Federal Independent Agencies
News releases, reports, statements and associated documents from federal independent agencies.
Smithsonian American Art Museum Debuts Exhibition 'American Visionary: John F. Kennedy's Life and Times' May 3WASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Smithsonian Institution issued the following news release:
A new exhibition commemorating President John F. Kennedy's life and work will be on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's main building from May 3 through Sept. 17. "American Visionary: John F. Kennedy's Life and Times" brings together 77 images culled from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Getty Images, private collections and the Kennedy family archives that capture the dramatic scope of Kennedy's life. The exhibition is one of the most exhaustively WASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Smithsonian Institution issued the following news release: A new exhibition commemorating President John F. Kennedy's life and work will be on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's main building from May 3 through Sept. 17. "American Visionary: John F. Kennedy's Life and Times" brings together 77 images culled from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Getty Images, private collections and the Kennedy family archives that capture the dramatic scope of Kennedy's life. The exhibition is one of the most exhaustivelyresearched collections of Kennedy photos ever assembled. "American Visionary" is based on the forthcoming book JFK: A Vision for America.
The museum's presentation of "American Visionary" is the premicre event in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's yearlong, nationwide celebration that commemorates Kennedy's centennial year. The exhibition opens in time for what would have been Kennedy's 100th birthday on May 29.
"The Smithsonian American Art Museum is proud to host one of the first centennial celebrations to honor the legacy of President John F. Kennedy," said Stephanie Stebich, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The aptly named exhibition 'American Visionary' is a fitting tribute to the 35th President, who understood the importance of the arts in American society and the power of images to convey the spirit and aspirations of a country."
Kennedy's administration coincided with a golden age of photojournalism in America. No single politician was photographed more than Kennedy--from his first congressional bid as a decorated war hero in 1946, his fairytale marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, his run for the White House in 1960 and role as commander in chief, to the tragedy of his death in Dallas in 1963. Documentary photographers such as Ed Clark, Ralph Crane, Philippe Halsman, Jacques Lowe, Steve Schapiro and Sam Vestal captured the optimism and challenges of the early 1960s in some of the finest and most vivid images of the period. Many of the photographs on display are iconic.
The exhibition is organized and curated by Lawrence Schiller of Wiener Schiller Productions; John Jacob, the museum's McEvoy Family Curator for Photography, is coordinating the exhibition in Washington, D.C. The exhibition will travel to several cities across the United States following its opening at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
"John F. Kennedy is still seen as a symbol around the world, representing and espousing the best and most universal elements of the American character," said Stephen Kennedy Smith, Kennedy's nephew and co-editor of JFK: A Vision for America. "It is our hope that the compelling images of President Kennedy's life and work on view in this exhibition will remind visitors not only of the values that defined his presidency, but also will introduce him to new audiences and future leaders."
As part of the "JFK 100 Centennial Celebration," the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is spearheading a series of events and initiatives across the nation aimed at inspiring new generations to find meaning in the enduring values that formed the heart of the Kennedy presidency--courage, freedom, justice, service and gratitude. In Washington, the museum is part of a citywide celebration with other cultural organizations, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the White House Historical Association and the Newseum.
Visitors can join the conversation about the centennial celebrations at #JFK100. Information about centennial activities across the country is available online at jfkcentennial.org/events/.
The forthcoming book, JFK: A Vision for America, features Kennedy's greatest speeches alongside essays by historians, leading political thinkers, writers and artists. The book presents Kennedy at his best--thought-provoking, inspiring, eloquent and wise--on a number of wide-ranging topics, including civil rights, the race to the moon, the environment, immigration, the Cuban Missile Crisis and more. JFK demonstrates the deep relevance of his words today and his lasting power and influence as an American leader and orator.
The list of contributors includes Samantha Power, Rep. John Lewis, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Dalai Lama, Robert Redford, Conan O'Brien, David McCullough, George Packer, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Drew Faust, Tariq Ramadan, Paul Krugman, Kofi Annan, Don DeLillo, Jorge Dominguez and many others.
JFK: A Vision for America is edited by Smith and Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University; it is published by HarperCollins and will be available for purchase beginning May 2 the museum store ($45).
