Category: Montana Economy


Minimum wage is not a fair wage | News, Sports, Jobs

January 15, 2022

Montana Economy

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Landis Larson

West Fargo

This week, some of the lowest paid workers in the Midwest will see their next salary increase, but not here in North Dakota. Montana, Minnesota, and South Dakota all have inflation-indexed minimum wage laws, which means that when inflation rises, the minimum wage also rises. Minimum wage workers will now receive $9.20 in MT, $9.95 in SD and $10.33 in MN. ND’s minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25 for fourteen years due to legislative inaction.

Some say “There are no jobs in North Dakota that pay minimum wage.” If so, why do such powerful interests still oppose raising it? There are quite a few people working for minimum or near minimum wage in our state. Many people in the service industry even work for an hourly wage below the minimum wage of $4.86 per hour.

Others protest “The cost of goods and services will increase.” If no one is paying minimum wage, what are you worried about? In fact, in study after study, minimum wage increases have done the exact opposite; no tangible increase in the cost of goods and services. Instead, more money in workers’ pockets means more spending in the local economy.

And there’s always the boasting naysayer, “It’s because the cost of living in ND is lower.” No it is not. The cost of living in ND, MN and SD is about as close to the national average as you can get.

All workers should be paid a fair wage for their work. In 2022, $7.25 is not a fair wage and should be increased. Also, if I’m wrong and there are no minimum wage jobs in ND, what’s the harm?

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US Supreme Court splits over vaccination mandates

January 13, 2022

Montana Economy

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The United States Supreme Court has thrown out one of President Biden’s vaccination warrants while upholding another.

Today, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from implementing its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 vaccination mandate on businesses companies with 100 or more employees.

However, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court allowed the Biden administration to implement its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) COVID-19 vaccine mandate on healthcare workers at facilities receiving federal funds.

Reactions came from Montana Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Matt Rosendale.

Daines said, “President Biden’s tenure in the private sector is an extreme federal overreach, and I’m glad to see the Supreme Court step in to clarify that. Biden’s mandate on private business would have forced Montanese out of work and forced some businesses to close. Although I am pro-vaccine, I am strongly anti-mandate. It should be a decision between Montanese and their doctor, not the federal government,” Daines said. “I am disappointed that the Court did not block Biden’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. This mandate threatens to close hospitals in Montana and limit patient access to essential care. I will continue to work in Congress to protect our healthcare heroes from this harmful mandate. »

Rosendale had a similar reaction to both decisions.

“I am thrilled to see the Supreme Court block Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate on private employers and their workers. This is an important victory for Montana businesses and the freedom of Montana residents to make their own medical decisions. However, no American should be coerced into taking the vaccine, and the court is only half right,” Rep. Rosendale said. ‘I am extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court has allowed the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate on healthcare workers to take effect, which will exacerbate the healthcare worker shortages we are already experiencing in the world. Montana. I will continue to fight the Biden administration’s excessive and overbearing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, wherever they arise.

KGVO has not heard from Montana senior senator Jon Tester on the matter.

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Groups file complaints against hebgen dam malfunction

January 9, 2022

Montana Economy

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BOZEMAN – A citizen complaint was filed against NorthWestern Energy for a malfunction of the Hebgen lake dam in December 2021.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) said dam owner Northwestern Energy in Butte should be held responsible for the incident. The environmental group is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to demand that Northwestern pay for an independent investigation into the dam’s malfunction. The incident reduced the flow of water to the Madison River by 57% in fifteen minutes.

MEIC says the federal agency should consider creating a fund to support ecological restoration projects on the river and a long-term watershed impact study.

The MEIC was joined in the complaint by Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and the Madison River Foundation.

Northwestern Energy told MTN that it completed a $ 40 million modernization of the dam in 2018 and has already submitted a report to FERC.

From MEIC:

BOZEMAN, MT – Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center, and Madison River Foundation have filed a citizen complaint [uppermissouriwaterkeeper.org] Jan. 5, 2022, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding NorthWestern Energy’s failure to meet the Hebgen Dam license conditions that resulted in the Nov. 30 dewatering on the Upper Madison River.

“This formal complaint is the way to hold NorthWestern Energy accountable for its dam failure, a thorough third party investigation of the impacts, and targeted action to restore the integrity of the river and downstream communities,” Guy said. Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. . “Two significant flow cuts in fifteen years at the northwestern Hebgen Dam are sounding the alarm for additional monitoring and redundancy needed to protect the river’s ecology and downstream economies that directly depend on stable outflows. “

NorthWestern Energy, owner and operator of the dam under Federal Permit No. P-2188, issued by FERC, violated two permit conditions when the valve well ruptured and significantly reduced outflows from the Hebgen Reservoir . The provisions violated were (1) to maintain a continuous minimum flow of 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) at USGS No. 6-388 near the Kirby Ranch, and (2) to limit flow changes from the Hebgen Dam to no more than 10% per day throughout the year. The USGS gauge located at the Hebgen Dam measured the outflow from 648 cfs to 278 cfs in 15 minutes (a 57% reduction) and a maximum reduction to 216 cfs (a 67% reduction) in a period of 24 time . Likewise, Madison River flows fell below the item 403 low of 600 cfs at Kirby Ranch, eventually falling to 395 cfs.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, the Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Madison River Foundation are calling on FERC to require Northwestern Energy to fund a full third-party investigation into the malfunction and hold the licensee accountable for taking action to ensure that this tragedy is an isolated event. .

