Spending BP's money not easy | March 15
Use funds to protect gulf fishery
As this article notes, Florida has spent very little of its $100 million share of the $1 billion in early restoration funds made available by BP after the gulf oil spill. According to the story, funding has gone to only a few Florida projects — repairing and building boat ramps and restoring sea dunes and nesting sites for sea turtles and birds. One glaring omission from the project list so far is the deep water offshore inhabited by important fish species directly impacted by the spill.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which governs many of these species, is asking for help restoring the health of fish populations. Healthy, resilient marine ecosystems form the backbone of vibrant coastal communities — yet we still don't know the spill's impact in deep water. The council is asking for money for more frequent and accurate fish population studies, improved methods for collecting catch data, projects to protect fish habitat, and ways to help fish better survive catch and release. Those are the kinds of projects that will help mitigate the spill's impact in deeper water and pay dividends far into the future.
When choices are made about spending oil spill restoration money, we hope decisionmakers will value an investment in fish and the health of the gulf.
Holly Binns, director of Southeast ocean conservation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Tallahassee
Put health above politics | March 21, editorial
Costs are out of sight
In this Times editorial and a March 20 column by Kathleen Sebelius, it is written that because of the Affordable Care Act, "health care costs are finally stabilizing."
While I'm in favor of the health care act and don't disagree with either the editorial or the column, I am puzzled why the act, written in 2010, didn't immediately address the gouging by insurance companies, and instead put it off for four years until 2014.
I don't know about others paying ridiculously high premiums, but my health premium (and it only covers me) was just increased by $253 a month. I now pay $1,266 a month for health insurance. That is $15,192 a year, plus co-pays for medicine and office visits, plus a $3,000 deductible.
Was the intent of the act to allow insurance companies to gouge now because they can't gouge after 2014? I called my insurer and asked why the high rate and was told basically that it's because they can.
Kevin Kalwary, Tampa
Ethanol rules drive up gasoline prices March 22
The expense of ethanol
Mandating ethanol in gasoline does far more than raise gas prices, as was reported. We pay for the mandate three times, only once at the pump.
Converting grain to ethanol diverts cropland from food crops — raising prices for everything from vegetable oil to bread and meat normally fed on grain. In addition, massive agriculture price supports to grain producers and tax breaks for supposedly "green" energy producers, many of them huge conglomerates, add to our tax bills. Ethanol is an expensive enterprise, indeed.
Stephen Phillips, St. Petersburg
Health plan gets bipartisan state support March 22
A step in right direction
While the Healthy Florida program proposed by state Sen. Joe Negron is a step in the right direction, we need to watch to ensure the plan extends all the benefits and protections that the Affordable Care Act intends for the Medicaid expansion population.
The protections must limit the cost-sharing through co-payments to levels that do not impede access to care. At the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting where Negron introduced the bill, he expressed disbelief that requiring people living below the poverty level to make a payment of a few dollars to providers would deter them from seeking care. I urge Negron and other policymakers to heed the evidence from myriad research studies funded by the National Institutes of Health over the past 40 years that explicitly demonstrate that even small cost-sharing requirements discourage people from seeking necessary health care. Co-payments for people with low incomes reduce their access to preventive services, which leads to higher costs later to treat advanced illnesses.
Laura Brennaman, Fort Myers
Senate rebuffs Scott's plan on teacher raises March 21
Merit-based pay flawed
The Senate needs to recognize that merit-based teacher pay does not work. First, even the greatest teacher in the world cannot make a student learn. Many students refuse to learn, often because a good education is not a cultural or family value. Secondly, most merit-based systems rely on standardized testing, which does not work for all students. Testing does not measure if students can effectively use the knowledge, nor does it accurately predict college performance.
When merit-based systems are in place, the schools that need the most help receive the least money. Poor performance in a school leads to less money for teachers in that school. This causes well-qualified teachers to choose other jobs, leaving the students who need the most attention with lower-quality teachers. Then the whole cycle repeats itself until the school's staff and students feel the situation is hopeless.
Jessica Prescott, Tampa
GOP split on illegal workers | March 20
Focus on citizens' jobs first
I almost went into shock when I heard Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tell illegal immigrants who want to work in America, "We will find a place for you."
What's this "we" stuff? I'm a Kentucky girl down here in Florida, trying to help find a place for our own American citizens who can't even get a job washing dishes in a fast-food restaurant because they committed an illegal act. These citizens are no longer doing anything illegal and have been cleared by our justice system. If Paul wants to help find more jobs for illegals here in Florida, he needs to insist they pass the same 5- to 7-year background check the rest of us are required to pass.
Beverley J. Combs, St. Petersburg