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Body found may be that of missing girl

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 10:05 Published in Local News

The Effingham County state's attorney's office is releasing no information regarding the body discovered last night near where a seven year old girl went missing from her home in Watson, Illinois on Sunday. Authorities and volunteers had been searching for Willow Long when remains were found around 7:30 PM on Monday. There has been no identification of the body and an autopsy is expected to be performed today. According to Fox-2 news, crime scene tape surrounds the little girl's home and the Illinois State Police have assumed control of the investigation. Willow's mother says she was napping when the girl walked out of the house and disappeared.

 

GROUPS RACE TO HIRE, TRAIN 'OBAMACARE' GUIDES

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 09:17 Published in Health & Fitness
CHICAGO (AP) -- With the program known as "Obamacare" only weeks away from its key launch date, hectic preparations are in motion in communities across the country to deal with one of its major practical challenges: hiring and training a small army of instant experts who can explain the intricacies of health insurance to people who've never had it.

More than 100 nonprofits and related organizations, which specialize in everything from running soup kitchens to organizing farm workers, have been recruited by the federal government to sign up "navigators" to help the 30 million uninsured people who can now gain coverage.

Many of the groups have little expertise in health insurance. And the timeline for training the workers is tight. According to the new health law, people can begin shopping among the new policies on Oct. 1. The enrollment period lasts six months. Coverage begins in January.

"I think there's a lot of concern about whether, with all these state requirements, they are going to be ready to go," said Katie Keith, a former research professor at Georgetown University, who has been tracking the heath care legislation. "You want people out there educating consumers."

Deploying the guides for the uninsured is one of the first hurdles for the new health system as it transitions from an abstract political debate in Washington to a real-life process in communities. It is one of the steps government officials are concerned about as critics warn that the Affordable Care Act could become a "train wreck."

The guides will be sent to community events with laptops to help people sign up for insurance online. They will work at food banks, shelters, churches and free clinics where the uninsured are likely to be.

The short time available for training raises questions about how prepared the workers will be to answer people's questions about the different policies and government subsidies available. Community groups received the course materials for the 20-hour training only days ago. Many have just begun to post the openings on job boards.

A small scream came from Tara McCollum Plese when she was asked whether her group, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, has hired any of the 45 workers authorized in its federal grant. "Ack! No," she said Thursday. Her group has posted a job description, she said, and is now flooded with inquiries for the positions, which pay about $15 an hour. She's since heard one worker has been hired.

Not one navigator has been hired yet under the $2 million grant obtained by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The Illinois Eye Institute, which will help with enrollment in the Chicago area, plans to train a dozen staffers for the task.

The work will be more difficult than what most other temporary employees, such as census workers, do. The navigators must listen to a family's real-world story, assess its income, and figure out eligibility for the Medicaid program, which provides health care for the poor, or for new tax credits, each with its own complicated rules.

If the system works as federal officials hope, more than half of the nation's uninsured, which amount to 15 percent of the population, will get coverage.

In Texas, with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, eight groups are receiving a total of $10.8 million and plan to train more than 150 paid workers and volunteers. Tim McKinney, CEO of United Way of Tarrant County, which got the largest grant, said many people without insurance are looking for information.

In Mississippi, workers will go into rural areas without Internet access to help people with the enrollment and policy-shopping process, which is done online.

"When Oct. 1 rolls around, we're going to be ready to rock 'n' roll," said the Rev. Michael O. Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Hernando, Miss.

In 17 states, navigators have additional hoops to jump through because of new state laws affecting the federal health care law, such as required background checks for the workers.

Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have also called on some of the assisting groups to explain how consumers will be protected when they speak with a navigator. The Republicans' letter sets a Sept. 13 deadline for the groups to produce documents.

"This request threw us for a loop quite honestly," said Plese of the Arizona health center group. "We haven't even drawn down any funds from the grant."

Will there be enough time for the hiring and training?

"It has to be enough time," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a consumer health group involved in the training. "We have to do what we have to do."

--- AP writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.

--- AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/CARLAKJOHNSON .

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

TALKING DIPLOMACY IN SYRIA, OBAMA GOES TO CONGRESS

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 08:33 Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — With opposition to military action growing among Americans and lawmakers, President Barack Obama is heading to Congress on Tuesday with fresh hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough that would allow Syria's government to avert U.S. missile strikes if it surrenders its chemical weapons arsenal.

