|Posted by Regina on November 4, 2013 at 9:30 AM||comments (0)|
Cuts to federal pensions, Social Security and other benefits could be on the table during negotiations on a longer term federal budget.
The Budget Conference Committee, created in the wake of the 16-day government shutdown, reportedly is considering major changes to a number of federal benefits programs as part of a deal to replace the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.
These cuts could include:
Increasing federal employee retirement contributions. Proposals have been introduced that would increase contributions for current employees by between 1.2% and 5.5%. This means that employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System would go from paying 0.8% of salary to up to 6.3% of salary to their pensions. Employees under the Civil Service Retirement System would go from paying 7% of their salary to up to 12.5% of their salary to their pensions. This is a major tax increase on federal employees, who are already reeling from three years of frozen pay, six days of furloughs due to sequestration and continued fallout from the 16-day government shutdown.
Lowering cost-of-living increases for millions of Americans receiving Social Security and veterans benefits by switching to the chained CPI formula. If the chained CPI went into effect today, a senior aged 65 would receive $658 a year less in Social Security benefits when he or she is 75, and $1,100 a year less at age 85. Further, the average disabled veteran would lose tens of thousands of dollars in benefits over his or her lifetime.
Increasing premiums for more Medicare recipients. Currently, individuals earning $85,000 or above and couples earning $170,000 and above pay a substantially larger share of premiums for Medicare Part B (outpatient services including doctor visits and laboratory services) and Medicare Part D (prescription drugs). One proposal would raise these premiums even higher and expand them to incomes at or above $47,000 for individuals and $94,000 for couples. This change would result in these recipients paying between 40 percent and 90 percent for outpatient services under Part B, up from 25 percent currently.
Drastically cut funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by switching to a block grant formula. Instead of receiving a percentage of their actual Medicaid costs and a separate amount for CHIP expenses, states instead would receive a fixed dollar amount for both programs that would be adjusted annually for inflation and population increases. One estimate shows this would cut funding for both programs by 31 percent over the next decade. This would result in millions of recipients being dropped from the programs, fewer health services being covered, and fewer doctors and hospitals participating as their payments are slashed.
These programs are being vilified as the root of our country’s economic troubles, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Social Security, for instance, is not going broke as some would have you believe. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security has a surplus today of $2.8 trillion and can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible person for the next 20 years.
Raising the payroll tax cap from its current threshold of $110,100 would allow Social Security to remain solvent for many more decades and would not have the devastating impact on lower-income recipients that switching to the chained CPI would have.
There are many other ways to trim our deficits and raise new revenue without targeting working families, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor. Raising taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans and closing tax loopholes that allow one out of four U.S. corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes would do far more to balance the budget – without causing millions of senior citizens, working families, disabled veterans and children to suffer.
|Posted by Regina on November 4, 2013 at 9:25 AM||comments (0)|
WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement in response to the shooting incident at Los Angeles International Airport:
“We are sickened by reports of today’s shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport. Our sincerest thoughts and prayers go out to the passengers and Transportation Security Officers killed or injured in this heinous act. Thank you to all of our brave TSOs who put their lives on the line every day to keep the flying public safe. AFGE is monitoring the situation along with TSA management.”
AFGE is the exclusive representative for the more than 45,000 Transportation Security Administration officers who screen all commercial airline passengers, baggage and cargo.
|Posted by Regina on February 27, 2013 at 9:35 PM||comments (0)|
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A supervising corrections officer who worked at Puerto Rico's lone federal prison was killed in a drive-by shooting after his shift ended, authorities said Wednesday.
Lt. Osvaldo Albarati Casana was shot late Tuesday while driving home along a busy highway in the northern municipality of Bayamon, the FBI said in a statement. The killing shut down the highway for about eight hours.
Albarati worked in the investigative branch at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, just west of the capital of San Juan, prosecutor Lorna Colon told reporters.
She said Albarati was responsible for investigating crime within the prison, including drug smuggling and illegal cellphone use. She said Albarati had a wife and children and previously worked for the Puerto Rico police department.
No one has been arrested in the killing, although the FBI said they are looking for a dark sedan with tinted windows believed to be involved in the shooting.
