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Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

Department of Labor goes modern: Farms can now apply for H-2A visas online

post by Howard Owens in agriculture, kathy hochul

Press release:

Today, Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) announced that the United States Department of Labor (DOL), at her urging, will begin accepting online applications for the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program on Dec. 10.

“I am pleased to announce today that farmers in Western New York and across the country will be able to utilize the new electronic filing system for H-2A visas by the end of this year. This reform will save time and money for taxpayers and farmers and will go a long way toward ensuring our fruit and vegetable growers have the help they need to plant and harvest their crops, expand production, and grow their businesses here in Western New York,” Rep. Hochul said.

“This change is a welcomed one for New York farmers who depend on timely and accurate information when it comes to securing the workforce their farms require. It is imperative as each harvest approaches that family farms have the ability to hire the workers they need in order to have a successful season. We appreciate the work that has been done on our farmer members’ behalf to modernize the H-2A hiring process,” said Dean Norton, New York Farm Bureau president.

“The new online filing system for H-2A visas will streamline this process, cutting burdensome red tape,” said Maureen Torrey of Torrey Farms. “I thank Rep. Hochul for her efforts to modernize this program, and bring efficiencies to farmers across Western New York.”

Last summer, Hochul met with Deputy Labor Secretary Seth Harris and farmers from throughout Western New York to discuss concerns with the H-2A program, including the need to make the application system available online. Hochul also pushed Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to modernize the H-2A visa program and met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Gerri Fiala to stress the importance of this reform.

In addition, Rep. Hochul has actively worked to expand the H-2A program to include dairy farmers, who are currently prohibited from participating due to the industry’s year-round demands. Rep. Hochul has introduced bipartisan legislation to allow dairy farmers to participate in the H-2A program, to ensure Western New York dairy farms have adequate labor to increase production and meet the needs of the booming Greek Yogurt industry.

Nearly all of New York's 35,000 farms are family owned – making agricultural one of New York's top small-business industries – and making the need for a user-friendly, online H-2A application system even more critical.

Friday, September 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Hochul knocks House leadership for failure to act on renewal of farm bill

post by Howard Owens in agriculture, business, kathy hochul

Rep. Kathy Hochul is boarding a plane in Washington, D.C., right now, heading back to her district for an election-period recess, but she would rather stay in the Capitol, she said, and give local farmers what they need to run their businesses -- the certainty of a farm bill.

"I'm ready to turn around right now and stay in Congress as long as it takes day and night and do what's right for our farmers," Hochul said.

"This is just another sign that Washington is broken and we've let our farmers down," Hochul said.

Every five years, Congress must pass a new farm bill. Last passed in 2008 as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, the $288 billion appropriations bill not only provides crop insurance and price support for farmers, it also provides subsidies for private land conversion back to a natural state, biofuel subsidies and is the funding source for food stamps.

A version of the bill was passed with bipartisan support by the Senate, but even after winning Agriculture Committee support in the House, the bill hasn't come to a floor vote.

The 2008 act expires in a week.

Hochcul said it's baffling and unconscionable that the House leadership has blocked a floor vote.

Agriculture, Hochul said, is a $739 million a year industry in her district, and $4.7 billion statewide. 

Regardless of the legislation's provisions -- the Senate and House versions would need to be negotiated into a compromise bill in conference committee -- farmers need the certainty of a farm bill in order to operate their businesses on a daily basis.

According to an NPR article, the near-term fallout of the failure of the House to pass a farm bill is pretty minimal. The provisions of the current farm bill that most effect farmers remain in place through the end of the current growing season, which for something like winter wheat means until spring.

However, it is very uncertain what will come next, according to NPR, because some deficit hawks have their eyes set on greatly reducing expenditures in the farm bill, including for food stamps, and there may be a lot of political pressure in Washington next year to reduce spending.

"We need to keep spending under control, yes, and we need to find ways to do it," Hochul said, "but the farmers need the certainty that comes with passage of this bill."

There is bipartisan support for passage of a farm bill in the House, Hochul said, and she won't speculate on why its leadership is blocking a floor vote on such a critical piece of legislation.

"The fact they won't let us get to a compromise means that they refuse to govern and that's just inexcusable," Hochul said.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 9:20 am

Statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on anniversary of Sept. 11

post by Howard Owens in 9-11, Andrew Cuomo, kathy hochul

Press release:

"On this day, we mark the eleventh anniversary of the terror attacks that claimed thousands of lives and truly changed New York and our nation forever. On this day, we honor the memories and the lives of those who were killed and the families who will never forget them. We also honor the first responders who bravely put themselves in harm’s way – many of whom never returned home.

