- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


April 29

The Savannah Morning News on protecting sea life off Georgia’s coast:

Whales, turtles, dolphins and shrimp.

This gives Georgia a special responsibility to protect them. Their numbers devastated by hunters in earlier centuries and culled further by industrial development, shipping and fishing gear that entangles them, the North Atlantic right whale faces a new threat. Facing it with them are Loggerhead turtles, also endangered, as well as dolphins, shrimp, crab and oysters.

Eight oil and gas exploration companies have asked the U.S. government to let them shoot seismic air guns into the Atlantic Ocean off our coast to map the sea floor in hopes of finding deep pockets of oil. Unless restricted, the guns would sound every 10 seconds around the clock, sending blasts to the sea floor where they would bounce back and return to the ships that tow the guns. This is how the maps are made.

The oil exploration industry says it has repeatedly looked for evidence that the air guns damage sea life and found none. Environmentalists cite what they call irrefutable studies that the blasts can be literally deafening to sea creatures, and may chase them from the habitat that supports them. Loss of hearing can prove fatal to whales, especially, because they depend on hearing to navigate, mate and communicate with each other, for this is a talkative group.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated that without limits, the seismic blasts could injure and maybe kill some 138,500 whales and dolphins over an eight-year period. That estimate could shrink under proposed rules that would require vessels to hold fire for an hour whenever a sea creature is seen or heard. (And so, ironically, the same characteristics that once made the right whale vulnerable to hunters - its slow swim close to shore - could mitigate the danger. Not so for other sea creatures more difficult to spot.)

Scientists for the government are trying to figure out how much, if at all, mitigation would shrink the expected damage. The decision on whether to allow seismic blasting and under what conditions is on hold in the meantime. The government has promised to act on the best science available.

Leading experts last month wrote the Obama administration to plead that it not even consider permitting seismic exploration in the Atlantic.

With the right whale population in decline, “The additional stress of widespread seismic airgun surveys may well represent a tipping point for the survival of this endangered whale,” said marine scientists from Cornell University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the New England Aquarium, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

If “may” still sounds too indefinite, it shouldn’t. Consider the consequences if that warning isn’t heeded.




April 29

The Brunswick News on the importance of wearing life jackets:

Brunswick was struck by tragedy Wednesday evening when a boat carrying four of its residents capsized in rough waters, bringing three lives to an abrupt end.

They were lives that touched others; lives that were no doubt happy and filled with the love of family and friends; lives that represented a piece of who we are as a community.

They were men - Michael Troup Sr., J.J. Fuller and Rico Scott - who worked with us, played with us, worshipped with us.

We cannot imagine the pain and deep sorrow their families must be feeling in this time of loss. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to them.

As a newspaper, these are the most difficult stories to cover. They put us in the unenviable position of having to tell the world about what is likely the darkest moment in the history of the families of these men.

It appears that no one was at fault in this situation. There are no early indications the men were doing anything wrong.

Trying to find reason in why Brunswick lost three of its residents, including one who was a decorated football star for Brunswick High School and Benedict College, is futile.

But through these difficult events we can learn. In this case, the lesson is about water safety - namely, wearing life jackets, especially in choppy conditions.

It is unclear how many life jackets were on the boat when it capsized. What is clear, is that three men who tragically lost their lives might have been saved if life jackets had been worn.

Marcus Collins, the lone survivor of the terrible accident, was able to get to shore by swimming there with the help of his life jacket.

Wednesday’s accident is not how we like to learn such lessons, but often the toughest lessons are the ones we remember most.

With the spring and summer fishing and boating season upon us, please consider the consequences of not wearing a life jacket the next time you are on the water. A simple choice and a simple action could ensure you see your family again.

As Senior Chief Rudy Radakovich of the U.S. Coast Guard put it at a press conference Thursday, “Wear your life jacket. To not have your life jacket on, you’re endangering your lives for sure. Life jackets save lives: That’s why they call them life jackets.




May 1

The Gainesville Times on the move to cut off food assistance to those in need:

While Hall County’s jobless rate lingers below 5 percent and many prosper from a growing economy, we see reminders that it’s never easy to be poor, even as government and nonprofit agencies work to keep the safety net pulled tight.

