Tag Archives: obama administration

Mara Aspinal - 50 Most Influential Women in AZ Business

Mara Aspinal – 50 Most Influential Women in Arizona Business

Mara AspinalPresident and CEO, Ventana Medical Systems

Aspinal, who holds an MBA from Harvard, joined Ventana as president and CEO in 2011. She founded the European Personalized Medicine Association and advised the Obama and Bush administrations on diagnostics and genomics.

Surprising fact: “I will attend any live sporting event – from baseball to rodeo – any chance I get.”

Biggest challenge: “My approach to my first leadership role in manufacturing was that I asked lots of questions, studied our business vs. competitors and put a strong team in place. In three years, we turned the business around and had the industry’s best profit margins. The lesson for me is not to be afraid of new challenges, take the time to learn and then trust the data alongside your gut.”

Fifty Most Influential Women in Arizona Business – Every year in its July/August issue Arizona Business Magazine features 50 women who make an impact on Arizona business. To see the full list, read the digital issue >>

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Delay on ACA mandates was unavoidable

With the announcement from the Obama administration regarding the delay of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandates, business owners took a slight sigh of relief heading into the Fourth of July weekend.  In the announcement made on the U.S. Treasury’s website, the “concerns about the complexities” was cited as a reason for delay.  A vast number of businesses do not have the resources, or the understanding of the intricacies of the guidance, to meet the deadline of 2014.

The administration underestimated the financial burden that the reporting requirements would place on employers, insurers and the entities receiving those reports. Furthermore the Health and Human Services, the DOL and the IRS have been unable to effectively manage or provide realistic, timely guidance for employers.  The business community has been voicing their discontentment for quite some time and, as the 2014 deadline looms closer, those voices become louder.

There are several factors at work that made this delay unavoidable. The federal government did not anticipate the number of states that would opt for a federally run exchange.  By adding the employer mandates and tracking requirements on top of implementing the exchanges, it all became too much of burden under the proposed timeline.  This does shift the focus from the employers to the individual mandate but with this huge concession it leaves room to wonder what else will be delayed.  The announcement also referenced streamlining the reporting and alleviating requirements for employer groups that meet compliance standards.

Many employer groups have invested dearly in trying to prepare their businesses to meet the convoluted guidance that has been released thus far and, although relieved for the extension and hope of simpler requirements, this delay can add to the frustration caused by the legislation and the far-reaching implications. The lack of final guidelines has left many employers to guess what to do next and puts vendors, who are developing technology to assist businesses, in a position to make assumptions that could be costly and create unnecessary work for employers.  This reprieve gives everyone – including policy makers – an opportunity to take a much-needed step back.

The question remains how this will ultimately affect the life span of reform and the impact on the Obama administration, and what the inadvertent consequences will be from this decision.  It is difficult to say if this will be a win or lose.  On one hand, they are counting on favor from business owners due to the sympathetic, “careful, thoughtful” ear they have given them regarding implementation of the requirements.

Others will argue that this is the beginning of the end and will give critics new ammunition to attack the legislation, picking it apart piece by piece.  In light of this development it will be interesting to see what the final guidance will reveal and the national reaction to such an announcement.  The Administration will continue to communicate the need for reform as it is the cornerstone of Obama’s presidential legacy but, more than likely, this delay will fuel criticism that is already strong for the repeal of reform.  Some unintentional results could include employers not expanding coverage to employees not currently benefit eligible but also may keep employees’ hours from being cut.

Some employers, in order to avoid penalties, were cutting a majority of their hourly employees to below 30 hours a week.  At 30 hours a week, an employee is considered full time under the mandate and penalties can be assessed on those employees.  This also stands to have a bearing on Medicaid expansion, and sheds doubt on the assurances that have continued to flow from the White House that everything is on track, a statement made as recently as June.  And one cannot help but raise questions about the timing as it relates to mid-term elections.

 

Shay Bierly is the director of client services for MJ Insurance and its Employee Benefits division in Phoenix.

Grand Canyon - AZ Business Magazine Mar/Apr 2011

Judge Upholds Mining Ban Near Canyon

U.S. District Judge David Campbell late yesterday denied a uranium industry motion to overturn the Obama administration’s ban on new uranium mining on 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon. The ban was adopted January 2012 to protect the Grand Canyon’s watersheds. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and development on old claims that lack “valid existing rights” to mine.

“It’s a great day for the Grand Canyon, and for rivers, wildlife, and communities across the West,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, one the attorneys representing conservation groups and the Havasupai tribe in the case. “The uranium industry was hoping to cripple the Interior Department’s ability to temporarily protect lands from destructive mining. Today’s opinion upholds the Interior Department’s authority to take such protective measures.”

