Since I'm a pessimist in my early 30s, I'm not that excited that the Social Security Administration is moving into the 21st century.
I highly doubt I'll ever see a Social Security check.
But for those who are older (or more optimistic), a chance to understand your benefits or apply to receive them sans the stacks of bureaucratic paperwork will likely be appealing. So here's the good news: The Social Security Administration has discovered the Internet.
A new portal will allow you to check out where you stand and apply for SS benefits and related government goodies like Medicare.
Social Security Announces New Online Services Available with a my Social Security Account
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is expanding the services available with a my Social Security account, a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing throughout the time they receive Social Security benefits. More than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can now access their benefit verification letter, payment history, and earnings record instantly using their online account. Social Security beneficiaries also can change their address and start or change direct deposit information online.
“We are making it even easier for people to do their business with us from the comfort of their home, office, or library,” Commissioner Astrue said. “I encourage people of all ages to take advantage of our award-winning online services and check out the new features available through an online my Social Security account.”
Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients with a my Social Security account can go online and get an official benefit verification letter instantly. The benefit verification letter serves as proof of income to secure loans, mortgages and other housing, and state or local benefits. Additionally, people use the letter to prove current Medicare health insurance coverage, retirement or disability status, and age. People can print or save a customized letter.
Social Security processed nearly nine million requests for benefit verification letters in the past year. This new online service allows people to conduct business with Social Security without having to visit an office or make a phone call, and very often wait for a letter to arrive in the mail. It also will reduce the time spent by employees completing these requests and free them to focus on other workloads.
People age 18 and older can sign up for an account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. Once there, they must be able to provide information about themselves and answers to questions that only they are likely to know. After completing the secure verification process, people can create a my Social Security account with a unique user name and password to access their information.
People age 18 and older who are not receiving benefits can sign up for a my Social Security account to get a personalized online Social Security Statement. The online Statement provides eligible workers with secure and convenient access to their Social Security earnings and benefit information, and estimates of future benefits they can use to plan for their retirement. In addition, the portal also includes links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability and Medicare.
“Given our significantly reduced funding, we have to find innovative ways to continue to meet the needs of the American people without compromising service,” said Commissioner Astrue. “These new enhancements will allow us to provide faster service to more people in more places.”
For more information, please go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Sen. Mark Udall wants more money to fight fires and mitigate afterward. The Democrat from Colorado has teamed up with Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, to introduce an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance that would add $653 million to the agency's budget.
Given the continuing drought, fires in the west, including Colorado, are only going to get worse as time goes by.
Udall already paired with Colorado's other Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, in October to push for a study of the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires in Colorado last summer. Both claimed hundreds of homes. We reported on that letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, which is dated three days after we raised questions to both senators about whether they would seek some kind of investigation, here.
Now, Udall is seeking additional funding to be used for pre-positioning ground crews, hot shots, and air support in places where wildfire risk is high, Udall and Tester say in a press release, which also states:
The funds also would be available for the acquisition of additional large air tankers and the removal of hazardous fuels in the wildland-urban interface, the fire-prone areas between cities and the backcountry.
The United States faced the third worst wildfire season in the nation's history, with more than 9.2 million acres burned, including record-setting blazes in Colorado and other parts of the West. The federal government, however, will enter the 2013 fire season with only eight large air tankers compared to 44 in 2000.
The federal fire-management budget also has failed to keep pace with the cost of actually fighting wildfires, forcing the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies to dip into accounts set aside for other purposes, such as watershed restoration and rangeland management.
Udall and Tester's proposed amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance restores $653 million to the Forest Service's Wildland Fire Management Account, which funds wildland fire preparedness, suppression, hazardous fuels reduction, fire research and development, and state fire assistance. The amendment would increase the budget request for the Wildland Fire Management fund to the projected median cost of the fire season, $1.584 billion.
Read the entire press release here.
When the crowd alternates hollering out "Amen" with "Whoohoo," you know this ain't grandpa's Catholic mass.
But then Sister Simone Campbell, the 67-year-old nun who's touring the U.S. right now in a white vehicle labeled "Nuns on the Bus," probably isn't your Catholic grandpa's habit, either.
In fact, Sister Simone is a bit of a rock-star, left-leaning radical. The executive director of Network, a 40-year-old progressive organization of nuns, is featured this month in Rolling Stone's story "The Sisters Crusade," a piece that opens with her struggle to sit down with former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan to talk about the national budget.
