Funding public pensions

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College issued two briefs in May on funding of state and local pension plans.

Why Does Funding Status Vary Among State and Local Plans? finds a strong correlation between plan size and funding status and discusses the factors affecting funding: funding discipline, governance, characteristics of the plan, and fiscal health of the state. The report refers to the Annual Required Contribution (ARC) that states should make as defined by GASB 27 of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).
      Report (pdf, 12pp/232kB)
      Summary (html)

Why Don't Some States and Localities Pay Their Required Pension Contributions? finds the same factors at work as above--funding discipline, governance issues, plan characteristics, and state fiscal pressures--but also finds that the major reason plan sponsors are not paying the full ARC is that they face legal constraints on contributions. Appendix A, Table A1, of the report lists plans statutorily constrained from making their ARC (2006).
      Report (pdf, 11pp/240kB)
      Summary (html)

Labels: ,


Green houses

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is investing $15 million over five years to support Green Houses, home-like alternatives to traditional, institutional nursing homes, according to a June 24 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article. RWJF is working with the founder of the Green House movement, physician Bill Thomas, a Harvard Medical School graduate, who became "distressed" by his experience working in a nursing home. Green Houses are designed for seven to ten seniors, each with his or her own room, who dine together every night.

Green Houses Growing in Numbers Across the States, 6.24.08. See link to the WSJ article that includes a video.



Working artists

Nearly 2 million Americans identify themselves as artists as their primary occupation. This is one of the key findings in a report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) on artists in the workforce, published in May 2008. Among other key findings:
  • Artists remain highly concentrated in urban areas
  • Artists are generally more educated than the workforce as a whole but earn less than workers with similar levels of education
  • Artists are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed
  • Fewer artists have full-year, full-time jobs than other workers
  • The West and South have seen the greatest growth in artists
Eleven artist occupations are covered in this report: actors; announcers; architects; fine artists, art directors, and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers; entertainers and performers; musicians and singers; photographers; producers and directors; and writers and authors.

Artists in the Workforce, 1990-2005 (pdf, 150pp/2.77MB)
Exec. Summary (pdf, 8pp/1.72MB)



Hawaii ConCon?

The Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau has been requested by the 2008 Legislature (HCR231 HD1, 2008; pdf) to study the costs of convening a constitutional convention and provide an estimate of the projected total cost.

Revisions of or amendments to the Hawaii State constitution may be proposed by constitutional convention or by the legislature. (Hawaii Constitution, Article XVII).

Section 2 also states:
The legislature may submit to the electorate at any general or special election the question, "Shall there be a convention to propose a revision of or amendments to the Constitution?" If any nine-year period shall elapse during which the question shall not have been submitted, the lieutenant governor shall certify the question, to be voted on at the first general election following the expiration of such period.
The last ConCon convened in 1978.

The Hawaii Constitutional Studies 1978 were undertaken at the direction of the legislature and are an attempt to present in understandable form many of the possible issues and the arguments on both sides of such issues that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1978 may wish to consider.

Hawaii Constitutional Convention Studies 1978

Labels: , , , ,


Transparency in health costs

A recent issue brief from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) discusses whether increased transparency in prices for health care services and drugs would curb rapidly rising costs. CBO concludes that the implications of transparency are ambiguous because of a multitude of factors, such as the lack of incentives or feasibility for individuals to change their purchasing behavior, and differences in markets where providers or insurers are concentrated. The brief also cautions about the effectiveness of transparency: on the consumer side, health insurance cushions the full cost of health care; on the provider side, transparency may lead to higher prices but would probably narrow the range of prices.

CBO notes 3 states that provide cost information: Wisconsin's PricePoint System and California's Hospital Chargemaster Program give hospital charges, while New Hampshire's HealthCost is more comprehensive.

