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Financial & Economy | G-Fin™ | Grants

House Tax Bill Would Increase The Cost Of College

The Free Press WV

The repeal or revision of higher education tax benefits in the House Republican bill would cost students and families more than $71 billion over the next decade, according to an official analysis by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.

In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, the committee provides specific individual scores of the education provisions in the House bill. Those that directly benefit current students, borrowers and employees seeking college credentials amount to tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the government, but lost savings for taxpayers. The committee tallied the costs at the request of Sen. Patty Murray, Wash., the ranking Democrat of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“At a time when higher education costs are skyrocketing, it is extremely disappointing Republicans are trying to jam through a plan that will take money from students and families who are trying to send their kids to college - all to pay for a massive tax cut for corporations and the richest among us,“ Murray said. “Republicans need to stop playing partisan games with our students’ education, and start working with us to provide more opportunities for all.“

House Republicans rattled universities, graduate students and education loan borrowers with proposals to dramatically shake up the landscape of existing tax credits, deductions and exclusions.

Graduate students, for instance, mobilized to fight against the proposed repeal of an exemption from taxes on the waivers that cover their tuition. Many have argued that counting their tuition as taxable income would result in a tax burden they could not cover with the money earned from working as teaching or research assistants. Repealing that exemption would yield the federal government $5.4 billion in revenue over the next decade.

Another hotly contested House proposal involves the elimination of the student loan interest deduction, which lets people repaying their student loans reduce their tax burden by as much as $2,500. Getting rid of the deduction would cost borrowers over $21 billion in the next 1o years. More than 12 million people took advantage of the deduction in 2015, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That’s just about 3 in 10 of the 44 million Americans with student loans.

Millions of Americans also take advantage of the three higher-education tax credits - the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit and Hope Scholarship Credit - that House Republicans want to consolidate. The government would get $24.1 billion in revenue by repealing the Lifetime Learning Credit. But that money would come at the expense of graduate students who under the proposal would be largely shut out of the consolidated tax credit.

While policy analysts agree that tax credits should be streamlined, many worry that consolidating them without a meaningful increase in funding or expansion of the criteria would prove detrimental to people paying for college. They also worry that House Republicans are discouraging workforce development by proposing the repeal of an exemption that prevents the federal government from taxing tuition assistance provided by employers. Eliminating that statute would yield $20.6 billion over a decade, which taken with the other three repeals amounts to $71.5 billion.

“The biggest losers will be students repaying their education loans, young adults seeking graduate degrees and adults seeking continuing education to upgrade their skills in a rapidly changing labor market,“ said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “We’re moving in precisely the opposite direction from where we should be going.“

Some within higher education are relieved that Senate Republican tax bill side steps many of the higher education proposals made in the House, including the graduate tax and interest deduction. Still, there is no guarantee that those provisions will remain off limits during reconciliation.

Frontier Communication….

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Frontier Won’t Return $4.7M in Broadband Funds to WV

Frontier Communications won’t give back any of the $4.7 million in stimulus funds that the federal government says the state overpaid Frontier as part of a statewide project that aimed to expand high-speed internet, the company told state officials this week.

A federal agency recently ordered the state to return the misspent funds paid to Frontier. The U.S Commerce Department’s payment demand followed an inspector general’s report that found Frontier padded hundreds of invoices with extra charges, and the state improperly reimbursed Frontier for those “unreasonable and unallowable” fees. Federal grant rules barred the state from using stimulus funds to pay such project costs.
In a letter to state Chief Technology Officer John Dunlap this week, Frontier asserts that any funds that state might return to the federal government “are, of course, not recoverable from Frontier.”

Frontier cites a “memorandum of understanding,” signed by the company and state officials, in which the state agreed to use federal funds to pay Frontier for overhead costs – the same expenses the feds now say were prohibited under the grant rules. Frontier said it only signed on to the statewide broadband project after state officials agreed to reimburse the company for all costs – “both indirect and direct,” the letter states.

Frontier also disputed the federal government’s determination that the state must return $4.7 million, urging the state to file an appeal.

“To avoid the waste of millions of West Virginia taxpayer dollars, the [state] should appeal,” wrote Mark McKenzie, a Frontier engineer who oversaw the company’s role in the project,

In 2010, the federal government awarded West Virginia $126.3 million in stimulus funds to expand high-speed internet to schools, libraries, health clinics and government buildings. The grant money included $42 million for a fiber cable network.