The National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, Northwest Mining Association and others last year filed four lawsuits challenging the withdrawal and the underlying federal authority to enact any withdrawals larger than 5,000 acres. The Havasupai tribe and conservation groups intervened to uphold both.

“Today’s decision upheld the government’s important role in preventing private profiteers from poisoning public lands under the authority of an antiquated mining law,” said Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark. “We look forward to the court’s upholding of other federal responsibilities to protect the Grand Canyon.”

Judge Campbell denied industry’s motion to overturn the withdrawal and the underlying federal authority to enact withdrawals larger than 5,000 acres. The industry groups had claimed that the presence of an unconstitutional legislative veto in the subsection that contains the Interior Secretary’s authority to withdraw land parcels larger than 5,000 acres means that the Interior Secretary had no authority at all to withdraw such lands. The judge ruled — as the government, Havasupai tribe and conservation groups had argued — that the unconstitutional veto provision could be “severed” from the law without affecting the Grand Canyon’s watershed withdrawal or the Interior Department’s general authority to protect such lands.

“Today’s ruling protects not only the Grand Canyon’s watershed, but millions of acres of other public land that have been withdrawn to protect natural values from destructive mining,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By upholding the federal withdrawal authority, today’s ruling is good news for public lands, water and wildlife.”

If successful, the uranium industry’s argument would have eliminated the Interior Secretary’s authority to protect large tracts of public lands from mining. Over the last five years, the secretary has used his authority to “withdraw” areas greater than 5,000 acres for up to 20 years to protect lands all across the West. Examples include nearly a half-million acres within national wildlife refuges; habitat for desert tortoises and pronghorns as well as archeological treasures in Nevada; habitat protecting the largest wintering Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd in North America (on Wyoming’s Whiskey Mountain); recreational areas in Washington and Wyoming; forests in Oregon; and special features like the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

“Currently, there are limited tools to protect sensitive public lands and wildlife from harmful uranium mining — this is one of them,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Today’s decision will mean the Grand Canyon watershed and other withdrawn lands throughout the West will continue to be protected from new mining claims.”

The court’s decision does not end the four industry lawsuits challenging the Grand Canyon mineral withdrawal decision. Industry can still raise arguments that Interior Secretary Salazar failed to properly consider environmental and economic impacts of the withdrawal. Those issues are likely to be briefed this spring.

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Housing Indicators Show Sustained Progress in Home Prices

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury released the August edition of the Obama Administration’s Housing Scorecard – a comprehensive report on the nation’s housing market. Data continues to show signs that the housing market is strengthening – as home price improvements in the first half of this year have helped lift 1.3 million families above water – although officials caution that the overall recovery remains fragile. The full Housing Scorecard is available online at www.hud.gov/scorecard.

“The Obama Administration’s efforts to speed housing recovery are showing clear signs of traction as the scorecard indicators highlight market momentum not seen since before the housing crisis,” said HUD Acting Assistant Secretary Erika Poethig. “With median sales prices the highest they’ve been since the earliest months of the Administration, underwater borrowers down by 11 percent since the end of last year and more than half a million refinances through our enhanced Home Affordable Refinance Program so far this year, it is clear that we’re making progress.  But with so many households still struggling to make ends meet, we have important work ahead. That is why we are asking the Congress to approve the President’s refinancing proposal so that more homeowners can receive assistance.”

Also featured this month in the Administration’s Making Home Affordable Program Report are detailed assessments for the largest mortgage servicers participating in the program with results from the second quarter of 2012. The Servicer Assessments – first introduced in June 2011 and published quarterly – have set a new standard for disclosure around servicer efforts to assist struggling homeowners.

“The Making Home Affordable Program has established critical standards that have changed the way the mortgage industry does business, leading to relief for millions of struggling homeowners,” said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. “By shining a spotlight on individual servicer performance in key areas, and requiring improvements through our compliance process, the nation’s largest mortgage servicers are fixing their processes while being held publicly accountable.”
The August Housing Scorecard features key data on the health of the housing market and the impact of the Administration’s foreclosure prevention programs, including:

The Administration’s foreclosure programs are providing relief for millions of homeowners as we continue to recover from an unprecedented housing crisis.  More than 1.2 million homeowner assistance actions have taken place through the Making Home Affordable Program, while the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has offered more than 1.4 million loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions. The Administration’s programs continue to encourage improved standards and processes in the industry, with HOPE Now lenders offering families and individuals more than three million proprietary mortgage modifications through July.

