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Fire cleanup crews ordered to stop work over alleged comp violations
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Fire cleanup crews ordered to stop work over alleged comp violations

Five contractors working to help clean up a fire disaster area in California’s Ventura County were ordered to stop work after investigators alleged multiple workers compensation violations, the county’s district attorney announced.
As part of a sweep of 55 companies working to clean up areas damaged in the massive Thomas Fire, which charred 440 square miles in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in December, investigators with the California Department of Insurance, the Contractors State License Board, and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation found that the five of the companies were operating in violation of several California laws governing contractors and workers comp, District Attorney Gregory Totten said in a statement released by his office on Wednesday.
The companies had either not been licensed to work or had not obtained insurance to protect workers, according to the statement.
Mr. Totten said investigations are ongoing, and that most companies are operating legally.

President Trump Pledges to Address School Safety, Without Mentioning Gun Control
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President Trump Pledges to Address School Safety, Without Mentioning Gun Control

(WASHINGTON) — Declaring the nation united and grieving with “one heavy heart,” President Donald Trump is promising to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health” in response to the deadly shooting in Florida.
Not always a natural in the role of national comforter, Trump spoke deliberately Thursday, at one point directly addressing children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.” “I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said.
“You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.” While Trump stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third.
The president spoke to the nation from the White House, one day after a former student with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 14 more.
Trump made no specific policy recommendations, and he did not answer shouted questions about guns as he exited the room.
The leader of a white nationalist militia called the Republic of Florida said Cruz was a member of his group and had participated in exercises in Tallahassee.
One option was to have chief of staff John Kelly, who has come under intense pressure for his handling of the Porter matter, be part of the briefing, according to two White House officials not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
Once the magnitude of the Florida tragedy became clear, the White House canceled the briefing.
The president tweeted his condolences and the White House deliberated its next move.
Kelly was not in the room when Trump addressed the nation on Thursday morning, and his job security remained an open question.

SNAP cuts could hurt Montanans, groups say
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SNAP cuts could hurt Montanans, groups say

And, it serves more than 56,000 households in Montana.
She said decreasing funds given for food would mean people would have to use money from elsewhere, such as housing. “Sometimes people have a view of how many people it will affect and it’s not accurate.” Opportunities Inc., a private nonprofit help agency, helped 3,941 people in 2017 with food, Seaman said.
That’s a tremendous cost savings.” Kottel criticized that proposal as well.
“I support putting the ‘nutrition’ back into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, by emphasizing healthy foods like the Trump administration proposed for the healthy boxes program,” he said via email Thursday.
He said over the past few years, he has asked scores of grocery and convenience store clerks if they think Red Bull belongs in the food stamp program.
She said the proposal would require a government system to source and purchase foods, pack food boxes on a monthly basis, and then distribute those boxes to millions of American homes.
“SNAP allows participants to shop at their local grocery store and choose the foods that meet their family’s needs,” she said.
“Did they notice the other 10 people who bought hamburger to feed their family?
“I am closely reviewing the president’s budget proposal, but at the end of the day, the appropriate place to address SNAP and other important nutrition programs is through the Farm Bill,” he said.

Donald Trump Blamed the Florida School Shooting on Mental Illness. Here’s What He’s Done on the Issue
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Donald Trump Blamed the Florida School Shooting on Mental Illness. Here’s What He’s Done on the Issue