The state asked Frontier to install 915 miles of fiber cable to hundreds of public facilities across the state, but scaled back the project to 675 miles. Nonetheless, the state paid Frontier the entire $42 million initially set aside for the project. Frontier finished the project two years ago.

The company improperly tacked on $4.24 million in extra charges to pay for administrative costs, according to the federal report. Frontier labeled those charges as “loadings.”

Another $465,000 in improper payments went to Frontier to process invoices, the report says.

State officials have told investigators that a federal broadband grant administrator gave the state the go-ahead to pay the extra fees. But the federal administrator has denied saying that. The inspector general’s report cites a “miscommunication” between the federal broadband agency and West Virginia officials.

The feds have not directed the state – nor Frontier — to return the stimulus funds.

“As you know, the [state] agreed to pay Frontier for its indirect costs , regardless of whether those costs were eligible under the grant,” Frontier said in it letter to the state.

State officials have declined to say whether they plan to appeal.

The federal government’s $4.7 million payment demand could grow even higher.

The Commerce Department also cites findings that Frontier misled the public about the amount of unused fiber cable – called “maintenance coil” – the company installed across the state. The extra cable, which is stored at public buildings and used for repairs drove up the broadband expansion project’s cost.

Frontier placed 49 miles of spooled-up, unused fiber cable in West Virginia, four times the amount the company had disclosed to state officials.

The feds ordered state officials to find out whether the extra coil was included in the total miles of cable the state claimed that Frontier built with stimulus funds. The state also was directed to get an “explanation from Frontier for the reason it misrepresented the maintenance coil mileage to the public.”

In the letter to Dunlap, Frontier said it didn’t mislead anybody.

In 2013, at the state’s request, a Frontier employee gave an estimate of the amount of extra fiber the company planned to set aside — and bill the state — for maintenance. But the employee was “unaware of factors that often caused the proportion of maintenance coil to be higher,” the company said. Those factors include an “engineer’s judgment,” terrain, the site’s condition and the height of poles used to string the extra coil, according to Frontier’s letter. The employee also told a state official that a “more accurate estimate could be determined” by reviewing engineering maps of the project.

Frontier acknowledged the 49 miles of spooled-up, extra coil was included in its 675-mile total of fiber the company installed across the state, according to the letter to Dunlap. The state wound up paying about $240,000 more for coil compared to the employee’s initial estimate, the letter says.

Last year, Citynet sued Frontier for allegedly stifling competition in West Virginia and using the federal stimulus funds to build a broadband network that solely benefits Frontier. Frontier has disputed the allegations, characterizing Citynet as a disgruntled competitor with a six-year vendetta against Frontier, which is headquartered in Connecticut.

While the state paid Frontier $42 million in federal stimulus funds to bring high-speed fiber service to more than 1,000 public buildings across West Virginia, nobody seems to know how many facilities are using that fiber today.

On September 18, Dunlap posed that question to Frontier. The company wrote back that the state selected the sites, and Frontier doesn’t monitor which public facilities now use the federally funded fiber cable.

Eric Eyre

Opinion: Oil and Natural Gas: A West Virginia Solution

The Free Press WV

West Virginia history shows the success of the tried and true custom of leveraging our abundant natural resources to not only generate revenue statewide, but to lower unemployment and boost the quality of life for our residents.

West Virginia needs to take a stand and increase its recognition of the potential to once again be the leader within the oil and natural gas industry. West Virginia currently ranks 8th nationally in both the number of workers supported by the industry and in total natural gas production, coming in behind Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

So how do we put West Virginia at the forefront and leverage every advantage to not only put more residents to work, but increase funding to our local communities and create a better future? And, how do we decrease out-migration of both the young and old due to lack of hope for gainful employment?

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released a report identifying that the West Virginia oil and natural gas industry supported 70,900 jobs and added $8 billion to the state economy in 2015.  However, we still are experiencing an unemployment rate higher than the national average and an inability to compete with the policies and regulations of neighboring states. What is the solution?