Free Public Programs
The museum is organizing a number of free public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. A conversation with White House photographers Dennis Brack, Sharon Farmer, Lawrence Schiller and Diana Walker will take place Wednesday, June 7, at 6:30 p.m. The Serendip Piano Trio will present a selection of works by George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and others that were performed at White House concerts during the Kennedy administration Sunday, June 11, at 3 p.m. Information about additional exhibition-related programming will be available online at americanart.si.edu/jfk when details are confirmed.
As part of its annual "America Now" series, the museum will present performances that honor Kennedy's vision and commitment to the arts. Dancers from The Washington Ballet will perform excerpts from the new ballet "WHO WHEN WHY" and the hip-hop group Liner Notes will create a multimedia performance as part of the "America Now: JFK 100" programming. "America Now" is a three-museum collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History and Smithsonian American Art Museum and made possible by the generous support of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Family Foundation. More information about the festivities and performances is online at americanow.si.edu.
"American Visionary" will travel to additional cities in the U.S. following its opening first in Washington and then in New York City; it opens at the New-York Historical Society June 23. The tour is being circulated by Wiener Schiller Productions in association with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
State Department Tour
The 77 images in "American Visionary" have been sent to 13 embassies through the Cultural Diplomacy Division of the U.S. Department of State. The participating countries include Australia, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Germany, Honduras, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Thailand and Venezuela. The exhibitions will travel across each country for the next 20 months. These traveling exhibitions serve as a centerpiece for "JFK 100" activities in each respective country.
"American Visionary: John F. Kennedy's Life and Times" is presented by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in cooperation with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and with the generous support of the Governance Institute and the Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Stephen Kennedy Smith, Wiener Schiller Productions and Getty Images. The presentation in Washington, D.C., is made possible by the Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund and the Bernie Stadiem Endowment Fund.
New Look at 2004's Martian Hole-in-One SitePASADENA, Calif., April 21 -- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory issued the following news:
A new observation from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captures the landing platform that the rover Opportunity left behind in Eagle Crater more than 13 years and 27 miles (or 44 kilometers) ago.
A series of bounces and tumbles after initial touchdown plunked the airbag-cushioned lander into the crater, a mere 72 feet (22 meters) across, on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 24, PST).
The scene includes Eagle Crater and Opportunity's nearby parachute and backshell, from the April 10, 2017, PASADENA, Calif., April 21 -- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory issued the following news: A new observation from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captures the landing platform that the rover Opportunity left behind in Eagle Crater more than 13 years and 27 miles (or 44 kilometers) ago. A series of bounces and tumbles after initial touchdown plunked the airbag-cushioned lander into the crater, a mere 72 feet (22 meters) across, on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 24, PST). The scene includes Eagle Crater and Opportunity's nearby parachute and backshell, from the April 10, 2017,observation by MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.
This is the first color view from HiRISE of the Eagle Crater scene. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began orbiting Mars more than two years after Opportunity's landing. One of the first images from HiRISE (https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08812) in 2006 showed Opportunity at the rim of a much larger crater, Victoria, nearly 4 miles (about 6 kilometers) south of the landing site. The camera also recorded a monochrome view of Eagle Crater that year.
Eagle Crater is at the upper right of the new image. The lander platform's job was finished once the rover rolled off it. The parachute and backshell are at the lower left.
The smattering of small craters on a broad plain is a reminder of the amazement expressed in 2004 about Opportunity achieving a "hole-in-one" landing. When the lander's petals opened and Opportunity sent home its first look (https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA05139) at its surroundings, it provided the first-ever close-by view of sedimentary rocks on Mars, in Eagle's rim.
After leaving the lander and exploring Eagle Crater, the rover recorded a look-back view (https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA05755) before departing the scene. Opportunity remains active more than 13 years later.
HiRISE, the most powerful telescope ever sent to Mars, is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson, and was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the MRO Project and Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter and collaborates with JPL to operate it. JPL built the rover. For additional information about MRO visit: http://mars.nasa.gov/mro
Updated at 2:45 p.m. PT on April 21, 2017 to clarify that this is the first color view from HiRISE of the Eagle Crater scene.
