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Education
Coos Bay schools feed families in need
Marshfield teacher reminds community that holidays are great but can be tough for students

COOS BAY — A teacher at Marshfield High School is helping feed families in need this week.

Leadership Adviser Jennifer Bunnell has been working with students and fellow staff members to build Thanksgiving baskets for the past 14 years. This year she has seen more of those baskets than ever before.

“In 2016 we had 41, but this year we have a total of 53 baskets,” she said. “There is just more need this year.”

Thanksgiving baskets are just that: baskets filled with the needed ingredients to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, including a turkey.

Combined with these baskets are pre-cooked meals for families without cooking facilities. These are put together by the MHS Charity Program, previously known as Mr. MHS.

“I’m not sure why we are seeing more families in need this year,” Bunnell said. “I don’t know if people are more comfortable with us, if they are aware that we do these baskets every year, or just that there are more families out there who need help.”

In October, Bunnell sent out a blast email through the Coos Bay School District requesting that staff members keep an eye out for students who may need these baskets once the holidays came around. Families are chosen, forms filled out and sent to Bunnell who calls to confirm that the baskets are still needed. Often many of these families are chosen by the At Risk Kids (ARK) Program that helps needy families throughout the year.

“Giving these baskets out means that families get to have a nice dinner when they wouldn’t have before,” Bunnell said.

She recalled giving out a basket last year to a woman who started crying when she saw what was inside.

“She told me that she had been saving half a chicken and two potatoes for her and her granddaughter as their Thanksgiving meal to make it special,” Bunnell said. “She was overwhelmed by the generosity.”

For Bunnell, the hungry members in the community fall near and dear to her heart.

“I see just how much these baskets mean to people,” she said. “I like that this time of year makes everyone stop and think about things like this, to be grateful for what we have and to reach out to others.”

During her advisory class, she had her students write what they were thankful for and put those notes on display in the hallway.

“The holidays are great, but a lot of our kids struggle during these times,” Bunnell said. “I hope everybody has happy holidays and continues to give to those in need.”

To help pay for the turkeys for this year’s Thanksgiving baskets, checks can be written out to Marshfield Leadership and dropped off at either the high school or administrative offices.

“If we get any extra money, it means we can put something together for Christmas,” she said.


Lee-wire
AP
Some consumers find free health insurance

WASHINGTON — Consumers are getting the word that taxpayer-subsidized health plans are widely available for next year for no monthly premium or little cost, and marketing companies say they're starting to see an impact on sign-ups.

"Free Obamacare Coverage in 2018," says an online pitch from insurance broker eHealth, showing a young woman with a big smile. "See if you qualify."

HealthSherpa, a private website that focuses on signing people up for Affordable Care Act coverage, said nearly one in five of its customers thus far will be paying no monthly premium. That's a change from last year, when the share was about one in seven. More consumers also are finding plans for under $25 a month.

Analysts say the odd phenomenon is a wild card that could boost enrollment in the program, although it's too soon to tell. The ACA offers taxpayer-subsidized private insurance to low- and middle-income people who don't have coverage on the job. About 10 million people are enrolled.

It's another twist in a year in which the Obama health law has managed to survive despite rising premiums, dwindling insurer participation and President Donald Trump's predictions of a swift and sure demise.

What's more, experts say wider availability of no-premium plans is the unintended consequence of Trump administration actions to undermine the ACA.

The president stopped reimbursing insurers for reduced copays and deductibles, available to people with modest incomes purchasing a "silver" ACA plan. Sure enough, that has boosted premiums for silver plans. But government subsidies also shot up, because they're pegged to the cost of silver plans.

The bigger available subsidies mean that cheaper "bronze" plans can increasingly be had for no monthly premium, after consumers subtract their subsidy from the list price.

It's like pushing down on one end of a see-saw, and the other end goes up.

In some cases, "gold" plans offering enhanced protection against the costs of illness are also available for free to people whose incomes qualify them for financial assistance.

Dillon Vatick said he couldn't believe it as he shopped online recently for next year's health plan. Vatick is a computer science student who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. He qualified for a monthly subsidy of about $280 and he found a bronze plan with a premium of less than $270.