"We are not going to tolerate the murder of any public official in the middle of a highway," said FBI special agent in charge Carlos Cases. "We will find those responsible."
|Posted by Regina on February 25, 2013 at 10:10 PM||comments (0)|
Overcrowding, budget cuts a risky mix for federal corrections officers.
|Posted by Regina on January 7, 2013 at 7:30 PM||comments (0)|
Proposal from Rep. Fitzpatrick is a cheap political ploy, union leader says
WASHINGTON The American Federation of Government Employees is calling on members of Congress to reject a mean-spirited proposal from Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick that would extend the two-year pay freeze on federal employees for another year.
Federal employees already have sacrificed $103 billion over 10 years to deficit reduction $60 billion of which has come directly from freezing salaries in 2011 and 2012. President Obama has delayed until April the already-paltry 0.5% adjustment proposed for 2013, so the actual raise would amount to just 0.25% for the fiscal year. Yet even that tiny increase isn't harsh enough for Congressman Fitzpatrick.
Rep. Fitzpatrick has decided to add insult to injury, literally, by maligning the federal employees in his district and proposing to punish all federal workers with an entirely unwarranted extension of the pay freeze for all of 2013.
Reducing the salaries of federal workers through an extended pay freeze is a cheap political ploy, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. Not only does it inflict tremendous damage on the families of these modestly paid workers, more than half of whom are veterans, but it also hits the communities where these employees live, since they will continue to be unable to afford any kind of economic activity beyond paying for the bare necessities of living.
Proposals such as Representative Fitzpatricks are about one thing: causing a further decline in living standards for America's working families, Cox said.
Fitzpatrick complains about the processing of veterans benefits. The fact is that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) attempted to outsource the work to a private firm last year, and as is so often the case, the privatization was a complete and expensive disaster. VBA employees had to redo all of the outsourced work. So if Fitzpatrick wants to inflict punishment on those responsible for botched claims, he needs to look at VBAs contractor workforce, not the in-house federal workforce.
Extending the federal pay freeze defies logic or understanding. Does Representative Fitzpatrick believe that taking money out of the modest paychecks of workers who process the claims of disabled veterans will help either his community or the veterans who rely on those benefits? Does he know that over half of the employees who process veterans benefits claims are veterans themselves? Was there any rational thought behind this terrible proposal?
Representative Fitzpatrick needs to become better educated about the issues he tries to affect through legislation, Cox said. His misunderstanding of the reality of where federal salaries stand as compared to those paid in the private sector is appalling. Federal salaries are lower than those paid to private sector and state and local employees who perform the same type of jobs, and if Rep. Fitzpatrick would take the time to look beyond a few hyped-up headlines, he would know better.
AFGE urges Members of Congress to reject Representative Fitzpatricks mean-spirited and simple-minded assault on the living standards of federal employees.
|Posted by Regina on January 7, 2013 at 7:30 PM||comments (0)|
WASHINGTON American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement in response to the fiscal cliff deal:
While we are glad to see a bill that requires the wealthiest Americans begin to pay a fairer share of taxes, AFGE members are very concerned about the use of additional agency funding cuts in order to pay for the delay of the sequester. How agencies will achieve these amounts is not clear in the language of the bill. Before they look any further at unpaid furloughs or other cuts to critical agency programs, OMB should sharply reduce the amount taxpayers provide to federal contractors for excessive salaries for their top executives.
|Posted by Regina on December 15, 2012 at 12:20 PM||comments (0)|
Congress is unlikely to move any fiscal 2013 spending bills by the end of the year, a decision likely guaranteeing the federal government will operate under a continuing resolution for the entire year.
Appropriators say they have made significant progress in settling differences between House and Senate spending bills and had hoped several bills could be rolled into a year-end omnibus. But leaders, focused on a fiscal cliff accord and emergency aid for superstorm Sandy, have shown little interest in moving a catchall spending bill, they say.
“I think it is pretty tough to do an omnibus in the time available to them,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said on Tuesday.
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee, also said on Tuesday that he didn’t expect Congress to take up a year-end spending package.
“I don’t think it is going to happen,” Graham said. “I don’t think that the place is in the mood for doing big things like that right now.”
Instead, Congress is most likely to pass another six-month CR to cover the remainder of fiscal 2013, probably just before the current stopgap (PL 112-174) expires March 27.