The bus tour stopped by Colorado Springs' Meadows Park Community Center at lunchtime today with Sister Simone at the helm, who pledged a continued fight for those less fortunate. Much of her discussion had to do with sharing the word about The Faithful Budget:
A collaboration of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and organizations, The Faithful Budget promotes comprehensive and compassionate budget principles that will “protect the common good, values each individual and his or her livelihood, and helps lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it while shielding the wealthiest from any additional sacrifice.”
No matter that President Obama has won a second term — "we have a bit more work to do," she said to a group of about 75 people. "The election is over, and we might all think, 'Oh praise God we don't have to watch those ads anymore.' But the fact is, our work has just begun. Because tomorrow Congress reconvenes, God help us."
If the Good Father hasn't heard them yet, at least now they've got a little extra media behind them.
"Heaven only knows what happens after Rolling Stone," Sister Simone told the Indy after her presentation. "It's amazing."
This one should come as no surprise.
As you can see from the map below, the organization identified four instances of FOX News pundits and the like campaigning here in Colorado Springs.
In October, Monica Crowley was present for an Americans for Prosperity rally in the parking lot of KVOR.
Last June, Karl Rove was the keynote speaker at the local GOP Lincoln Day Dinner. There were protests for that one.
And finally, in June of this year, Michelle Malkin spoke at the Cheyenne Mountain Republican Forum's infamous fund-raiser.
If you haven't died from shock, it is worth pointing out that the Democrats have tried to lure "news" personalties themselves. Remember the debacle surrounding Peak Dems' attempt to bring the shouting mouth of MSNBC's Ed Schultz to town?
Schultz was all ready to go — until someone at his network informed him, as he said at the time, that "this is a fund raiser and it violates NBC News Standards and Practices policy manual. I'm allowed to speak at conventions pre-approved by MSNBC but not political fund raisers. I [am] deeply sorry as this is my mistake."
News standards and practices — who would've guessed?
Update, Friday, Sept. 21, 10:35 A.M.: Never mind.
Chick-fil-A has apparently decided that "kiss-ins" and protests are more disruptive than backing from the former governor of Arkansas is, uh, good, so the Georgia company — or, rather, its nonprofit WinShape Foundation — will no longer be giving money to hate groups like the National Organization for Marriage and, yes, Focus on the Family.
Of course, all this is coming from a press release issued by the Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago-based LGBT advocacy group that says they received a letter from WinShape's senior director of real estate, who wrote, “The WinShape Foundations [sic] is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.”
When the actual Chick-fil-A company was asked for comment, they were so excited about the new direction that they wouldn't confirm anything, only referring reporters back to its generically supportive July statement.
The whole affair apparently stems from negotiations taking place with Chicago alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, who had earlier said he would not support a Chick-fil-A in his ward. The statement is, I guess, meant to be a new direction for the company, but as the Chicago Tribune points out: "The company made nearly identical pledges in a July 19 Facebook post that went up even before Moreno took issue with Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy's opposition to gay marriage."
Four people died in the attack on the American embassy in Libya. And while we still aren't clear on exactly who was behind the attack, or what the motivation was, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn has taken this as an opportunity to criticize the president.
Cause what else would the partisan congressman from our 5th Congressional District do?
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed in Libya. This was an evil and unjustified act of violence. Like many Americans, I am concerned about the Obama Administration’s policy of leading from behind on world affairs. The American people deserve stronger leadership from the White House. We need an administration that will project strength even into troubled areas of the world.”
Nowhere in the press release does Lamborn give even a hint of what leading from the front on foreign affairs would look like.
This is a big moment for Congressman Doug Lamborn.
Certainly the Republican has seen many of his bills pass through the Republican-controlled House, but this is the first time that one actually stands a chance to make it through the Democrat-controlled Senate — thanks to the Senate sponsorship of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
From the press release:
H.R. 4073 is supported by the Colorado Springs City Council, the Manitou Springs City Council and Mayor, the Colorado Springs Mayor, and the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company.
“This bill will remove a centuries-old legal cloud that has been hanging over a portion of the popular hiking trail. Hikers will be able to use it confidently knowing that the trail's safety and beauty will be protected. It will ensure that the Forest Service can professionally manage and maintain the trail. The Manitou Incline is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the country and loved by locals and tourists alike. It is a treasure unique to Pikes Peak and we want to ensure it is kept up for generations to come." — Doug Lamborn (CO-05)
H.R. 4073, is technical and narrow in scope. It specifically addresses a right-of-way issue with the railway company. It allows for the U.S. Forest Service to accept the railway's relinquishment of their right-of-way. This is necessary based on an 1875 federal law.