"My health care is technically free," said Vatick.

"Was it too good to be true?" he said he asked himself when he first saw the numbers. "Sure enough, it wasn't."

Vatick said bronze plans aren't for everybody because they come with very high deductibles. But he's in his 20s and figures he won't be going to the doctor much. He said he had been paying about $80 a month for coverage.

At Lighthouse Insurance Group, an agency with national reach, CEO Jason Farro said they're seeing a shift to bronze plans. The share of customers picking bronze has more than doubled this sign-up season, to about 27 percent from under 12 percent last year.

Online insurance broker eHealth says it is seeing a similar trend among younger consumers aged 18-24.

"The shift in young people in particular tells me that we are seeing new people come out," said Nate Purpura, vice president of marketing at eHealth. "That's been the toughest segment to get into this market, and nothing sells like free."

Brokers and insurers could play a bigger role in sign-ups this year, because the Trump administration has made it easier for them to process enrollments. That might offset cuts in government funding for nonprofit sign-up counselors. Open enrollment is off to a solid start, with about 1.5 million people signed up in the first two weeks.

At HealthSherpa, a technology company that focuses on ACA enrollments, CEO George Kalogeropoulos said he's been paying the staff overtime to keep up with what has been unexpectedly strong consumer demand.

"There's a narrative that this coverage is unaffordable," said Kalogeropoulos. "But for most of the people signing up it is affordable by most metrics. It's been too politicized."

Standard & Poor's analyst Deep Banerjee said it's possible that "free" plans or simply more knowledge about the subsidies may drive enrollment higher, but it's too early to tell.

The federal Health and Human Services Department said at this point it doesn't have the data breakouts to tell if there is a broader shift to bronze plans this year.

The free coverage angle may seem like a cruel joke to nearly 7 million people who buy individual health insurance plans but aren't eligible for financial assistance from the government. They're left facing sticker price premiums that in some cases rival the size of a mortgage payment.

Insurance brokers say some of those people appear to be turning to short-term plans that offer temporary coverage with limited benefits. It's unclear if a bipartisan Senate bill that aims to reduce ACA premiums will advance in a polarized Congress.

"Clearly the ACA isn't perfect — it needs fixes," said Kalogeropoulos. "Our view is that the ACA is landmark legislation, but it's going to take three or four revisions to get it right."

Open enrollment for next year ends Dec. 15.


Brandon Dill 

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, left, controls the ball against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)


News
Commercial Dungeness crab season delayed

NEWPORT — The traditional Dec. 1 opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season will again be delayed this year, until at least Dec. 16 along the entire Oregon coast as testing shows crabs are too low in meat yield.

The ocean commercial Dungeness crab season in Oregon is targeted to open Dec. 1, but can be delayed to ensure a high-quality product to consumers and avoid wastage of the resource, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Crab quality testing in early November showed that none of the test areas met the criteria for a Dec. 1 opening. The delayed opening will allow for crabs to fill with more meat.

A second round of crab quality testing will occur in late November or early December and the results will be used to determine if the season should open Dec. 16, be further delayed, or be split into two areas with different opening dates.

Currently there are crab closures in effect for recreationally and commercially harvested crab from bays and estuaries and on beaches, docks, piers and jetties due to elevated levels of domoic acid from Cape Foulweather to Tahkenitch Creek and from north jetty of Coos Bay to the California border. Crab harvesting outside of these areas remains open in bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers, and jetties.

In conjunction with the delayed ocean commercial season, commercial harvest of Dungeness crab in Oregon bays that are currently open will close at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 1, but may reopen if the ocean commercial fishery opens in December. Recreational harvest of Dungeness crab in the ocean off Oregon will open Dec. 1 as scheduled in areas where there are no Oregon Department of Agriculture health advisories.

Despite the delay of the ocean fishery and because of the health closure in portions of the state, crab and shellfish products sold in retail markets and restaurants remain safe for consumers.

The closure in the health advisory area ensures safety and the delay in the commercial ocean season promotes a high quality harvest.

