News_You_Can_Use_graphic_(2).pngCosts of living -- can't keep track of them. Just when you are feeling good about a just-signed state law protecting against excessive electricity costs, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision raises the ante (and the costs) for our region. We've all been waiting for prices to go down along with inflation, but somehow the big merchants didn't catch on. Why should they when they can reap extra profits and hope nobody notices? Well, surprise, big merchants are losing market share as consumers catch on. Now the prices are coming down. Good work, savvy consumers. Plus: we don't want to compare Maryland's teachers and the coveted rockfish, or striped bass -- but both are in short supply and measures are being taken, or at least proposed, to remedy that. And signs of recovery from the Key Bridge disaster are showing up, one by one. There's more, too, from states and cities around the US, and national trends (why are we setting records for how long we keep our cars?) It's all News You Can Use.



Grants Tackle Causes Of Food Insecurity As Rising Costs Plague Maryland Families

Inflation continues to drop, but high prices linger, particularly for groceries. Maryland families continue to feel a pinch in their budgets from rising grocery and living costs, leading nonprofits such as the Maryland Food Bank and state leaders to reconsider how to reduce the causes of food insecurity and poverty. A report tracking the number of families living paycheck-to-paycheck in Maryland shows that in 2022, nearly 40% of households struggled to afford basic necessities including food, according to United for ALICE, a partner of Maryland United Ways. The study analyzes financial hardship in ALICE Households, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Those are households where earnings are above the federal poverty level but less than “what’s needed to survive in the current economy,” according to the updated ALICE report released Thursday. Among other living costs, food continues to be a hardship for many families, according to the report tracking the number of families living paycheck-to-paycheck in Maryland shows that in 2022, nearly 40% of households struggled to afford basic necessities including food, according to United for ALICE, a partner of Maryland United Ways. Maryland Matters.


But Is Help On The Way? Major Stores, Losing Market Share, Are Cutting Prices

Consumers have been grumbling about the soaring cost of groceries for nearly two years. Now, some of the biggest names in retail appear to be listening. In recent weeks, Target and Aldi have broadcast price cuts on thousands of items, while Walmart unveiled a new private label lineup of quality “chef-inspired food” mostly in the $5-and-under range. The shift comes as U.S. consumers have been signaling their discontent with more subdued spending — threatening retailers’ bottom lines. It also reflects the split screen that is the U.S. economy: technically strong, but a struggle for many consumers as inflation and interest rates remain elevated, and debt levels have soared. Grocery prices have spiked nearly 27 percent since 2020, outpacing overall inflation. Inflation has dropped since early this year but price cuts have not followed suit – until now. WaPo

Food Bank, State Leaders Mull Reducing Food Insecurity: Maryland families continue to feel a pinch in their budgets from rising grocery and living costs, leading nonprofits such as the Maryland Food Bank and state leaders to reconsider how to reduce the causes of food insecurity and poverty.

Schools Chief: There Must Be ‘A Conscious Effort’ To Grow, Diversify Maryland’s Teacher Workforce: Maryland State Schools Superintendent Carey Wright said Tuesday that school leaders must make a “conscious effort” to diversify and boost the state’s teacher workforce. “Are we really going into our HBCUs? Are we recruiting? What do those techniques look like?” A recent state Department of Education report showed the state has made little progress; 68% of the state’s teachers in the current school year are white compared to 20% Black and about 5% Latino or Asian. But Wright said another challenge facing school systems is hiring and retaining teachers in the state. “We aren’t producing enough of those candidates in house, so we’ve got to be thinking about what else are we going to do,” she said. Maryland Matters


Limit One Rockfish? Charter Boats, Anglers Are Howling: This year in Maryland, the rules around catching the state fish, the striped bass known by the nickname rockfish, are among the tightest in recent memory, not counting a moratorium in the late 1980s that spurred a resurgence of the depleted species. Maryland charter boat crews, who make their living guiding anglers to the prized sportfish, say the catch restrictions have dampened enthusiasm and diminished bookings. Some captains said they anticipate the season’s bookings could be cut in half, and several organizations are suing the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which tightened the take to one fish per angler per day, acting on a five-year decline in the species’ population in the Bay. Baltimore Sun


University Researchers Work To Improve Electric Vehicles: Faculty and researchers at the University of Maryland College Park are working to improve various aspects of the shift to electric vehicles. These includes extending battery life, reducing the need for rare minerals, speeding up battery charging, increasing availability by reducing overall costs and improving overall safety. Terp magazine.