President Donald Trump appeared to blame the Florida school shooting Wednesday on mental illness and promised to take action, although he did not give specifics.
In remarks from the White House, Trump said that he was “committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” Earlier in the day, he posted to Twitter calling alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz “mentally disturbed.” Mental health advocates give the Trump Administration a mixed report card on mental health issues so far, however.
Trump has offered some support to mental health programs, including a proposal in his budget to spend $10 billion to address “opioids and serious mental illness.” That includes funding for block grants to allow states to address mental illness and new support for mental health measures supported by the medical community.
Read More: Transcript of Donald Trump’s Remarks on Florida School Shooting But mental health policy experts say those proposals are a small piece of the puzzle and do not reflect the challenge Trump’s broader agenda could pose to mental health in the U.S. Perhaps most significantly, Trump has proposed cutting Medicaid subsidies by more than $1 trillion.
More than 25% of non-elderly adults with severe mental illness received medical coverage through Medicaid in 2015, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The administration has also called for cuts to funding for housing programs, which often help those with mental illnesses.
“We really need to look at the big picture,” says Ron Honberg, senior policy advisor at National Alliance on Mental Illness.
In the early weeks of his presidency, he signed the repeal of an Obama rule that blocked gun sales to people determined to be “mentally incapable.” The response to the shooting in Florida isn’t the first time Trump has shifted to talking about mental health in the face of mass violence.
“I think that mental health is your problem here,” Trump said after a mass shooting in Texas that killed 26 people last November.
“Using mental illness as a political football in the aftermath of tragedies — it hurts,” says Honberg.

Oh, SNAP! Trump wants to replace food stamps with food boxes
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Oh, SNAP! Trump wants to replace food stamps with food boxes

Get big government off our backs … and into our stomachs.
That’s the sentiment behind President Donald Trump’s proposal to slash food stamp funding and partially replace the program with deliveries of food boxes to the homes of struggling Americans.
Critics of the plan have likened it to a low-rent Blue Apron, the high-end meal delivery service, but run by big government.
Trump’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations blew a hole in the budget, so in his budget unveiled earlier this week, he proposes to make up the difference by slashing programs such as food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid that benefit struggling Americans.
The hypocrisy behind the plan is so rank you need to wear a nose clip: Small government conservatives letting big government determine what people eat?
In Michigan, the average Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamp) recipient gets about $122 a month.
Small potatoes considering that Trump’s proposing a $4.4 trillion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
We’ve got bigger whales to fry.
America, we’re better than this.
More from Mike Thompson:

Ohio court advocates disbarring lawyer accused of stealing comp funds
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Ohio court advocates disbarring lawyer accused of stealing comp funds

The Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio is recommending that a lawyer who allegedly stole comp payment funds from clients be permanently disbarred, according to a ruling filed Monday.
Brian Wade Harter, a Columbus, Ohio, lawyer who represented injured workers and those involved in personal injury litigation since 1991, allegedly violated the state’s Rule of Professional Conduct on numerous occasions documented in the 27-page court ruling.
In one count, he allegedly cashed a check issued by the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation and lied about where the money went, including a story about his ex-wife breaking into his car and stealing his briefcase, which contained $3,500 cash owed to the injured worker.
In another count, Mr. Harter allegedly shortchanged one injured worker, claiming he was holding onto the money to pay a “potential medical bill,” court records state.
A list of violations included actions that resulted in harm of injured workers, including one instance where a man went “many months without medical treatment because (Mr. Harter) failed to take the necessary steps with the treating physician and (the Bureau of Workers Compensation) to obtain approval for his treatment.” In addition to a permanent disbarment, the board also recommended Mr. Harter be ordered to pay back his former clients and to pay for all court proceedings, a sum of which was undisclosed.

GOP lawmakers seek federal money for Gov. Scott Walker’s welfare limits that would cost nearly $90M a year
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GOP lawmakers seek federal money for Gov. Scott Walker’s welfare limits that would cost nearly $90M a year

Scott Walker’s welfare limits even as GOP senators considered seeking federal help this week to cover more of the nearly $90 million in costs from the proposals.
In addition, Assembly Republicans will also vote separately Thursday on a five-year, $12 million pilot program to require food stamp recipients to use their benefits for healthy food.
Critics say the bills will be costly for state taxpayers to implement and less effective than using the money for programs like training for workers or public transportation to get them to jobs.
To offset some of the state costs, some Republican senators want to seek additional federal money for Food Share, the state’s food stamp program.
To respond to this, Republicans on the Senate Public Benefits Committee Wednesday amended the bill requiring parents on Food Share to work, including in it a request to the federal government to share some of the savings with the state of Wisconsin.
It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump’s administration would have the authority or willingness to do so.
An opponent of the bill said she believed that such a move would take an act of Congress.
Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee, said the proposal was “straight out of Dickens.”
The Assembly is voting on a companion bill to the Senate proposal that doesn’t include the request for additional federal money.
The existing Food Share work requirement — proposed by Walker in 2013 and implemented in 2015 — has led so far to about 3.5 recipients losing benefits for every one who secured a job through the program.