The answer lies in reasonable regulations and progressive legislation. The industry currently has restrictions that are hindering its ability to remain competitive with Pennsylvania and Ohio. West Virginia is not growing at the same pace due to its non-competitive drilling laws. By comparison, last year West Virginia natural gas production increased by 4.3 percent while Pennsylvania saw a 9.37 percent increase. This five percent deficit represents the loss of opportunity for West Virginia to realize tremendous investments in wells and accompanying infrastructure and in the creation of much needed, high-paying new jobs.

We must embrace the potential we have before us, which creates a larger impact through the expansion of downstream opportunities and a dramatic increase of jobs in West Virginia and across the entire Appalachian Basin. 

West Virginia’s legislators must recognize that natural gas development represents the single best hope for resolving the issues which plague our state and allow the economic activity it spawns to give hope to West Virginians. Policy reforms must be made to allow the natural gas industry to reach its fullest potential and create jobs.

~~  Charlie Burd - Executive Director, IOGA WV ~~

WV Center for Nursing Awards $422,000 In Scholarships to Help Nursing Students Earn A Degree

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Center for Nursing announced today that 224 students will receive funds totaling $422,000 as part of the Nursing Scholarship Program.

The program, which is administered by the West Virginia Center for Nursing in conjunction with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC), helps licensed practical, registered, master’s and doctoral nursing students pursue their degrees.

“The Center for Nursing plays a crucial role in helping address our state’s need for healthcare providers,” Dr. Paul Hill, Chancellor of the HEPC, said. “This scholarship is an example of our efforts to directly align our higher education initiatives to support workforce development. I am so pleased that we are able to assist these students in fulfilling their dreams for pursuing a meaningful and in-demand career in West Virginia.”

The number of students receiving funds has increased exponentially from last August, when 76 students were presented with the award. Drema Pierson, (MSN, MBA, RN) Administrator for the Center for Nursing, attributed the increase to better promotion of the scholarship and the introduction of an online application that simplified and streamlined the application process.

In order to qualify for a scholarship, nursing students must be West Virginia residents and agree to fulfill a service obligation to work in West Virginia for each year they receive an award.

To apply for a scholarship, students should visit www.wvcenterfornursing.org. The online application will reopen on April 15, 2018, and the deadline to apply for an award for the 2018-19 academic year will be June 01.

The West Virginia Legislature created the West Virginia Center for Nursing in 2004. In addition to supporting the Nursing Scholarship Program, the Center focuses on nursing workforce planning and development to help alleviate an ongoing shortage of nurses. The program is funded by a $10 fee paid during the yearly license renewal process completed by every licensed practical and registered nurse in the state.

For more information, visit www.wvcenterfornursing.org.

Mylan Announces $465 Million Settlement Over Whether Epipen Qualifies as Generic

The Free Press WV

The pharmaceutical company Mylan has announced a $465 million settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over its EpiPen auto-injector products.

The conflict was over whether Mylan misclassified EpiPen as generic to avoid paying Medicaid rebates to the federal government.

Under the settlement, Mylan will reclassify EpiPen for purposes of the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program and pay the rebate applicable to innovator products, effective as of this past April 01.

Mylan had earlier indicated that a settlement was reached but today was the first day it was confirmed by the government.

As Bloomberg reported, some U.S. lawmakers criticized the deal as not tough enough on the company.

“As we said when we announced the settlement last year, bringing closure to this matter is the right course of action for Mylan and our stakeholders to allow us to move forward,” Mylan chief executive officer Heather Bresch stated in a news release.

“Over the course of the last year, we have taken significant steps to enhance access to epinephrine auto-injectors, including bringing a solution to the fast-changing healthcare landscape in the U.S. by launching an authorized generic version at less than half the wholesale acquisition cost of the brand and meaningfully expanding our patient access programs.”

Bresch is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Gayle Manchin, the secretary of Education and the Arts in Governor Jim Justice’s administration.

She and Mylan have been under scrutiny over the price of Epi-Pen for much of this past year. Mylan acquired the rights to the shot-delivered medicine in 2007 and then raised the price roughly six-fold.

“Mylan has always been committed to providing patients in the U.S. and around the world with access to medicine, and we look forward to continuing to deliver on this mission,” Bresch said in the news release.

The settlement does not contain an admission or finding of wrongdoing.

Mylan also has entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The settlement provides resolution of potential Medicaid rebate liability claims by the federal government, as well as by some hospitals and other covered entities, such as rival drugmaker Sanofi, which sued Mylan last year.