Senator Michael Bennett has introduced companion legislation on the Senate side, S.2341. The bill must pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the president to become law.
Lamborn explains the need for the bill:
Well, congratulations, as today is an auspicious day in the career of Dr. No.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the Texas Republican's bill to increase the transparency of the Federal Reserve. With bipartisan support, the measure passed 327-98.
For Paul, the path to getting his bill approved in the House has been a long, and often lonely one. He first introduced the bill to a skeptical House a decade ago. While his efforts were ignored at the time, the call to audit the Fed has gained support from mainstream Republicans and Democrats.
Our own Rep. Doug Lamborn voted in support of the measure, H.R. 459. He issued a press release trumpeting the vote:
Congress has the constitutional authority over the nation’s money supply, which it has delegated to the Federal Reserve. However, under current law, Congress is prohibited from looking into how the Fed manages that delegated authority.
“Since the beginning of our nation’s current financial crisis in 2008, the Federal Reserve has tripled its balance sheet through an unprecedented series of bailouts and economic interventions. Much of the Fed’s activities are off limits to Congress for review.
“This is unacceptable. H.R. 459 will open up the Fed’s books for a thorough audit. The American taxpayer deserves to know what is going on with their money.”— Doug Lamborn (CO-05)
But does the bill's passage through the House mean it's destined for the president's pen? It's got to get through the Democrat-controlled Senate first, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, appears unlikely.
A senior Democratic Senate leadership aide said there are no plans to bring the bill up in the Senate, but didn’t rule out an attempt by Republicans to seek a vote on the measure as part of another piece of legislation. The Senate would be almost certain to defeat it given the Democratic majority in the chamber.
As if we needed another lesson in just how damningly accurate a certain expression is — the one about things "spreading like wildfire."
Boise's KTVB reports that Colorado Springs resident and Waldo Canyon Fire evacuee Krista McCann had been heading to her father's home in Oregon when she lost control of her Subaru on Interstate 84 in eastern Idaho. After salvaging whatever belongings she could from her burning car, McCann told KTVB she noticed the adjacent field was burning.
"I was pretty devastated," McCann reportedly said, rather understandably. The subsequent wildfire burnt 2,000 acres before being declared fully controlled last Wednesday.
You can take in KTVB's full story here.
With Rick Santorum out of the race, what other option do they have?
From the Christian Post:
An Internet evangelist who is advocating that Christians vote for Jesus as a write-in candidate says he has more than 200,000 people who have committed to do so. However, a political science expert believes the evangelist's demonizing rhetoric about both candidates is not Christ-like.
Bill Keller, who runs LivePrayer.com and offers a daily devotional read by more than 2.4 million subscribers, said Christians face a difficult dilemma this November.
Keller says his answer to the election is to have Christians write in the name of Jesus for president. He believes that this is "a real opportunity for Christians to take a stand for their faith, say no to Satan's two choices for President by voting for Jesus, and make a statement to the nation that the problems in this nation aren't political, they are spiritual, and the only answer is to turn back to Jesus and Biblical Truth."
I wonder if Sen. Kevin Grantham is scared of these extremists?
Here's Keller "debating" Oprah.
Written during the High Park Fire, the letter urged lawmakers to change a policy that kept wildland firefighters from accessing health insurance. Of course, shortly after that letter ran, those same uninsured firefighters were here in Colorado Springs, fighting the Waldo Canyon fire.
Thankfully, our heroes will be rewarded for the risks they've take on our behalf. The federal government plans to offer them health insurance.
Bennet, Udall Praise Decision to Provide Health Benefits to Firefighters
Many Federal Firefighters are Temporary Employees, Don’t Receive Benefits
Washington, DC — Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall today released the following statements praising the joint Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Department of Interior announcement that temporary federal firefighters, many whom are fighting or have fought the recent wildfires in Colorado, will have access to the same health care benefits federal employees receive.
“This is excellent news. Federal firefighters may be temporary employees but they leave a permanent mark on the families whose lives and properties they save. All too often, their grueling, life threatening work requires many more hours than the relatively comfortable and safe jobs so many of us hold,” Bennet said. “It’s unacceptable that these heroic men and women did not have access to health care benefits. Its symptomatic of a Washington that has a focus so far removed from the rest of the country. In Colorado, we watched them willingly risk their lives to fight fires across the state, including against the two most destructive fires in Colorado’s history, both of which affected so many of our friends, family and neighbors. We all owe them a debt of gratitude, and health care benefits are the least they deserve.”