"It is also our obligation and our duty to make sure that we will always remember. As a new generation grows up without having witnessed the horror of September 11th, it is important to educate our children so they can understand the tragedy that unfolded on that day, the bravery and courage of our first responders, and the outpouring of goodwill in communities across New York and America as we recovered as one state and one nation."

UPDATE:  Statement from Rep. Kathy Hochul:

“Today as we mark the passing of another year since the September 11 attacks in 2001, we honor those we lost on that day. We recall the innocent victims taken too soon, the courage of the passengers who prevented further tragedy, and those first responders, who in doing their jobs, laid down their lives to protect their fellow Americans.

“What grew from this tragedy was an all encompassing spirit of patriotism, bonding our nation together in common purpose to move our country forward. Our endeavor today is to find that spirit once again. We must recognize that so much more binds us than divides us, and as Americans we are capable of solving the challenges of our time.

“In the memory of all who were lost on 9/11, I call on each of us to rekindle the spirit of patriotism that brought us together in our country’s darkest hour.”

Monday, September 10, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hochul encourages passage of new five-year farm bill

post by Howard Owens in agriculture, business, kathy hochul

Press release:

Today, Representative Kathy Hochul, joined by Bill and Terry Zittel of Zittel Farms, renewed her call for a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill. In a letter to House leadership, Hochul urged passage on a five-year Farm Bill to ensure farmers in Western New York and across the country have the certainty and support they require.

“I have heard firsthand from farmers across Western New York about the crucial need for a comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill,” Rep. Hochul said. “It is critical that Washington stops playing politics with the future of American agriculture.

"Our region is the largest producer of agricultural goods in New York, and I will continue to fight to ensure farmers have the support and certainty they need.”

Rep. Hochul has sent two letters to House leadership urging a vote on a five-year Farm Bill – one letter in July, and another this week.

With nearly 3,500 farms and an annual output of more than $739 million in the region, agriculture is an essential part of Western New York’s economy and a key component of Hochul’s plan for economic development.

Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

Hochul announces grant for local substance abuse prevention program

post by Howard Owens in kathy hochul

Press release:

Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) announced that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has awarded $125,000 from the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program to the Genesee County Drug-Free Communities Coalition in Batavia.

The funding will be used to involve and engage the local community to prevent substance abuse among youth.

“I am pleased that the Drug-Free Communities Support program recognizes the great work of the Genesee County Drug-Free Communities Coalition,” Rep. Hochul said. “With the recent rise in the abuse of prescription drugs and bath salts among young people, it is imperative that our communities have the necessary resources to help young people overcome these life-altering addictions, particularly in our rural areas.

"Working together to keep our youth drug free is critical to creating strong communities that are safe, healthy, and drug free. This funding will provide the support necessary to implement substance abuse education and prevention programs across Genesee County.”

The DFC Program was created by the Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997 and reauthorized by Congress in 2001 and 2006. Since 1998, ONDCP has awarded more than 2,000 Drug-Free Communities grants nationwide.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Three elected officials with single message for SCOPE members: We support the 2nd Amendment

The 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution got a ringing endorsement Tuesday from three of the top-ranking elected officials who represent Genesee County.

Rep. Kathy Hochul, State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman Steven Hawley all appeared at SCOPE's monthly meeting to talk about what they're doing to help prevent extremists on the left from stripping gun owners of their right to own firearms.

Ranzenhofer started off the evening by discussing how important a Republican majority is in the State Senate to protecting gun rights.

"There are people out there who don’t like you and want to take away your rights," Ranzenhofer said.

When Ranzenhofer was first in office, and the GOP didn't have a majority in the Senate, he said anti-gun Democrats regularly tried to push new laws to restrict gun and ammo sales.  Since the GOP regained control of the upper chamber, "we’ve not had to be constantly on guard for new legislation coming up," Ranzenhofer said.

Now, Ranzenhofer said, the biggest worry at the state level for gun-rights advocates is a popular governor who wants to push through legislation to restrict the rights of gun owners.

Hochul said she comes from a family of gun-rights advocates. She has two brothers in Maryland, she said, who are expert marksmen. While Hochul said she isn't big into hunting or target shooting herself, she has taken safety courses and knows how to handle a firearm.

"When a bill comes up that affects your 2nd Amendment rights, I’m on your side," Hochul said.

While clerk in Erie County, Hochul said she streamlined the process for a gun permits from a year or longer to four months, and three of those months involve the State of New York doing background checks.

"Some of you may say I have a 'D' after my name and I can't vote for you," Hochul said. "Well, fine, but I still represent you. I am independent and I look at each and every issue as what's best for the people of Western New York. Sometimes the Democrats are right and sometimes they're really wrong. Some times the Republicans are right and some times they are really wrong."