Ours is clearly a community of haves and have-nots, particularly in the city. U.S. Census Bureau figures show 32 percent of Gainesville’s population lived below the poverty line from 2009 to 2013, compared to 18 percent in the state. Some of those folks are being hit from all sides in a time when jobs are available but pay remains flat, affordable housing is hard to find and that safety net has some holes in it.

One obstacle is the loss of food stamp benefits. Georgia is looking to reinstate a rule limiting able-bodied adults with no dependents to just three months of food assistance within a three-year period unless they have a job or in training, enrolled in school or volunteering.

Hall, Gwinnett and Cobb counties were in a pilot program affecting some 5,000 people that has moved nearly half of those affected off food stamps. It now may expand statewide, where 1 in 5 Georgians are considered “food insecure,” according to the Georgia Food Bank Association.

Nearly 200 Hall County residents have lost their benefits since the first of the year out of 529 who were subject to being cut off if they did not meet the requirements. Another 100 could be affected in May. In all, some 7,500 households in Hall collected food stamps in 2014, according to census figures, receiving an average of $190 a month in assistance.

The state has $15 million in federal funds available to ease the transition of those weaned off the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. Job training programs are offered for those able to seek it. And residents squeezed out by the rule can appeal, the Georgia Legal Services Program offering free legal assistance.

But all this is aimed at people who have the ability and know-how to seek such help. Many who already are unemployable because of mental or physical disabilities can fall through the cracks altogether.

The ongoing debate is over how best to help people in need without keeping them on government assistance indefinitely. We understand the disdain for those who perpetually live off public funds, and we endorse the concept of moving people into full employment. Moving more people into productive lives benefits them while easing the burden on taxpayers.

“It’s not just going after poor people,” state Rep. Dave Clark, R-Buford, has said. “We have to find a way to motivate them.”

But we also must recognize there are no simple solutions. It’s easy to say “take away their food stamps” but harder to formulate a plan for what happens next.

While many can and should find work, others face educational, mental and physical limitations to landing jobs and still need a leg up. Some may be considered well enough to work by the state but not by those who are hiring. Older residents on fixed incomes can’t work and struggle to fend for themselves. And without a way to feed themselves, some may resort to crime or descend into substance abuse.

So how do we steer people from a life of dependency without taking away basic services they need? It’s easy to sneer when someone in the supermarket line has a basket full of snacks and pays with food stamps, but we don’t always know the back story. Without a roof over your head or a meal in your belly, heading out to find work is no simple task.

There also is evidence the cost of maintaining the program to verify work status may spend more money than what is saved by cutting benefits. The state Department of Family and Children’s Services says it could cost some $40 million to pay hundreds of case workers if the pilot program goes statewide. Shouldn’t that taxpayer money go to feed people rather than administrative costs? Otherwise any benefit to the bottom line is negligible.

Caring for those who lose food assistance then falls to nonprofits and local food pantries already struggling to meet growing demand. The Georgia Mountain Food Bank and its 59 partner agencies serve more than 47,000 residents across five counties. But even with increased donations, the need is greater than these agencies can handle over the long haul.

Adding to this mix of woes is how difficult it is for many to find affordable housing in Gainesville and Hall, where the average rent is $691 per month for a one-bedroom, $824 for two bedrooms. Even those who can scrape it together scramble to find homes that are safe and desirable in a city where 65 percent of residents are renters. Hall’s number of unsheltered homeless rose more than 50 percent from 2013-15, one of 10 Georgia counties with such an increase. Even with assistance, like the grants the Gainesville Housing Authority has secured, many can’t find apartments within their means away from crime-ridden areas.

A place to live and a couple of meals a day are a basic need some of our neighbors lack. Hall County is a great place to live and work, but only if you have a home and a job. Plugging the gap for the rest is a puzzle that remains elusive and expensive.

There are no easy answers but inescapable facts. Despite lives of plenty many of us take for granted, thousands live among us, both employed and jobless, with poverty, hunger and homelessness as harsh daily realities that no quick-fix political posturing can resolve.





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