Something to Tweet About

Story and pictures by Susan Maxwell Skinner  |  2018-01-17

Dramatic in takeoff, the great egret is one of many avian species likely to be observed during two Bird and Breakfast events at Effie Yeaw Nature Center. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - There’s more to ornithology than binoculars and obliging birds. Add a nature preserve resonant with avian song; throw in an expert docent; garnish with breakfast fit for a kingfisher. You then have the Effie Yeaw Nature Center’s popular spring fundraiser.

“Bird and Breakfast;” will this year be staged on Saturdays March 17 and March 24, at the center’s Ancil Hoffman Park facility.  Reservations are required; the two-event fundraiser sells out every year.  Participants will likely see 40 or more species and no bird gets left behind; Sacramento Audubon guides get as excited about tiny finches as rock-star herons, snowy egrets and – yes, it’s possible – a bald eagle fly-by.

Equally fascinating are home-building habits during the most industrious time of the avian year. Because Audubon scouts locate nests in advance, visitors will likely see wren, hawk, woodpecker and titmice abodes. Higher and harder to spot, some hummingbirds will have nested by March. Nest-watching is enhanced by on-site viewing scopes.

A 27-year spring tradition, the $40 ($35 for American River Natural History Association or Audubon members) safari is followed on March 17 by gourmet breakfast. The March 24 foray is for ages six and up. This family-friendly program invites adults for $10 and children for $5. Discounts apply for ARNHA or Audubon members. Groups are welcome. Carmichael Kiwanis will serve a pancake breakfast on this date.

Silent auctions of bird-related goodies accompany breakfast. Proceeds assist the Nature Center.

Neither weekend excursion is recommended for very young children. Participants should wear stout shoes and bring binoculars. Bird and Breakfast begins at 8 a.m., both days. Learn more about the fundraiser at www.sacnaturecenter.net  

Free Tax Help Available Through United Way

By Kristin Thébaud  |  2018-01-16

Diana Clay of United Way California Capital Region helps a local family prepare taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program led locally by United Way. Photo courtesy United Way

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - Local households throughout the Sacramento region that earned $54,000 or less in 2017 can receive free tax help in person through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) effort led by United Way California Capital Region with support from Citi Community Development. The program will kick off at the first Super Saturday event on Jan. 27 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, where IRS-certified volunteers will provide free basic tax return preparation with electronic filing. For more Super Saturday events and weekday sites available during tax season, call (916) 498-1000 or visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org/FreeTaxPrep. Sacramento residents can call 2-1-1.

“We want to make sure more Sacramento-area households are financially healthy, and that starts with not spending unnecessary money on tax preparation and making sure they receive all of the refunds to which they are entitled,” said Stephanie Bray, United Way California Capital Region president and CEO.   

Through VITA, the national IRS program that offers free help to people who make a limited income and need help preparing their tax returns, local IRS-certified volunteers will help Sacramento-region households claim tax credits, including federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC and Cal EITC), Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. This year, more households are eligible to earn up to $6,500 in federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits, including those who are self-employed. Many Cal EITC-eligible households are not legally required to file taxes due to low income, however if they do file, they can claim the state and federal credits for which they are eligible. Those who file for EITC, Cal EITC or Child Tax Credit should plan for their refund to be delayed until Feb. 27. 

“We want to encourage people to plan ahead for this delay instead of using refund advance products that can end up being very costly in the long run,” Bray said. “And don’t pay a preparer if you qualify for free VITA services. You won’t receive your refund sooner.”

Local households that made $66,000 or less in 2017 can file state and federal taxes online for free at MyFreeTaxes.com, sponsored by United Way Worldwide. The site provides households with free tax help they can trust so they can maximize refunds and credits. As with VITA, the site helps people save an average of $200 in preparer fees, guiding users through federal and state filing with software powered by H&R Block. Users need a valid email address, income forms and Adjusted Gross Income from 2017.

Funding support from Citi Community Development will enable United Way California Capital Region to increase capacity and reach of the local VITA program to meet additional need and demand over the next two years. The funding will help expand the number of sites offering free tax preparation and increase the number of volunteer tax preparers. 

“Nearly 20 percent of households in the Sacramento region are living on low incomes, and nearly half lack the savings to sustain an unexpected shock to income,” said Vicki Joseph, Northern California market manager for Citi Community Development. “By expanding access to free tax preparation services, United Way is enabling more families in need to benefit from this vital tax credit and help build their financial resiliency.”