According to Hochul, when the gun rights groups come out with their congressional rankings soon, she will receive a very high grade for her voting record for her first year in office.

"I'm very proud of my ranking," Hochul said.

Hochul also noted that she opposed the "Fast and Furious" operation, which provided guns to drug gangs in Mexico, and believes Attorney General Eric Holder should respect the powers of Congress under the Constitution and turn over all "Fast and Furious" documents to the House of Representatives, a demand from Congress the Obama Administration is fighting.

Hochul faces the most serious reelection challenge in November of the three officials who spoke Tuesday and SCOPE Chairman Jack Taylor said he contacted the campaign for her challenger, Chris Collins, to invite Collins to the meeting, but didn't get a response.

Hawley talked a good deal about his work on veterans' issues, particularly his annual Patriot Tour of Washington, D.C., and noted that while his colleague in the Senate, Ranzenhofer, may need to deal with only two anti-gun zealots in that chamber, the state Assembly is filled with 40 or 50 people eager to water down the 2nd Amendment.

Hawley said those representatives deal with a very different constituency than Assembly members in Upstate and Western New York, where people often live on a bit of land, own their own homes, like to hunt and fish and target shoot.

In noting the differences, Hawley segued into a discussion of a bill he has repeatedly sponsored -- allowing a referendum vote on whether New York should be split into two states.

Taylor spoke between each guest and hammered home the same point: Gun rights advocates need to educate the public on the difference between law-abiding citizens who own guns and criminals who not only use guns but other implements to commit their crimes.

"In all my years in retail, I've never seen a gun jump off the shelf and shoot somebody," Taylor said.

Some of the blame for the misrepresentation of guns falls on the media, Taylor noted, reminding SCOPE members that you never see a headline that says "Chevy and Budweiser kills family of four," but you do see headlines like "Glock used in murder spree."

The former county coroner said the most common way that young people die a violent death in Genesee County is from drunken driving, while there is only about one homicide every seven years locally (worth noting: the last homicide locally was Scott Doll beating to death his victim, no gun involved).

"We are all against crime, whatever the implement," Taylor said. "We need to separate the crime from the implement. There’s not a gun law out there that ever saved a life or prevented a criminal from committing a crime."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Hochul asks governor to increase cow limit for small dairy farms

post by Howard Owens in agriculture, kathy hochul

Press release:

Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) recently sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo urging him to provide New York dairy farms with regulatory relief to help milk producers expand their businesses.

Hochul asked that the state raise the threshold for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) regulations from 200 cows to 300 cows, a threshold consistent with national standards.

Increasing the threshold will allow dairy farmers to increase milk production, enabling them to fulfill the needs of New York’s growing yogurt industry. Hochul also requested that New York expand programs to assist dairy farmers with environmental conservation and protection.

Hochul wrote, “I request your assistance in delivering much-needed regulatory relief to our state’s dairy farmers, many of whom are still recovering from disastrous market conditions in 2009. Without assistance, too many New York milk producers will remain unable or unwilling to expand their businesses despite the game-changing opportunity for economic development made possible by the booming Greek yogurt industry. … Our dairy farmers need a level playing field and supportive regulatory regime to fully capitalize on the Greek yogurt boom, and I look forward to working with you to ensure they have both.”

The Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park will soon be home to Theo Muller Gmbh and PepsiCo’s $206 million yogurt manufacturing facility as well as a $20 million dollar Alpina Food yogurt plant.

Rep. Hochul has introduced bipartisan legislation that allows dairy farmers to apply for H-2A visas, which are available for seasonal agricultural producers but not the year-round dairy industry. She also is a member of the House Dairy Caucus.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Hochul releases past three tax returns, calls on Collins to release his returns

post by Howard Owens in chris collins, kathy hochul, NY-27

Press release:

Clarence, NY – “At a time when our nation is debating critical policy issues including whether to extend middle class tax relief or give more tax breaks to millionaires and companies that ship jobs overseas, voters deserve to know how their elected officials make their money and how much they pay in taxes. In a commitment to transparency, Congresswoman Hochul has made the last three years of her tax returns public,” said Campaign Manager Frank Thomas.

“Given Chris Collins' unwillingness to discuss his support for policies that gut Medicare to pay for additional tax cuts for the rich and lingering questions about the business he does with China so he can better line his pockets, we call on him to give voters the clarity they deserve and be candid with his tax returns,” continued Thomas.

