- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. July 29, 2016

Vital help for the transition from foster care into adulthood

Each year, about 26,000 young people in foster care nationwide turn 19 and “age out” of the system. The annual figure in Nebraska is about 300; in Iowa, about 600.

Trying to move into independence is a daunting challenge for most of these young adults. Many fail to make the transition successfully, with negative consequences for those men and women as well as for society.

A 2011 study by the University of Chicago reported that without assistance for the transition, only 42 percent of former foster youths on average finish high school by age 21. By age 26, only 48 percent on average have jobs.

Providing transitional support can yield important benefits, researchers found.

Young men and women who received such help were twice as likely to pursue educational opportunities after high school. The chances of involvement with the criminal justice system were considerably lessened.

Nebraska and Iowa have been among the growing number of states taking significant steps to help foster youths make a successful transition.

In 2014, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services launched a program called Bridge to Independence, providing counseling and a stipend for housing and other needs. To stay in the program, the young adults must be in school or working.

The Omaha Home for Boys focuses on this need through a program called Branching Out Independent Living. Participants also have access to Youth Mart, in which several local organizations provide youths with necessities such as clothes and furniture.

The World-Herald’s Maggie O’Brien this week reported on how a mentoring/apprenticeship program through the Bike Union Bike Shop & Coffee House in Omaha is making a positive change for youths making this transition.

Although the challenge for these young people is a difficult one with setbacks in some cases, the overall progress is inspiring.

O’Brien reported how 21-year-old Bre Walker has found enormous value in the work opportunities and life-skills support she has found at the Bike Union.

The experience has helped her raise the level of her academic performance as a student at Metropolitan Community College.

Foundations, including the Sherwood Foundation, and corporate and private donors provide most of the funding for the mentoring program, with revenues from the bike store to provide increased support in the future, says Miah Sommer, the program’s executive director.

Brenda Weyers, with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, aptly described the need for such efforts when she told O’Brien: “How hard must it be to be 19 and have no connections at all?”

Exactly. Which is why the commendable hard work of these young people and the support from these organizations deserve such praise.

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McCook Gazette. July 27, 2016

Time to get kids’ immune systems ready for school

Summer was fun while it lasted, but you can now count on one hand the number of weeks until school starts again.

With school opening comes the chance to meet new friends and become reacquainted with old ones. But while kids’ minds are adjusting to the new social situation, their bodies are reacting to new microbes those interactions bring along.

That’s why August is National Immunization Awareness Month.

“Getting children all of the shots recommended by CDC’s immunization schedule is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children’s health,” said Melissa Propp, RN, Public Health Nurse for the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department. “If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to find out what shots your child needs. This is critical in protecting classmates, their younger siblings and the community.”

Most schools require kids to be current on vaccinations before enrolling to protect the health of all students. Today’s childhood vaccines protect against serious and potentially life-threatening diseases, including polio, measles and whooping cough.

When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased chance of getting diseases and can spread diseases to others in their classrooms and community. Babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated and people with weakened immune systems, due to cancer or other health conditions, are at the greatest risk.

Children who are 4 to 6 years old are due for boosters of: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), chickenpox, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and polio.

Older children, like preteens and teens, need Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), Meningo (meningococcal conjugate vaccine) and HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines when they are 11 to 12. The new MenB shots are for those ages 16-23 .

Every year, early flu vaccines are recommended for all children 6 months and older.

Parents can find out more about the recommended immunization schedule at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/index.html or contact SWNPHD at 308-345-4223 or email: [email protected]

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Omaha World-Herald. July 30, 2016

Protecting wetlands, helping farmers a win-win for Nebraska

These Nebraska wetlands are a significant part of the ecology for migratory birds and for resident wildlife.

Playa: It’s an unusual word. But it’s a word that holds great importance for Nebraska wildlife and agriculture.

A playa is a low spot in the landscape, with an impermeable clay layer underneath, that becomes an intermittent wetland after a substantial rain or snow.

