November 22, 2014

Study: Thanksgiving meal for 10 will cost pennies more this year

DinnerNebraskans may be paying slightly more for their Thanksgiving meals this week than they did last year, according to a survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Dave Miller, the Farm Bureau’s research director, says the cost of the traditional holiday meal for ten people is only up 37-cents from last year.

“The Thanksgiving feast is basically stable in cost at about $49.41,” Miller says. “We’ve been within about a 20-cent range on the cost of that meal for the last four years,” Miller says.

The survey checks the price of turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of celery and carrots, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk.

“The biggest ingredient is the turkey, and it was actually down 11 cents from a year ago,” Miller says. “The biggest upside was probably the sweet potatoes that were up 20 cents for three pounds of sweet potatoes, so up about six cents a pound.”

Commodity prices have dropped dramatically in the last year and Miller says there was some impact.

“It doesn’t show up a lot, although the pie shells were actually down seven cents, the rolls were down a penny, the stuffing was down 13 cents. So, those things that were grain-related were all down in price,” Miller says. “The things that tended to be up in price were the things that tended to be more dairy and livestock related.”

The turkey averaged $21.65 or $1.35 per pound.

At just under $50 for 10 people, the cost of the meal is about $5 per plate. This marks the Farm Bureau’s 29th annual study of the cost of the Thanksgiving meal.

NPPD: Sand Hills high-voltage line to “benefit all of our customers” (AUDIO)

Sand Hills, Loup County (UNL photo)

Sand Hills, Loup County (UNL photo)

Officials say the high-voltage electrical transmission line that’s proposed to cut through 220 miles of Nebraska’s Sand Hills region is designed to have a positive impact on the entire state’s power infrastructure.

Mark Becker, spokesman for Nebraska Public Power District, says the upgrade is needed, not because there isn’t enough power but because the current lines can’t carry what’s needed during times of high demand.

“That will benefit all of our customers throughout the state,” Becker says. “It will be another way for electricity to get out to the load centers. We’ve had ice storms in the past that have basically cut off our power lines and we’ve been forced then to buy electicity out of the market at a higher price than what it costs us to generate.”

Some residents in the Sand Hills have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the $350-million project. Becker says NPPD is planning to build sturdy piers in key locations that would eliminate the need to haul in large cranes or heavy cement trucks.

“These would be basically screwed into the ground, 60 to 70 feet, and then we would helicopter in the structures piece by piece,” Becker says. “We want to reduce the amount of damage that would be done during this construction process.”

The Sand Hills region is a “fragile” environment, Becker says, and there will be an impact with this massive project.

“We’re looking at every possible way to minimize that impact,” Becker says. “We’re also working with the University of Nebraska to look at ways for how do we bring the Sand Hills back from any kind of damage we do create.”

The transmission line project is expected to cost more than $350-million, but Becker says Nebraska customers will only be paying for about 7% of that cost. The rest, he says, would be shared by other utilities across the region that are part of the Southwest Power Pool.

The transmission line’s route is still in the “proposal phase,” and the project is in the midst of a 30-day public comment period which runs through mid-December. NPPD has already held 18 open houses on the project across the Sand Hills region and it’s been approved by the Nebraska Power Review Board.

AUDIO: Full interview with NPPD’s Mark Becker 4:45

It’s again a day for promoting health and kicking butts

cigaretteMany Nebraskans who are smokers will have today  circled on their calendars.

It’s the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, an annual effort to encourage smokers to quit for the day or to make a plan to quit.

Agency spokeswoman Peggy Huppert says in the early 1970s, more than 40% of adult Nebraskans smoked cigarettes or cigars. Today, that figure has dropped to about 20%.

“We still think that’s too high,” Huppert says. “We have a lot of emphasis on helping people quit because of the harm that is caused. It is the number-one preventable cause of death and disease.”

Smoking is blamed for roughly 80% of all lung cancer cases in the U.S. and lung cancer is the leading cause of death among all forms of cancer.

Despite the extreme risks associated with smoking, thousands of Nebraskans have trouble quitting.

“It’s extremely hard to quit smoking. Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to humans, more addictive than crack, meth or any illegal drug,” Huppert says. “The average person has to try seven times to quit smoking before they’re successful.”

“Within 30 days of quitting, your health can improve significantly and it will add years to your life,” Huppert says. Statistics from the American Lung Association show nearly 20% of all adults in Nebraska smoke and 15% of high school aged teens light up. Data also shows that 70% of the 45-million smokers nationwide say they want to quit.

Learn about the steps to take to quit smoking, with resources and support, at 800-227-2345 or the website: www.cancer.org

 

Study: Tax credit is big bonus for rural Nebraskans

A study finds a federal tax credit that targets low-income working families is especially important in rural areas in Nebraska and nationwide.

Jon Bailey, at the Lyons-based Center for Rural Affairs, says the Earned Income Tax Credit is focused on putting more money in the pockets of people who have jobs and who make less than around $50,000 a year.

“This is another anti-poverty, poverty alleviation program that more people in smaller areas, rural and small town areas, take advantage of,” Bailey says.

The gap between rural areas and urban areas is growing, he says, so more people will be needing to use the Earned Income Tax Credit when they do their federal taxes.

“This is something that is always something somebody should look at when they’re doing their federal taxes or have whoever does their taxes look at to see if they qualify,” Bailey says, “It’s been proven to be a very effective program for low-income taxpayers.”

The center’s study finds the higher use of the tax credit tracks alongside other economic indicators which show many rural families are still struggling financially.

“It has not only the effect of alleviating poverty for a lot of people,” Bailey says, “but it also acts as an economic stimulus so people go out and spend that money which then has the multiplier effect throughout the economy.”

The center’s report found the number of people who claim the credit is less than 19 percent in metropolitan areas versus more than 21 percent in rural areas and small towns.

Bailey says the increasing importance of the credit to working families should send a message to federal policy makers to consider expanding its reach, making more people eligible.

Nebraska drops two notches in report on wellbeing of children

KidsCountMap

Click to enlarge map

The new “Kids Count” report, which studies the wellbeing of children nationwide, finds Nebraska slipping slightly, but still ranking in the top ten.

The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Nebraska 10th this year, down from eighth place last year.

The organization’s Patrice Cromwell says a variety of factors are weighed for the annual study in areas including income, education, health care and crime.

“This report is focused on the fact that half of young children in America today are growing up in low-income families facing major hurdles and being denied the American dream,” she says.

One objective of the report is to break the cycle of poverty and move children toward opportunity.

“Nebraska is still struggling with getting post-secondary education for parents,” she says. “If you look at 69% of the families that don’t have an associate degree or higher, that’s has major implications in terms of being able to create family stability.”

Cromwell says there are 58,000 children in Nebraska under the age of eight in low-income families that are struggling, “for parents to have access to income, access to quality child care in schools, and stress at home for parents figuring out how to juggle schedules and get food on the table.”

Cromwell, the foundation’s director of strategic initiatives, says one solution is to use the public, nonprofit and private sectors to simultaneously reach out to two generations.

“What we’re proposing is not only investing in early childhood but investing in skills for parents at the same time,” Cromwell says. “So, when a parent brings a child to Head Start or early child care, that they then go upstairs or go to the neighborhood’s job training program or the community college and build their skills.”

The recommendations propose integrating state and federal employment, education and child care programs for parents and children to create better opportunities for the entire family.

While Nebraska ranked 10th this year, the top three states are: Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa.

See the full report at www.kidscount.org