“As a utility, NorthWestern Energy must be held accountable for the mismanagement of Montana’s natural resources, especially our water,” said Derf Johnson, lawyer and director of clean water at MEIC. “NorthWestern must cooperate fully with a full and transparent investigation, mitigate the impacts on the environment, the community and the economy, take action to ensure this does not happen again and pay to resolve the issue out of the pockets of its shareholders.” . “

If the FERC determines that there are good reasons to investigate, the complaint will trigger a formal process, overseen by the FERC, investigating the failure of the dam and the adequacy of Northwestern’s oversight and failures of the dam. equipment that led to one of Montana’s most famous blue ribbon trout streams drying up during critical spawning season. Another outcome could be the creation of targeted funding to support ecological restoration projects and help affected stakeholders downstream.

“We are committed to our members, the Montanans and the Madison River, to protect its vital flows and to be responsible stewards of maintaining a healthy watershed,” said Jonathan Malovich, Executive Director of the Madison River Foundation. “This is just a step in the right direction for many more to come to change the way we can all protect and manage the water that flows along the Madison River.”

Because the long-term ecological and economic impacts of the draining of the Hebgen Dam on the Upper Madison River may remain unknown for years to come, it is essential that a formal, non-partisan process asks these questions and seeks lasting solutions. right now. The filing of the complaint is separate from the ongoing public correspondence in late December 2021 between Northwestern Energy and FERC regarding the Upper Madison Dam failure and is specifically focused on addressing ecological degradation.

From ENO:

An investigation is underway into the failure of the Hebgen dam valve on November 30.

Since taking possession of 11 dams in Montana in 2014, NorthWestern Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the system. These investments increased production capacity, improved fish passage through the dam system, modernized infrastructure and provided more recreational opportunities. This investment includes a $ 40 million upgrade to the Hebgen Dam completed in 2018.

On November 30, a component of a gate of the Hebgen dam – installed in 2015 during the upgrade project – failed.

NorthWestern Energy has submitted reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the failure and, in conjunction with our Federal Regulatory Agency and others, is taking deliberate steps to ensure a thorough analysis of the gate component. The analysis, based on sound engineering principles, will be used to understand why this relatively new part failed and to establish corrective actions.

NorthWestern Energy will also work with resource agency biologists and others to develop scientific studies to assess its effects on fishing.

RELATED:

The malfunction of the Hebgen dam causes a drop in the water level; brings the community together to save the trout


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Pandemic Adds Time, Cost Of Reconstruction After Colorado Wildfire | national news

January 7, 2022

Montana Economy

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LOUISVILLE, Colo. (AP) – The 23-year-old home of Rex and Barba Hickman near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains has been reduced to a blackened heap by the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.

Before the December 30 fire, which ravaged nearly 1,100 homes, the Hickmans often hung out with neighbors on their patio, sharing funny stories over a glass of wine. But that probably won’t happen again for years – an even longer delay by the pandemic.

“That’s part of the reason it hurts,” Barba Hickman, 65, said earlier this week as he sifted through the rubble and wondered how long it might take for the neighbors to benefit again spontaneous meetings.

Reconstruction is never easy or quick. Homeowners must deal with insurers, land surveyors, architects and more. But in Colorado and other states hit by natural disasters this year, the pandemic has added additional uncertainty and created more hurdles. Shortages of labor and raw materials will make reconstruction slower and more expensive.

“It’s going to take forever,” said Kelly Moye, spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Realtors.

Even without a pandemic, it took almost seven years to completely rebuild after a fire in 2012 that destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado Springs, and home builders are still finishing work after a 2017 fire in Santa Rosa, Calif. .

The stress of recent Colorado wildfire victims is compounded by an extremely tight housing market. With few homes for sale or rent, families are struggling to find temporary shelter.

“It’s a big part of the population who all need the same thing. And they all need it right now, ”Moye said. “They can’t get away for half an hour because the kids have to stay in their school district.”

Thousands of American families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by extreme weather conditions last year, from tornadoes in the Midwest and Kentucky to the impact of Hurricane Ida on the Gulf Coast and New Jersey, also face the intimidating road that awaits the Coloradans affected by the forest fires.

Builders everywhere are waiting longer than usual to line up carpenters, electricians and plumbers, and these specialists themselves are being supported while they wait for parts.

From start to finish, building a 2,500 square foot home in Denver would normally take four to five months. Now that same project typically takes eight to 10 months, said John Covert, director of Zonda Advisory, a Denver-based residential construction market research firm. The local increase in demand after a disaster only exacerbates the problem.

President Biden and his wife, Jill, on Friday visited the area outside of Denver where more than $ 500 million in damage has been caused. They walked along a street where houses burned down to their concrete foundations and met locals and local officials.

In addition to delaying reconstruction, the pandemic is also driving up costs. Contractors are hard to find amid an increase in renovations, and lumber and steel supplies are stranded by problems in the supply chain, said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.

Lumber prices have fallen from around $ 350 per 1,000 board feet before the pandemic to nearly $ 1,500 last year, Dietz said. This can mean additional costs of $ 30,000 to $ 40,000 for a typical home, he said.

Colorado cities hardest hit by last week’s wildfires, Louisville and Superior, lie in a predominantly wealthy area between Denver and the college town of Boulder. Median home prices there are more than double the national average, which stood at $ 416,900 in November, down from $ 321,500 a year earlier.

