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Scott Mason 

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, a bald eagle takes flight at the Museum of the Shenandaoh Valley in Winchester, Va. While once-endangered bald eagles are booming again in the Chesapeake Bay, the overall trajectory of endangered species and the federal act that protects them isn't so clearcut. (Scott Mason/The Winchester Star via AP, File)

New Trump rules would further restrict legal immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is moving forward with one of its most aggressive steps yet to restrict legal immigration, denying green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance, officials announced Monday.

Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents and gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. — a “public charge,” in government speak —but the new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.

It’s part of a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that the administration has been trying to put into place. While much of the attention has focused on President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, the new change targets people who entered the United States legally and are seeking permanent status. It’s part of an effort to move the U.S. to a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don’t apply to U.S. citizens, even if the U.S. citizen is related to an immigrant who is subject to them.

The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, said the rule change fits with the Republican president’s message.

“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

Migrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for public benefits because of their immigration status.

Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the changes, warning the rules will scare immigrants into not asking for help. And they are concerned the rules give too much authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance at any time, giving officials the ability to deny legal status to more people.

The Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center immediately vowed to file a lawsuit. In a statement, the group called the new rules an attempt to redefine the legal immigration system “in order to disenfranchise communities of color and favor the wealthy.”

On average, 544,000 people apply annually for green cards, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to this review, according to the government.

Addressing the rule at the White House, Cuccinelli denied the administration was rejecting long-held American values.

Pressed on the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned below the Statue of Liberty that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” he said: “I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty.”

Guidelines in use since 1999 refer to a public charge as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support for long-term institutionalization.

Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone has two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Following publication of the proposed rules last fall, Homeland Security received 266,000 public comments, more than triple the average number, and it made a series of amendments to the final rules as a result.

For example, women who are pregnant and on Medicaid or who need public assistance will not be subject to the new rules during the pregnancy and for 60 days after the birth.

The Medicare Part D low-income subsidy won’t be considered a public benefit. And public benefits received by children up until age 21 won’t be considered. Nor will emergency medical assistance, school lunch programs, foster care or adoption, student loans and mortgages, food pantries, homeless shelters or disaster relief.

Green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. If immigrants have private health insurance, that will weigh heavily in their favor.

Active U.S. military members are exempt. So are refugees or asylum seekers, and the rules would not be applied retroactively, officials said. The administration also has moved to drastically reduce asylum in the U.S.

The administration recently tried to effectively end the protections at the U.S.-Mexico border before the effort was blocked by a court. It has sent more than 30,000 asylum seekers mostly from Central America back to Mexico to wait out their immigration cases.

According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, low-income immigrants who are not citizens use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.

Non-citizen immigrants make up 6.5 percent of all those participating in Medicaid. They make up 8.8 percent of those getting food assistance.

The new public assistance threshold, taken together with higher requirements for education, work skills and health, will make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards, advocates say.

“Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children and parents,” said Ur Jaddou, a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel who’s now director of the DHS Watch run by an immigrant advocacy group. “These are not just small changes. They are big changes with enormous consequences for U.S. citizens.”

The new rules come at a time of increased criticism over Trump’s hardline policies and his rhetoric.

On Aug. 3, 22 people were killed and dozens were injured in a shooting in El Paso, Texas, a border city that has become a face of the migration crisis. The shooting suspect told authorities he targeted Mexicans.

Critics contend Trump’s words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and violence, but Trump disagrees.

Trump overhauls endangered species protections

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Monday rolled out some of the broadest changes in decades to enforcement of the landmark Endangered Species Act, allowing the government to put an economic cost on saving a species and other changes critics contend could speed extinction for some struggling plants and animals.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other administration officials contend the changes improve efficiency of oversight, while protecting rare species.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species,” he said in a statement. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Democratic lawmakers, several state attorneys general and conservation groups said the overhaul would hamper protections for endangered and threatened species.

The Endangered Species Act is credited with helping save the bald eagle, California condor and scores of other animals and plants from extinction since President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973. The Endangered Species Act currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.

The changes included allowing economic cost to be taken into account as the federal government weighs protecting a struggling species, although Congress has stipulated that economic costs not be a factor in deciding whether to protect an animal. That prohibition was meant to ensure that the logging industry, for example, would not be able to push to block protections for a forest-dwelling animal on economic grounds.

Gary Frazer, an assistant director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told reporters that the government would adhere to that by disclosing the costs to the public, without being a factor for the officials considering the protections.

But Brett Hartl, a government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity conservation group, contended any such price tag would be inflated, and “an invitation for political interference” in the federal government’s decision whether to save a species.

“You have to be really naive and cynical and disingenuous to pretend” otherwise, Hartl said. “That’s the reason that Congress way back...prohibited the Service from doing that,” Hartl said. “It’s a science question: Is a species going extinct, yes or no?”

