Canadian drug imports could help reduce costs to consumers

LINCOLN, Neb. (Public News Service)– This week the Trump administration opened the door for prescription drug imports from Canada, in a move to address concerns about high costs.

The Department of Health and Human Services outlined steps that would allow for cheaper generic drugs to be imported, and asked states interested in developing their own, pilot import projects to submit proposals.

Frederick Isasi, executive director of the health-care advocacy group Families USA says if the administration follows through, U.S. consumers would be getting a better deal.

“We know that drugs in Canada are less expensive than in the United States – they are in some cases maybe five times less expensive,” says Isasi. “But it’s important to mention that Canada has the second-highest prices in the world.”

Isasi notes allowing imports from Canada is a good short-term tactic, but says relying on foreign governments to negotiate lower drug prices for Americans isn’t a great long-term policy solution.

The pharmaceutical industry is opposed to the idea, and has blamed rising costs on middlemen in the supply chain, including pharmacy benefit managers. Other critics worry that relying on foreign regulators to approve drugs used by Americans could put public health and safety at risk.

Isasi thinks the move would give many Americans access to the same safe, lower-cost medicines that Canadian families use every day. But he believes a more significant move would be to strike down laws that prohibit U.S. lawmakers from negotiating directly with industry for better prices.

“We as taxpayers across this country are funding billions and billions of dollars in pharmaceutical drug purchases,” says Isasi. “And the government should be able to go in there and negotiate directly with drug manufacturers to get a reasonable and fair price.”

Isasi says drug imports also would expand Canada’s negotiating leverage by adding potentially millions of new U.S. customers. He believes the U.S. also needs to address loopholes in patent laws, which prevent cheaper generics from reaching consumers.

Reporting by Eric Galatas, Nebraska Bureau


Farmworkers march for dignity in northern Washington

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Farmworkers and their supporters are marching in northern Washington this weekend. Environmental and racial justice groups will walk alongside laborers in Bellingham for the 2019 March for Dignity.

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of the farmworkers’ rights group Community to Community Development, says the march will in part expose what she calls the exploitative conditions of the federal H-2A program, which allows farms to recruit workers from other countries and give them temporary visas.

She says one Whatcom County farm was recently banned from using the program.

“They’re not the local family farmers that we know, and consumers know,” says Guillen. “These are outside corporate entities that have bought land in Whatcom County and brought in the federal H-2A program. There’s one left, and we want them to know that as farmworkers, we do not approve of the way that farmworkers are being treated.”

Guillen says Sarabanand Farms is no longer allowed to use the federal program, but notes that Crystal View Raspberry Farm still has about 80 H-2A workers.

The march begins at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday at the Customs and Border Patrol station in Ferndale, and marchers will travel roughly 14 miles to the First Christian Church in Bellingham. Members of the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia are marching and speaking at the event.

Guillen describes the march as a continuation of the struggle Cesar Chavez started for farmworkers’ rights in the 1950s in California.

“The idea is for farmworkers to march in reflection, honoring the legacy that we have continued to try to improve conditions in the food system and in the fields,” says Guillen. “But it’s also a reflective march for consumers and other supporters to march with farmworkers.”

Guillen says marchers also are protesting the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrant families.

On Saturday, a “Dignity Dialogue” event at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship will feature ACLU of Washington Legislative Director Eric Gonzalez, speaking about the Keep Washington Working Act.

The bill passed this session and restricts state agencies from aiding federal immigration enforcement.

Reporting by Eric Tegethoff, Washington Bureau


Allstate agents offer financial education classes to domestic violence survivors in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Allstate insurance agents are helping domestic violence survivors with financial literacy by teaching financial education classes at shelters across the Commonwealth.

Kimberlie Rigsby is an Allstate agent in Brown County who also is a domestic violence survivor. She teaches women the basics of budgeting, bank accounts and credit scores.

Rigsby says many people don’t realize that financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse.

