Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hey Texans, don't forget to mail it in!

Hey remember that Census form you received in the mail several weeks ago, DON'T FORGET TO SEND IT IN!

I was surfing the net on Tuesday and found a blog post on The Texas Tribune about how there is "concern" that Texans haven't responded to the Census like other states. According to that report, we're lagging behind the rest of the country. Oh, we're behind to the tune of like seven percent. Some Texas cities have response rates around 25 percent.

When we received our Census, I waited one day to fill it out and put it in the mail. I wasn't trying to buck the system. I just took my time. Technically, the form says the Census is taking a snapshot of the country on April 1. If something in our family changed by April 1, ie the baby arrived almost two months early — I was going to have bigger things to worry about than whether or not my household was accurately reflected in the Census.

Why is sending the Census form so important?

Well, it's easier and cheaper, if you simply mail the form back. If the Census Bureau doesn't receive your form, you'll be getting a followup in the form of a a Census worker showing up at your door.

While you may think you're helping the economy by giving this person a job, it's not really helping. I saw one interview saying it costs the government around 42 cents for you to respond by mail, but costs around $60 — if someone has to report to your house. How is that helping control our federal tax dollars?

The Census director's statement reported on The Texas Tribune said "For every percentage increase in mail response, the bureau estimates it saves $85 million in taxpayer money."

Sure, you may not like the idea of the Census. You may not like the millions they have spent advertising the Census and encouraging people to fill out the forms. You may not even like the 10 questions on the form. You may not believe it's the government's business to know who lives in your home.

If you believe whole-heartedly in that last line — "You don't want the government in your business" — you really, really should fill out the form to prevent a government worker from knocking on your door. All the Census workers want to do is count the number of folks under the roof — nothing more nothing less.

This is one of those times where it's really easier and cheaper for us all, if you just mail in the form. The whole idea of the Census is to count Americans across the country. The numbers are used to dole out government monies, grants, etc. It really helps your local community to be counted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Every vote counts

Every vote counts.

We say it every election cycle, but people seem to always forget this. An election with a close result is good reminder — every vote counts.

In Del Rio, the Republican party had a close election for the county judge candidate. This week, after an electronic recount Laura Allen was declared the winner with 693 votes. Her opponent Dr. Robert C. Overfelt had 691 votes.

Election day was several week ago and the numbers have changed a bit. I recall the initial tally had Allen ahead by a single vote. Yes — one vote.

Close returns are tough. What ifs abound?

What if more people had turned out at the polls on election day?

What if the losing candidate has just convinced two more people to show up at the polls and vote?

What if more people had turned up at the polls?

Our county seemed to have a low turnout. There were no lines at my polling precinct. There were no hot races like a presidential election or a county sheriff's race on the ballot. Those two tend to attract larger numbers to the polls.

This year, there were several gubernatorial candidates to choose from, but it didn't seem to create a large turn out on election day. There were plenty of county seats on the ballot, but this also did not motivate more voters to cast a ballot.

The election results are a good reminder that every vote counts. Literally, your vote could make or break a change in government. So, don't forget to vote in the next election.

Let them know what you think

I want action.

I'm tired of all this back and forth about health care reform. I want a vote — whether through reconciliation, deeming or a rule action. I'm not sure what all those terms mean and I don't think half the broadcasters, reporters, bloggers or Congressional leaders do either.

There are lots of nasty buzzwords being used to describe these procedures and to discourage the use of them. There also appears to be historical data showing that each party has used these procedures in the past.

I don't care about the politics. I just want to see a few things accomplished.

I want to see lifetime caps disappear in insurance policies. It's really easy for a catastrophic illness to cost a million dollars in a short period of time. Those benefits run out way before the life of the individual with the illness, disease or stroke may end.

I want to see an opportunity for every person to have access to health care. I'm not talking about having access to the emergency room for a sinus infection. I'm talking about the ability to see a family doctor for preventative health care issues as well as infections and colds.

I want to see the health care bill streamlined. It would be nice to have it come in a smaller package, but I also understand it is trying to deal with multiple complex issues. It sets out some pretty lofty goals to be in place immediately and phased in over the next few years.

I want to see those kickbacks removed. I don't know what the Senate was thinking when they approved some of the perks for Nebraska and Louisiana. Who knows what other states benefited from these crazy deals? The deals need to go! They are not fair to other states.

I want to see Senate and Congressional leaders pass health care reform. If it's a legal method that has been employed by Congress in the past to approve legislation, then I think it should be used today.

I sent e-mails this morning to my Congressman and my Senators. It took longer to fill out the contact information than it did to ask them nicely to support the passage of health care reform.

I know there are a lot of people who hate the idea of health care reform. That's fine. You need to let Congressional leaders know how you feel, too.

It's easy, go to this Web site and you can find the people who represent your district and state. Let them know what you think. Let them know if you are for it or against it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Georgia on my mind today

The cost of a college education has been on the minds of many recently. This morning, I saw a report about Georgia college students taking their complaints to the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Rightfully, students want lawmakers to see the people who will be impacted by their cuts.

I'm thinking about Georgia, because I'm a graduate of The University of Georgia and my immediate family remains there. I recently received an e-mail from the alumni association talking about past cuts and proposed cuts. The overall picture looks pretty grim as plans include reducing the freshman class, faculty, staff and programs.

Colleges all across the country are facing similar problems. The economy is still in recovery which means that tax collections are down. If state officials can't make their budgets, something has to give. This is where the human toll begins. Some universities are having to take a hard look at programs, fees and tuition costs. Georgians are lucky that lottery funds pay for some tuition costs. Lottery funds don't pay for all the costs associated with education, so this could mean that some students may have to drop out until it becomes more affordable.

