Thursday, October 31, 2013

Food benefits decreasing

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Starting tomorrow, food stamp recipients in New York will see a reduction in monthly benefits. In most cases, households will lose approximately $11 a month, says information provided by Volunteer Legal Services of Western New York.

The decrease is related to the 2009 federal stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The legislation included a boost in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps. But now that money is gone.

Volunteer Legal Services of Western New York is trying to draw attention to the decrease so that SNAP recipients aren't caught by surprise.

The cut may sound minor, but some local coordinators for low-income nutrition programs say that it'll have serious consequences for benefits recipients. The families are already trying to make the benefits go as far as they can, says Sue Segelman, nutrition education and outreach coordinator for Volunteer Legal Services of Western New York. In August, 120,332 people in 63,973 Monroe County households received SNAP benefits, says data from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

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Richards asks for state review of city's finances, operations

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 4:29 PM

Mayor Tom Richards is asking City Council to approve legislation requesting a comprehensive review of the city's finances and operations. Council members could vote on the legislation at November's Council meeting. 

The review would be done by the state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments. Cuomo created the 10-member panel earlier this year to "offer assistance to eligible municipalities." Richards issued a sort-of dismissive press release at the time, and you could understand why. The unspoken implication was that mismanagement — not the disappearance of manufacturing, the erosion of the property tax base, and related issues — is the real culprit behind the mess that upstate cites are in. 

So why would Richards pursue this legislation now? I can think of a few reasons. It could strengthen the city's case for AIM aid parity if the state board does its review and finds that Rochester is running a pretty tight ship, after all, and there's no fat left to cut off the bone. Second, the city could get up to $5 million in grant and-or loans for undertaking the panel's recommendations. So maybe Richards is doing this for the money? 

A co-worker suggested that Richards may want a full vetting of the city's finances as a gift of sorts to his successor in the mayor's office — so he or she knows exactly what's what. That seems a little far-fetched, but who knows? 

Poverty "excuse" gets a reprieve

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 12:30 PM

The subject of school integration came up several months ago while I was researching a story. The idea of a metro school system, though heralded by many as one of the most promising ways to improve student performance in Rochester’s schools, was simultaneously dismissed by the people I was with. “Impossible,” “Will never happen,” and “Not plausible,” they said.

That’s why the discussion of somehow integrating city students into suburban schools at yesterday’s Grad Nation Summit is so interesting. The conversation, which was the theme of one of the panel discussions, was reported by the D&C’s Tiffany Lankes.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who attended the summit was unaware that Rochester is a highly segregated metropolitan area. Certainly, area politicians learned that lesson from former mayor Bill Johnson’s attempt to snatch the county executive’s seat away from Maggie Brooks. Her infamous Pac-Man ad, which showed the little yellow critter gnawing away at the county, was supposed to suggest Johnson’s penchant for big government. But many people saw it as racism.

A metro school system was one of Johnson’s ideas for improving city schools, and critics said that the ad played on the fears and opposition that many suburban voters held at the time. Johnson was soundly defeated. As one politician put it to me recently, even bringing up the idea of a metro school would be a career-altering decision.

But even more curious is how the student integration issue is being held up as a way to combat the ills of concentrated poverty in Rochester. More than a few people who attended yesterday’s summit have publicly held the position that poverty has been used as an “excuse” for low student achievement in city schools.

“Since race correlates closely with economic status, this racial separation drives a concentration of poverty in certain schools – a factor that research consistently shows is a prime indicator of academic performance,” Lankes writes.

Maybe we're finally ready to admit that poverty isn't an excuse. It's a reality. 

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Romneycare's launch wasn't successful either

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 1:51 PM

After listening to conservatives' hysteria over the Affordable Care Act for the last two weeks, it was fascinating to hear Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick talk about his state’s health care program, or Romneycare. The program, a micro version of the Affordable Care Act, served as the ACA's blueprint.

Though the program is wildly successful today, it launched with many of the same problems as the ACA, Patrick said on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes. Massachusetts has 97 percent of its residents signed into the program. The website, which is much smaller than the federal government’s ACA website, experienced numerous problems that had to be fixed in the days and weeks after the launch.

And even though there was evidence that many people were visiting the site, most of the enrollment activity took place as the deadline date drew closer.

Patrick was asked why Massachusetts’ plan has been so successful. His response? Democrats and Republicans worked together to make the program operate correctly. Problems were identified and fixed quickly.
Much of the catastrophe that opponents of the ACA predicted hasn't materialized in Massachusetts, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. 

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Teamsters reject Wegmans' contract proposal

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 10:11 AM

This post has been updated with a correction.

Members of Teamsters Local 118 have again rejected a contract offer from Wegmans.

Approximately 900 Wegmans truck drivers and warehouse employees are represented by the union. On September 30, the union members rejected what Wegmans called its final offer. But company and union officials agreed to meet again on October 11, and on October 12 they had a proposal that union officials agreed to present to the membership.

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Rochester land bank gets state money

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 9:39 AM

The state Attorney General's Office has awarded Rochester's land bank $2.78 million, which the city will use to acquire and rehabilitate houses over the next two years.

Over the summer, the AG's Office said it was making $20 million from the state's share of a national mortgage settlement available to New York land banks. In September, the Rochester Land Bank Corporation submitted an application seeking $3.3 million, which it planned to use for the purchase, rehab, and resale of 50 homes through the Greater Rochester Housing Partnership's HOME Rochester program. The program rehabs houses and sells them to first-time homebuyers at market value.

The land bank also planned to use some of the money to cover staff costs, including a full-time real estate specialist. (For now, the land bank is staffed by current city employees.)