“It was our contention that Mylan’s intentional misclassification of EpiPen allowed them to amass hundreds of millions of dollars which they then used to finance their anticompetitive behavior in the marketplace,” Sanofi said in a statement Thursday.

The settlement allocates money to the Medicaid programs of all 50 states and establishes a framework for resolving all potential state Medicaid rebate liability claims within 60 days.

Medicaid gets a 23 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 13 percent discount on generics.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service indicated that EpiPen had been classified incorrectly as a generic since at least 1997, both by Mylan and previous makers.

The Justice Department claimed in its lawsuit that by misclassifying EpiPen as a generic product rather than a brand name, Mylan profited at the expense of Medicaid, the government’s health-insurance program for the poor.

“Taxpayers rightly expect companies like Mylan that receive payments from taxpayer-funded programs to scrupulously follow the rules,” said William Weinreb, the acting U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts.

WVONGA to Push Again for Mineral Efficiency

The Free Press WV

Natural gas production in West Virginia is not growing as much as it is in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The head of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association blames it on noncompetitive drilling laws.

Specifically, that means West Virginia lacks laws allowing joint development and co-tenancy.

WVONGA will try again in the next legislative session to secure those two items, said Anne Blankenship, WVONGA executive director.

“WVONGA will advocate again in 2018 for the West Virginia Legislature to pass a mineral efficiency bill that will resolve the issue when 100 percent of the mineral interest owners do not consent to the development of oil and gas,” Blankenship said last week. “In many instances, a fraction of one percent of the mineral interest owners can prevent the development of oil and gas against the will of the super majority.

“Our surrounding states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, have laws in place to address this issue, and production is increasing at higher rates in those states than in West Virginia. To become competitive with these states, West Virginia must pass similar laws.”

Co-tenancy would allow drilling when 75 percent of owners of a tract agree to allow development of mineral rights, even if the other 25 percent do not approve or cannot be located. Joint development would allow drilling companies to use horizontal drilling to extract natural gas under land using leases that were bought when shallow, vertical wells were the only drilling technology available.

Both practices have been opposed by landowner rights organizations and the West Virginia Farm Bureau.

Senate Bill 576, which addressed joint development and co-tenancy, passed the state Senate this year but died in committee when it moved to the House of Delegates.

EQT is one of the largest drillers and producers of natural gas in West Virginia. In a recent conference call, EQT CEO Steve Schlotterbeck referred to what he called West Virginia’s “antiquated” oil and gas drilling laws and regulations when discussing EQT’s capital expenditure program and how it plans to drill more in Pennsylvania than in West Virginia.

An EQT spokesperson confirmed that Schlotterbeck was referring to the lack of joint development and co-tenancy in West Virginia.

After this year’s regular session of the Legislature ended, Schlotterbeck said EQT can drill wells with longer laterals in Pennsylvania than it can in West Virginia because of joint development and co-tenancy. He also said West Virginia’s laws are wasteful of natural gas. Because the company cannot drill laterals in West Virginia that are as long as those in Pennsylvania because of co-tenancy restrictions, some gas that could be recovered here is not recovered, he said.

Blankenship’s comments came as WVONGA compared production in West Virginia counties last year. Blankenship said Doddridge County (334,486,963 cubic feet) was by far the largest natural gas producing county in 2016, producing about 334.5 million cubic feet, followed by Wetzel County with 208.7 million.

The next four counties ranked by production were: Marshall, with 143.1 million cubic feet; Ritchie, with 130.8 million; Harrison, with 128.3 million; and Tyler, with 120.9 million.

Statewide, West Virginia wells produced nearly 1.35 billion cubic feet, up about 2.5 percent from 2015, Blankenship said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, West Virginia’s natural gas production last year increased by about 56.3 million cubic feet, or 4.3 percent. Pennsylvania’s production increased by 450.99 million cubic feet, or 9.37 percent.

Ohio overtook West Virginia in production by producing about 44.5 percent more gas than in 2015, according to the EIA.

~~  Jim Ross ~~

Good Credit Practices Among Students

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reminds college students to make wise choices when using credit cards this upcoming school year.

Many take the opportunity to sign up for their first credit card to establish credit and for convenience.