Operating under CRs for an entire year has become a recent trend in election years. In two out of the past three election years, 2006 and 2010, the majority of annual spending bills were never completed, and scores of federal agencies were left operating at the prior year’s funding levels for the entire budget year.
Congress could even have a worse record in 2012, with not a single fiscal 2012 spending bill making it to the president’s desk. In previous election years, at least some of the appropriations measures moved as stand-alone bills and were signed into law.
A second six-month CR for fiscal 2013 would likely contain a large number of special provisions to address urgent needs of federal agencies, inviting some of the same political battles that would have come with an omnibus.
Some appropriators hold out hope they could re-introduce the fiscal 2013 bills early in the next Congress and try to move them as am omnibus. But a new Congress would likely have little interest in considering fiscal 2013 bills and would be more inclined to focus on the 2014 budget process.
Several appropriators lamented the demise of regular order in moving the spending bills, noting that bipartisan deals were in the works.
“You have got the parameters worked out,”Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, said of a House-Senate deal on a Homeland Security spending bill.
Tom Latham, R-Iowa, the chairman of the House Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, also said an agreement with his Senate counterpart on their bill is “pretty much completed.”
|Posted by Regina on December 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM||comments (0)|
Sixteen years after an inmate at the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary stabbed Correctional Officer Scott Williams to death, two permanent memorial highway signs now pay him tribute.
On Thursday afternoon, as his widow, daughters, mother and colleagues stood by, a portion of State Route 1 between Vandenberg Air Force Base and the turnoff to the Lompoc penitentiary at Santa Lucia Canyon Road was designated the "Federal Correctional Officer Scott Williams Memorial Highway."
"It's a very proud moment; it's very exciting," said Kristy Williams, the officer's widow and his Lompoc High School sweetheart, during the ceremony at Santa Lucia Canyon Road.
At the time of his death, the 29-year-old officer and Operation Desert Storm Marine Corps veteran was the father of 6-year-old Kaitlin and 11-month-old Kallee.
On Thursday his eldest daughter, now 21, clutched her own daughter, 5-month-old Raelee. Kallee Williams is 16.
Also on hand was Williams' mother, Aida.
"Most people do not know what goes on behind the walls (of the penitentiary)," Kristy Williams said. "I think it takes a very certain type of individual that can perform the job these men and women do every day. I think the fact that people driving by will see this, it gives them recognition. It's a very dangerous job. They go to work every single day knowing what happened to Scott could happen to them."
The night of Williams' death, April 3, 1997, inmate Roy C. Green strapped two homemade knives to his arms and stabbed the officer in the neck, then seriously injured another officer by stabbing him in the chest. Three other officers were slightly injured coming to their aid.
Mr. Green, also known as Haneef Bilal, was charged with one count of murder within the jurisdiction of the United States, one count of murder of a correctional officer, three counts of assault with intent to murder and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm.
For most of the time since Williams' death, Mr. Green has been confined at a federal medical referral center in North Carolina. About a year ago, Mr. Green was civilly committed and will remain in Bureau of Prisons custody for the remainder of his life.
The installation of the two large green highway signs came at the urging of retired Correctional Officer Barry Fredieu, who seven years ago also had a park and statue dedicated to Williams near penitentiary staff housing.
Mr. Fredieu worked to have the highway designation approved via a state Senate resolution carried by Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo.
As required by law, the $3,000 cost for the signs was paid with donations, including from Local 3048 of the American Federation of Government Employees, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the national peace officers' council.
Mr. Fredieu, who did not know Williams personally, said he's been a "crusader for justice" to ensure a lasting tribute is paid to the slain officer.
"This is something the staff will see every day, the public will see every day," Mr. Fredieu said.
It is fitting, he added, that the signs are near Vandenberg, in tribute to the fallen officer's military background.
"He gave the ultimate sacrifice," Mr. Fredieu said. "He was a father. He was a son. He was a husband. He was a coworker. He was a hero and that's what he needs to be remembered as, a hero."
Aida Williams, whose third child is memorialized on the signs, clutched a small replica of the marker in her hands.
"I'd trade it all," she said, looking at the sign. "It changes everybody's life."
"For years, I couldn't come down this road because of the prison," the mother of four said.
"As a mother, it's very hard because it's not what you thought you'd have. You're supposed to go before they do."
She calls her son an "old soul," and said in the year before he died he made extra time for her.