Rising house prices can add an additional burden to families who have lost their homes to a forest fire.

“The costs are likely to exceed the insured value of many destroyed structures,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

The Hickmans’ adjuster said their policy would not cover rebuilding their home exactly as they did. With a gas fireplace and wood stove inside and a front patio that had become a gathering place for neighbors, the house was valued at over a million dollars.

“The pandemic and the supply chains have increased costs, and the insurance company doesn’t seem to care,” Barba Hickman said.

The people of Colorado are not alone in facing the challenges of the pandemic era that have exacerbated the already stressful process of recovering from a natural disaster.

In December, a 200 mile line of tornadoes struck Kentucky, decimating some small rural towns, displacing hundreds and killing dozens.

Cole Claybourn of Bowling Green has found a contractor to fix the torn off corner of his house and damaged roof, and is hoping work will begin next week, a month after the disaster. “If it had only happened in one part of the county, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it took out quite a large part of the city,” he said.

It’s too early for Claybourn, 32, to have supply chain headaches, but he won’t be surprised if that’s a problem. “I’m a high school teacher and we haven’t been able to get toner in our building for months,” he said.

Before Hurricane Ida destroyed the Gulf Coast – then destroyed New Jersey – in late summer, construction contractors were already grappling with severe labor shortages and depleted supply chains. The damage inflicted by Ida amplified these constraints.

Jeff Okrepkie, whose home burned down in the Santa Rosa fire in 2017, said families who begin to rebuild will benefit by working together, sharing information and being extremely patient. “There is so much to building a house from scratch and most of us have no experience in this area,” said Okrepkie, who moved into his new home in early 2020.

The challenge for builders comes at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty. The US economy has rebounded at an unexpected speed after a brief but painful recession in the spring of 2020, catching many companies by surprise and forcing them to scramble to find supplies and recall workers they had put on leave for the year. last.

But it is not known how long the reduction in supply and labor will last. Omicron and other COVID-19 variants could cause more Americans to stay at home as a health precaution. This could slow economic growth, but also slow inflation and alleviate labor and material shortages.

Dietz, the economist, believes building material shortages will ease before the labor shortage, especially in fast-growing regions like the mountain states and the southern United States.

For now, the Hickmans find some solace in being retired and having more time than many others to devote to rebuilding. They’ve spent the last week focusing on finding accommodation to rent and are even considering relocating to Denver, nearly 20 miles to the southeast.

With everything she’s learned over the past week, Barba Hickman urges her adult children to review their own insurance policies because “the time to discuss this is before your house burns down.”

———

Associated Press editors Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky, Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, and Alex Veiga in Los Angeles, contributed to this report. Nieberg is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.


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North Korea claims second successful hypersonic missile test

January 6, 2022

Montana Economy

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea said on Thursday it had successfully completed the second test flight of a hypersonic missile, days after Chief Kim Jong Un pledged to bolster its military forces despite difficulties related to the pandemic.

Wednesday’s launch, the North’s first known weapons test in about two months, indicates the country will continue with plans to modernize its nuclear and missile arsenals rather than resuming disarmament talks anytime soon.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party had expressed “great satisfaction” at the results of the missile test, which was observed by key weapons officials.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose critical challenges to missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability. It’s unclear if and how soon North Korea could make such a high-tech missile, but it was part of a wishlist of sophisticated military assets that Kim leaked early last year, as well as a multi-warhead missile, spy satellites, solid fuel long-range missiles and nuclear submarine launch missiles.

Wednesday’s test was the second of its kind since North Korea first launched a hypersonic missile last September.

“The successive successes of test launches in the hypersonic missile sector are of strategic importance as they accelerate a task of modernizing the state’s strategic armed forces,” a KCNA report said.

The word “strategic” implies that the missile is developed to launch nuclear weapons.

KCNA said the missile made a 120-kilometer (75-mile) lateral movement before hitting a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) away. He said the test reconfirmed the missile’s flight control and stability and checked its fuel capsule in winter weather conditions.

While North Korea appears to have made progress in developing a hypersonic missile, it still needs more test flights to determine if it is meeting its tactical goals or how well it could develop a hypersonic weapon, a declared Lee Choon Geun, expert and honorary researcher. member of the Science and Technology Policy Institute of South Korea.

A photo from the launch shows that the tops of missiles launched in September and this week have different shapes. Lee said this suggests that North Korea is testing two versions of warheads for a missile still in development or that it is actually developing two different types of hypersonic missiles.

He said the missile’s reported lateral movement would provide the weapon with greater maneuverability to evade enemy missile defense systems.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said North Korea is likely to move forward with its plans to strengthen weapons without being affected by external factors like the Olympic Games in Seoul. Beijing in February, the South Korean presidential election in March and a possible change in North Korean policy by the Biden administration.

“Since the United States has decided on a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, North Korea need not worry about what China would think when it performs” weapons tests, Kim said.

China is North Korea’s last great ally and aid benefactor. Some experts had predicted earlier that North Korea would not launch any provocations until the end of the Beijing Olympics.

Tae Yongho, a former North Korean diplomat who is now an MP in South Korea, wrote on Facebook that Pyongyang is keeping its borders closed due to fears over the pandemic. But he said Pyongyang was still working to perfect its missile technology to strengthen its position in future negotiations.