Other sponsors of United Way’s 2018 free tax preparation programs include U.S. Internal Revenue Service, SAFE Credit Union and SMUD. For a list of collaborating partners, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org/VITA

United Way California Capital Region is leading these free tax preparation programs as part of its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of local students who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. Household financial well-being is a key factor in student success. Through nine decades of work and research across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties, the local United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones for success in college or career. To donate or volunteer, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org

Citi Community Development leads Citi’s commitment to financial inclusion and economic empowerment for underserved individuals, families and communities across the U.S. Through innovative collaborations with municipalities, community groups and leading nonprofit organizations, the group harnesses Citi’s expertise, products and services to help expand opportunity for all. For more information: CitiCommunityDevelopment.com, @Citi on Twitter, YouTube.com/Citihttp://Blog.Citi.comFacebook.com/Citi and LinkedIn.com/company/citi.  

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State Point Media (MPG) - The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that California's adolescent birth rate continues to decline. In 2015, there were 17.6 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19: a 10 percent decline from the 2014 rate of 19.6 and a 62 percent decline from the 2000 rate of 46.7.

"By empowering young people with the knowledge, tools and resources to make healthy choices, California is succeeding in reducing births among adolescents," said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.

The adolescent birth rate decreased across all racial and ethnic groups between 2000 and 2015. During this time, the adolescent birth rate dropped among Hispanics from 77.3 to 27.0, among African-Americans from 59.1 to 19.7, among Whites from 22.3 to 6.9, and among Asians from 15.0 to 2.9.

Despite declining birth rates, racial disparities persist in adolescent childbearing in California. African-American and Hispanic adolescents were three to four times as likely to give birth as White females. Additionally, the adolescent birth rate varies considerably across counties, from a low of 6.7 in Marin County to a high of 43.1 in Del Norte County.

California has a number of programs aimed at preventing adolescent pregnancy and improving pregnancy outcomes among young women. CDPH funds the Information and Education Program, the Personal Responsibility Education Program authorized through the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and the Adolescent Family Life Program for expectant and parenting adolescents. Also, the state provides no-cost family planning services to eligible men and women, including adolescents, through the Family PACT Program.

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‘Individual Ownership’ Model Fuels Local Economy

Sacramento County, CA (MPG) - More than 110,000 consumers over the past year chose to become members of a local credit union headquartered in Sacramento County as of Sept. 30, 2017 (third quarter), according to the 3rd Quarter Credit Union Trends Report for Sacramento County.

Sacramento County now boasts 1.35 million individuals who are “member-owners” of 10 locally headquartered credit unions — a record high (the last historical peak was 1.05 million in 2009). Each person owns an equal share of his or her respective credit union, with all profits reinvested to benefit every member in the form of better interest rates and lower or no fees.

How these credit union members are spending their money on homes, remodeling projects, new and used automobiles, higher education, surviving life events, and other big-purchase items provides a key barometer into what’s happening across the local economy.

This news release reflects year-over-year trends in local loans and deposits and is published by the Ontario, CA-based California Credit Union League. Local consumers who are members of Sacramento County-based credit unions continue taking on first-mortgages to purchase or refinance homes. First-mortgages rose 11 percent, hitting a record $3.96 billion. (This may include fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, purchase, traditional refinance, and cash-out refinance mortgages). They are turning home equity into cash for remodeling or other large purchases. Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) and second-mortgages combined increased 5 percent, reaching $557 million — an amount not seen since 2015.

Credit union members have slid into the driver’s seat of a newer car or truck more often. New auto loans rose 31 percent, hitting a record $3.6 billion. Used auto loans rose 22 percent, hitting a record $3 billion.They remain true to the habit of paying for life through credit cards. Credit card lending increased 6 percent, hitting a record $628 million.

Members are also trying to save more money and increasingly using credit unions to transact purchases/bill-pay. Total deposits rose 9 percent, hitting a record $15.1 billion (including record individual amounts in checking, savings and money market accounts).

“These credit union trends will continue as long as the economy continues to perform well,” said Dwight Johnston, chief economist for the California Credit Union League.

He noted some areas of concern. Employers are having increasing difficulty finding workers in a tight labor market, which will limit economic growth “to some degree.” He also has concerns the economy may start running out of steam by late 2018. Consumer spending might be “good” by then, but its growth rate could still disappoint. If Wall Street reacts negatively to consumer spending numbers versus expectations, businesses could somewhat pull back on spending and hiring plans.