"It's like he knew," she said. "I saw him the day before. He said, 'I'm really tired. I'd like to have some rest.' He told (his mother-in-law) the same thing the next day. And that night he was gone."
Mike DeGregorio, education specialist at the penitentiary, had Williams' initials and the date of his death, April 3, 1997, embroidered on a special jacket he wore to the unveiling.
"It means everything," he said of the sign, getting emotional. "He was great, really even-mannered, a really nice guy. It's a reminder, some guys go in and don't come out."
The new warden of Lompoc penitentiary, Richard B. Ives, told those gathered that the signs would help people remember the young officer.
"Unfortunately in the line of work we're in, we have bad days sometimes," Mr. Ives said. "And this was certainly a bad day. We don't want to forget that bad day. We'll be better because of what happened to Scott."
|Posted by Regina on December 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM||comments (0)|
Although Congress has passed several pieces of legislation barring the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to U.S. mainland facilities and the administration has dropped its plans to close the prison, if the government reversed its position, it has plenty of options for housing detainees domestically, according to a new report.
The Defense Department has a half-dozen facilities that could, theoretically, hold detainees, and the Justice Department has 98 that already contain prisoners who were either convicted on terrorism-related charges or have histories connected to terrorism, according to the Government Accountability Office. However, the report also notes that if those prisons were to start holding detainees, they would have to make significant operational changes for safety and security reason, which could be costly.
Additionally, any discussion of transferring the detainees is purely in the realm of the theoretical. The issue was effectively decided years ago; closing Guantánamo is massively unpopular among most Republicans and some Democrats. In a letter to the GAO, Lee J. Lofthus, assistant attorney general for administration, said that “generally speaking, the Bureau of Prisons and Marshals Service have the correctional expertise to safely and securely house detainees with a nexus to terrorism,” but immediately added that the offices have no plans to do so.
“Under current U.S. law, DOJ does not consider itself to have authority to maintain custody of DOD detainees under the [Authorization for Use of Military Force],” the GAO report said. “According to DOJ officials, DOJ does not have plans to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to its facilities in the United States, and such a transfer is prohibited by law.”
But the lawmaker who commissioned the report in 2008 — a year before Congress passed the first of many appropriations laws (PL 111-32) prohibiting the administration from using federal money for detainee transfers — drew encouragement from the report.
“This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantánamo without imperiling our national security,” said Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a release. “The GAO report makes clear that numerous prisons exist inside the United States—operated by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice—capable of holding the 166 detainees who remain at Guantánamo in an environment that meets the security requirements.”
Feinstein highlighted the report’s finding that Justice Department facilities already contain 373 inmates convicted of terrorism charges.
“To say that high-risk detainees cannot be held securely in a maximum security prison is just plain wrong. . . . As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single security problem reported in any of these cases,” said Feinstein, who argues that moving the inmates out of Guantánamo would present a cost savings.
The GAO report explicitly says it was designed to evaluate the issues for housing detainees if they were sent to prisons on the U.S. mainland, not judge whether those prisons would be suitable for them. In the Defense Department’s case, it looked at six facilities that house inmates for over a year, including one that holds individuals who receive sentences of more than five years or the death penalty.
If a transfer occurred, Defense officials told the GAO they would plan on providing the same level of detention currently seen at Guantánamo. However, there would be complications. For one, the inmates in Defense Department prisons are servicemembers, and U.S. law prohibits members of the armed forces to associate with foreign nationals while imprisoned, so the facilities would either have to transfer out military prisoners or keep the detainee population segregated.
Also, the military prisons might not have sufficient medical services on-site and, despite only a 48 percent occupation rate at the six facilities, their current configuration might have trouble with 166 new occupants. The report also expressed concerns about keeping guards, and the areas around the prisons, safe and said the department could have to build new facilities for intelligence-related interviews of detainees.
“According to DOD officials, the physical location of the detainees could become a target for individuals and groups intent on harming the detainees, or harming the U.S. military personnel involved in detention operations — which could result in unintended harm to the general public,” the report said.