The Doobie Next Door: Delaware Eyes Recreational Use: The Delaware House Economic Committee has narrowly released a bill to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to enter the recreational market. Delaware legalized recreational marijuana in 2023, and the state has been working to get the market up and running ever since. The original bill did not allow medical dispensaries to enter the recreational market earlier than other businesses, but now one House member is proposing the six compassions centers in Delaware be offered a conversion license. The bill goes to the House floor, just barely. Delaware Public Media


New MD Law Adds Protection for Energy Customers, Fights Scams: New protections are coming for Maryland consumers who want to shop around to find the best electricity and gas rates. Senate Bill 1, Electricity and Gas - Retail Supply - Regulation and Consumer Protection signed by Gov. Wes Moore on May 9 puts new restrictions on retail, or third-party, energy suppliers. Since Maryland deregulated its energy market 25 years ago, consumers have been able to choose their utility company’s regulated rate or shop for a better deal through one of the unregulated retail suppliers. But bad actors in the retail energy market have overcharged consumers, particularly older residents with lower incomes. Some suppliers have used aggressive and deceptive sales tactics to entice people with low introductory rates or perks like gift cards, only to switch them to a higher rate soon after the contract is signed, AARP and other consumer advocates told lawmakers in advocating for the protections. AARP News


Now The Bad News: Electricity Costs in Maryland, Neighbor States May Rise After FERC Decision: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday unanimously upheld its decision to approve the PJM Interconnection’s plan to stick to original auction results for power purchases, … which will more than double the capacity costs for the Delmarva Power South zone for the 2024/2025 capacity year that starts on Saturday. Under that ruling, customers in the zone covering parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia will pay $288.4 million for capacity in the coming 12 months, according to a coalition opposing the increase. Both local power companies and advocacy groups, including Maryland’s People’s Counsel and Public Service Commission, opposed the FERC decision. Utility Dive


No Bird Flu In Maryland Yet; Ag Officials Stay Alert: No cases of avian flu have been reported in Maryland this year, but recent reports of two incidents of cattle-to-human transmission of the disease have health and agriculture officials in the state on alert. Maryland Matters via MD Reporter.


First Cruise Ship Sets Sail from Port of Baltimore Since Key Bridge Collapse:

“Cruising is back in Baltimore,” declared Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, as passengers began arriving Saturday at the Cruise Maryland Terminal, marking the first cruise ship to arrive and depart the Port of Baltimore since the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26. “While there is still work that needs to be done to be able to complete the salvage operation, this is a wonderful sign that the next milestone is pointing to the fact that business is truly returning to the port,” Daniels said. Baltimore Sun


Moore Finishes Up Bill-Signing, Vetoes Etc.: Gov. Wes Moore issued his final actions on the remaining bills from the 2024 legislative session Friday, tying up all loose ends following the General Assembly’s 90-day session. Moore signed 1,047 of the nearly 3,500 bills that were sponsored by lawmakers during the legislative session. A total of 1,053 bills were passed, leaving only six bills that won’t receive the governor’s signature. Bills become law once they are signed by the governor. Bills can also go into effect without the governor’s signature if 30 days have passed since the legislation was presented to him. Baltimore Sun.

Bill on Public Notices is Vetoed: A bill that would have curbed some public notice advertising revenue for newspapers in Maryland has been vetoed by Gov. Wes Moore (D). House Bill 1258 was one of four from the 2024 legislative session vetoed by Moore. Two others — identical House and Senate bills expanding the scope of work audiologists can do — were allowed to go into law without the signature of the governor. All the actions announced Friday were expected. Maryland Matters via MD Reporter.




Voting Laws Roundup: May 2024 Voters in almost half the country will face new voting restrictions in the upcoming general election. About half of the states’ 2024 legislative sessions have concluded, and the general election is six months away. So far, the new voting laws enacted in 2024 are following the trends set in 2021. Some states have put new voting restrictions in place while others have enacted new laws that make voting easier. Brennan Center for Justice


Public Parks Are For Everyone, By Definition, But They Don’t Always Feel That Way. Safety issues are on many minds; and people of color could choose to avoid parks where visitors are overwhelmingly white. Macalester College geographer Dan Trudeau and his students are studying Phalen Regional Park in St. Paul, Minnesota, to understand how this heavily used oasis attracts visitors who reflect the city’s racial and ethnic diversity. Offering a wide range of facilities and activities, including events that reflect different cultures and traditions, is an important draw. So are clean bathrooms and ample signage. “Parks are like a city’s living room,” Trudeau observes.  The Conversation