Homeowners entering HAMP continue to benefit from deep and sustainable assistance. As of July, more than one million homeowners have received a permanent HAMP modification, saving approximately $538 on their mortgage payments each month, and an estimated $14.4 billion to date. In July, 77 percent of homeowners with eligible non-GSE mortgages benefitted from principal reduction with their HAMP modification. Eighty-seven percent of homeowners entering the program in the last two years have received a permanent modification. View the Making Home Affordable Program Report with data through July 2012.

Since inception of the Making Home Affordable Program, Treasury has required participating servicers to take specific actions to improve their processes through ongoing program reviews. The latest Servicer Assessments summarize performance on metrics in three categories of program implementation: identifying and contacting homeowners; homeowner evaluation and assistance; and program reporting, management and governance. Results for the second quarter of 2012 show that servicers are focusing attention on areas identified in previous program reviews and, as a result, are demonstrating significant improvement in program implementation:

Mortgage servicers show continued improvement in calculating homeowner income, which is used to determine a homeowner’s eligibility and modified payment amount under the program.  In the second quarter, the average income calculation error rate for the top servicers fell below two percent and two servicers had zero percent error rates.
Servicers are more effectively evaluating homeowners under program eligibility criteria as seen in the “second look disagree” category, which reflects the rate at which Treasury’s program reviews disagree with the servicers’ decision to find a homeowner ineligible for assistance.  In the second quarter, the average second look disagree percentage for the top servicers remained below one percent with two servicers having a zero percent disagree rate for the quarter.

For the second quarter of 2012, two servicers were found to need only minor improvement on the areas reviewed for program performance, while seven servicers were found to need moderate improvement.  Although servicer performance in a particular compliance category can fluctuate from quarter to quarter, in general, servicers continue to show overall improvement.  All servicers, however, will need to continue to demonstrate progress in areas identified in follow-up program reviews.

arizona immigration law

High Court Rejects Part Of Arizona Immigration Law

A ruling came down from the Supreme Court regarding Arizona immigration law, but more decisions likely remain.

The Supreme Court threw out key provisions of Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants Monday but said a much-debated portion could go forward on checking the status of suspects who might appear to be in the U.S. illegally.

The court upheld the “show me your papers” requirement that police check suspects’ immigration status. Even there, though, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges, and they removed some teeth by prohibiting officers from arresting people on immigration charges.

“The Court’s decision today is not likely to cool the immigration debate that continues to rage,” said Pavneet Uppal, managing partner, Fisher & Phillips in Phoenix. “The rise in state immigration law enactment has been the product of what the states perceive is the lack of action by the federal government to secure the country’s borders and engage in comprehensive immigration reform.  The patchwork quilt nature of state immigration laws will continue to play an important role in the day-to-day operation of businesses despite the parameters and restrictions established by this decision.”

The Obama administration had assailed the Arizona law as an unconstitutional intrusion into an area under Washington’s control, and the court struck down provisions that would have made state crimes out of federal immigration violations.

But several lawmakers and civil rights groups said the part of the law left in place by the high court was an invitation to racial profiling.

The court announced that Thursday would be the last day of rulings this term, which means the decision on President Barack Obama’s landmark health care overhaul probably will come that day.

The Arizona decision landed in the middle of a presidential campaign in which Obama has been heavily courting Latino voters and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has been struggling to win Latino support. During a drawn-out primary campaign, Romney and the other GOP candidates mostly embraced a hard line on illegal immigrants, though Romney has lately taken a softer tone.

Romney did not immediately comment on the court decision Monday, but he said, “I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.”

In Monday’s decision, the court was unanimous on allowing the immigration status check to go forward. The justices were divided on striking down the other portions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law could — and suggested it should — be read to avoid concerns that status checks could lead to prolonged detention.

The court struck down these three major provisions: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the ruling marked a victory for people who believe in the responsibility of states to defend their residents. The case, she said, “has always been about our support for the rule of law. That means every law, including those against both illegal immigration and racial profiling. Law enforcement will be held accountable should this statute be misused in a fashion that violates an individual’s civil rights.”

Civil rights groups that separately challenged the law over concerns that it would lead to rights abuses said their lawsuit would go on.

Even with the limitations the high court put on Arizona, the immigration status check still is “an invitation to racial profiling,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Omar Jadwat.

The Obama administration sued to block the Arizona law soon after its enactment two years ago. Federal courts had refused to let the four key provisions take effect.

