent says he voted against Browder's contract years ago. But fellow board members like Jane Kuckel and Janine Dozier were all for it and Browder's golden parachute.

Chilmonik says, "Right now it's an operational mess down there and we are in the process of hiring a new superintendent I think there's a lesson to be learned from this when we go out and make the decision on the new superintendent we must get a salary structure that is fair but also holds people accountable".

Chilmonik says with spending out of control and the district digging into emergency reserve funds -- it's like running your engine in the red and it's ready to blow.

Bob Chilmonik says, "they are using reserves to fund ongoing operations the problem is going to come back next year."

You might remember that Edison State College is refusing to release President Ken Walkers or Jim Browder's W-2's to Fox Four citing a state statue that the college claims makes it exempt. But the University of Florida and the Lee County School District had no problem turning them over.

Image Credit to Fox 4 News, Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Florida

Article Credit to Fox 4 News, Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Florida 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Governor Rick Scott looking to fill positions on board at Edison

Posted: Apr 08, 2011 9:36 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 08, 2011 11:11 PM EDT
LEE COUNTY – The board of trustees at Edison State College in the hot seat. All eyes on them as faculty, staff, students and tax payers wait to see what they will do next to end the outrage at Edison.
Four in Your Corner looking into what qualifies these people to sit on the board and how much they make for doing the job.

Chris Vernon says, "I know the press is frustrated with me because I am not talking to the press".

Chris Vernon is Chairman of the Edison State College board of trustees. Seven other members make up the current board -- you might remember Vice Chairman David Klein called it quits and resigned last month in the wake of the turmoil brewing on campus.

Board member Randall Parrish, "I am extremely proud of this institution -- I went here more than 40 years ago. To see what it is today and what it was then makes me so proud".

Many on the board say that's why they do this -- because they are proud of Edison State College and President Ken Walker. You might be surprised to learn they certainly don't sit on the board for the money.

Vernon says, "we are not paid to do this and it puts us in a very good position, unique position top hopefully make some big picture decisions".

But those big picture decisions might soon be made by others -- appointed by our new Governor Rick Scott. Take a look -- JoAnn Helphenstine and Mahlan Houghton are both up for re-appointment and Mary Lee Mann's appointment ends next month.

The Governors office is currently taking applications for the spots on the board. Those interested in a seat need to fill out this nine page application -- answering numerous questions -- like past or current boards you sit on -- any criminal history -- what makes you qualified -- any awards or recognitions that relate to the board.

Article Credit to Fox 4 News, Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Florida 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Edison State's Walker, Browder offer to take pay cuts

Written by

Rachel Revehl

8:35 PM, Apr. 6, 2011|

The embattled president of Edison State
College has proposed a six-point plan to
appease the faculty who earlier this week
voted a loss of confidence in his

Credit to Fort Myers News-Press

In hopes of restoring that trust and
ultimately the position he’s held for 20
years, District President Kenneth Walker
also offered a “significant” salary reduction
for both him and Senior Vice President
James Browder.

Addressing a crowd of about 150 at a
special board of trustees meeting
Wednesday evening, Walker asked that the
difference in pay go toward the
establishment of a scholarship fund and
another for homeless students.  

“We have a long history of great
relationships, and I will do my part to get
us back to that relationship,” Walker said.
“I ask faculty leaders to join me.”

Professors, after hearing his concessions,
say it may be too soon to tell whether it will 
be enough.

Credit to Fort Myers News-Press

“Time will tell,” Professor Russell Swanson
said. “The reduction of the compensation
package — I can’t disagree with that.”

In addition to the pay cut, Walker

• Greater transparency and full disclosure.

• A third-party review of the management
team and processes, which will result in a
completed report to the board.

• A series of small-group meetings on each
of the four campuses to hear concerns and

• An anonymous survey outlining the
concerns of each faculty and staff member.

• Open office hours for faculty and staff to
meet with him.

• Several meetings with students to hear
their questions and concerns.

The 24,000-student college has also hired
a Fort Myers law firm to investigate claims
of discrimination in hiring. Swanson
questioned how a firm paid by the college
could be effective in that task.