“Credit cards are an easy and convenient method of payment,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “However, it’s important to manage them properly so your financial and credit history isn’t damaged.”

Students who may have difficulty attaining approval based on credit history can open an account with a small limit and pay the balance as soon as possible.

Additionally, co-signers may be necessary for students under 21 and without an income. Becoming an authorized user on a parent’s account is another option. Both provide extra monitoring that reduces the risk of the student accruing unmanageable debt.

Students should use credit cards responsibly and only when necessary, establish a budget, monitor usage, pay the required balance each month and know all expenses and fees.

Also, students should be aware of the fine print and any penalties associated with late or missed payments.

Billing statements should be shredded and card information kept in a secure location.

The Attorney General’s Office issues this advice as part of its fourth annual Off to College Consumer Protection Week.  To learn about consumer protection efforts in West Virginia, visit http://www.ago.wv.gov/consumerprotection.

Anyone with questions should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online at http://www.wvago.gov.

UHC’s Three Germ-Zapping Robots Been Named

Environmental Service Employees Win $100 Gift Cards

United Hospital Center (UHC) recently announced that it has the most Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots in West Virginia. The three robots are being used to enhance environmental cleanliness by disinfecting and destroying hard-to-kill germs, bacteria, and superbugs in hard-to-clean places.

The Environmental Services team participated in a contest to name all three of the robots, as these modern marvels of technology are also included as part of the cleaning team at UHC. Each of the following contest winners received a $100 gift card to the cafeteria:

    • Brenda Morrison with the name “UHC3PO”

    • Karen Minnear with the name “Elroy”

    • Chris Owen with the name U.S.H.E.R. (Ultra Sanitation Healthcare Efficient Robot)

The Free Press WV
Pictured from left front row: Brenda Morrison, Environmental Services, contest winner; Karen Minnear, Environmental Services, contest winner; Chris Owen, Environmental Services, contest winner; Pictured from left back row:  Dr. Mark Povroznik; chief quality officer, vice president of quality; Beth Bond, MBA, BSN, RN, CIC, infection preventionist manager; Annetta Payne, RN, CIC, infection preventionist; and Brian Fijewski, MBA, director of environmental services.


“This was a great opportunity to engage with our Environmental Services staff that is responsible for the room cleaning program,” said Dr. Mark Povroznik, chairman of Infection Control at UHC. “The entire Environmental Services team, including the robots, is critical in the implementation of ultra violet room disinfection.”

Each person could submit up to three names for the contest, as a total of 30 names were submitted. The committee of judges from the UHC Personnel Action Committee (PAC) selected the three winning entries.

“If not properly cleaned some spores, such as C-diff, can live on surfaces for up to five months,” said Dr. Povroznik. “Upon a patient discharge, Environmental Services will clean the room as they would normally and then they terminally clean a room with one of the robots. These robots are just the latest step in UHC’s effort to prevent infections.”

IOGAWV Selects Leadership for 2017-18

The Free Press WV

Marc A. Monteleone, general counsel to WACO Oil and Gas Co. and a partner in the law firm of Bowles Rice, LLP, has been elected to lead the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, Inc. (IOGAWV) as its president for 2017-2018.

Joining Monteleone on the leadership team are Vice President Brett Loflin, Northeast Natural Energy LLC, Secretary-Treasurer Jim Pritt, Enervest Operating, LLC and Immediate Past President Scott Freshwater, ConServ Inc./Reserve Oil and Gas, Inc.

The Free Press WV
Marc A. Monteleone


“I am truly humbled and honored to serve as president of IOGAWV for the coming year,” Monteleone said. “I am ready to work hard and help our members meet the challenges of energy production, environmental stewardship and job creation.”

Monteleone concentrates his practice in oil and gas law, commercial law, federal and state taxation, construction law and real estate development. He has extensive experience in managing oil and gas operations and is the owner of Mountain Lion Enterprises Inc. and Tygart River Oil & Gas, LLC. He serves as general counsel to Waco Oil & Gas Co., Inc., where his duties include overseeing Marcellus Shale exploration, negotiation of gas sales contracts and supervising mineral acquisitions. In addition, he represents many large and small oil and gas production companies. He has an extensive real estate practice in land use and development law, representing both large and small developers proposing commercial and residential projects.