Other changes include ending blanket protections for species newly listed as threatened and a revision that conservation groups say could block officials from considering the impact on wildlife from climate change, a major and growing threat to many species.

“Nothing in here in my view is a radical change for how we have been consulting and listing species for the last decade or so,” Frazer said. Instead, he said, it brings “more transparency and certainty to the public about the way we’ll carry out our job.”

While the nearly half-century old act has been overwhelmingly successful in saving animals and plants that are listed as endangered, battles over some of the listings have been years-long and legend, pitting northern spotted owls, snail darters and other creatures and their protectors in court and political fights with industries, local opponents and others. Republican lawmakers have pushed for years to change the Endangered Species Act itself, in Congress.

Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who leads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Monday’s changes in enforcement to the act were “a good start,” but said he would continue working to change the act itself.

Democrats blasted the changes, and conservationists promised a court fight.

The regulations “take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act,” Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said in a statement. “As we have seen time and time again, no environmental protection — no matter how effective or popular — is safe from this administration.”

At least 10 attorneys general joined conservation groups in protesting an early draft of the changes, saying they put more wildlife at greater risk of extinction.

“This effort to gut protections for endangered and threatened species has the same two features of most Trump administration actions: it’s a gift to industry, and it’s illegal. We’ll see the Trump administration in court about it,” Drew Caputo, a vice president of litigation for the conservation advocacy group Earthjustice.

A United Nations report warned in May that more than 1 million plants and animals globally face extinction, some within decades, owning to human development, climate change and other threats. The report called the rate of species loss a record.

In Washington state, Ray Entz, wildlife director for the Kalispel tribe, spoke of losing the struggle to save the last wild mountain caribou in the lower 48 states, despite the creature’s three decades on the Endangered Species List. With logging and other human activities and predators driving down the numbers of the south Selkirk caribou, Canadian officials captured and penned the last surviving members of the species over the winter and pinned them up for their protection.

“There were some tears shed,” Entz said, of the moment when tribal officials realized the animal had dwindled in the wild past the point of saving. “It was a tough pill to swallow.”

Despite the disappearance of the protected caribou species from the contiguous United States, Entz said, “We don’t want to see a weakening of the law.”

“There’s times where hope is something you don’t even want to talk about,” he said. But, “having the Endangered Species Act gives us the opportunity to participate in that recovery.”

Montpelier Village Council approves construction of splash pad

MONTPELIER — Montpelier Village Council made a splash Monday evening in regard to its long-term plan to draw in more families to the community in the coming years.

After a presentation by the Montpelier Parks & Recreation Board to council, members unanimously approved a statement of intent to install a “splash pad” — or a system of sprinklers, fountains and equipment intended for use by children — to be housed between the village’s tennis courts and existing pool area at Montpelier Municipal Park.

While specifics of the project are not finalized in any way, a $350,000 plan for a 3,849-square-foot area that would feature several fountains, sprinklers and equipment, including a 22-foot long “locomotive” with three slides on top of 7/8-inch foam was put forth by the park board, which sought a letter of intent to lock in 5 percent savings with the firm Water Odyssey.

The splash pad is intended primarily for kids up to age 12, but several in attendance highlighted the setup’s additional utility for the developmentally disabled and seniors. If built, officials said it would be the only publicly accessible feature of its kind in Williams County.

“Some communities have seen an increase in their pool usage because the splash pad draws people out. That potentially could happen,” said Sandy Gordon, director of the village’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s an investment in the community,” added board member Brent Saneholtz.

A recreational area with seating was discussed as a potential later addition, for which the park board plans to petition corporate support for funding.

All water features would be controlled via both button and timer, meaning water would not be wasted after certain times or by overzealous guests. The system would pump 212 gallons a minute with all pieces running.

A financing plan is still in the works, but it is tentatively expected to be paid for in $50,000 yearly increments.

The splash pad would be a supplementary feature to the pool, and would serve as a stopgap if major work is determined to be necessary on the village’s aging pool in the future.

If all work was done at the same time, Poggemeyer Design Group estimated four years ago that refurbishing the pool infrastructure and surrounding structures, as well as installing the splash pad, would cost roughly $1.7 million, illustrating part of the reason the village approved the plan to move ahead with the splash pad project separately and deal with the pool as needed.

In other action on Monday, council:

• Recognized retired Clerk of Council Becky Semer, who was recently honored as the recipient of the Ohio Municipal Clerks Association Clerk of the Year.

• Accepted the retirement of Kerrie Hutchinson from the fire department.

• Approved an application to the Ohio Public Works Commission to pursue a 50-50 matching grant for a nearly $400,000 project to repair and upgrade the Randolph Street lift station. The project would take all the sanitary sewage from the south side of the railroad tracks and push it out to the wastewater treatment plant. It was built in the early 1960s.