Medicare for Railroad FamiliesWASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Railroad Retirement Board issued the following news release:
The Federal Medicare program provides hospital and medical insurance protection for railroad retirement annuitants and their families, just as it does for social security beneficiaries. Medicare has the following parts:
* Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities (following a hospital stay), some home health care services, and hospice care. Part A is financed through payroll taxes paid by employees and employers.
* Medicare Part B WASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Railroad Retirement Board issued the following news release: The Federal Medicare program provides hospital and medical insurance protection for railroad retirement annuitants and their families, just as it does for social security beneficiaries. Medicare has the following parts: * Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities (following a hospital stay), some home health care services, and hospice care. Part A is financed through payroll taxes paid by employees and employers. * Medicare Part B(medical insurance) helps pay for medically-necessary services like doctors' services and outpatient care. Part B also helps cover some preventive services. Part B is financed by premiums paid by participants and by Federal general revenue funds.
* Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans) is another way to get Medicare benefits. It combines Part A, Part B, and sometimes, Part D (prescription drug) coverage. Medicare Advantage Plans are managed by private insurance companies approved by Medicare.
* Medicare Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage) offers voluntary insurance coverage for prescription drugs through Medicare prescription drug plans and other health plan options.
The following questions and answers provide basic information on Medicare eligibility and coverage, as well as other information on the Medicare program.
1. Who is eligible for Medicare?
All railroad retirement beneficiaries age 65 or over and other persons who are directly or potentially eligible for railroad retirement benefits are covered by the program. Although the age requirements for some unreduced railroad retirement benefits have risen just like the social security requirements, beneficiaries are still eligible for Medicare at age 65.
Coverage before age 65 is available for disabled employee annuitants who have been entitled to monthly benefits based on total disability for at least 24 months and have a disability insured status under social security law. There is no 24-month waiting period for those who have ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
If entitled to monthly benefits based on an occupational disability, and the individual has been granted a disability freeze, he or she is eligible for Medicare starting with the 30th month after the freeze date or, if later, the 25th month after he or she became entitled to monthly benefits. If receiving benefits due to occupational disability and the person has not been granted a disability freeze, he or she is generally eligible for Medicare at age 65. (The standards for a disability freeze determination follow social security law and are comparable to the medical criteria a person must meet to be granted a total disability.)
Under certain conditions, spouses, divorced spouses, surviving divorced spouses, widow(er)s, or a dependent parent may be eligible for Medicare hospital insurance based on an employee's work record when the spouse, etc., turns age 65. Also, disabled widow(er)s under age 65, disabled surviving divorced spouses under age 65, and disabled children may be eligible for Medicare, usually after a 24-month waiting period.
Medicare coverage at any age on the basis of permanent kidney failure requiring hemodialysis or receipt of a kidney transplant is also available to employee annuitants, employees who have not retired but meet certain minimum service requirements, spouses, and dependent children. The Social Security Administration has jurisdiction of Medicare in these cases. Therefore, a social security office should be contacted for information on coverage for kidney disease.
2. How do persons enroll in Medicare?
If a retired employee, or a family member, is receiving a railroad retirement annuity, enrollment for both Medicare Part A and Part B is generally automatic and coverage begins when the person reaches age 65. For beneficiaries who are totally disabled, both Medicare Part A and Part B start automatically with the 30th month after the beneficiary became disabled or, if later, the 25th month after the beneficiary became entitled to monthly benefits. Even though enrollment is automatic, an individual may decline Part B; this does not prevent him or her from applying for Part B at a later date. However, premiums may be higher if enrollment is delayed. (See question 5 for more information on delayed enrollment.)
If an individual is eligible for, but not receiving an annuity, he or she should contact the nearest Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) office before attaining age 65 and apply for both Part A and Part B. (This does not mean that the individual must retire, if presently working.) The best time to apply is during the 3 months before the month in which the individual reaches age 65. He or she will then have both Part A and Part B protection beginning with the month age 65 is reached. If the individual does not enroll for Part B in the 3 months before attaining age 65, he or she can enroll in the month age 65 is reached, or during the 3 months that follow, but there will be a delay of 1 to 3 months before Part B is effective. Individuals who do not enroll during this "initial enrollment period" may sign up in any "general enrollment period" (January 1 - March 31 each year). Coverage for such individuals begins July 1 of the year of enrollment.