The latest North launch was first detected by its neighbors.

The US military called it a ballistic missile launch that “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program,” while South Korea and Japan have expressed concerns. or their regrets about the launch. China, for its part, called for dialogue and said “all parties concerned should keep the big picture in mind (and) be careful in their words and actions.”

U.S.-led diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program has stalled since 2019 due to disputes over international sanctions against the North. The Biden administration has repeatedly called for the resumption of nuclear diplomacy “anywhere, anytime” without preconditions, but North Korea argued that the United States must first withdraw its hostility against him before talks can resume.

At last week’s plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim Jong Un reiterated his pledge to expand his country’s military capabilities without publicly presenting new positions on Washington and Seoul.

The North’s expanding nuclear arsenal is at the heart of Kim’s reign, and he called it a “mighty precious sword” that thwarts potential assaults from the United States. During his 10-year reign, he performed an unusually high number of weapons tests to acquire the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the Americas. But his country’s economy has fallen sharply over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sanctions and his government’s mismanagement.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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Climate change and invasive species lead to decline of native trout – sciencedaily

January 4, 2022

Montana Economy

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In a new study published in Scientists progress, researchers at the University of Montana have found that climate change is causing the decline of native trout by reducing habitat in streams and facilitating the expansion of invasive trout species.

“This study had three main questions: How have native and invasive trout distributions changed in Montana over the past 30 years, how will they change in the future, and what factors are causing these changes? ” said Donovan Bell, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in UM’s wildlife biology program.

To answer these questions, scientists from UM, the US Geological Survey and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks quantified the impacts of climate change on the distribution of five species of trout (cutthroat trout and bull trout native and invasive brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout) in the northern Rockies. They used a large, long-term data set collected and maintained by the Montana FWP, analyzing nearly 22,000 data points from electrofishing surveys in Montana streams and rivers over the past 30 years.

The researchers found that the occupation of Bull Trout and Westslope Cutthroat Trout – defined as the amount of stream where a species is present – has declined by 18% and 6%, respectively, between 1993 and 2018 and is expected to decrease by an additional 39%. and 16% by 2080. Although invasive brook trout are also expected to decline, invasive brown trout and rainbow trout have expanded their ranges due to the rising water temperatures and appear poised to thrive under future climate changes.

The researchers found that the cause of the decline of the two native trout species was likely climate change, but the specific mechanisms of the decline varied among species.

Bull trout, a species threatened under the Endangered Species Act, requires cold streams with adequate flow. But warmer water temperatures and lower water levels in summer – both due to climate change – have degraded stream habitat and likely caused bull trout to decline. . During this time, Westslope Cutthroat Trout was severely limited by the presence of invasive trout species, including brook trout which can supplant native trout and rainbow trout which hybridize easily. with westerly cutthroat trout. The threat of invasive rainbow trout is of particular concern as their range is expanding due to global warming.

“Our two native Montana trout species will decline in the future unless appropriate conservation measures are taken,” Bell said. “Our results suggest that tailoring conservation strategies to specific species and specific threats from climate change is important for the conservation of native fish.”

For example, the conservation of Bull Trout in streams and rivers may better aim to protect, reconnect, and restore critical coldwater habitat. On the other hand, removing invasive trout species is probably more effective for the conservation of Westslope Cutthroat Trout.

“Globally, climate-induced changes in aquatic habitats are expected to threaten at least a third of freshwater fish, and some invasive species could benefit from these changes,” said Clint Muhlfeld, scientist at the USGS and study co-author. “These scenarios seem to be playing out in our garden with native and invasive trout.”

The study also highlights the importance of using and maintaining long-term datasets spanning large regions to shed light on the complex ways in which climate and invasive species work together to affect native species.

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to use data meticulously collected over decades in Montana to convincingly answer complex questions like these,” said David Schmetterling, Fisheries Research Coordinator for Montana FWP.

Andrew Whiteley, co-author of the study and associate professor at UM, said Montana has already lost populations of cold-adapted native fish species, and this will likely continue as climate change progresses in the during this century.

“This is particularly troubling in a state where cold-water fishing now contributes nearly $ 650 million a year to our economy,” said Whiteley, who studies fisheries and conservation genetics. “But all is not lost for these economically, ecologically and culturally important species as long as appropriate conservation measures are taken.”

Co-authors of the UM study include Bell, Paul Lukacs and Whiteley from WA Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at UM and Diane Whited from Flathead Lake Biological Station at UM. USGS co-authors include Muhlfeld, Timothy Cline, and Robert Al-Chokhachy. Montana FWP authors include Ryan Kovach and Schmetterling.


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Western “Zoom Cities” aim for short-term rentals

January 2, 2022

Montana Economy

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DEPOE BAY, Oregon – Postcards with big promises started appearing in mailboxes in coastal Oregon communities in 2019: “Rent your house short term, use it when you want, guaranteed 5,000 $ more monthly income than what you earn with your current property management company, ”recalls Retiree Monica Kirk.

Kirk’s neighborhood began to transform almost immediately.

Internet service companies such as Airbnb, Vacasa, and VRBO have run into short-term rental caps in neighboring towns. So they began to aggressively approach landowners in quieter, unincorporated seaside neighborhoods like Kirk’s, where rental restrictions were less stringent. Over the next year, according to a public record request filed by Kirk, the number of short-term rentals permitted in unincorporated neighborhoods in Lincoln County, Oregon, increased from 385 to 601.