I began thinking about college costs recently, because my husband and I are expecting a baby. We put a small amount into a college fund for our son. We aren't even close to the amount suggested to fully fund the account to pay for a college education in 18 years.

Some parents have told me that funding anything at this point may be a bad idea or worse — make me bitter. Yes, I was scratching my head, too. It turns out, parents who plan (i.e. create and put money into college accounts for their children) often get bitter when they see how not planning for college results in free money — scholarships, federal assistance and grants.

When I went to college some two decades ago, there was no trust fund or money set aside to pay for school. My twin sister and I applied for scholarships, grants, financial aid and received minimal student loans to fund our education. We worked part-time at school and at home to pay for the extras.

It seems normal for many students to leave college these days with a diploma in one hand and a student loan debt in the other. I've heard from graduates with minimal debt — under $10,000 — to those reaching $40,000 and beyond. The student loan debt often surpasses the recent graduate's first year salary, if he or she can find a job.

Bitterness is also at work for those who repay their student loans. I'm not sure how people do it, but some people apparently do not repay their student loan debt.

Higher education isn't the only area taking a hit in this economy. Last week, there was story after story about communities closing city and county schools, firing teachers and increasing classroom sizes. Schools are finding they can't operate like they have in the past. They have to do things differently.

While I cringe at all the changes (some good and some bad), I can't figure out what the alternative is. We all want our government to cut costs, but we don't want those costs to impact the economy, health care, education, children or the elderly.

I can't figure out a way around. No money seems to clearly equal a cancellation of some services.

We want it all, but I don't think that's possible. Many of us have already looked at the reset button and hit it. We've had to adjust or alter our plans, because the economy and our bank accounts didn't make it possible. Some goals have had to be put on hold. State funded education systems need to do the same thing and move forward in the best way possible in this economy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Don't judge, just help

This morning, I was reading about Sen. Harry Reid's wife and daughter's accident. In one of the articles, it noted that Reid did not stay at the hospital. He returned to the Senate to continue negotiations about health care reform.

I cringed, because I knew things like this would happen. I found this Tweet: "Harry Reid, a sure loser in the 2010 election, would rather be in DC forcing Obamacare thru, than to be with wife in hospital."

Forget the politics of health care reform. Forget that Reid is a Democratic leader.

Think about how each individual deals with medical emergencies differently.

When my late husband had a catastrophic stroke, I was able to stay with him at the hospital. I didn't return to work for four or five weeks. NOT everyone can do that. I had a supportive employer, co-workers and family.

When he was able to communicate with me, he said he didn't remember 99 percent of what happened in that ICU unit. He doesn't know what was said, done or who visited. It's a fog, because of his precarious condition and the environment. It's difficult for many to keep their days and nights straight. The machines and tubes often create noises that muffle and alter reality as well.

While Mrs. Reid has a broken back, nose and neck — all very serious — I understand why Harry Reid did what he did. It's what he needed to do. Once you observe a few medical emergencies, you'll see how each person deals with it differently. Think about it — some people cry and fall to pieces. Some people find an inner strength that no one has seen before. Some people become numb from the experience. Some people let the medical professionals do their job.

People will criticize you no matter what you do. Some people felt like I stayed at the hospital for too long. I was encouraged to leave and to begin moving ahead, but I couldn't. While I wasn't the crying, weepy type, looking back, I honestly needed that time in the bubble of the ICU waiting room to adjust to my new reality.

Money also plays a role in how many react. Some folks can't afford to buy gas for their car to visit loved ones in the hospital. Some can't afford to miss a day of work. After all, the ICU is taking take of your loved one — technically you are there for support.

Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe family contact is important for recovery. But, I don't want to judge a person for how he or she reacts. It's ridiculous to do so. That individual has enough stress. There's no reason to pile it on with snarky remarks.

My mom had a serious neck and back surgery last August. She's recovering nicely, but she has mentioned on more than one occasion that she doesn't remember my visit with her during the post-surgery phase. I was there. She knows I was there, but she can't remember it. It's just another example of where your loved one — may not even know what you're doing to help them.

Unfortunately, there will be nasty comments made about Mr. Reid and how he behaves while his wife is recovering. I think the best thing is to simply offer up a prayer or a nice thought for the family. Medical emergencies are difficult and often devastating. The last thing a family needs is a bunch of nosey folks butting in. Each family needs to make its own decision on what's best. No one else.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh, it's Census time again

I received a letter yesterday and I thought it was my family's Census questionnaire. It was not. It was a letter explaining how I will receive a letter. Silly, maybe, but the content is not.

"About one week from now, you will receive a 2010 Census form in the mail." The first line was bold. I'm not exaggerating.

The letter shared information that I already know. "Your response is important. Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share."

The letter from U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves is a great reminder. I heard some complaints about the Census TV commercials, but I thought they were pretty good at getting the message out that your response is important. Unfortunately, you can't just send out a questionnaire with instructions and hope people will respond. The Census Bureau has to be proactive. In fact, they'll visit if you don't respond.

I hope their efforts will pay off in the large return on the questionnaires. It's important to stand up and be counted as part of the Census, because it determines how federal funds make their into our community. In this economy, I think we need all the federal dollars sent our way that is possible.

While it may be an important task, it doesn't take a lot of time. It takes about 10 minutes to answer 10 questions. And, bonus — it only happens once every 10 years. I guess most people spend more time watching TV in one evening than they'll spend filling out Census forms over their lifetime.

If you have questions about the Census, visit the Web site and learn more about it. The site explains the process and how the information collected remains private. Be sure to fill it out when you get your form, your community's share of about $400 billion in federal dollars depends on your response.