3. Are there costs associated with Medicare Part A (hospital insurance)?
Yes. While individuals don't have to pay a premium to receive Medicare Part A, recipients of Part A benefits are billed by the hospital for a deductible amount ($1,316 in 2017), as well as any coinsurance amount due and any noncovered services. The remainder of the bill from the hospital, as well as bills for services in skilled nursing facilities or home health visits, is sent to Medicare to pay its share.
4. What are the costs associated with Medicare Part B (medical insurance)?
Anyone eligible for Medicare hospital insurance (Part A) can enroll in Medicare medical insurance (Part B) by paying a monthly premium. The standard premium is $134.00 in 2017. However, most Medicare beneficiaries will not pay this amount. This is because of a provision in the law that states Part B premiums for current enrollees cannot increase by more than the amount of the cost-of-living increase for social security (railroad retirement tier I) benefits. Since that adjustment was 0.3 percent for 2017, about 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries saw only a slight increase in their Part B premiums. The higher premium amount applies to new enrollees in the program, and certain beneficiaries continue to pay higher premiums based on their modified adjusted gross income.
Monthly premiums for some beneficiaries are greater, depending on a beneficiary's or married couple's modified adjusted gross income. The income-related Part B premiums for 2017 are $187.50, $267.90, $348.30, or $428.60, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary's modified adjusted gross income exceeds $85,000 ($170,000 for a married couple), with the highest premium rates only paid by beneficiaries whose modified adjusted gross incomes are over $214,000 ($428,000 for a married couple).
There is also an annual deductible ($183 in 2017) for Part B services.
Palmetto GBA, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, generally processes claims for Part B benefits filed on behalf of railroad retirement beneficiaries in the Original Medicare Plan (the traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan). An individual in the Original Medicare Plan should have his or her hospital, doctor, or other health care provider submit Part B claims directly to:
Railroad Medicare Part B Office
P.O. Box 10066
Augusta, GA 30999-0001
Persons with questions about Part B claims under the Original Medicare Plan can contact Palmetto GBA as notated above.
5. Can Medicare Part B premiums increase for delayed enrollment?
Yes. Premiums for Part B are increased 10 percent for each 12-month period the individual could have been, but was not, enrolled. However, individuals age 65 or older who wait to enroll in Part B because they have group health plan coverage based on their own or their spouse's current employment may not have to pay higher premiums because they may be eligible for "special enrollment periods." The same special enrollment period rules apply to disabled individuals, except that the group health insurance may be based on the current employment of the individual, his or her spouse, or a family member.
Individuals deciding when to enroll in Medicare Part B must consider how this will affect eligibility for health insurance policies which supplement Medicare coverage. These include "Medigap" insurance and prescription drug coverage, and are explained in the answers to questions 6 through 8.
6. What is Medigap insurance?
Many private insurance companies sell insurance, called "Medigap" for short, that helps pay for services not covered by the Original Medicare Plan. Policies may cover deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, health care outside the United States and more. Generally, individuals need Medicare Part A and Part B to enroll, and a monthly premium is charged. When someone first enrolls in Medicare Part B at age 65 or older, he or she has a 6-month "Medigap open enrollment period." During this period, an insurance company cannot deny coverage, place conditions on a policy, or charge more for a policy because of past or present health problems.
7. Do Medicare beneficiaries have choices available for receiving health care services?
Yes. Under the Original Medicare Plan, the fee-for-service Medicare plan that is available nationwide, a beneficiary can see any doctor or provider who accepts Medicare and is accepting new Medicare patients.
However, a beneficiary may opt to choose a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) instead. These plans are managed by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage Plans combine Medicare Part A and Part B coverage, and are available in most areas of the country. An individual must have Medicare Part A and Part B to join a Medicare Advantage Plan, and must live in the plan's service area. Medicare Advantage Plan choices include regional preferred provider organizations (PPOs), health maintenance organizations (HMOs), private fee-for-service plans and others. A PPO is a plan under which a beneficiary uses doctors, hospitals, and providers belonging to a network; beneficiaries can use doctors, hospitals, and providers outside the network for an additional cost. Under a Medicare Advantage Plan, a beneficiary may pay lower copayments and receive extra benefits. Most plans also include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D).