Justice Department facilities are already familiar with segregating troublesome inmate populations, but they present their own problems: systemwide overcrowding is at about 38 percent, so reshuffling current prisoners to create a closed-off area for detainees would be difficult. The department also would have to come up with new policies for handling the detainees, including a framework for holding those who have not been charged with or convicted of violating U.S. law.
|Posted by Regina on May 17, 2012 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
WASHINGTON -- The White House on Thursday ordered federal, state and local prisons, jails and detention facilities to step up the fight against prison rape, issuing mandatory screening, enforcement and prevention regulations in hopes of reducing sexual victimization behind bars.
While the regulations have been in the works for years, the announcement comes on the heels of a Justice Department survey of former state and local prisoners that showed almost one in every 10 said they were sexually victimized at least once in prison by prison staff or other inmates.
"Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values," President Barack Obama said in a White House memo.
The new regulations are immediately binding on federal prisons. They include screening inmates for the potential of sexual victimization and using that information in housing and work assignments, requiring background checks on employees, keeping juvenile inmates away from adult inmates, and requiring evidence preservation after a reported incident and requiring termination as the presumptive punishment for staff members.
States who don't fall in line face a loss of 5 percent of their Justice Department prison money unless their governor certifies that the same amount of money is being used to be bring the state into compliance. Prison accreditation organizations also will be banned from getting federal grants unless they include similar anti-prison rape standards in their accreditation process.
Obama also announced that the Prison Rape Elimination Act would apply to all federal confinement facilities, and all other agencies with confinement facilities were required to have protocol to fight prison rape within a year.
"The standards we establish today reflect the fact that sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "These standards are the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process and represent a critical step forward in protecting the rights and safety of all Americans."
The Obama administration announcement came as the Bureau of Justice Statistics released its first-ever National Former Prisoners Survey, which found that 9.6 percent of former inmates said they were sexually victimized in jails, prisons and halfway houses. A somewhat similar survey of still-imprisoned convicts done by the same agency in 2008-09 found that only 4.4 percent of state and federal inmates said they were sexually victimized.
The difference may be because the former inmates in the current survey were asked about a longer time period than in the previous survey, said Allen J. Beck, one of the authors of the survey. But it also could be that former inmates may be more willing to talk about the sexual victimization than the inmates currently housed inside those facilities, who have concerns about retaliation or retribution for speaking up. Critics have said inmates may be willing to lie on these surveys in an attempt to embarrass a facility or refuse to report an incident for fear of retaliation.
"By looking at inmates who are out of that environment, who no longer have that immediate fear of retaliation, of retribution, who moreover don't have an immediate motivation to falsely accuse since they're out of the facility entirely, we get a sense that through interviewing these former inmates that our past work is confirmed, that some of the concerns about false negatives and false positives may have been overstated," Beck said.
The study defines sexual victimization as all types of unwanted sexual activity with other inmates, abusive sexual activity with other inmates and both willing and unwilling sexual activity with staff.
Among the survey's findings:
_ Just about the same number of former inmates were victimized by facility staff as were victimized by other inmates. About 27,300 – 5.4 percent – reported incidents with other inmates, while 23,300 – 5.3 percent – reported incidents that involved facility staff. Of the former inmates who reported incidents with staff, 6,300 – or 1.2 percent – of the former inmates said they had unwilling sex or sexual contact with staff, while the rest said they "willingly" had sexual contact with the staff member.
Any sexual contact between staff and inmate is officially classified as nonconsensual. Prisons uniformly forbid inmate-staff sexual contact.
_ A fourth of the former inmates who were victimized by other inmates said they had been physically held down or restrained, and a quarter also said they were physically injured or harmed during the attack.
_ Half of the former inmates who were victimized by facility staff members said they were offered favors or privileges in exchange, while a third said they were talked into it.
_ The majority of the sexual victimizations occurred in state prisons: 7.5 percent of inmates reported being victimized at least once there, while 1.8 percent reported incidents in local jails and 0.1 percent in halfway houses or other post-release community-treatment facilities.
_ Gay and bisexual men seemed to be by far the most frequently targeted in prison. The survey said that 39 percent of men who were gay and 34 percent of bisexual men reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, while only 3.5 percent of heterosexual men reported incidents. Lesbian and heterosexual women reported incidents with other inmates at the same rates – 13 percent – while staff victimization was double for lesbian women – 8 percent – compared with heterosexual women – 4 percent.
The survey, which interviewed 18,526 former inmates on parole, is representative of 510,800 former state prisoners who were still on parole in the 50 states and the District of Columbia at mid-year 2008.