Obama had planned to use the meetings with Democratic and Republican senators to personally lobby for his plan of targeted strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in retaliation for last month's massive chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus. Instead, he signaled in interviews ahead of his trip to Capitol Hill that new diplomacy involving Russia and others could eliminate the risks of a repeat chemical attack without requiring an American intervention.

The president will also address the American people from the White House Tuesday night. Aides said he still planned to press the case for congressionally-approved military action, while also noting potential diplomatic progress.

"The key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don't just trust, but we also verify," Obama told CBS. "The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed."

The dramatic shift in the president's tone came after weeks of threatening tough reprisals on the Assad regime and with his administration facing stiff resistance in Congress to any resolution that would authorize him to use military force against Syria. For the first time Monday, a majority of senators staking out positions or leaning in one direction were expressing opposition, according to an Associated Press survey. The count in the House was far more lopsided, with representatives rejecting Obama's plan by more than a 6-1 margin even as the leaders of both parties in the House professed their support.

The prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough continued to rapid unfold Tuesday, with Syria saying it had accepted Russia's proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said after meeting with Russian parliament speaker that his government quickly agreed to the Russian initiative to "derail the U.S. aggression."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was still awaiting key details of the proposal, but acknowledged that there were signs of potential progress.

"Before this morning, the Syrian government had never even acknowledged they possessed chemical weapons. Now they have," Carney said in an interview on MSNBC.

For the Obama administration, presenting just the possibility of a diplomatic solution offered an "out" with it struggling to come up with the 60 votes needed for Senate passage of a use-of-force resolution. Reflecting the difficulty, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unexpectedly postponed a test vote originally set for Wednesday on Obama's call for legislation explicitly backing a military strike. Reid cited ongoing "international discussions."

Several lawmakers, conflicted by their desire to see Assad punished and their wariness about America getting pulled into another Middle East war, breathed sighs of relief.

Russia, Assad's biggest international backer, championed the path forward in the hope of preventing the instability that might arise from a broader, Iraq-like conflict involving the United States. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is now working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly. Lavrov said that Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said Tuesday he would introduce an amendment to the Senate's Syria resolution that would require international monitors to verify that Syria is complying with the plan and to certify that certain compliance benchmarks be met.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the administration and members of Congress were looking for "some kind of straw" to put off military action, with Congress and the country so opposed.

"There are people that are looking for any way out of this," he said. On the Russian plan, he said: "I doubt that the administration takes it too seriously, but they'll explore it. They have to."

In his interviews, Obama conceded he might lose the vote in Congress and declined to say what he would do if lawmakers rejected him. But, he told CBS, he didn't expect a "succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future," a stunning reversal after days of furious lobbying and dozens of meetings and telephone calls with individual lawmakers.

The resolution would authorize limited military strikes for up to 90 days and expressly forbids U.S. ground troops in Syria for combat operations. Several Democrats and Republicans announced their opposition Monday, joining the growing list of members vowing to vote "no." Fewer came out in support and one previous advocate, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., became an opponent Monday. Lawmakers emerging from a classified briefing late Monday with Secretary of State John Kerry, national security adviser Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration was skeptical of the Russian offer but had not ruled it out. Rice told lawmakers that she had spent two-plus years battling Russia at the United Nations, where Moscow vetoed all resolutions condemning the Assad government.

Obama, who said he discussed the potential plan for Syria to surrender its chemical stockpiles with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, was guarded in his assessment of its chance of success.

"There are a lot of stockpiles inside of Syria," he said. "It's one of the largest in the world. Let's see if they're serious."

But having committed to seeking congressional approval, Obama may have few other immediate options. Unable to confidently push for a vote, and fearful of what the impact of strikes without approval would mean for his final three years in office, diplomacy offers at least a pause for him while he seeks broader support.

Sixty-one percent of Americans want Congress to vote against authorization of U.S. military strikes in Syria, according to an Associated Press poll. About a quarter of Americans want lawmakers to support such action, with the remainder undecided. The poll, taken Sept. 6-8, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Republican hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said concrete steps from Moscow were needed to prove its seriousness, including a binding Security Council resolution at the United Nations.

"The fear is it's a delaying tactic and the Russians are playing us like a fiddle along with Assad," Graham told reporters.

Associated Press writers Julie Pace, David Espo, Alan Fram, Erica Werner and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.

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