Are Modular Homes the Future of Affordable Housing? In Buena Vista, Colorado, a public-private partnership crafted a patchwork of legislation, partnerships and regulatory tools to help a local company quickly deliver factory-built, affordable rental units. [Notice we said “quickly.” And, the article continues] “manufacturing technology has come a long way, and these modular homes are indistinguishable from traditional, stick-built housing — except for the fact that the factory can build a two-bedroom unit in nine days flat.” Reason to be Cheerful via Route Fifty



The Average Car on US Roads Is A Record 12.6 Years Old. Rising prices and rapidly changing technology are encouraging drivers to hang onto their old motors for longer, an S&P report said. The average vehicle age is up by two months from 2023, but the growth in average age is slowing as a pandemic-era shortage of parts eases and reduces prices. Still, new vehicles are selling for more than $45,000 on average, a “prohibitively high” price for most households, one analyst told the Associated Press. Some drivers are also holding off buying new cars as they decide whether to buy an electric or hybrid one. Another factor is that modern cars are simply better, and last longer before they break down. Semafor

 Disasters, Often Fueled by Climate Change, Hit Low-Income Hardest: People often think of disasters as great equalizers. After all, a tornado, wildfire or hurricane doesn’t discriminate against those in its path. But the consequences for those affected are not “one-size-fits-all.” That’s evident in recent storms, including deadly tornadoes over the 2024 Memorial Day weekend, and in the U.S. Census Bureau’s national household surveys showing who was displaced by disasters in 2023.  Census Bureau estimates that nearly 2.5 million Americans had to leave their homes because of disasters in 2023 also show who is most vulnerable. It suggests, as researchers have also found, that people with the fewest resources, as well as those who have disabilities or have been marginalized, were more likely to be displaced from their homes by disasters than other people. The Conversation

And from People’s Action, DC watcher Megan E (the org’s federal affairs specialist) reports:


Last week, the Senate sought to advance Senators Murphy and Lankford’s harmful immigration and border bill so Democrats in tough races could say they are tough on the border. Republicans did not vote for the bill because Trump wants them to hold on to the issue until after he is nominated so he can beat up on Biden on immigration and then “solve” it if he regains power. Senators Padilla, Butler, Markey, Booker, Sinema, and Sanders were the only Democrats/Independents to vote against the bill. Senators Warren and Menendez were absent from the Senate that day but were likely to vote no as well. 

More election quick hits:

"The next time you read that Medicare is about to go broke...if they fail to mention how many billions of dollars are being sucked out of the Medicare system every year by Medicare Advantage, throw that piece to the ground, step on it, and set it on fire." - @SenWarren #AMS2024

New Resource: Climate Power, Biden has Taken More than 300 Environmental Actions

Bernie’s oped in the Guardian: We’re in a pivotal moment in American history. We cannot retreat | Bernie Sanders. Clearly, our job is not just to re-elect Biden. It’s much more than that.



The Next Front in the War Against Climate Change

Clean-energy investment in America is off the charts—but it still isn’t translating into enough electricity that people can actually use.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to propose a new rule that would require employers to protect an estimated 50 million people exposed to high temperatures while they work. They include farm laborers and construction workers, but also people who sort packages in warehouses, clean airplane cabins and cook in commercial kitchens. The measure would be the first major federal government regulation to protect Americans from heat on the job.


A new project promised low-income families ‘zero net energy homes’ – but they still rely on gas

Utilities attach themselves to social justice causes amid culture war over attempts to phase out gas.



When ‘Prior Authorization’ Becomes a Medical Roadblock: Medicare Advantage plans say it reduces waste and inappropriate care. Critics say it often restricts coverage unnecessarily.


UnitedHealth argues algorithm lawsuit should be dismissed because patients didn’t spend years appealing denials: UnitedHealth Group argued it should be released from a lawsuit that alleges its algorithm-based technology prematurely cut off care to its Medicare Advantage members.


Fight between union and hospital heats up post-breakup: The dispute illustrates how it can be harder for employers to get better deals on care.



Israeli officials seize AP equipment and take down live shot of northern Gaza, citing new media law

Israeli officials seized a camera and broadcasting equipment belonging to The Associated Press in southern Israel on Tuesday, accusing the news organization of violating the country’s new ban on Al Jazeera.

woody woodruff


M.A. and Ph.d. from University of Maryland Merrill College of Journalism, would-be radical, sci-fi fan... retired to a life of keyboard radicalism...