“For most of the year, not just the season, there were more renters than full-time residents,” Kirk said.

Removing all of those homes from potential long-term rental stock made it all the more difficult for workers to afford homes in the County, a tourist community on Oregon’s central coast. The area, like all popular vacation destinations, needs affordable housing for workers that make it buzz.

Kirk and his neighbors have started collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that, over the next five years, will completely eliminate short-term rentals in unincorporated communities in the county. Its successful passage in November was one of the few bans to be approved in a wave of efforts to tackle the effects of short-term rentals on affordable housing in western tourist communities.

Even before the pandemic, destination cities in the West lacked affordable housing. Limited supply, the remote nature of some communities, zoning restrictions, and even short construction seasons have all contributed. But the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated everything, including the rise of so-called Zoom cities. Suddenly, people could live, work and recreate in the vacation communities of the West.

In recent years, it has also become much easier for second home owners to list vacancies with internet-based real estate companies that promise constant cash flow. When these homes enter the short-term vacation rental pool, they are no longer available to the local workforce.

There is little statewide effort to restrict short-term rentals – Idaho even bans local governments from passing bans – but some cities and counties have restricted vacation rentals. In Washington, Chelan County leaders recently placed new constraints on the number of units in unincorporated areas that can be rented out on a short-term basis; Seattle and Leavenworth each have their own restrictions.

Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, said recently that about a fifth of the company’s activity per night is now stays of 30 days or more. People book longer stays that combine work and play, an area the company sees as full of growth potential.

Portland-based Vacasa made public in early December the promise of its technology to manage properties and the understanding that vacation rentals for large groups or families are an untapped market. Jamie Cohen, chief financial officer of Vacasa, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that at least a fifth of people staying in vacation rentals did so for the first time during the pandemic.

In Colorado, residents of eight mountain towns have passed short-term rental taxes, the proceeds of which are intended to alleviate housing shortages. Colorado State Senator Chris Hansen, a Democrat, proposed legislation that would tax many short-term rentals at the accommodation property rate, which hotels pay, for each day the property is rented over 30 days a year.

His bill emerged in response to developers who began converting ski resort hotels into short-term condominiums with individual owners. This meant that new rentals were eligible for lower residential property tax rates, instead of the accommodation rate. In the ski town of Steamboat Springs, the move took $ 1.5 million from the local school’s budget, Hansen said.

“If we don’t have a stable property tax base, then we start to create a huge additional burden on the state budget,” Hansen said. “And we have a lot of constraints on our state budget.”

Real estate agents, property management companies and individual owners oppose the legislation. They would prefer to see other options used, including restricting short-term rentals to certain areas of communities, said Julia Koster, executive director of the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers, which represents owners and managers of around 7 000 short-term rental units in and around ski resorts.

In general, the vacation rental industry struggles with efforts to enact short-term moratoriums or bans. This was the case with the community-led voting measure in the Oregon coast, Kirk said. Two separate political action committees opposed it; they were mainly supported by real estate and property management interests that easily exceeded the local $ 35,000 raised to adopt the measure.

Meredith Lodging, a large local vacation property management company in Oregon, gave Save Lincoln County Jobs $ 200,000, a PAC put in place explicitly to fight the measure. The VIA Oregon Coalition, a separate political action committee established to support short-term rental policies, received $ 28,500 from the Oregon Realtors and one of its political action committees. Another $ 10,000 to fight the measure came from Vacasa.

“We support fair and equitable regulations that preserve our owners’ ability to operate their vacation rental and earn the income they rely on, while protecting the interests of full-time residents,” Sarah Tatone, Head of communication at Vacasa, said in an emailed statement. “It’s about finding a balance to fairly regulate short-term rentals, without limiting the potential to stimulate growth or support local businesses and the economy.

Yet few popular western tourist communities have enough affordable options for the staff needed to run a peak season vacation destination. In Montana, people who cannot afford rent in some tourist towns have camped out, encroaching on grizzly bear territory. The housing shortage has led to more encounters between bears and humans, said Bill Avey, a national forest supervisor in the area.

In Whitefish, the gateway to Montana’s Glacier National Park, the lack of affordable housing in 2021 has forced nearly every food or beverage-related business to cut back hours or close at least one day a week at peak of the summer tourist season, said Lauren Oscilowski, owner of Spotted Bear Spirits Distillery. In the past year, around half of the people in its 11-person team have been forced to move because their owners decided to turn their homes into short-term rentals.

“There’s this national thing where the hospitality people don’t go back to hospitality because the wages are too low, or they’re fed up with dealing with the public or whatever,” Oscilowski said. “But that’s just one piece. The biggest thing for us is really the accommodation.

Oscilowski sits on the Sustainable Tourism Management Committee of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau. She supported a moratorium on new short-term rentals, if only to slow down the transition. The measure was narrowly rejected in October.

Still, she is encouraged that the city is considering changes.

“Anyone who has been a part of our community for over 10 years has seen the change and also feels the frustration and the hardship,” said Oscilowski. “It is an undeniable stake.


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Governors tout 2021 marijuana reform accomplishments as year draws to a close

December 31, 2021

Montana Economy

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Leading federal health agency seeks to promote studies on the effectiveness of various harm reduction policies, including decriminalization and safe consumption sites, as part of a campaign to tackle the epidemic overdose.