However, “There is nothing that suggests an economic slowdown is imminent, which makes the overall picture for credit unions bright,” Johnston said. “In fact, the business-skewed tax bill Congress recently passed should accelerate economic growth through at least the third quarter of this year.”

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As travel demand decreases after a busy holiday travel season, prices at the pump should decrease as well

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - Californians will kick off 2018 with the most expensive gas to begin a year since 2014, according to AAA, but prices are expected to fall in coming weeks as travel demand subsides after a busy holiday travel season.

At $3.10, California’s average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline today is 33 cents more than drivers paid in January, 2017. At nearly $3.23 per gallon, San Francisco residents are paying the highest prices for gas in Northern California -- 3 cents more than motorists in South Lake Tahoe, which normally tops the charts for the region.

“Last year was a historic travel season, with AAA forecasting record travel numbers for nearly every holiday, but prices historically will drop after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve,” said Michael Blasky, a spokesman for AAA Northern California. “Californians today are paying about 60 cents more than the national average, which AAA attributes to the state’s strong economy, higher taxes on gasoline and stricter environmental regulations."

The last time Californians started a year paying more than $3 for gas was in 2014, when the average price in January of that year was $3.62. Gas prices rose above $4 that summer.

Still, January prices don't always indicate how prices will move throughout a year. Motorists in California paid just $2.55 for regular unleaded gas to begin 2015, but by May were paying above $3.70 per gallon.

Oil prices were more stable in 2017, with prices for a barrel hovering around $50 much of the year. Prices rose late in the year and began 2018 over $60 a barrel, a 2-year high. 

“With global oil producers trying to scale back their production, supply could drop while demand for energy remains high,” Blasky said. “If they’re successful in cutting back oil production, gasoline prices will likely rise as well to meet the demand.”

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CDPH Offers Free Radon Test Kits

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - January is National Radon Action Month and the cold winter months are the best time to test for this odorless and colorless gas. CDPH is offering free test kits to households in California throughout the month of January, or until supplies run out.

Radon, a naturally occurring gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


“Testing for radon in your home is a simple process,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “Taking steps for remediation, if needed, can be critical for indoor air quality, and improving the safety of your home.”

The kits are provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s State Indoor Radon Grant fund, and are limited to one free test kit per household. The aggregated information from the test results will be used to update statewide Radon Potential Maps, which show the likelihood of radon in a specific region.

Test kits can be ordered through the CDPH Indoor Radon Program webpage or by calling the program toll-free at 1-800-745-7236. Options for remediation of radon in the home are available at the CDPH Indoor Radon Program.

Additional information about National Radon Action Month is available on the EPA National Radon Action Month website at www.epa.gov/radon/national-radon-action-month-information

Source: www.cdph.ca.gov

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Thera-poodle at work

Words and pictures by Susan Maxwell Skinner  |  2018-01-12

Open wide. Dr. Rasi and Sir Winston demonstrate examination etiquette for two-year-old patient Lillian Kavanagh. Mom Angela and dental technician Lindsay LaMantain (right) look on. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

Sir Winston interns at Carmichael Dentistry

Carmichael, CA (MPG) - Carmichael Chamber of Commerce president Gabrielle Rasi and her staff have the glorious smiles of dental professionals. From one employee, however, flashes a bonus grin. Poodle Sir Winston Churchill’s white canines are truly canine. “I brush his teeth every day,” says Dr. Rasi. “Puppy breath is lovely. Doggie breath isn’t. That can mean dental disease.”

Sweet-breathed Winston has critical employment in Rasi’s Coyle Avenue dentistry. Salaried with love and treats, the three-year-old is comforter-in-training. “People are sometimes stressed at the dentist,” explains Rasi. “Winston’s still working for his therapy diploma, but he already helps anxious patients. He leans against them or puts his head in their laps. He’s a big, fluffy, teddy bear.”

Named for the legendary British Prime Minister, the doggie diplomat is latest in a series of pooches at the practice. Rasi is married to fellow dentist Dr. Kevin Tanner and for 13 years, the couple’s Labrador Hudson welcomed patients to Rasi’s surgery. When Hudson retired, poodle Lola succeeded him. Eventually, when Lola followed Hudson to doggie heaven, Rasi and Turner adopted Winston. “Standard poodles are smart,” she explains. “They’re also hypo-allergic. They don’t shed or affect people with allergies. They love and protect.”

Sir Winston started therapy internship at two years old. All Stage Canine Development consultant Miranda Viani regularly schools the wooly student. Beyond nursing-home visits, dog and trainer haunt busy places to desensitize the intern among moving objects and loud noise. “He still gets excited when he sees kids,” notes his trainer. “He’s learning the difference between play time and work time.”