He previously served on the board of directors of IOGAWV from 2010-2013 and served as secretary/treasurer from 2011-2013.  He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from West Virginia University and his masters of law in taxation from New York University.

“IOGAWV is the largest natural gas and oil association in West Virginia, serving all producers in West Virginia,” Monteleone said. “I have large shoes to fill following President Scott Freshwater. He did an outstanding job of leading this organization and expanding its services to the producer community. Luckily, Scott serves another year as immediate past president, so I get to work alongside him and continue many of the initiatives he began this year. He is an amazing person and leader and his dedication to our membership is truly inspiring.”

Mistakes to Avoid with Your Student Loan Debt

The Free Press WV

Student loan debt can feel like a dark rain cloud hanging over your head.

But, if your debt isn’t included in the $5 billion in student loan debt that may be thrown out due to shoddy paperwork practices, you’ll likely have to bite the bullet and pay it off.

While you’re paying off your debt, it’s important to steer clear of common pitfalls that could make your life harder.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when it comes to paying back your student loan debt:


1. You wait until the end of the grace period to begin making payments

You’ll likely receive a grace period of six months after graduation before you have to start paying back your debt.

Sounds good, right?

Wrong. The grace period is kind of a trap.

“Most student loans begin accruing interest the moment you graduate, and that interest adds up,“ Anna Khayet, head of product marketing for student loan refi at online lending website SoFi, tells Business Insider. “Any payments you can make sooner helps cut down on the capitalizing interest.“


2. You forget about auto pay

“Automatic payments will deduct the amount directly from your checking account, ensuring you don’t incur late fees,“ Khayet says. “And if you set up auto pay on your monthly loan payments, most loan providers will likely give you a 0.25% rate discount.“


3. You don’t strategize

If you have multiple student loans with very different interest rates, the way you pay them off can make a difference in how much interest you pay in the long run.

So it’s important to strategize.

“If you make the largest of your payments on the loans with the highest interest rates, and pay just the monthly minimum payments on the rest of your loans, then you’ll make the biggest dent in what you owe and save the most on the accruing interest,“ she says. “Remember that there are no pre-payment penalties for paying off a loan early on federal loans or on most private loans.“


4. You don’t consolidate federal loans and refinance private loans

If the monthly payments are truly too much for your budget, Khayet recommends looking into whether you’re eligible for an income-based repayment plan. Also, consider consolidating federal loans into a federal direct consolidation loan and refinancing private loans.

“Consolidating both federal and private loans into one private loan can also be an option, but you would then lose some of the protections that come with federal loans,“ she says. “Instead, consider refinancing private loans at a lower interest rate, which doesn’t just simplify the payment process but also saves you money.“


5. You don’t properly prioritize your student loan debt

Khayet says that young people should first and foremost prioritize their organization’s 401(k) match program, to scoop up “free money.“

Next, it’s important to set up an emergency fund that can cover living expenses for at least three months.

After that, your student loan debt should be your next financial priority.

“Although most of us think we’ll pay off student loans in 10 years, many Americans end up taking 20 years to pay off their loans, well into their 40s or 50s,“ she says. “You should prioritize paying off student debt before making other large investments in order to get the most bang for your buck.“

Frontier Offering Higher Speeds, Discounts as Result Of $160 Million Settlement

The Free Press WV

Frontier Communications’ $160 million settlement with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office has led to increased internet speeds and discounts for approximately 40 percent of customers affected.

Frontier Communications entered into the settlement to resolve complaints about internet speeds provided to its customers.

“This agreement already has improved connectivity for thousands of West Virginians, however significant work remains,” Morrisey said.

Morrisey’s office, between 2013 and 2015, received multiple complaints from customers paying for Frontier’s high-speed service, which advertised internet speeds up to 6 megabytes per second. The subsequent investigation found many customers expecting internet speeds “up to 6 Mbps” frequently received speeds 1.5 Mbps or lower.

The discounted monthly rate set bills for approximately 27,500 affected customers at $9.99.

Those with further questions can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

WV Treasurer’s SMART529 Plan Lauded by College Savings Website

The Free Press WV



SMART529 WV Direct, a college savings plan offered by State Treasurer John Perdue’s office, has attained a “five-cap” ranking from savingforcollege.com, a leading college savings website.

