Monday, February 21, 2011

Obama administration guts 'conscience clause' protection for health workers

The Obama administration has rolled back the "conscience clause" protections for health-care workers that were instituted during the Bush presidency.

The new federal regulations, released on February 18, still protect health-care workers who refuse to be involved in abortions. But the rules do not protect those who refuse to provide contraceptives.

The new regulations will create severe moral dilemmas for health-care workers who believe-- as the Catholic Church teaches-- that the use of contraceptives is gravely wrong. The conflict could be acute in some cases, since the regulations would force health-care workers to dispense contraceptives that function as abortifacients.

Rather than condemning the new rules, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a measured response. Speaking for the bishops' conference, Deirdre McQuade said that the administration's move was "a cause for disappointment, but also offers reasons for hope regarding an emerging consensus in Washington on the need for clear conscience protections for health-care providers." She said that the USCCB would work to expand the "conscience clause" protections.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Obama's budget to target education Pell grants

President Obama's budget Monday will propose cutting $100 billion dollars from the Pell grant program and other higher education programs, but use those savings to ensure that eligible students would be able to receive the current maximum award of $5,500 per school year.

Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Sunday on State of the Union with Candy Crowley that the changes would affect two areas of the Pell grant program.

The proposal calls for the end to the policy where students could qualify for two grants in one year -- one for the regular academic year and a second for summer school. Only one Pell grant per year would be awarded.

According to an Obama administration source, the savings would be $8 billion dollars next year, and $60 billion dollars over 10 years.

Lew said the second change would affect graduate and professional school students, reducing loan subsidies for these students.

Currently the government pays the interest on loans for some graduate and professional school students as long as they remain in school. Under the proposal, interest would build up while students were in school, though students wouldn't have to start paying back loans until after graduation.

By ending this program, the government would save $2 billion next year and $29 billion dollars over 10 years, according to an administration source.

"In education, we invest very seriously to make sure that 9 million students can go to college using Pell grant, to make sure that K-12 education -- we have 100,000 new teachers who are trained and experienced in science, technology, engineering and math," Lew said on State of the Union. "But we also have cutbacks."

In a conference call Friday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was asked about cuts in discretionary spending and how that could affect Pell grants. Duncan said the administration is "committed to maintain Pell."

Duncan said the budget would be "responsible" and "makes important investments in education reforms" including early learning, reforms in education and making college affordable.

When asked if more money for race to the top and new initiatives for early learning was realistic, he said he hoped it is. He continued: " The president is making very tough cuts, painful cuts. Pieces of our budget is being hit hard but we have to continue to invest" in education for this country's children.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Taxes under Obama

A comparison of tax bills for 2010, which must be filed this spring, with bills from 2008, the last full year of George W. Bush’s presidency.

■ A married couple with two young children and a combined income of $25,000

Their refund grew by $385 because the Earned Income Tax Credit was made more generous. The credit is refundable, meaning tax filers can receive it even if they didn’t pay any federal taxes.

■ A married couple with two children, including one in college, and a combined income of $50,000

Refund shrank by $500 because in 2008, the family received a $1,500 economic stimulus payment, which was larger than the $800 Making Work Pay credit they received for 2010. Other deductions were more generous in 2010.

■ A single person making $50,000 who paid $2,500 in interest on a student loan

Tax bill was reduced by $63 because the standard deduction and personal exemption increased. They increase most years, based on inflation.

■ A married couple with two children, including one in college, with modest investments and a combined income of $200,000

Tax bill reduced by $780 because the family had $37,000 in itemized deductions for state and local income taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable donations. Limits on such deductions were phased out.

■ A married couple with two children in college, larger investments, and a combined income of $1 million

Tax bill reduced by $6,740 because the family had $110,000 in itemized deductions for state and local income taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable donations. Limits on such deductions were phased out.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Health bits: Tips for brushing your teeth

Most of us forget to brush the inner surfaces of our teeth -- the areas the tongue presses against.

But the plaque we can't see is just as important to remove as the plaque we see.

Dentists say the area most neglected is the inner surface of the front teeth.

Also remember the next time you brush your teeth you may actually put old bacteria back in your mouth.

So rinse the toothbrush after you brush to help remove any leftover toothpaste.