For more information on ODA health closures, call ODA’s shellfish safety information hotline at 800-448-2474 or visit the ODA shellfish closures web page at http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx

Commercial Dungeness crab is Oregon’s most valuable fishery. Last year’s season opening was also delayed but still brought in the highest ex-vessel value ever ($62.7 million) with 20.4 million pounds landed, about 22 percent above the 10-year average.


Lee-wire
AP
US declares NKorea a terror sponsor; new sanctions expected (copy)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Monday the U.S. is putting North Korea's "murderous regime" on America's terrorism blacklist, despite questions about Pyongyang's support for international attacks beyond the assassination of its leader's half brother in February.

Trump said the designation as a state sponsor of terror was long overdue, and he promised a new wave of sanctions as part of a "maximum pressure campaign" over North Korea's development of nuclear weapons that could soon pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland.

North Korea will join Iran, Sudan and Syria on the blacklist. The North had been designated for two decades until 2008 when it was removed in a bid to salvage international talks aimed at halting its nuclear efforts. The talks collapsed soon after and haven't been revived since.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the designation was a "very symbolic move" with limited practical effects although it could close a "few loopholes" in a tough sanctions regime that was starting to bite in Pyongyang. He said anecdotal evidence and intelligence suggests the North is suffering fuel shortages, with queues at gas station, and its revenues are down.

Still, Tillerson also acknowledged a two-month pause in the North's rapid tempo of nuclear and missile tests and said there still was hope for diplomacy. With tougher sanctions in the offing, he warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, "This is only going to get worse until you're ready to come and talk."

The designation is likely to exacerbate sour relations between Washington and Pyongyang that have turned uglier with name-calling between Trump and Kim. There was strong bipartisan support for the move in Congress, which had passed legislation in August requiring the State Department to make a determination on the issue.

"In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil," Trump said as he announced the designation at a Cabinet meeting at the White House. 

The action had been debated for months inside the administration, with some officials at the State Department arguing that North Korea did not meet the legal standard to be relisted as a state sponsor of terrorism.

U.S. officials involved in the internal deliberations said there was no debate over whether the slaying of Kim's half brother Kim Jong Nam was a terrorist act. Malaysian authorities have said he was killed by two women who smeared suspected VX nerve agent onto his face at Kuala Lumpur airport Feb. 13.

Lawyers said there had to be more than one incident, and there was disagreement over whether the treatment of American student Otto Warmbier, who died of injuries suffered in North Korean custody, constituted terrorism.

Tillerson said Kim Jong Nam's assassination was a "significant event" for the determination, but when asked about other assassinations, he said, "I don't have anything I can share with you specifically."

In making the announcement, Trump did refer to Warmbier "and the countless others so brutally affected" by North Korean oppression.

He said more sanctions would be imposed on North Korea and "related persons" that the Treasury Department would begin to announce today — part of rolling effort to deprive Pyongyang of funds for its nuclear and missile programs and leave it internationally isolated.

"It will be the highest level of sanctions by the time it's finished over a two-week period," Trump said.

North Korea already is subject to an array of tough U.S. and U.N. sanctions restricting trade, foreign assistance, defense sales and exports of sensitive technology.

The State Department said last week that Sudan, which is on the terror list itself, had agreed to cut all military and trade ties to North Korea. As the North has faced isolation from Western countries, it has increasingly sought relationships in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia in search of badly needed finances.

Possible new sanctions steps could be to impose restrictions on Chinese banks that serve as North Korea's conduit to the international system. However, such a move would irk Beijing, whose help Trump is counting on to put an economic squeeze on Pyongyang.

North Korea was on the terrorism blacklist for two decades after the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner killed 115 people. It was also accused of a 1983 bombing assassination attempt against then-South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan in Myanmar. The president survived, but 21 others were killed. The North has not been publicly implicated in a terror attack of that scale since.

House legislation introduced this year had urged the State Department to review a list of purported acts by North Korea, including assassinations of dissidents and weapons sales to militant groups including Hamas and Hezbollah. It requested a determination as to whether such acts constitute support for international terrorism.

The legislation also cited the 2015 computer hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the FBI blamed on North Korea. Hackers threatened movie theaters that screened "The Interview," a comedy parodying the North's leader, Kim.