“I have been working to provide these heroic firefighters with access to health insurance benefits, and am glad to see the President has used his authority to expedite that work,” Udall said. “During this severe fire season, Coloradans have seen firsthand the great work our wildland firefighters do and the sacrifices they make to protect our homes and lives. It is only fitting that we do everything we can to support them.”
Many federal firefighters are considered temporary employees because they are only employed for part of the year. As temporary employees they were not previously eligible for benefits such as health care and retirement pensions.
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Avast, ye scurvy lubber! International Talk like a Pirate day has just come over the horizon, and is but a handful o' fortnights away — Sept. 19, same as always.
Lucky for your sorry aft, the Pikes Peak Library District offers free subscriptions to the Mango language learning tool. Mango recently announced a special course in Pirate to polish your skills. All ye need is a district library card! The software is available at most PPLD branches, or even on your Android or iOS device. The Mango website has a mapping tool to find the Mango-powered library nearest your port-of-call.
Easiest of all, Mango is offering its courses in Pirate for free on its website (for a limited time). So you've got no excuse for not participating this September. Bully!
The campaign for Robert Blaha, the businessman who is challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in the upcoming Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District seat, is none too happy about a recent campaign ad.
From a message directed at Lamborn:
We are writing to urge you to take down the undignified and false attacks on Robert Blaha and his extensive business record. Of particular outrage to all of us is your attack on Integrity Bank and Trust, which your campaign commercial described as one of the “worst in the region”. The advertisement leveled against the bank shows mean-spiritedness and indifference to the challenges that businesses are facing in these difficult economic times.
A campaign ad that trades in undignified and false attacks? I'm speechless. I'm without words.
The Blaha campaign even started a petition, urging Lamborn to take down the ad. You can be among the other hundred-plus people to sign it, here.
According to the Denver Post, the ad features accusations that are not quite true. The Post dissects the two claims in Lamborn's ad: “Eight of his businesses ruled delinquent by Colorado for failure to file an annual business report 26 times,” and “The bank Blaha co-founded ranked among the worst in the region, fined by the FDIC.”
What the paper found?
"We are giving this campaign ad a 'leans deceptive' rating for its misuse of data and playing with semantics."
Read its analysis, here.
Today, my email features dueling press releases from the Republican primary candidates for the 5th Congressional District.
In the one corner, we have an email from Catherine Mortensen, the spokeswoman for Doug Lamborn and his campaign, that links to a clip of Blaha explaining why he hasn't voted in primaries for years.
That clip is from a segment Blaha did with Grassroots Radio, and you can see it, here.
And in the other corner, from the Blaha campaign, we have this ad that paints Lamborn as an aggressive bully, calling him "a career politician with a long history of spewing outrageous and untrue negative attacks against anyone who dares question him."
"The real scandal in Washington isn't what is illegal, it is what is legal."
That's the response from the campaign of Robert Blaha after finding out that its complaint over U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn's use of taxpayer-funded mail was dismissed.
Blaha, the businessman who is running a Republican primary against Lamborn in the 5th Congressional District, lodged the complaint last month over a mailer that, he claimed, had violated federal regulations.
Today, the Lamborn campaign sent out the word that the complaint had been tossed. Catherine Mortensen, spokeswoman for Lamborn, is taking this opportunity to stomp on Blaha: "As we said from the start, this was an unfounded allegation made by an individual who shows stunning ignorance of the most basic operations of Congress. It was an unfounded, mean-spirited attack. "
Blaha's spokeswoman, Ashlee Springer, responds:
We are not surprised that the congressional commission is protecting their own instead of enforcing the rules. Doug Lamborn campaigned on the public dime and didn't follow either the letter or the spirit of the rules. The real scandal in Washington isn't what is illegal, it is what is legal. Doug Lamborn plays the game well, and the franking commission and the good ole boys have got his back. But the voters won't.
In the decision letter, forwarded to the press by Mortensen, there is a rundown of Blaha's four allegations, as well as the findings — such as this explanation of the acceptable amount of times a mailer is allowed to use "personally phrased references":
The first allegation is that [Lamborn] exceeded the allowable number of personally phrased references by using the words "I", "my" or "me" in the constituent mailing. However, the Commission does not count possessive pronouns such as "my" as personally phrased references. Therefore, the number of references complies with Franking guidelines.