The five-cap designation is the site’s highest rating. The plan also rated fourth in the country for performance in three different year spans.

savingforcollege.com released its list of the top-rated 529 plans based on flexibility, costs, investment performance and additional economic benefits such as tax incentives.

There are 17 plans, including SMART529 WV Direct, that have garnered the five-cap ranking.

The rankings are based on apples-to-apples comparisons of funds’ allocations among stocks, bonds, and short-term investment returns and prices averaged to produce a composite percentile ranking.

“Performance is one of several criteria that families should use when choosing a 529 fund, whose earnings and distributions are tax-free so long as the funds are used for education,” said Bernice Napack, writing for www.ThinkAdvisor.com.

“Fees are another consideration as well as tax treatment. Some plans offer a tax benefit – credit or deduction – for state residents if they invest in that state’s plan; others offer a tax benefit for residents no matter what plan they choose.”

Fees have been declining in savings plans across the country, according to another recent study from savingforcollege.com.

The study found that the mean fees for direct-sold plans, which include expense ratios as well as account maintenance investment management fees, fell 3.7% over the past six months.

The SMART529 WV Direct led this trend with fee reductions implemented this past February. In addition to low fees, SMART529 WV Direct offers several other important advantages.

The plan does not require a minimum starting contribution, does not mandate subsequent contributions of any certain amount, and offers state and federal tax benefits.

State residents may reduce taxable income for state tax purposes, dollar for dollar, based on the annual amount they contribute to a SMART529 WV Direct account.

“Our staff and team of investment consultants routinely review SMART529 funds and suggest changes to ensure there are attractive options for every investor,” Treasurer Perdue said.

SMART529 offers three plans, including WV Direct. In all, SMART529 has attracted approximately 120,000 investors from across the country, 30,000 of whom are state residents.

To open up a SMART529 account, go to www.SMART529.com.

Natural Gas Production Up for A 13th Straight Year in West Virginia

The Free Press WV

Although the price of natural gas has been low for several years, production in West Virginia continues to grow stronger.  The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association reports for a 13th straight year, production increased in West Virginia, setting a new all time high in each of those years.  The increase for 2016 is only about 2.5 percent, but according to Association Executive Director Anne Blankenship, that’s still a positive.

“That is all due to the investments made in this state and the advancements in technology which allow our drillers to produce natural gas more efficiently,” she said on Tuesday’s MetroNews Talkline.

Improved technology allowed for increased gas production without drilling additional gas wells.  The industry looked at those developments as positive since they reduce the footprint of the industry and its environmental impact.  But, according to Blankenship while West Virginia is seeing increased production, the level of increase pales in comparison to neighboring states.

“The disappointing part is we’re not increasing nearly as much as Ohio and Pennsylvania. ” Blankenship said. “Both of those states have mineral efficiency laws in place.  Ohio has pooling.  Pennsylvania has joint development and co-tenancy. Ohio saw a 43 percent increase in 2016.  Obviously they are doing something right there that we don’t have here.”

The legislature gave the gas industry a cool reception to those mineral efficiency proposals during the 2017 Regular Legislative Session, but Blankenship said despite failure of the legislation, progress was made and the industry hoped to keep up the momentum in next year’s session.

“There’s always a lot of education that needs to be done,” she said. “This is not a ‘taking of property rights’ it is a ‘basic majority rules’ concept so we can be in line with surrounding states.”

Blankenship added the lack of any of those efficiency laws along with a relatively high severance tax causes West Virginia to be viewed unfavorably by companies considering drilling in the Mountain State.  Many simply choose to cross the state line and set up according to her.

“We have nothing in place to deal with the inefficient manner in which we are having to produce right now,” Blankenship said. “That’s affecting our ability to bring in companies willing to drill in West Virginia.”

Judge Orderes EQT to Show Formulas Used in Royalty Payments

The Free Press WV

A Judge has ordered EQT to produce the documents and formulas its royalty owners have asked for in a dispute dating back to 2013.

The suit, filed four years ago by the Kay Company LLC and other lessors, accused EQT of improperly deducting post-production costs from their royalty payments.