Walker’s concessions came after weeks of
strained relations on campus, centering on a
myriad of complaints, including Browder’
s hiring without a formal search and
subsequent raise, Walker’s $832,125
annual compensation package, allegations
of discriminatory hiring practices, abrupt
resignations of several high-level
administrators and the question of
diplomas issued to students who hadn’t
met minimum requirements.

The professors, meanwhile, explained their
no-confidence vote, approved Tuesday by
84 percent of 103 voting faculty senate
members. Many of those members are
union, though the senate is a separate
entity focused solely on academic affairs.
Speaking on their behalf, Professor Jim
Daniels said staff felt Walker did not act in
good faith by moving Browder into an off-
campus position, when in earlier meetings 
he suggested Browder would find another
job within 30 days or else the board would
decide the next step. Professors were also
upset with comments made by Walker in an
April 1 article by the Chronicle of Higher
Education, in which he stated those pushing
for Browder’s removal were a small group,
fueled by the media.

Walker told the publication concerns were
never brought to him, a point disputed by
Daniels, who said he had dates of prior 
meetings and the names of those who were

“That doesn’t sound like transparency to
us,” Daniels said. “...It was such a hostile
environment, and we could not stand by
and watch the college implode.”

He ended by asking the board to put the
students first, something Walker also said
is his goal.

Erica Patti, a 21-year-old junior
communications major, said she found it
strange that Walker made students the last
point on his list.

“I would kind of hope that he would have
made us a little higher on his list,” Patti
said. “And I really just think enough is
enough. Everybody has just been through
enough stress and tiresome arguing, and it
really just needs to end.

“I think if the students joined together and
came forward, I think the board would
come to the conclusion that (Walker) would
have to walk away.”

But if the board’s support of Walker is any
indication, that’s not likely to happen soon.
Many praised his decades of service but
still said they had heard the concerns

“What I’d like to see happen is we take the
opinions of faculty and use them as a
springboard to make Edison even better,”
said Chairman Chris Vernon.

While the board was not able to fully craft
an agenda for the next scheduled April 26
meeting, Vernon did outline a list of 11
areas that may possibly be addressed:
improved board oversight, improved
systems to assure graduation qualifications,
improved accreditation preparation,
investigation of allegations of discrimination
and retaliation, Browder’s employment
status and pay, improved academics and
reporting structures, need for a new vice
chair of the board, current and future
leadership and leadership compensation
and issues that can and should be dealt
with prior to the regular meeting.

The board agreed they wanted time to
digest the information proposed, and
would individually report to Walker about
the issues they hope to discuss before the
next meeting. Walker will ultimately be
responsible for piecing together the next

Article Credit to the Fort Myers News-Press        

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vote of "No Confidence" for President Passes at Edison State College

Fort Myers, FL – Faculty at Edison State College have sent a message to the Board of Trustees that they have lost confidence in the leadership of President Ken Walker.

More than 100 out of 141 full-time faculty members participated in the vote which was a test of confidence in the leadership of President Ken Walker and Vice President James Browder.  Eighty-four of those who voted said they had "no confidence" in Edison's top administrators.

The vote follows a month of turmoil where the Vice President of Academic Affairs resigned,  the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees stepped down, and we uncovered secret payouts to a former administrator, Noreen Thomas, who left just as Dr. James Browder joined the college as a Vice President of Operations.   Browder was later given a raise and new responsibilities following Thomas' departure.

Faculty planned to take the no confidence vote late last month, but Walker called a meeting to discuss their concerns.  In a letter, he agreed to re-assign Browder to a different role and remove him from all academic responsibilities.

Tuesday's vote comes a day before an emergency meeting of the Edison State College Board of Trustees to discuss faculty concerns.   Stay tuned to Fox 4 for more on this developing story.

Credit to Fox 4 News, Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Florida 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rallies to protest Florida budget and education cuts

Thousands rally around Fort Myers, Naples, and the state today to protest budget and education cuts proposed by Governor Rick Scott.

This group gathering at Hammond Stadium in south Fort Myers.

Those involved include teachers and members of local unions who say their right to collective bargaining is being violated.

Protestors say those in Tallahassee including the governor need to wake up and support workers' rights and public education.

Those in Collier County also getting in on the action.

Close to one hundred people gathering in Naples tonight to protest change within the state.

Those who attended the rally at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and U-S 41 say they are pushing for better public programs for workers and economic justice for all.

Credit to Fox 4 News, Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Florida