The AG's Office announced the awards yesterday. A fact sheet for the Rochester land bank says that the $2.78 million award will fund the full-time staff and its 50-house plan. The city's application also sought funding for some new construction, but the AG's fact sheet doesn't mention that.

The fact sheet does says that the investment will be matched by $3.7 million in private financing and $2.3 million in city and state subsidies. All new construction will meet national green building standards for energy efficiency.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paper details plastics pollution in several Great Lakes

Posted By on Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Researchers have released a new paper on microplastics in the Great Lakes and in it they say that the concentration of plastic fragments in many cases exceeds that of the world's oceans.

The paper was written by researchers from the 5 Gyres Institute and SUNY Fredonia and covers samples from Lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie. Erie had the highest concentrations of plastics, says a press release sent out yesterday by the 5 Gyres Institute. The release says that researchers also found aluminum silicate — coal ash, a coal power plant byproduct — particles in the Erie samples. (The paper is available here, but you have to pay to access it.)

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Monday, October 28, 2013

WEEK AHEAD: City board to vote on University Ave. apartments; AG in town; casino forum

Posted By on Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 10:18 AM

The City of Rochester’s Planning Commission will once again take up a controversial proposal to build a 99-unit apartment complex on University Avenue in the East Avenue Preservation District. The meeting is at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30, in City Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street.

The commission initially tabled Morgan Management’s proposal to give members time to consider lengthy testimony submitted on both sides of the project. Critics say that the project is too big and that it doesn't belong in a preservation district. The opposition is led by the George Eastman House; the apartment building would disrupt the view from the GEH, says GEH Director Bruce Barnes. Barnes also says that a project such as Morgan's wasn't the intention of the Planned D
Eastman House Director Bruce Barnes. - FILE PHOTO
  • Eastman House Director Bruce Barnes.
evelopment District, which GEH spearheaded in 2011.

Supporters say that the project would inject life and vitality into University Avenue, and that upscale apartments are in demand by young people and empty-nesters.

The members of the Planning Commission are expected to vote on the application at Wednesday’s meeting. If they approve, the project goes back to the Preservation Board for final approval. 

The League of Women Voters of the Rochester Metropolitan Area and the Interfaith Alliance of Rochester will hold a community forum on Proposition 1, the proposed amendment to the state Constitution to expand gaming in New York, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, October 28, at Asbury First United Methodist Church, 1050 East Avenue. 

Speaking in support of the amendment will be Jim Bertolone, president of the Rochester AFL-CIO. Speaking against will be David Blankenhorn, president of the NYC-based Institute for American Values. 

Proposition 1 is on the November 5 ballot. If approved, it would allow up to seven casinos in the state. Christine Carrie Fien 

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will hold a community forum at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Eastman School of Music’s Hatch Recital Hall, 433 East Main Street.

A letter sent by the AG’s office says that he’ll be joined by senior staff. They will discuss topics such as environmental protection, labor rights, civil rights, health care, and consumer fraud.

Locally, the Attorney General’s Office is leading a grand jury investigation of county-affiliated local development corporations. The office has disclosed little about the investigation, though it stems from state Comptroller’s Office audits of the county’s relationships and contracts with two LDC’s: Upstate Telecommunications Corporation and Monroe Security and Safety Systems LDC.

In particular, the audits questioned whether the LDC’s showed favoritism in awarding contracts. Jeremy Moule 

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Friday, October 25, 2013

King is optimistic about Common Core

Posted By on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 12:14 PM

While there may be some adjustments made to the Common Core curriculum and the Annual Professional Performance Review for public school teachers and principals, State Education Commissioner John King said that he has no plans to slow down or delay the implementation of either.

Common Core has introduced higher standards for students in 45 states across the country, including New York.

“I’m committed to listening and to having tough discussions, but not to heckling,” King said. “Democracy is messy, but it shouldn’t be chaos.”

King made the statement earlier today to a room full of school board members from across the state who were in Rochester for an annual conference, which is being held at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

“I’m optimistic,” King said, pointing out numerous success stories that he says he has observed visiting districts throughout the state since the beginning of the school year. Some districts have been more aggressive and started implementing the Common Core earlier than others, he said. But implementation is moving forward smoothly, he said.

During a question-and-answer period, school board members raised concerns about a wide variety of issues. For example, one board member questioned why the US is trying to reinvent the wheel. Why not duplicate what Finland is doing — a country that culturally puts a much higher emphasis on education and regards teaching as one of its most important professions?

King said that New York, like many states, is raising the bar for entering the teaching field, and putting a significant emphasis on ongoing teacher development. Universal pre-K and investing in technology in the classroom are also strategies that King is pushing to improve the state’s educational outcomes.

“It’s inconceivable that technology won’t play a larger role as more instruction goes online,” he said. More students will be using iPads than traditional textbooks in the next five years, he said.

But one board member reminded King that board members are elected officials and that they have to listen to the concerns of the parents who elected them. If their concerns about the Common Core are not addressed, he said, they risk alienating their constituents.

King has been greeted with hostility at some recent public appearances over the Common Core, APPR, and other issues. But today’s Convention Center audience in Rochester was respectful and he received several rounds of applause during the question-and-answer period.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Grant aimed at wrapping up some Child Protective Services cases

Posted By on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 11:04 AM

October's been a relatively quiet month for the Monroe County Legislature, with little in the way of major or controversial legislation. But one piece of legislation did catch my eye.

The Lej routinely votes to accept various state and federal grants. And this week, a couple of Legislature committees considered a $50,000 grant that's meant to help county Child Protective Services staff wrap-up some open cases.

Several years ago, CPS staffing levels and caseloads were a major concern to Legislature Democrats and to some children's advocates. And county Dems still regularly question the administration about caseloads. 

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