Increasing Transparency in the Pricing of Health Care Services and Pharmaceuticals (pdf, 8pp/132kB), June 5, 2008

Labels: , , ,


Transitioning out of foster care

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report on the challenges faced by youth who become emancipated from the foster care system. According to CRS, states have the primary responsibility for child welfare, including foster care, and the federal government provides funding to assist states. The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) is the primary federal program supporting older youth in foster care. The report covers the following issues and relevant legislation pending in the 110th Congress: foster care for youth 18 and older, permanency, housing, runaway youth, Chafee Education and Training vouchers, Medicaid coverage, and disconnected youth.

Youth Transitioning From Foster Care: Background, Federal Programs, and Issues for Congress, RL34499 (pdf, 82pp/440kB), from Open CRS, May 21, 2008

Labels: , , ,


Recent GAO reports

Recent reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: Community Colleges and One-Stop Centers Collaborate to Meet 21st Century Workforce Needs, GAO-08-547 (pdf, 46pp/620kB), May 15, 2008

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) created the one-stop system that requires states to unify federally funded employment and training programs. Since community colleges play a key role in providing career and technical training, they are also important in the one-stop system. GAO examined how community colleges meet workforce training needs, how they integrate with the one-stop system, what conditions affect these efforts, and actions of the Departments of Labor and Education to encourage linkages between community colleges and the workforce system. GAO visited 20 community colleges in 6 states--Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington.

MEDICAL DEVICES: FDA Faces Challenges in Conducting Inspections of Foreign Manufacturing Establishments, GAO-08-780T (pdf, 26pp/336kB), May 14, 2008

In the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) oversight of medical devices sold in the U.S., it inspects establishments that manufacture these devices, including foreign establishments which are the subject of this report. The Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act of 2002 (MDUFMA) required FDA to establish third-party inspection programs, and FDA created two--the Accredited Persons Inspection Program and the Pilot Multi-Purpose Audit Program (PMAP). As of May 8, 2008, two foreign establishments had been inspected. GAO concluded that this small number of inspections "raises questions about the practicality and effectiveness of these program to quickly help FDA increase the number of foreign establishments inspected."

OFFSHORE MARINE AQUACULTURE: Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to Be Addressed in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework, GAO-08-594 (pdf, 58pp/1MB), May 9, 2008

The U.S. aquaculture industry is currently limited to nearshore waters or onshore (ponds and tanks) that are governed by individual states. To increase production, there is growing interest in offshore aquaculture, raising fish and shellfish in the open ocean (3 to 200 miles from U.S. coastlines) which are federally regulated waters. As there is presently no comprehensive regulatory framework to cover offshore aquaculture, GAO identified four areas to consider in developing regulations: program administration, permitting and site selection, environmental management, and research. GAO visited Hawaii, Maine, and Washington for this report.

NURSING HOMES: Federal Monitoring Surveys Demonstrate Continued Understatement of Serious Care Problems and CMS Oversight Weaknesses, GAO-08-517 (pdf, 57pp/1.87MB), May 9, 2008

Oversight of nursing homes is shared by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the states. CMS defines standards nursing homes must meet to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs and contracts with state surveyors to assess compliance. GAO found "substantial" missed deficiencies in state surveys, the most frequent involving poor quality of care relating to nutrition, hydration, and pressure sores. GAO recommended actions for CMS to take to effectively track understatement of deficiencies and to oversee regional office implementation of the survey program.

See Nursing Home Compare

Labels: , , , , ,


Mortgage crisis - what states can do

On May 29, the Brookings Institution issued a paper on what state governments can do to mitigate the impact of mortgage foreclosures. It suggests 10 actions states can take in three areas: mitigating the effect of foreclosure on borrowers, mitigating the impact of foreclosure on neighborhoods and at-risk communities, and looking forward to a rational housing policy. The paper also presents potential property recycling scenarios and model licensing standards for mortgage brokers.

Tackling the Mortgage Crisis: 10 Action Steps for State Government (pdf, 30pp/1.45MB), May 2008

Labels: ,