CHIP Funding Could Run Out On Jan. 19 For Some States

The CHIP program provides health coverage to 9 million children from lower-income households that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The $2.85 billion Congress allocated in December was supposed to fund CHIP programs in all states through March 31. But federal health officials say it won’t stretch that far.

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Karl Tapales/Getty Images

Some states are facing a mid-January loss of funding for their Children’s Health Insurance Program despite spending approved by Congress in late December that was expected to keep the program running for three months, federal health officials said Friday.

The $2.85 billion was supposed to fund states’ CHIP programs through March 31. But some states will start running out of money after Jan. 19, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS did not say which states are likely to be affected first.

The latest estimates for when federal funding runs out could cause states to soon freeze enrollment and alert parents that the program could soon shut down.

The CHIP program provides health coverage to 9 million children from lower-income households that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Its federal authorization ended Oct. 1, and states were then forced to use unspent funds to carry them over, while the House and Senate try to agree on a way to continue funding.

Congress extended funding on Dec. 21 — and said the temporary patch would give states enough money to continue the program while Congress works on a long-term funding solution. But a CMS official says it can only guarantee that appropriation will be enough to fund all states through Jan. 19.

CMS says the agency is in discussions with states to help deal with the funding shortfall.

“The funding … should carry all the states through January 19,based upon best estimates of state expenditures to date,” says CMS spokesman Johnathan Monroe. “However, due to a number of variables relating to state expenditure rates and reporting, we are unable to say with certainty whether there is enough funding for every state to continue its CHIPprogram through March 31, 2018.”

“States need to know whether they will need to find additional funding for children covered under the Medicaid CHIP program at a much lower federal matching rate; send letters to families and reprogram their eligibility systems,” says Lisa Dubay, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “Of course, the implications for families with CHIP-eligible children cannot be understated: Parents are worried that their children will lose coverage. And they should be.”

Although the program enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have for months been unable to agree on how to continue funding CHIP, which began in 1997.

The House plan includes a controversial funding provision — opposed by Democrats — that takes millions of dollars from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund and increases Medicare premiums for some higher-earning beneficiaries.

The Senate Finance Committee reached an agreement to extend the program for five years but did not unite around a plan on funding.

Before the CHIP funding extension on Dec. 21, Alabama said it would freeze enrollment Jan. 1 and shut down the program Jan. 31. Colorado, Connecticut and Virginia sent letters to CHIP families warning that the program could soon end.

After the funding extension, Alabama put a hold on shutting down CHIP.

“Some states will begin exhausting all available funding earlier than others,” a CMS official says. “But the exact timing of when states will exhaust their funding is a moving target.”

Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a child advocacy group, says Congress should have known its short-term funding plan was not enough.

“The math never worked on the patch, as it only bought a few weeks,” he says. “Congress must get this finalized before Jan. 19.”

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Phil Galewitz is a senior correspondent for KHN.

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Immigrant Acquitted Of San Francisco Killing Sentenced On Lesser Gun Charge

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi in July 2015.

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Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a homeless undocumented immigrant, who was acquitted of murder in the shooting death of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle on a city pier, was sentenced to time already served for being a felon in possession of a gun.

Steinle’s death in July 2015 reignited a national debate over illegal immigration, especially as then-candidate Donald Trump often cited the case as evidence justifying an immigration crackdown.

Zarate had faced a maximum sentence of three years for his conviction on the state charge of being a felon in possession of a gun. He’s been in custody for about 30 months since his arrest for killing Steinle as she was walking arm-in-arm with her father.

Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng denied a defense motion for a new trial on the gun possession charge. Zarate’s public defenders had argued that the judge did not properly instruct the jury on the issue that the defendant may have had only “momentary” possession of the gun and therefore did not commit a crime.

The jury of six men and six women decided in November that Zarate had not intentionally killed Steinle after hearing evidence that the single, fatal shot fired had ricocheted off the ground and travelled about 78 feet before striking her. The defense had argued that Zarate found the gun in a cloth under his bench seat and the gun accidentally discharged.

Zarate had been deported five times and was slated to be removed from the United States again in early 2015 when he was transferred by federal authorities to San Francisco to face a local 20-year-old marijuana charge. That charge eventually was dropped and local authorities released him in accordance with San Francisco’s sanctuary-city policies. Steinle’s death occurred several weeks later.

A week after his acquittal, Zarate was indicted on two federal charges of being a felon and undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm and ammunition. San Francisco authorities say they will turn Garcia Zarate over to federal immigration authorities, although it is not immediately clear as to when. The federal gun charges carry a penalty of up to ten years in prison, after which — if he were convicted — he presumably would be deported.