8. How do Medicare prescription drug plans work?
Medicare contracts with private companies to offer beneficiaries voluntary prescription drug coverage through a variety of options, with different covered prescriptions and different costs. Beneficiaries pay a monthly premium (averaging about $34 in 2017), a yearly deductible (up to $400 in 2017) and part of the cost of prescriptions. Those with limited income and resources may qualify for help in paying some prescription drug costs.
The Affordable Care Act requires some Part D beneficiaries to also pay a monthly adjustment amount, depending on a beneficiary's or married couple's modified adjusted gross income. The Part D income-related monthly adjustment amounts in 2017 are $13.30, $34.20, $55.20, or $76.20, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary's modified adjusted gross income exceeds $85,000 ($170,000 for a married couple), with the highest amounts only paid by beneficiaries whose incomes are over $214,000 ($428,000 for a married couple).
To enroll, individuals must have Medicare Part A and live in the prescription drug benefit plan's service area. Beneficiaries can join during the period that starts 3 months before the month their Medicare coverage starts and ends 3 months after that month. There may be a higher premium if an individual doesn't join a Medicare drug plan when first eligible. In most cases, there is no automatic enrollment to get a Medicare prescription drug plan. Individuals enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans will generally get their prescription drug coverage through their plan.
9. Where can I get more information about the Medicare program?
Railroad retirement beneficiaries should contact the RRB toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 for general information on their Medicare coverage.
More detailed information on Medicare's benefits, costs, and health care options is available from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) publication Medicare & You, which is mailed to Medicare beneficiary households each fall and to new Medicare beneficiaries when they become eligible for coverage. Medicare & You and other publications are also available by visiting Medicare's website, http://www.medicare.gov, or by calling the Medicare toll-free number, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Government of Uganda Commits $5 Million to the U.S. African Development Foundation's Development ModelWASHINGTON, April 21 -- The U.S. African Development Foundation issued the following news release:
The Government of Uganda recently renewed its commitment to supporting smallholder farmers and agribusinesses in Uganda, in partnership with the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF). Currently, both parties match funds for up to $1 million dollars each a year to fund agricultural enterprises to improve lives and livelihoods for Uganda's poorest and most vulnerable populations. The Government has recently committed an additional $5 million dollars over 5 years. Over this 10-year partnership WASHINGTON, April 21 -- The U.S. African Development Foundation issued the following news release: The Government of Uganda recently renewed its commitment to supporting smallholder farmers and agribusinesses in Uganda, in partnership with the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF). Currently, both parties match funds for up to $1 million dollars each a year to fund agricultural enterprises to improve lives and livelihoods for Uganda's poorest and most vulnerable populations. The Government has recently committed an additional $5 million dollars over 5 years. Over this 10-year partnershipwith the Government of Uganda, USADF has funded 78 agricultural enterprises and seen farmer incomes increase by over 152 billion Ugandan shillings, or $40 million US dollars.
"We are proud to continue our partnership with the Government of Uganda to ensure underserved communities have viable pathways to develop and prosper," says C.D. Glin, President/CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation. "Uganda remains one of our strongest partners as we continue to improve the lives and livelihoods for Africa's poor and vulnerable. The Government of Uganda's commitment to our program reinforces the value the USADF business model places on grant recipients at the forefront of their own development."
This partnership, totaling nearly $20 million since 2006, is implemented through the Uganda Development Trust (UDET) to grow agricultural enterprises in Uganda, including farmer cooperatives, producer associations and small-scale agribusinesses. The Government of Uganda has already invested $9 million of its own resources and recently pledged an additional $5 million to co-fund USADF programs. The 2017 agreement was signed by the Honorable Matia Kasaija, Uganda's Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
"The Government of Uganda is proud to continue our valuable partnership with the U.S. African Development Foundation for another five years," says H.E. Oliver Wonekha, Ambassador of Uganda to the United States. "USADF has continuously demonstrated their ability to effectively utilize resources to improve household incomes, increase food security, and promote the economic development of farming communities. USADF's strong commitment to funding projects throughout Uganda and transparency in its operations gives us confidence that this will continue to be a strong partnership."
USADF's innovative co-funding platform allows host country governments to reach vulnerable communities directly, and relies on an African-led country team and implementing partners. By pairing seed capital with technical expertise, USADF is building resilience and catalyzing growth for agricultural enterprises working to sustain food security and economic prosperity in their communities.