“Financial abuse is not letting you have access to your own money,” she points out. “Telling others like family members and friends things that are not true.

“They start planting a seed from the very beginning. In my case, I couldn’t even have change in my purse.”

More than 2,000 survivors of domestic violence in Kentucky – most of whom are single mothers with annual incomes of less than $15,000 – will receive free economic empowerment services this year.

Andrea Richard, a senior communications consultant with the Allstate Foundation, says the $50,000 grant her organization awarded the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence to help to jump start the program is part of a long-standing commitment.

“With domestic violence, specifically, we help to financially empower survivors,” she states.

Allstate also is working with several domestic violence shelters across the state to help collect donations of household goods and school supplies for survivors in need.

Andrea Miller, client services project director of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says survivors who are leaving an abusive home have to start life over completely.

“I think one of the important parts about this is, of course, survivors of course are coming into shelter with essentially nothing,” she points out. “Whatever they can pack up in a suitcase or trash bag, or the clothes on their back. For their kids as well, if they have children, this is what they come in with.”

Miller points out that it’s still rare for large items, such as beds or couches, to be donated. She says local shelters rely on their communities to meet the needs of survivors and their children moving into safe housing.

Donation drives are ongoing until Monday.

Reporting by Nadia Ramlagan, Kentucky Bureau


South Dakota veterans to benefit at Sturgis motorcycle rally

RAPID CITY, S.D. – This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will pour into the Black Hills – most on two wheels – for the 79th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And the state’s military veterans will benefit.

Lindsey Holmquest, associate state director of community outreach with AARP South Dakota, says her organization sets up a space on Main Street to offer riders respite from the heat, as well as information about how AARP benefits people over 50.

Holmquest says being at Sturgis also provides a good reason to support those who served in the armed forces.

“We’re donating $5,000 to the Disabled American Veterans Black Hills chapter, helping more than one million veterans in positive, life-changing ways each year,” says Holmquest.

The 10 day event in Sturgis – a community of about 7,000 residents – will host the half-million attendees starting today through Aug. 11.

Holmquest says AARP South Dakota representatives will be at Ethel’s Roadhouse on Main Street today through Monday, August 5.

This is the fifth year the nonprofit Veterans Charity Ride will participate in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The organization uses “motorcycle therapy” to help fellow veterans adjust to post-war life.

Holmquest says AARP participates in the rally as an opportunity to connect with a huge cross-section of Americans.

“We’ll have staff and volunteers there to talk all about AARP and what we do, because we know that folks come in from around the country, to come to the Sturgis rally,” says Holmquest.

The annual rally generates about $800 million in revenue for the state of South Dakota.

AARP will also host Hollywood actor and avid motorcycle rider Tom Berenger, for a screening of the movie “American Dresser” on Sunday, Aug. 4 at 2:30 p.m.. That’s in the VIP Lounge of the Main Street location.

Reporting by Roz Brown, South Dakota Bureau


Pikeville gets grant to help develop arts district

PIKEVILLE, Ky. – The City of Pikeville has received a $30,000 grant from AARP to improve its plaza and outdoor arts venue. The funding will jump-start the first phase of a more than one million dollar downtown revitalization plan.

Brad Slone is deputy manager of operations for the city. He says the plan, known as “Second Streetscape,” will ultimately boost economic development in Pikeville and the surrounding Appalachian region.

“We want to change the street to make it more pedestrian-friendly,” says Slone. “And we have a theater, arts center, the Appalachian Center for the Arts, that’s located on Second Street in our downtown. We just kind of wanted to upgrade the plaza of that, and make it a place where people can gather and have more direct impact with local arts.”

When the project is complete, Slone says downtown Pikeville will have outdoor seating and gathering places adjacent to a local brewery, a new public park, historic murals and an amphitheater for outdoor music performances. Construction is set to begin in October.