An unhealthy Happy Meal for Republicans
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An unhealthy Happy Meal for Republicans

President Donald Trump is continuing his push to overhaul infrastructure in the US, telling reporters that “infrastructure repair is a priority shared by both parties.”
(Feb. 14) AP The Charlotte Observer (TNS) The $4.4 trillion budget Donald Trump proposed this week is, in many ways, a typical Republican budget.
It gives money to areas and agencies Republicans feel are important – most notably defense – while cutting money to safety net programs like housing, food stamps and health care.
Trump’s budget also is like any budget, Republican or Democrat.
It’s a political document more than a working one, a wish list that provides signals to the Republican base and suggestions to the Republican Congress about the president’s priorities.
Don’t expect that to change this year, especially with midterm elections approaching.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney called it a “Blue Apron-type program,” a meal delivery label that was met with quick backlash from critics who noted that Blue Apron offers both fresh food and choices, neither of which comes with Trump’s proposal.
The budget runs annual deficits, including $984 billion in the next year alone, that could add $7 trillion to the debt over the next decade.
But rarely have Republicans so explicitly dismissed the danger of deficits and debts as we’re seeing today, including with the tax cut bill they passed in December and a spending bill they and Democrats passed earlier this month.
It’s Donald Trump’s party now.

Trump’s ‘Blue Apron’-type plan is crumbs to the poor
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Trump’s ‘Blue Apron’-type plan is crumbs to the poor

(CNN)According to the Trump administration, the poor could really use a meal-kit service like Blue Apron.
The Trump budget is fundamentally about shredding the already-flimsy American social safety net that is intended to help the poor.
And so we have the Trump proposal of an “American Harvest Box,” which is nothing akin to Blue Apron.
And unlike Blue Apron, where consumers get to choose their meals, the Trump plan would simply send poor people a sad box of bland, repetitive basics.
Currently, SNAP benefits are loaded onto a card, and recipients can decide for themselves what to purchase.
Now, the government would do much of the deciding.
And it means a holistic look at what drives less-than-ideal food choices.
And then there is the simple fact that junk food is one indulgence low-income parents can offer. “Next to all the things poor parents truly couldn’t afford, junk food was something they could often say ‘yes’ to,” Priya Fielding-Singh, a Stanford doctoral candidate, wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
Instead, Trump, who reportedly enjoys treating himself to an extra scoop of ice cream after dinner every night, proposes cutting billions in social support and health care, and delivering sad boxes of cereal and canned meat.

Montana lawmakers study options for workers comp system
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Montana lawmakers study options for workers comp system

Montana lawmakers are considering options for the state’s workers compensation system, including dissolving it or turning it into a private entity.
The state currently has a three-way competitive system in place.
The Montana State Fund is an independent public corporation that serves as an alternative to the private sector, according to Laurence Hubbard, Helena, Montana-based CEO of the Montana State Fund.
The Montana State Fund holds close to $1.4 billion in assets.
“The primary issue surrounding all of this is, whose assets are they?
Do they belong to the policyholders or Montana State Fund exclusively, or does the state have the right to transfer assets or to take assets as they deem appropriate?
I think that is going to drive a lot of future discussion about what to do with the structure of Montana State Fund,” said Mr. Hubbard in an interview with Business Insurance.
Lawmakers are also discussing how these options will affect workers comp rates, according to Mr. Hubbard.
“If they eliminate the Montana State Fund — that is, a nonprofit corporation — rates will go up for most small businesses in Montana,” said Mr. Hubbard.
If the legislature can freely come in any time they want and scoop off assets, that does not bode well for the health of our workers compensation system.” Lawmakers are expected to address these issues at the Economic Affairs Interim Committee meeting in April.