Copies of her 2009, 2010, and 2011 returns are available here: http://www.kathyhochul.com/meetkathy/tax-returns/


Chris Collins supports tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  According to a Collins campaign press release, “Collins supports a full extension of the tax cuts.” [Collins Press Release, 7/9/2012]

Chris Collins refused to release his tax returns so he could hide sources of business income. According the Buffalo News,

For his part, though, Collins said he would not release his tax records because they would show how much he's earning from various business partnerships, meaning the release would also make public his partners' income.

More importantly, he said, his income would reveal how much money his companies are making -- and, therefore, provide important information to his competitors. [Buffalo News, 6/2/2012]

Collins told voters “I would never” release tax returns. At an event on May 21, 2012, Collins told an audience “so again, I'm not going to release personal tax returns, because it's got my partners' income. I would never do that.” [Chris Collins Video, 5/30/2012]

 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 10:31 am

Hochul marks Farmers Market Week with visit to market at Batavia Downs

post by Howard Owens in agriculture, farmers market, kathy hochul

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It's national Famers Market Week and to help commerate the event, Rep. Kathy Hochul stopped by the Genesee County Farmers Market in the Batavia Downs parking lot this morning.

Above, Hochul buys flowers from Kathryn Schneider, as mother Dana looks on. Dana Schneider is owner of Stonehouse Acres. Hochul told Kathryn that she worked in her mother's flower shop as a child as did her daughter. "See, you can learn a lot selling flowers," Hochul told Kathryn.

Below, Hochul is greeted by another constitutent and a couple of pictures of flowers and corn for sale today at the market.

Friday, August 3, 2012 at 6:47 am

FACT CHECK: Hochul camp disputes Collins tax policy

post by Mark Brudz in chris collins, kathy hochul, NY 27

A press release from Kathy Hochul's office, dated 1 Aug., had this headline:

"HOCHUL CAMPAIGN RESPONDS TO CHRIS COLLINS’ PUSH FOR MORE DEFICIT-RAISING TAX CUTS FOR MILLIONAIRES AND BILLIONAIRES"

Hochul's Campaign Manager Francis Thomas cites a report issued by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities [CBPP] stating:

"Economists say that cutting taxes for the richest Americans would raise the deficit by “nearly $1 trillion” and give the most benefits to people making more than $1 million per year."

Thomas goes on to cite a [CBPP] article dated 7/19/2012 that poses the proposition that maintaining the Bush Tax Cuts for those in the upper 2 percent would, in fact, add deficits of more than $1 trillion to the 2013 budget.

"According to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP),
just 2.5 percent of small business owners face top tax rates. In a July 2012 study, they wrote 'allowing the top two marginal tax rates to return to pre-2001 levels as scheduled next year would affect very few small businesses, a recent Treasury Department study found. The study shows that only 2.5 percent of small business owners face the top two rates.' ” [CBPP 7/19/2012]

Although the CBPP does, in fact, claim to be "nonpartisan" on its Web site, further reading clearly disputes this claim. On the page titled "Experts" on the CBPP Web site, my research shows that all but one of those listed on the page have held positions with the Democrat Party. Of the 46 names listed in various positions, not one has held a position in the GOP or any other conservative or moderate think tank of a similar nature. Below are four examples selected from the Federal Fiscal Policy Section.

Jared Bernstein (Senior Fellow) is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden in the Obama Administration. Bernstein is considered to represent a progressive, pro-labor perspective.

Indivar Dutta-Gupta (Policy Advisor) was involved with Amnesty International USA, as a member of its Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Advisory Group and in other volunteer positions. After graduating from the University of Chicago in June 2005, Dutta-Gupta came to D.C. to work with a nonprofit Democratic consulting firm on political campaigns, food and hunger, international development, energy and national security issues. While in college, he interned at the Chicago office of U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL).

James R. Horney (Vice President for Federal Fiscal Policy) was a deputy Democratic staff director at the Senate Budget Committee from 2001 through 2004.

Chuck Marr is the director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He served as economic policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Further, the report cited by Thomas has come under fire from nonpartisan and conservative tax policy organizations like the TaxFoundation and the Heritage Foundation.

"While we applaud the CBPP's obvious success at bringing attention to the budget, it paints an incomplete picture to place only certain budget items in a graph of the deficit, as if that demonstrates causality. Why not throw entitlement spending in the deficit category, or defense spending, or certain initiatives from the Clinton years? Better yet, why not simply show the entire budget, and in a larger historical context?

"Indeed, the CBO report on which the CBPP analysis is based does just that. A closer look at the CBO report will help illustrate the relative importance of tax cuts and spending (including spending through the tax code) in creating the projected deficits." The Budget Debate, taxfoundation.org

Clearly the issue is not so black and white.

Complete Hochul press release after the jump (click on the headline to read more).

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