AARP Kentucky State President Charlotte Whittaker says making Kentucky cities and towns more fun and walkable places is a way to encourage seniors – and residents and visitors of all ages – to get outdoors and make friends.

“They have identified an area of their city that needs a lot of tender loving care,” says Whittaker. “And we have stepped in to help make that happen. You know, there’ll be arts and music – just an area that, especially for folks 50 and over will have, to go to enjoy the arts.”

Local governments and groups in Danville, Lexington, Louisville and Newport also were awarded AARP Community Challenge grants, totaling more than $60,000 dollars for community improvements. AARP looks at projects across the country that make cities more livable.

Reporting by Nadia Ramlagan, Kentucky Bureau


Three Arkansas towns awarded AARP Community Challenge grants

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Three Arkansas towns are among the recipients of AARP Community Challenge grants for 2019.

The program awards more than $1.6 million for “quick action” projects across the country, helping nonprofits and local governments make immediate improvements and jump-start long-term progress for local developments. Arkansas grantees include the City of Benton, Main Street West Memphis and Main Street Batesville.

Deborah Abernathy, executive director of Main Street West Memphis, says their $6,000 grant will go toward a small park that displays art-painted, salvaged bicycles near the building that housed the historic KWEM radio station.

“Many of the original blues and rockabilly players – like Elvis and Johnny Cash, and Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy James – all came here when Memphis closed down and would record their music,” says Abernathy. “And then it would go directly on the radio.”

Abernathy says the goal is to attract more people – particularly cyclists – farther into West Memphis to see what the area has to offer.

The projects must focus on outcomes that create vibrant public places, or deliver a range of transportation, mobility and affordable housing options. This year, more than 150 projects received funding nationwide.

Brad Jordan, community and economic development director for the City of Benton, says their $14,000 grant will go toward putting thermal plastic crosswalks in front of the town’s 1901 courthouse to improve walkability.

“We want to raise everyone’s bottom line here, our small businesses,” says Jordan. “So, it’s to attract people into our downtown and for them to walk around and shop in our stores, and also just improve the quality of life. It’s not only about the money, but it’s about the way people feel when they come into downtown.”

And Main Street Batesville will get $5,000 to construct a sidewalk to the Maxfield Park development in the downtown district. It will feature a meditation garden, waterfall and green space when it opens in September.

AARP’s Community Challenge grant program is part of its nationwide Livable Communities initiative.

Reporting by Mark Richardson, Arkansas Bureau


Back-to-school savings abound during New Mexico tax-free weekend

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico’s annual sales-tax holiday starts today, which means families can save a little money as they stock up on clothing and school supplies, including computers.

New Mexico is one of 16 states that offer a sales-tax holiday, waiving the 5% tax on qualifying items.

Reilly White, an associate professor of finance at the University of New Mexico, says depending on how much they spend, lower-income families can save a significant sum on essential items.

“If you look at a 5% sales-tax holiday in New Mexico, that means that these consumers are saving anywhere from $40 to $80 on their back-to-school shopping, and I think that’s real money for a lot of New Mexico families,” says White.

About 340,000 New Mexico students will return to the classroom on Aug. 12.

The National Retail Association estimates on average, a household will spend somewhere close to $700 on back-to-school supplies for Kindergarten through 12th-grade students, and $1,000 for a college student. That’s an increase of $150 from a decade ago.

Many low-income students aren’t able to purchase the required school supplies, so some towns across the state, including Albuquerque, are encouraging people to buy extra and donate them to school-supply drives for needy families.

White says getting kids ready for school again can be a real hit on the average family’s budget.

“I fully encourage people to go out and buy school supplies, not only for their children but also to donate them as well,” says White. “I think we have a lot of students in need, particularly in New Mexico.”

The tax holiday goes into effect at midnight and ends Sunday at midnight. A full list of qualifying items is online on the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department website, tax.newmexico.gov.

Reporting by Roz Brown, New Mexico Bureau

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