Five states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — have adopted variations on Arizona’s law. Parts of those laws also are on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined all of Kennedy’s opinion.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would have allowed all the challenged provisions to take effect. Justice Samuel Alito would have allowed police to arrest undocumented immigrants who seek work, and also make arrests without warrants.

Scalia, in comments from the bench, caustically described Obama’s recently announced plans to ease deportation rules for some children of illegal immigrants.

“The president said at a news conference that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’ failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind,” Scalia said.

The Arizona case focused on whether states can adopt their own measures to deal with an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the face of federal inaction on comprehensive reform, or whether the federal government has almost exclusive authority in that area.

Kennedy wrote obliquely about the impasse at the national level.

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” Kennedy said.

Justice Elena Kagan sat out the case because of her work in the Obama administration.

For more information on Arizona Immigration law, visit Arizona State’s website at az.gov.

Credit Unions Big Boose to Small Business - AZ Business Magazine September/October 2011

Credit Unions Could Be A Big Boost To Small Business

Every week while driving to work I notice an increasing number of empty store fronts. A local restaurant, boutique or consulting firm that was there last week, is no longer there today. It makes me wonder how many of those local small businesses could have survived had they applied and been approved for a small business loan at credit unions.

According to the Arizona Small Business Association, there were just about 381,000 small businesses in Arizona in 2008. Think about how many more small businesses there could be if Arizona’s 49 credit unions had the ability to increase their business lending and offer new business loans.

Think about how many jobs that could create. Now think about the potential positive impact that could have on our economy.

Eighteen Arizona credit unions, about a third in the state, provide member business loans.

However, the current statutory cap is set at 12.25 percent of assets.

Many credit unions have refrained from entering the business lending arena because the 12.25 percent cap prevents them from earning sufficient income to cover the cost of starting up and maintaining a business lending portfolio.

Legislation in the Senate, S 509, has been introduced by Sens. Mark Udall  (D-Colo.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.);  and on the House side, HR 1418 introduced by Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.). If passed, both bills would increase the business lending cap to 27.5 percent of current assets.

If enacted, legislation raising the current statutory cap of credit union small business lending (from the current 12.25 percent of assets to 27.5 percent of assets) could result in $13 billion in new lending and 140,000 new jobs in just the first year nationwide and $144 million in new lending and 1,600 new jobs in Arizona, according to Credit Union National Association estimates.

“We hear from business owners all the time that have solid plans and want to grow, but the big banks won’t even talk to them,” says Paul B. Stull, senior vice president Strategy & Brand for Arizona State Credit Union. “Increasing credit unions ability to lend to these businesses is needed now more than ever. We can get the economy moving again, but the current economic gridlock is holding us back.

“Local financial institutions, like credit unions, know our markets very well. We understand Arizona and we know how to make Arizona loans for Arizona people.”

The unique benefit to this legislation is no U.S. taxpayer dollars would be needed; nor would any new government programs need to be created.

When other lenders pulled back during the financial crisis, credit unions stepped up to the plate and continued to lend. And even though credit unions are the only financial institution imposed with a statutory cap, member business loans have grown 3 percent in Arizona over the past year, compared with other financial institutions which have decreased an average of 7 percent. Many credit unions, however, may soon be approaching the statutory cap of 12.25 percent of current assets.

The average credit union small business loan in Arizona is $220,000; these are indeed loans to small businesses. With so many local small businesses struggling, these loans are increasingly necessary to support our local economy so it can once again thrive.

With less than 2 percent of the market, it’s important to note that credit unions pose no threat to commercial banks. Small businesses are often turned away from commercial banks because they are too small. This is where credit unions have the ability to fill in the gap.

Credit unions have a long history and good track record with their members of making small business loans, and making them prudently.

Since 1997 the net charge off rate for credit union small business loans in Arizona has been roughly one-fourth the average of other financial institutions (0.23 percent vs. 0.93 percent), and in 2011 averaged 70 percent of other financial institutions (0.91 percent vs. 1.29 percent).

Treasury, Obama Administration and our federal regulator, the National Credit Union Administration, are all in favor of this legislation.  Those standing in the way are only impeding a path to sustain the growth of local economies by supporting small businesses and the jobs that they bring to our communities.

“Arizona needs jobs, businesses need loans to grow and now is the time for Congress to increase credit unions ability to meet those needs,” Stull says. “This is a quick fix to create jobs at no cost to the taxpayer. We are asking Congress to prove their commitment to growing jobs and this is one piece of legislation that does just that.”

For more information about credit unions, visit www.azstcu.org.

 

Arizona Business Magazine September/October 2011