“Winston lives for love,” observes Rasi. “He just can’t get enough of kids. We recently had a three-year-old who was scared and crying when she arrived for her examination. Soon as she saw Winston, she started laughing and petting his poufy head. With a loving friend beside her, she knew no one would harm her.”

Winston’s meal breaks are supplied from his own shelf in the office fridge. He heads purposefully for patio doors to indicate bathroom needs. “He sits outside my examination room door when I’m working,” says his boss. “He knows he’s not allowed in during procedures. But he’s ready to spoil people with love as they leave. My patients ask for Sir Winston by name. Some visit – without appointments – just to bring him treats or toys. He shakes hands. He takes center-stage in the lobby. Without Winston, work would be much less fun.”

“He’s also king of the castle at home,” confirms Rasi.  “He knows when it’s Saturday and he sleeps in with us. When I get up Monday morning, he waits for me at the garage door. If I tell him he must stay home – sometimes I have meetings he can’t attend -- I feel I’ve ruined his whole day.”

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Average residential customer bill will be reduced by $1.20

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - SMUD has removed the state-mandated SB-1 solar surcharge from all customer bills. Part of Governor Schwarzenegger’s “Million Solar Roofs Initiative,” the surcharge—currently equal to $0.0016 per kilowatt-hour of electricity usage or about $1.20 on an average SMUD customer monthly bill—was initiated in 2008.

Funds from the surcharge were used to help develop residential and commercial solar capacity throughout SMUD’s territory. Overall, the funds will have helped build approximately 125 megawatts of solar generation over the last ten years. This includes incentives for residential and commercial customer solar installations, Smart Home developments, and SolarShares™ developments. A recent example of how these funds were used is the $1.4 million awarded to the Sacramento International Airport to support their installation of two new solar arrays totaling 6.8 megawatts in capacity. The arrays produce enough electricity to handle approximately one-third of the airport’s power needs, saving the airport approximately $850,000 in energy costs each year.

Per the state mandate, the SB-1 solar surcharge was in effect until SMUD had collected $130 million. SMUD reached that cap in late December and immediately removed the surcharge. SMUD has disbursed approximately $125 million of these funds to date and will disburse the remaining funds by the end of 2020.

Per earlier approval by SMUD’s Board of Directors of the Chief Executive Officer & General Manager’s Report & Recommendation on Rates and Services, a rate increase of 1.5 percent for all residential customers and 1 percent for all business customers took effect on January 1, 2018. With the removal of the SB-1 solar surcharge, the average residential customer using 750 kilowatt-hours per month of electricity will now see an average net increase of about $0.42 per month ($1.62 average increase due to the rate increase less an average $1.20 SB-1 solar surcharge). Removing the surcharge from business customer bills will, on average, offset the entire 1 percent rate increase.

For more information about SB-1, visit energy.ca.gov/sb1. For more information about SMUD’s rates, visit smud.org/RateInfo.

Source: SMUD Media

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Sacramento, CA (MPG) - The Housing Authority of the County of Sacramento will open the wait list for the Housing Choice Voucher program on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. until Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 11:59 p.m.

Applicants can use any device with internet access to complete the application at www.sacwaitlist.com.

There is no cost to apply for housing and a credit report is not needed to apply. However, Sacramento Housing Authority officials caution applicants not to use any other website to apply for the wait list. A number of websites charge fees to submit an application and may require personal information such as social security numbers or debit/credit card information to apply for assistance. This is a scam and could lead to possible identity theft. Housing Authority officials advise that the best way to find the correct website to fill out the application is to typewww.sacwaitlist.com directly into the website address bar usually located at the top left of the browser on the computer screen.

The application submission process is supported in the following browsers: Google Chrome, FireFox, and Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and Safari. The application can be completed using iPhone, Android and iPad mobile devices.

Wait list preferences are given to families who are homeless or rent burdened, have a family member who is a veteran, have a family member who is disabled, and who live or work in Sacramento County.

A confirmation receipt is issued immediately after the application is submitted.

A total of 7,000 applicants will be placed on the wait list through random selection after the wait list has closed. For more information, go to www.shra.org. Under the Find Housing tab, select Housing Choice Voucher Program.

The Housing Authority of the County of Sacramento’s housing programs serve very low income families and individuals. Eligible families will receive rental assistance as funds are available. Criminal background checks are conducted on all adults applying for housing.

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