While the Biden administration has yet to take a position on policy proposals to allow safe consumption facilities, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday released a pair of Requests for Nominations (RFA) for an effort which will provide funding for efforts to investigate how this and other harm reduction policies could help address the drug crisis.

Specifically, the NIH wishes to establish a Harm Reduction Network that aims to “improve our understanding of the effectiveness, implementation and impact of existing and new harm reduction practices in dealing with the crisis. opioid prevalence and substance use disorders more broadly ”.

A parallel RFA calls for a focal point within the network to provide ‘logistical and coordination support’, ‘data harmonization and sharing supports’ and ‘research and clinical practice resources’ .

Applications are accepted for projects that involve “(1) developing and testing new harm reduction strategies; (2) examine how to effectively implement new and existing harm reduction strategies; (3) expand the frameworks and delivery models through which harm reduction strategies are deployed; and (4) examine the impact of new harm reduction policies implemented at national and local levels.

“Harm reduction services aim to prevent or minimize the adverse effects associated with substance use, such as fatal and non-fatal overdoses and the transmission of infectious diseases,” said the advisory. “Examples of established harm reduction approaches include naloxone, fentanyl test strips (FTS), safer smoking equipment and sterile syringes, as well as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing. and hepatitis C virus. “

Opinions from the NIH and its constituent agencies such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicate that ’emerging’ harm reduction policies’ include the decriminalization of various drugs, and the diversion and diversion efforts led by the United Nations. police and the prosecutor, and the authorization of safe consumption sites. . “

They also note that the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) prioritizes harm reduction policy as a means of overdose prevention.

NIDA Director Nora Volkow has repeatedly expressed concerns about the damage caused by the criminalization of drug possession and specifically called racial disparities in law enforcement a major problem, including in an interview. with Marijuana Moment and in several editorials.

When it comes to safe consumption sites, Volkow said earlier this year that she was willing to continue exploring “how these support systems as a community can help people, for example, to engage in treatment, how they can prevent them from getting HIV. and how they can prevent them from overdosing and dying.

New York City launched the first sanctioned safe consumption site late last month, and advocates have questioned how the federal government would respond given its role in blocking a Philadelphia nonprofit , Safehouse, for launching its own harm reduction center.

New York City officials say the sites – where people can use currently illegal drugs in a medically supervised environment where they have access to treatment resources – have already saved dozens of lives.

This is only part of the NIH harm reduction research initiative, however. Here is a description of the research topics he wishes to explore:

  • Research to develop and test new approaches and / or frameworks for harm reduction service delivery, including strategies that involve sectors outside the health system and strategies that do not depend on face-to-face interaction to face

  • Research that seeks to understand individual and system-level barriers to the provision of effective, scalable, and sustainable harm reduction services, such as individuals forgetting or refusing to wear naloxone or fentanyl test strips, hand shortages -working, funding limitations and stigmatizing attitudes towards individuals with SUD.

  • Research to develop and / or test strategies to overcome identified barriers to effective, scalable and sustainable harm reduction services,

  • Research on strategies to ensure that people from vulnerable, under-researched and / or hard-to-reach populations have access to and benefit from harm reduction services.

  • Research on the implications of emerging harm reduction policies, including their effectiveness in reducing unwanted effects and barriers / facilitators to successful implementation in real settings

  • Research on harm reduction strategies for people using methamphetamine and other stimulants

Nine candidates will be selected to conduct the studies under the five-year program. It approves up to $ 6.75 million for FY2022 projects.

The new notice also talks about applications for marijuana research, stressing that such studies are “necessary to measure and report results using a standard delta-9-THC unit in all applicable research on subjects. human “.

“The aim is to increase comparability between research studies on cannabis. A standard delta-9-THC unit is defined as any formulation of cannabis plant material or extract that contains 5 milligrams of delta-9-THC, ”he says. “A rationale must be provided for human research that does not suggest using the standard unit.”

When it comes to safe consumption sites, activists in several cities have attempted to establish these centers in recent years.

In October, the Supreme Court dismissed a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing the facility in Philadelphia, but the case is still in a lower court and lawyers anxiously await a response from DOJ for show where the agency decides to stay. on the issue under the Biden administration.

By mutual agreement between federal officials and Safehouse, the administration’s deadline for submitting its position was extended to March 7. It had previously been extended until November 5 of this year. Defenders see this as a positive sign.

White House drug czar Rahul Gupta recently said exploring “all options” to reduce overdose deaths, and this could include allowing safe consumption sites for illegal substances if the evidence confirms their effectiveness.

The ONDCP director previously said he couldn’t speak to harm reduction centers due to the ongoing Safehouse litigation, but seemed more open to the possibility in the recent interview with CNN.

US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Bacerra also recently signaled that the Biden administration would not budge to block the facility’s secure injection sites, stressing that “we are literally trying to give users a lifeline.

But a spokesperson for the department later returned to the remarks, saying “HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites” and “the issue is the subject of ongoing litigation.” In any event, it would be up to the DOJ to decide whether to prosecute facility operators under the Controlled Substances Act.

Bacerra was among eight senior law enforcement officials in the state who filed an amicus brief in support of Safehouse’s safe injection site plan when he was California attorney general.

The Biden administration has generally promoted the concept of harm reduction as part of its drug policy, but it has not formally weighed in on safe consumption sites in particular.