EQT had been ordered by federal Magistrate Judge James Seibert to produce the information, despite the company’s characterization of the request as “unduly burdensome.“ EQT also contended the data was “protected work product.“

But U.S. District Judge John Bailey affirmed Seibert’s ruling in a 13-page order filed July 18. In it, Bailey noted that EQT had claimed there are “so many individual types of lease language that a class is improper and unmanageable.“

“This court is not totally convinced that the resistance is meritorious in that West Virginia has limited the categories of leases,“ Bailey wrote, pointing out the lessors were “seeking information as to how (EQT) classifies the numerous leases in the payment of royalties.“

“These attempts have been thwarted or delayed by the actions of the defendants,“ Bailey wrote. “For example, when asked about a list by which the defendants determine how to pay royalties to the various lessors, (EQT) took the position that such a list did not exist or that the list was work product. This court found such a position untenable.“

Bailey cited the transcript from the magisterial proceeding, in which Siebert had asked the lawyers who, at EQT, makes a mathematical calculation on how to pay and was told, “they look at it lease by lease.“

“Finally, after over four years, someone has admitted that they have two or more formulae for calculating royalty payments,“ Bailey wrote. “As a corollary, therefore, the defendants have to have a list as to which leases are determined by which formula.“

EQT’s legal team could not be reached for comment.

It’s (Loan) Shark Week: Families are Biting Back!

It’s Shark Week, but the most dangerous predators this year aren’t on TV or at the beaches – they are in Washington D.C., where they are menacing families with the help of their chums in Congress.

From payday loan sharks to Wall Street bottom-feeders, financial predators of all shapes and sizes are descending on our capital to take a bite out of financial protections.

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Over the past six months, we’ve seen these sharks swarm in a feeding frenzy on our rights. GOP-backed Trumpcare wants to destroy Medicare and Medicaid, and take health care away from millions of Americans.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget slashes funds for public housing, food assistance and protecting the environment.

Newly appointed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is refusing to to forgive loans to students defrauded by for-profit colleges, while seeking to funnel millions of dollars into for-profit charter schools.

On issue after issue, the GOP, the president and his team prioritize corporate tax breaks and tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent.


Sharks Attack the CFPB

In their latest attack on everyday people, Trump’s corporate sharks have set their sights on our financial system’s lifeguard: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

After Wall Street speculation nearly sank our economy in 2008, Congress created the CFPB to stand up for consumers and give them a voice – and some equal footing – in dealing with banks and lenders.

The CFPB is a lifeguard for families making financial decisions. The CFPB is there when a shark gets us in their jaws through trickery or fraud – coming to the rescue and a chance for justice.

It was the CFPB that uncovered Wells Fargo’s massive effort to defraud consumers by opening fake accounts. Since it began, the CFPB has returned $11.8 billion to more than 29 million consumers defrauded by big banks and financial companies.

The CFPB rescues shark-attack victims; they issue rules that protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices. Rules created by the bureau have prevented foreclosures, reduced racial discrimination in auto lending and stopped abusive debt collection practices.

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Last year, the CFPB began working on a rule to rein in the worst abuses of the payday loan sharks, an industry that traps more than 12 million Americans in a cycle of debt and desperation every year and strips billions of dollars from local communities. People’s Action members submitted more than 100,000 comments in support of a strong rule to the CFPB.

Last week, the CFPB issued a rule that would stop banks and credit card companies from forcing consumers into arbitration, a process rigged in favor of the big banks. Just hours after the CFPB issued its arbitration rule to ensure that consumers who are wronged can go to court to get justice, top Senate Republicans announced an effort to kill the rule.


Whose CHOICE?

In May, Texas Representative Jeb Hensarling, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, introduced the CHOICE Act, a Wall Street dream-come-true. The CHOICE Act would eliminate the CFPB’s ability to examine banks, credit reporting agencies, debt collectors and lenders to ensure they are following the law.

CHOICE would stop the CFPB’s rule on payday lending before it’s even issued. It would repeal the requirement that investment advisers act in the best interest of their clients, and allow banks to charge more for debit cards.

The same sharks that caused a worldwide financial crisis are circling again. They are determined to dismantle as many regulations and protections as they can.

They think they can take the lifeguard off the beach and go back to soaking working families. Consumer advocates, faith leaders and everyday people are standing up and pushing back. We are demanding that our government stand up for families and our financial future.

We are putting the Wall Street sharks on notice: This Shark Week, we are biting back.

~~  Jessica Juarez Scruggs ~~

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