In the last decade, export revenues for Uganda's biggest crops, including coffee and tea, were increased by nearly $60 million dollars as a direct result of USADF funding, and over 50,000 jobs were created. In 2013, the USADF-Government of Uganda Program was recognized by the Uganda Ministry of Finance with an award as the best performing project for the year.
The USADF program has been lauded by Government of Uganda for transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the achievement of intended results, including increasing both food security and incomes for farmers. With direct grants to community enterprises, USADF is investing in local economic development for peace and security today and future trading partners for tomorrow.
Download official press release here (http://www.usadf.gov/s/Govt-Uganda-MOU-5M-Commitment-4-21-17.pdf).
Four Heroes Win SBA's 2017 Phoenix Award For Outstanding Disaster Recovery EffortsWASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Small Business Administration issued the following news release:
A South Carolina mayor who championed his city's post-disaster economic recovery, a volunteer who extended herself to support a small West Virginia town's rebuilding after a flood, a Texas business owner who rebuilt his company after a devastating flood, and a Northern California public official leading the relief efforts for a fire-ravaged county have been named winners of the 2017 Phoenix Award by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The awards will be presented by SBA Administrator Linda McMahon WASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Small Business Administration issued the following news release: A South Carolina mayor who championed his city's post-disaster economic recovery, a volunteer who extended herself to support a small West Virginia town's rebuilding after a flood, a Texas business owner who rebuilt his company after a devastating flood, and a Northern California public official leading the relief efforts for a fire-ravaged county have been named winners of the 2017 Phoenix Award by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The awards will be presented by SBA Administrator Linda McMahonon April 30, during the National Small Business Week kickoff event at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
Since 1998, the SBA has presented Phoenix Awards to business owners, public officials and volunteers who displayed selflessness, ingenuity and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of their communities.
Stephen K. Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, will receive the 2017 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official.
Relentless rainstorms that began on Oct. 1, 2015 in Columbia dumped nearly 12 trillion gallons of water, caused 19 fatalities and nearly $12 billion in property damages. Several local dams collapsed under the deluge of water.
Before the storms hit, Mayor Benjamin reached out to officials in cities like New Orleans that had recovered from floods, to develop a response and recovery plan.
Mayor Benjamin provided timely updates on road conditions, shelter locations, evacuations, and locations of recovery centers. He made himself available for every media request, conducting the interviews in the neighborhoods hardest hit, rather than in an operations center.
Starting early in the morning and working into the night, Mayor Benjamin reached out to national and local nonprofit organizations to support the coordination of relief efforts. He delivered bottled water to the elderly and the sick, and personally thanked first responders for their service. The mayor is currently working with FEMA and South Carolina officials to develop a canal repair solution that will protect the drinking water supply for more than 400,000 residents.
Susan M. Jack of Clendenin, West Virginia, will receive the 2017 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Volunteer.
Susan Jack's plans to leave Clendenin, West Virginia and move to Ohio with her teenage daughter Jodi were upended by torrential rains on June 23, 2016, resulting in one of the worst floods in West Virginia's history. Clendenin suffered 23 fatalities, widespread infrastructure losses and the destruction of its business center.
Despite losing all her personal belongings, Jack decided to stay and help Clendenin recover. Armed with a construction background, she worked dawn to dusk clearing debris and mud out of the damaged homes. Jack also inspected property damage, provided timelines for rebuilding on many properties and even served as a construction foreman.
She delivered donated cash and gift cards to those in need, and developed a solid volunteer team attuned to the needs of local flood victims, arranging with local churches to house and cook meals for volunteers.
Ten months after the June floods, Jack continues her volunteer recovery work. She bought a flooded-out home in Clendenin to encourage others to stay and rebuild.
Rob Leonardis, President of Ember Industries, Inc., will receive the 2017 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery.
Ember Industries in San Marcos, Texas builds, tests and calibrates electronic devices, and wire and cable assemblies. Their products are used to build oil field above-ground tank level monitors and Lockheed military aircraft drones, to name a few.