Defenders put the current situation in no uncertain terms. They say harm reduction centers could mean the difference between life and death for countless Americans who currently use illegal drugs.

Early data from New York City indicates the facilities could prevent many more deaths than the Department of Health had predicted. Its feasibility study found that safe consumption sites could save up to 130 lives per year.

The legal complication of these harm reduction sites is primarily related to a so-called “federal crack house law” which criminalizes the use of a place for the manufacture, distribution or consumption of controlled substances. .

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials, including one who is Biden’s choice for the US attorney for Massachusetts, previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the consumer case. safe from Safehouse.

As New York City is the first to open harm reduction centers, the governor of Rhode Island signed a landmark bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program.

Massachusetts lawmakers proposed similar legislation last year, but it ultimately did not come into law.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener (D), was approved by the state Senate in April, but other measures have been delayed until 2022.

Here are the biggest news stories about marijuana, psychedelics and drugs of 2021

Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.

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Montana’s Housing Problems Threaten Hospitals, State’s Low Health Care Costs, Warns Association | Montana

December 29, 2021

Montana Economy

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(The Center Square) – The housing shortage is a concern for all parts of Montana’s economy, including healthcare, where it is difficult for the industry to hire and retain workers, according to a recent survey.

Hospitals are often the largest private employer in a community, according to Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, who added that every hospital has a housing issue that hinders recruitment. When workers cannot find housing, the hospital cannot hire them, so the hospital cannot function well and the community does not benefit, he said.

A recent MHA survey found that housing is the biggest problem hospitals face when trying to recruit workers. A list of issues facing potential employees includes limited inventory and high prices for homes for sale and rent, especially for those with low incomes, the survey found.

The housing shortage problem is twofold: A lack of housing availability and high housing costs.

Realtor.com Numbers reported by the Independent Record show that in any month over the past year, the maximum number of active real estate listings has decreased from 2019, and in some places listings only represent a third of what they were two years ago.

In Bozeman, housing costs have risen 26% over the past year, with a median price for a single-family home of just over $ 734,500 in September, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. reported. The Zillow home sales website reported that the median price of a home in Montana is almost $ 350,000, more than 27% higher than in September 2020.

Home values ​​in other parts of the state like Helena are also skyrocketing, Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said many people think of well-paid doctors and nurses when considering hospital workers, but most hospital staff have much lower incomes. And in Montana, he said, most doctors are primary care providers with lower salaries than a specialist doctor like a neurosurgeon, or they may be new graduates with less. experience but a lot of student debt that cannot afford a high monthly rent or mortgage payment.

The housing shortage coupled with the increased need for hospital staff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led some hospitals to get creative.

Cut Bank’s Northern Rockies Medical Center has converted unused hospital rooms into staff apartments, Rasmussen said, and a Glendive hospital has acquired duplexes for housing. He said other health systems could provide housing as well, but lack support and resources.

“We have hospitals that have properties but they don’t have partners to help them turn property into housing,” Rasmussen said. “With a state dominated by small, critical access hospitals, the ability of these small hospitals and small communities to develop ownership is a challenge. It’s a challenge from a funding point of view if you are a small hospital as well as getting the contractors and developing the project.

Despite efforts by some hospitals to help workers access affordable housing, most hospitals have had to turn to temporary or itinerant workers, which is a very costly approach in terms of staff, Rasmussen said.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte recently launched an incentive program in the form of a $ 12,500 relocation bonus to help attract healthcare workers to the state. Rasmussen said hospital systems are very optimistic about the incentive, but warns it is still only a short-term fix. He pointed out that Montana has the lowest health care costs in the country.

“In order to continue like this, we need to make sure we have the resources to keep costs under control. And the biggest cost center in a hospital is the staff, ”said Rasmussen. “So if we can’t get the personnel costs to a sustainable place, then you’re going to see cost increases. “

Keeping health care and housing costs reasonable will require a commitment to finding durable solutions that will last for the long term, he said, and this approach will also strengthen the state’s overall economy.

“If we want to develop the state, we have to invest in our system,” Rasmussen told The Center Square. “If we want to cut costs we need to invest in our workforce, and if we don’t fix these issues in the long run, it will be difficult for us to meet the demands to keep growing our economy while all of us. want to see it grow.


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There are ways to do things differently when it comes to economics

December 28, 2021

Montana Economy

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Thinking back to 2021, organizing things differently turned out to be the theme of the year for our economic coverage at Next City.

At the very end of ‘Debt: The First 5,000 Years,’ writes author David Graeber, ‘all of these things are human arrangements and if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability of all to come together for it. arrange things in a different way. “

Thinking back to 2021, organizing things differently turned out to be the theme of the year for our economic coverage at Next City. Across all levels of the economy, from the lowest to the Federal Reserve, doing things differently has come under full prominence.

Become aware of commercial real estate

This year, we have reported a lot about communities finding ways to do commercial real estate without relying on the conventional model of developers taking ownership of land and stacking capital to generate the highest possible financial returns.

We covered Seattle’s New Cultural Space Agency, a city-sponsored entity similar to a housing authority but dedicated to property development on behalf of the arts and cultural organizations of Seattle’s Black communities, Indigenous communities, and others. ‘other communities of color. Rather than a conventional configuration where the mayor chooses who runs the agency, the communities it serves choose who runs it.