These Nebraska wetlands are a significant part of the ecology for migratory birds such as ducks and geese. Playas are important, too, for resident wildlife such as pheasants and the (endangered) whooping crane.

Nebraska has two playa wetland regions - one stretching across much of south-central Nebraska and a smaller one centered on Custer County, right in the state’s midsection.

A variety of Nebraska organizations, companies and individuals have worked together for years in ongoing efforts to safeguard Nebraska’s playas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is lending its support through the recent announcement of a $3.2 million grant for protection of 900 acres of Nebraska playas.

Those funds are part of a total of $44 million in USDA grants to 12 states for wetland preservation. Iowa is receiving $3 million to support its Iowa-Cedar Rivers Headwaters Wetland Initiative.

The Nebraska effort, continuing a longstanding approach in the state, will take the form of payment to farmers for conservation easements, says Ted LaGrange, wetland program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, lead partner for the USDA grant.

“We’re prioritizing where to work based on the value these wetlands provide to wildlife and society,” LaGrange told The World-Herald.

It’s a voluntary program under which farmers, in exchange for payment, limit their activities at playas. Through cooperative agreements, farmers can continue to pursue certain activities, such as grazing and taking in a hay crop, LaGrange says.

Irrigation companies Valmont Industries, Lindsay Corp. and Reinke Manufacturing have been key partners in working out procedures and providing financial support so Nebraska wetland preservation efforts can be pursued collaboratively with ag producers, LaGrange says.

The preservation efforts take an important dual approach, he says, designed “to meet the needs of wildlife and farmers.”

An additional benefit is that wetland preservation promotes the recharging of groundwater, which means improved water quality.

Various Nebraska organizations and businesses have pledged to contribute about $573,000 to supplement the USDA grant. No state general fund dollars will be used. Game and Parks will contribute $30,000 from state Habitat and Waterfowl stamps, purchased primarily by hunters.

The organizations, agencies, businesses and farmers supporting Nebraska wetland preservation deserve a cheer. Their efforts are a winning effort all around - for the environment, for agriculture and for the state’s future.

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Lincoln Journal Star. July 24, 2016

Search for heirs should be required

One of Nebraska’s lawmakers ought to start working on a bill to require life insurance companies to search for beneficiaries.

A multi-state task force led by Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty found that life insurance companies had billions of dollars that should have gone to heirs.

“Many life-insurance companies built in business practices that intentionally shielded them from knowledge of a policyholder’s death, a practice which drastically reduces the number of policies that are properly - and timely - paid out,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told the Orlando Sentinel.

More than 20 states already have passed such laws, as a recent story in the Journal Star pointed out.

In those states heirs have been surprised by checks they did not know were owed them.

Roberta Berchtold, 62, of San Diego told the Associated Press she thought everything was settled two years ago after her father’s death. She even received a check for $35,000. Since then she has learned she was owed money from two other policies.

“I never really trusted them.” Berchtold said of the insurance companies.

Some insurance companies support legislation patterned after a model drafted by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators which requires companies to cross check their data bases against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File at least once a year to see if heirs are owed money.

The companies previously did that crosscheck to identify policyholders receiving annuities who had died, but they did not do the same for life insurance policies. In some cases the companies would deduct monthly payments until the money was gone. Then the companies would cancel the policy.

In Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently signed into law a bill that requires companies to check policies dating back to 1992.

In Nebraska Insurance Commissioner Bruce Ramge said the department is working with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to develop a uniform model law.

It’s unclear, however, why this approach would be superior to the laws already on the books in other states.

Those laws, based on the model drafted by the NCIL, have the support of the American Council of Life Insurers, which wants all states to adopt the model as a “national standard.”

But not all insurance companies are on board. In Illinois life insurance companies owned by Kemper Corp. contend that the policies are contracts under which beneficiaries are required to make a claim.

The trouble is, of course, that some people don’t even know they were beneficiaries because there was no requirement that they be notified.

A law requiring life insurance companies to search would be a welcome addition to Nebraska statutes.

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