On May 25, 2015, Rob Leonardis was forced to shut down his business when the nearby Blanco River crested. The flood destroyed about one-third of Ember's raw material inventory, partially completed work in progress, as well as office furniture, computers and servers, and their-high tech production equipment.
Immediately, Ember's team, some of whom had lost their own homes in the flood, went to the plant and worked with Leonardis to clean up the debris. The company president became a cheerleader and coach, encouraging his staff not to give up and to visualize the day when they could resume production.
In July 2015, Ember Industries was approved for a $2 million SBA disaster loan. By mid-October, the company had rehired 60 of their 68 employees. Six weeks after the flood, Ember Industries was back to full production. Leonardis and his team revamped their business continuity plan to offset losses from future disasters.
Carol J. Huchingson, County of Lake Administrative Officer, will receive the 2017 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official.
A small blaze torched a few patches of dry grass in Lake County, in northern California, on the afternoon of Sept. 12, 2015. The combination of drought conditions and high winds created an inferno. Within 24 hours, 50,000 acres had burned and 1,958 structures were destroyed.
At the time, Huchingson was Lake County's director of social services. She immediately shouldered the residents' concerns about debris removal, making sure permits were quickly dispatched to remove burned trees and begin new construction. Her focus on establishing a seamless recovery for the area led county leadership to expand her job, appointing her Lake County's fire recovery coordinator.
Huchingson saw her main task was helping the community return to its pre-fire vibrancy and economic solvency. She orchestrated collaborations with federal agencies and faith-based organizations to connect local residents to information about housing grants and SBA disaster assistance. Huchingson also made sure interagency meeting minutes were posted on social media and shared with local news outlets, and later made the meetings public to reassure residents the county was being held accountable for the area's recovery.
Each year since 1963, the president has issued a proclamation calling for the celebration of National Small Business Week. This year National Small Business Week will be recognized April 30 - May 6, with events planned in Washington, D.C., New York City, Indianapolis, Dallas and Fresno, California. For more information on the national events, visit http://www.sba.gov/nsbw.
EPA Administrator Pruitt Addresses Earth Day Texas, Meets with Environmental GroupsDALLAS, April 21 -- The Environmental Protection Agency issued the following news release:
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt addressed Earth Day Texas on Friday, one of the largest gatherings for Earth Day in the United States. The audience in the Hall of State included a mix of environmental lawyers, organizations and legislators.
"On Earth Day, we celebrate the great natural resources that the United States is blessed with. The Environmental Protection Agency was created by Congress to protect these resources, along with human health. We intend to do just that - DALLAS, April 21 -- The Environmental Protection Agency issued the following news release: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt addressed Earth Day Texas on Friday, one of the largest gatherings for Earth Day in the United States. The audience in the Hall of State included a mix of environmental lawyers, organizations and legislators. "On Earth Day, we celebrate the great natural resources that the United States is blessed with. The Environmental Protection Agency was created by Congress to protect these resources, along with human health. We intend to do just that -protect the environment through sensible regulations that allow for economic growth," said Administrator Pruitt.
In his remarks, Administrator Pruitt discussed his recent visit to an East Chicago Superfund site and his discussions with residents in the affected communities. He is the first EPA Administrator to visit the East Chicago Superfund site. The renewed focus on Superfund is part of Administrator Pruitt's effort to refocus EPA on achieving its mission in protecting the environment in ways that can be felt by communities throughout the country.
The discussion was followed by meetings with The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society.
Chairman Wicker Decries Russian Ban of Jehovah's WitnessesWASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe issued the following news release:
Following yesterday's decision by the Russian Supreme Court to declare Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia an "extremist organization," Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement:
"Russia's failure to respect religious freedom is yet another inexcusable violation of Moscow's OSCE commitments. People who practice their faith peacefully should never be in danger of being harassed, fined, or jailed.
The court order to seize organization property WASHINGTON, April 21 -- The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe issued the following news release: Following yesterday's decision by the Russian Supreme Court to declare Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia an "extremist organization," Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: "Russia's failure to respect religious freedom is yet another inexcusable violation of Moscow's OSCE commitments. People who practice their faith peacefully should never be in danger of being harassed, fined, or jailed. The court order to seize organization propertyowned by Jehovah's Witnesses adds insult to injury.
I am hopeful that this case will be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights."