Court to US Government: Release Food Stamp Data

January 28th, the Sioux Falls Argus Lead newspaper won a case against the USDA in trying to get data on food stamps handed out in the United States.

For almost three years, the USDA, which runs the food stamp program, tenaciously fought to keep this information secret. They refused to hand it over when the newspaper made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. They refused again when the newspaper filed an administrative appeal. And they fought hard and won when the newspaper brought them to federal court in South Dakota.

But that all changed on January 28 when another federal court ordered the USDA to hand over the information. The U.S. Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, struck down the South Dakota judge’s ruling, and held that the public and the newspaper are entitled to this information. The court brought a little sunlight to the USDA bureaucracy, and even quoted Justice Brandeis who said that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

This is a major victory for many groups who have been wanting to see where the $80 Billion/year program gets spent. Food stamps for some reason have turned into a taboo topic but the mounting reports of fraud and waste are too hard to ignore like this one.

Nona Clark operates a small Oregon convenience store. “In order to take food stamps, we have items like can meat, fruits and vegetables. No one buys this stuff and we have to throw it away because it expires,” she said.
“All your food stamp customers ever buy is candy; chips and cokes, then turn around and buy beer and cigarettes with cash,”

$80 Billion/year also promotes cronyism where businesses who accept food stamps do not want it to go away.

Retail chains that accept food stamps are fighting a regulatory initiative to make public store-by-store data on their participation in the $80 billion government program.
The 30-day comment period closed Sept. 10, and the 539 responses it generated included dozens from corporate retailers and food industry trade groups ardently opposing transparency on food stamp transactions, as well as small convenience store owners making the same case.


Inflation Hits Five Guys Burgers

The best indicator of inflation is the prices you pay for everyday goods. I have a saying, the best economist is the consumer. Most consumers will self monitor the prices paid on goods they frequent. The picture below is a 2012 menu from Five Guys Burgers. The address is listed on top of the store location and the date of print is lower right hand corner.

I decided to go to the store website of the same address online to compare prices. You can view it yourself here at this link. Here are the price comparisons of 2014 and 2012.

Hamburger $5.79/$5.19 14.4% increase
Cheeseburger $6.49/$5.89 10% increase
Bacon Burger $6.69/$5.99 11.6% increase
Bacon Cheeseburger $7.29/$6.49 12.3% increase

Not all price have gone up. Drinks and fries have stayed the same. Hot dogs and Sandwiches have also increased.

US Public Pensions Are In Trouble

Data is coming in for public pensions carried by local and state governments in reference to debt held.

The 25 largest U.S. public pension systems face about $2 trillion in unfunded liabilities, showing that investment returns can’t keep up with ballooning obligations, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The 25 biggest systems by assets averaged a 7.45 percent return from 2004 to 2013, close to the expected 7.65 percent rate, Moody’s said in a report released Thursday. Yet the New York-based credit rater’s calculation of liabilities tripled in the eight years through 2012, according to the report.

Public supporters of government pensions have always maintained the workers have properly foot the bill but the report says otherwise.

“Despite the robust investment returns since 2004, annual growth in unfunded pension liabilities has outstripped these returns,” Moody’s said. “This growth is due to inadequate pension contributions, stemming from a variety of actuarial and funding practices, as well as the sheer growth of pension liabilities as benefit accruals accelerate with the passage of time, salary increases and additional years of service.”

Read the rest here at Money News

Ham Prices to Increase & Beef Herds at Record Lows

Local Indiana butchers have been informed pork prices will increase by Christmas. Ham will be up by almost $1/lb. More data has come out supporting the jump in price on beef. Beef herds at their lowest in decades going below 30 million. That is a 11.8% decline since 2007.

College Enrollment Declines for Second Year in a Row


College enrollment declined by close to half a million (463,000) between 2012 and 2013, marking the second year in a row that a drop of this magnitude has occurred. The cumulative two-year drop of 930,000 was larger than any college enrollment drop before the recent recession, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics from the Current Population Survey released today. The Census Bureau began collecting data on college enrollment in this survey in 1966.

Read the rest here

Peter Schweizer Book “Extortion”


I am about to finish up the book pictured above. Peter Schweizer does a good analysis of how politicians are not just some innocent group of people corrupted by money but actually prey upon business by threatening to use their power on them unless some cash is thrown their way. Schweizer also touches on the people connected to politicians who help write legislation that then “Cash In” after a law is passed with big lobbying firms because the legislation is so complex. Their services can go for up to $1,000 an hour at some places. Here is a passage from the book, pages 129-130 describing studies covering political contributions.


Wal-Mart Now Offers Checking Accounts

New banking competitor just entered the market as of today. Wal-Mart is now going to offer checking account services in hopes of regaining their customer base that has left for other low dollar competitors.

The monthly membership fee of $8.95 is waived if customers set up direct deposits of at least $500 a month, something that even consumers with subprime credit scores probably would be able to do. Users also may load cash into their accounts at participating stores or deposit checks remotely by taking photos with their smartphones, officials at the Bentonville, Ark., company said Tuesday. A formal announcement of the new push was to be made Wednesday, according to the companies, which said GoBank would be available in most of Wal-Mart’s nearly 4,300 U.S. locations by late October.

Debit cards should be especially appealing to Wal-Mart’s core customers, many of whom do not have traditional banking accounts, Friedman said. The fact that fewer people are struggling to get by these days makes these individuals crucial to the company, he said.

Elimination of overdraft fees will remove a source of income that is huge for traditional retail banks, which typically charge $34 per balance-busting transaction.

GoBank is designed to decline transactions that exceed an account balance, but sometimes larger purchases slip through, Green Dot spokeswoman Sharon Pope said. When that occurs, the account is frozen until the difference is made up out of subsequent deposits, she said.

You can read the rest here at the L.A. Times

IRS Now Taxing Business Meals

The government is broke and with that the IRS will go searching for any revenue possible. Unfortunately it will probably cost more then what it actually brings in. This will stretch out to many industries and not just tech firms listed in the article. The first people to lose any benefits should be the politicians and government employees who are allowed up to $20/day bought for them.

Here is the tax news out of Silicon Valley Business Journal:

The Internal Revenue Service wants to tax the free food that tech companies like Facebook and Google give to employees, potentially putting one of Silicon Valley’s most famous perks in jeopardy.

The IRS argues that the employer-provided food is a taxable fringe benefit and has sought back taxes that may amount to a third of the meals’ fair-market value

In another move that shows more focus on complimentary fare, the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department said their top tax priorities list for the current tax year that ends next June will include taxing “employer-provided meals,” the Journal reported. The agencies plan to issue new instructions on the matter as well, though specifics and details were not provided.

Indiana Toll Road Company Bankrupt

Per Chicago Tribune and read the rest here:

The private operator of the Indiana Toll Road, facing possible bankruptcy due to $6 billion in debt, said it expects to submit a restructuring plan in court by Monday.

ITR Concession Co. LLC, created by a Spanish-Australian partnership, said over the weekend that its strategy involves either selling its assets or recapitalizing the company by cutting debt, without a sale.

The company issued a statement saying it has “received overwhelming support from its lenders and equity sponsors.”

The current toll-increase schedule would remain locked in and drivers would not notice any differences if new buyers take over the operation and maintenance of the 157-mile toll road that extends between the Chicago Skyway and the Ohio Turnpike, the company said.

It said any new operator would be subject to the terms of the 75-year lease agreement with the Indiana Finance Authority. The authority last week said the company has until late November to demonstrate it can meet its obligations.