Work begins on T W Parkway in Pioneer

PIONEER — After weeks of delay due to wet weather, work on the T W Parkway project has begun, and the village is already saving money.

Al Fiser, village administrator, gave the update to Pioneer Village Council during its meeting on Monday evening.

The project will include new pavement, curbs, storm drainage, waterline replacement and a new sanitary force main.

“Regrinding equipment was brought in (Monday),” Fiser said.

The boring for the sewer line has already been completed, he added.

Roadwork will cause the street to close, which could cause problems with trash collection, done through Archbold Refuse Service, said Anthony Burnett, street department supervisor.

“ARS is going work with us the best we can, but if someone’s trash doesn’t get picked up we will come out and take care of it ourselves,” he said. “Everyone is going to have to be patient and work with us.”

The work will start on Clearfork Drive, where the current curb and gutter end, and will head south, Burnett added.

Fiser also said a change order has come in and garnered surprise from everyone when he said it actually saved the village money.

“Originally they were going to clear a section and then do a dig for the sewer line,” he said. “They decided to bore it ... Turns out it saved us about $26,000.”

The change order was unanimously approved by council.

Mayor Ed Kidston also had his own bit of good news for the council.

“The good news is Pioneer is No. 1,” he said. “We’re ranked No. 1, we have the lowest tax rate in all of northwest Ohio. The bad news is Bryan is the worst in the county.”

The survey, provided by Kidston after the meeting, lists average costs for utilities and taxes and ranks 11 municipalities in northwest Ohio by that total cost. Pioneer was listed as the lowest, with those expenses only costing $334.54 a month, beating out Findlay by about $10. Defiance was last at $456.85 a month, with Bryan placing 10th at $439.71.

In other business:

• Council went into executive session to discuss pending litigation, with no action expected afterward.

• Kidston said the village has reached a deal with Kristin Dawson, who wants to erect a 50-foot flag pole and 10- by -15 foot American flag at the gravesite of her son, Lance Corporal Zachary Rhinard, a reservist for the U.S. Marine Corps., who committed suicide earlier this year. The flag will be placed at the back of the cemetery, where the village plans to place four column baria — places to store cremated remains. The flag will be in the center of the area.

• Council approved trading in the village’s backhoe for a new one. With the trade in, the village will be responsible for paying around $20,000.

• Fiser said a CD with Edon State Bank was renewed in July at around $142,170.11.

• Fiser said the village had worked on several drainage projects throughout the village to help areas that seemed to be perpetually wet after a rain event.

Rogelio V. Solis 

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2019 photo, children of mainly Latino immigrant parents hold signs in support of them and those individuals picked up during an immigration raid at a food processing plant in Canton, Miss., following a Spanish Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Miss. Trump administration rules that could deny green cards to immigrants if they use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance are going into effect. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

FSA: 60K acres in county were prevented from planting; 19 million in nation

Heavy rains didn’t mix well with planting this year, as just over 60,000 acres of Williams County farmland weren’t planted and 19 million acres weren’t planted nationally, according to data from the national Farm Service Agency office.

Affected farmers are taking the prevented planting option, which means they will take an insurance payment and not plant their intended crop.

“Agricultural producers across the country are facing significant challenges and tough decisions on their farms and ranches,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said in a news release. “We know these are challenging times for farmers and we have worked to improve flexibility of our programs to assist producers prevented from planting.”

The USDA is encouraging farmers to plant cover crops on prevented planting acres because they help prevent soil erosion, protect water quality and boost soil health.

Reporting on how many acres will fall into this program isn’t finished yet, according to Donna Wilson, program technician at the Williams County FSA office.

“We’re still certifying crops here in our county and I’m estimating probably 65-70 percent is prevented,” she said. “We’re not completely done, yet, we’re still getting our crop reports done.”

She estimated around 95 percent of the reports are in and they still have this week to finish it.

And those numbers will just include the people who do report to the FSA.

“There are people out there who do not participate or come in and do any kind of crop report in our county,” Wilson said. “We’re never fully certified or reported.”

On Monday, the national FSA released a crop acreage report, containing information through Aug. 1.

According to this data, the state of Ohio had 1.48 million acres taking prevented planting option. Of those, 880,992 acres were corn while 598,981 were soybeans.

Meanwhile, 56,330 acres were listed as not planted and 71,512 acres were listed as failed.

In Williams County, the national FSA stated 60,373 acres were taking prevented planting option with 124 acres not planted and 765 failed acres. According to this report, 67,628 acres were planted in Williams County.

According to this data, Fulton County is listed as having 70,514 acres in prevented planting with 126,533 acres planted; Defiance County has 84,198 in prevented planting with 106,060 acres planted; and Henry County has 71,083 in prevented planting and 161,697 acres planted.