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Episode 816: Bitcoin Losers

Artistic collage of a crying Bitcoin

Kenny Malone and Alice Wilder

Plenty of people will tell you they’re getting rich off of Bitcoin. They could be right. But there’s another group of Bitcoin owners that aren’t so ecstatic. Because they might be rich, too, but they lost the passkey that would let them get at their digital fortune. Syl Turner is in that second, less glamorous group. When he got around one-and-a-half Bitcoins seven or eight years ago, they were nearly worthless. So worthless he bunked the hard drive that held the key somewhere and now he can’t remember where.

Today on the show, we join Syl on a digital treasure hunt, as he ventures into his attic looking for what could be the key to his Bitcoin wallet, and tens of thousands of dollars. It’s all or nothing. In the decentralized anti-governmental world of Bitcoin, you can’t file a claim for damaged or lost currency. You’ve either got the key, or you don’t.

Then Kimberly Grauer and Jonathan Levin of Chainalysis help us figure out how much Bitcoin has been lost and why it’s so difficult to track down, and try to figure out if there’s any way to find Syl’s vanished riches.

Music: “Wild Baby Rock,” “Interstate 65,” and “Optimist.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook / Instagram

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After Controversial Pardon, Peru's Former Strongman Leaves Clinic A Free Man

Former President Alberto Fujimori waves to supporters Thursday as he is wheeled out of a hospital, where he received his Christmas Eve pardon from President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

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Peru’s former President Alberto Fujimori left a hospital in Lima on Thursday night, wheeled out to the adoring cheers of supporters who had gathered for the occasion. For the first time since 2009, when he was convicted of human rights crimes, the newly pardoned Fujimori could greet the outside world in person as a free man.

Fujimori, who was ousted from office in 2000 after a decade of authoritarian rule, waved, grinned and got into a black SUV that bore him toward a house where his family waited. There, the group — including his children Keiko and Kenji, who are now leading politicians in their own right — posed for a photograph posted to social media, all smiles.

Muy contentos de darle la bienvenida a nuestro padre en esta nueva etapa de su vida!!

— Keiko Fujimori (@KeikoFujimori) January 5, 2018

Despite the scene surrounding Fujimori, his release Thursday did not engender celebration across the board. Far from it, in fact.

Nearly two weeks ago Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted the 79-year-old former strongman, who suffers from an incurable condition, what Kuczynski has called a medical pardon. The move came shortly after Fujimori, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence, was admitted to the clinic for treatment, and just days after Kuczynski survived an impeachment attempt for his involvement in a massive international corruption scandal — and he survived partly on the strength of Fujimori’s reported last-minute support, Reuters notes.

The timing has smelled fishy to Kuczynski’s critics, who took to the streets for several days of protests against what they see as a flagrant quid pro quo. As NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported last month, “demonstrators holding black-and-white photos of victims of Fujimori’s human rights abuses shouted, ‘Dictatorship never again!’ “

“We are appalled at the decision. It is a slap in the face for the victims and witnesses whose tireless commitment brought him to justice,” a group of U.N. human rights experts said in a joint statement after his pardon was announced, noting that his crimes included extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and kidnapping.

“It is also a major setback for the rule of law in Peru: a humanitarian pardon has been granted to someone convicted of serious crimes after a fair trial, whose guilt is not in question and who does not meet the legal requirements for a pardon.”

Fujimori, for his part, struck a conciliatory tone in a recorded speech from his hospital bed last month. “To you all,” he said in a video posted to Facebook, “I ask forgiveness with all my heart.”

Con mi papá! 🎉🙏🏻🎉

— Kenji Fujimori (@KenjiFujimoriH) January 5, 2018

It remains unclear what, if any, role he will play in Peruvian politics now that he has been released.

Fujimori’s Popular Force party, meanwhile, has become an arena for intra-family intrigue. It has been led by his daughter Keiko, a prominent Kuczynski rival who narrowly lost to him in the country’s 2016 presidential election and who supported the recent effort to impeach him. But her brother Kenji, an emerging politician in his own right, defected from the party line along with several others to help save Kuczynski’s job.

Still, the pleas for reconciliation and bouts of political wrangling have done little to ease the anger felt by many Peruvians at Fujimori’s release.

“You may have benefited improperly from an illegal pardon,” human rights activist Gisela Ortiz apostrophized, speaking to Reuters, “but that does not take away your responsibility for the death and corruption of the 1990s.”

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Time To Make The Doughnuts Free Of Artificial Dyes, Dunkin' Decides

Doughnuts for sale at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Edmond, Okla. Last year, the parent company said it would remove artificial colors from its products in the U.S. by the end of 2018. Now they say they’ve already achieved that goal for their flagship product.

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Dunkin’ Donuts has removed all artificial dyes from its doughnuts, nearly one year ahead of schedule, as the company continues to work to find replacements for synthetic coloring in its other menu items.