In New Orleans, we covered the Crescent City Community Land Trust by helping a century-old, third-generation black business finally innovate to revitalize their home, which was nearly destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Community land trusts have primarily emerged in recent decades as a model of property to decommodify housing – permanently removing it from the market so that it can remain permanently affordable and responsible for meeting community needs. Crescent City is one of several community land trusts across the country that take the model back to its roots by protecting the ability of black people to have some economic self-determination, in addition to a stable and affordable place to live.

This year, we also attended the inauguration of the Commongrounds Co-op in Traverse City, Michigan. The owners of this new real estate cooperative are a combination of companies soon to be moving into the space along with their clients, workers and other supporters. Even potential residents of new apartments located above commercial and community spaces can choose to purchase and become co-owners of the building.

The evolution of worker power

Worker-owned co-ops are nothing new in our economic coverage at Next City. This year, we’ve caught up with a few that we’ve covered in previous years, including ChiFresh Kitchen, CERO, and the growing network of food industry worker co-ops in Baltimore. In addition to organizing against giants like Amazon and Starbucks, workers across the country continue to rely on this different model of business ownership as a way to regain power over the means of production.

But worker-owned cooperatives continue to face a distinct disadvantage in terms of access to capital for start-up and growth. During the pandemic, thousands of cooperative businesses gained access to something they had never had access to before: loans backed by collateral from the Small Business Administration. Congress could make co-ops’ access to SBA loan guarantees permanent beyond the pandemic, but the legislation remains in limbo. In the meantime, this year we reported on the progress of a national network of worker co-op lenders created by and for worker co-ops.

The worker co-op model has also ventured into one of the most competitive markets in cities today – the ridesharing app market, where Uber and Lyft have fought and trampled the taxi industry. in the process. Earlier this year, we covered the launch of The Drivers Cooperative, the first ridesharing app company created by and owned by drivers. Its app, “Co-Op Ride,” opened to the public on May 30, and we even caught up with the co-op later in the year for an episode of the Next City Podcast.

No business has experienced more unrest during the pandemic than restaurants, bars and cafes. Some workers in the food industry, like in Baltimore, looked to the cooperative model years ago as an alternative that can restore dignity and humanity to their workplace. This year, we covered the first acquisition of the very first group of worker-owned cooperative restaurants. It’s an attempt to take a page out of the private equity playbook – by buying out an entire portfolio of struggling companies – but reversing the model so that workers are the biggest beneficiaries.

Raise the green curtain

Around the same time last year, we called 2020 “the year of demystifying money for cities”. This year we have continued to pick up that thread with some of the most reported stories of the year.

In keeping with Graeber’s idea of ​​what democracy means, these stories focused on how democracy has reshaped or could reshape the way money flows – raising the green curtain to understand where the money is coming from. money, how it gets where it goes, and what it might take to get more of it to get to where it hasn’t been for too long.

After years of pilot programs in limited locations, guaranteed income programs have taken off across the country over the past year – and we’ve mapped them out as we heard about them. This year, we visited the oldest guaranteed income pilot program to date, in Jackson, Mississippi, to learn more about race and gender dynamics in the design and policy of cash assistance programs. without conditions.

Not to mention the dramatic changes to the federal child tax credit program, which effectively turned it into a nationwide guaranteed income plan. But those changes are currently set to expire at the end of this year, even though all the evidence so far shows it works and fewer children live in poverty today, even with all of the pandemic-related turmoil in. the economy. Racist politics and stereotypes about the poor remain a major obstacle.

This year, we also took a deeper dive into the Federal Reserve, one of the most powerful but least understood economic institutions in the world. During the pandemic, its flotilla of emergency lending programs helped make it more visible than it has been for many decades. Some have called on the Fed to do more for real people and less for businesses. A year-long struggle with high inflation has also drawn attention to the central banking system.

The political choices made by elected officials have shaped all of the Fed’s emergency programs and the entire Fed itself. For as much power as it appears the Fed and its senior officials have, it is delegated power by Congress, and with it comes certain obligations as prescribed by Congress. For many decades, racial justice advocates have argued that the Fed failed to live up to its Congressional-imposed obligation to promote full employment – for example, by allowing black unemployment to consistently linger twice. that of white unemployment.

But, as we covered this year, the Fed is now doing things differently. It was not a response to the pandemic, as changes had been underway for years within the Fed before COVID hit, but the change was timely. The Fed is now paying attention to factors like racial disparities in unemployment or wage growth to determine whether it should continue to push the economy to grow or to slow things down. Some racial justice advocates are calling on the Fed to change even more.

It shouldn’t come as such a surprise that democracy – messy, problematic, and often frustrating as it is – can and has shaped things as powerful as the Fed. If this sounds so surprising, maybe it’s because of who benefits the most by keeping most of us out of the room when it comes to making decisions about how the economy works. It certainly wouldn’t bother Wall Street if it were the only voice in conversations about the Fed or anything to do with financial sector regulations and policies.

With another election year ahead of us, there will be plenty of opportunities to ask everyone who runs for office what they think about doing things differently when it comes to commercial real estate, worker ownership, or the Fed. If they seem like they need more thoughts on this, I hope you can refer them back to whatever we wrote about it last year or over the next year.

Oscar is Next City’s senior business correspondent. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Next City from 2018-2019 and was a Next City Equitable Cities member from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered funding for community development, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha and Fast Company.

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