Rick Golden, Manager of Donut Excellence for Dunkin’ Brands, announced the news on Thursday, saying that “bright, colorful confections” are a hallmark of Dunkin’s doughnut lineup. The colors will remain, but the artificial colorings will be gone.

Last year, Dunkin’ announced it planned to drop artificial colors. The target date was the end of 2018. That’s still the goal for frozen drinks, other baked goods and breakfast sandwiches — but the doughnuts went au naturel, as it were, a little early.

“Our biggest challenge was replacing the artificial dyes in donuts with fruit juices and other extracts while balancing the flavor profile and bright colors,” Golden wrote. “It took years of research and development to get it just right.”

Some items used as toppings or decoration may still contain synthetic dyes, the company notes.

Dunkin’ is the latest in a long line of food companies to replace artificial colors with naturally derived dyes, which can be more expensive and more difficult to consistently produce. (Meanwhile, some perfectly natural colorings, like a red dye made from crushed insects, have also been known to ick out consumers.)

In 2015, General Mills announced it would be coloring Trix cereal with dyes made from the spices turmeric and annatto, as well as fruit and vegetable juices, instead of the old artificial options. Nestle re-did the recipes for 75 different candy bars to eliminate artificial flavors and colors. Panera boasted that it was dropping 150 different additives, including artificial colors.

Food dyes have been a particular target for advocates against artificial food additives, partly because they serve no health purpose, and partly because of specific concerns about their effect on children.

As NPR’s Allison Aubrey has previously explained:

“Some parents, including the sponsor of a petition aimed at getting dyes out of candies, believe that artificial colorings in food can contribute to hyperactivity in their children.

“But the evidence to back this claim is mixed. ‘I think there’s a growing body of research that shows that artificial food colorings can affect a child’s behavior,’ Andrew Adesman, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told us. ‘On the other hand, these effects are relatively modest.’

“And, he adds, there’s no evidence that artificial dyes pose long-term safety or health risks.

“Adesman says it’s good that the food industry is giving parents more options to buy products that are free of these artificial ingredients. But he points out that eliminating artificial dyes does not turn chocolate bars into health foods.

” ‘They [can be] high in fat and in sugar,’ Adesman says — two things many of us could stand to cut back on.”

The same, alas, is true of doughnuts.

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Sears, Kmart And Macy's Will Close More Stores in 2018

A sign announcing the store will be closing hangs above a Sears store on Aug. 24 in Chicago. Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart, said Thursday it was planning to close another 103 stores.

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Last year was one of the worst for the retail industry, with record setting bankruptcies and store closings — 8,000 across multiple national chains. And so far, things are not looking up in 2018.

On Thursday, Sears Holdings Corp., the parent company of Sears and Kmart, announced it is closing 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears locations, as it grapples with weaker in-store sales.

“The company will continue to right size our footprint in number and size,” Sears said in a statement. Moving forward, the company will continue to shut down unprofitable stores, it added.

Liquidation sales at the affected locations will begin as early as Jan. 12, and all 103 stores will be out of business by May. Most closings are on the East Coast and Midwest, with some spanning the U.S. Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Las Vegas will be losing Kmart stores. Sears stores are closing in Boca Raton, Houston, San Jose and other cities.

The company declined to say how many employees would be affected by the closings. A majority of the jobs are part-time; Sears said eligible employees would receive severance.

Sears’ news comes on the heels of another major department store preparing to scale back its brick-and-mortar presence.

Macy’s said Wednesday it is closing 11 more stores this year — part of a 2016 plan to downsize by 100 stores over several years. That would bring the number of closed stores to 81. The remaining 19 have not been announced.

The company indicated it expects annual expense savings in fiscal 2018 of $300 million from the store closures and staff reductions.

A steady decline in in-store shopping combined with the rise in online sales in the last decade has severely affected many of the nation’s largest and oldest department stores.

But online retailers are not entirely to blame. Consumers are choosing new things and services on which to spend their money.

CNBC reports that for years “Americans have been making bigger purchases or investments like their homes.” And more people are choosing to spend much more of their paychecks on their screens — on smartphone data plans, or streaming entertainment services like Netflix.

The rise of fast fashion retailers is also exacerbating the problem. Stores such as Zara, Uniqlo and Forever 21 are squeezing the bottom line of department stores like Macy’s, JCPenney and L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, Pink, and Bath & Bodyworks.

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Hidden Gems of the Jobs Report


You may already know the headline jobs numbers the government released this morning: The unemployment rate held steady last month at 4.1 percent. The economy added 148,000 jobs.

But these numbers are just the surface of the monthly jobs report; the report has a huge amount of information about how the job market is working (or not working) for people in different industries, and different age groups.

So today on the show, we’re bringing you three little-known indicators from the jobs report — three numbers that you don’t often hear about that give us real insight into what’s happening with work in America.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

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