In its lame duck session last month, Congress tucked a sleeper section into its 4,000-page omnibus spending bill. The controversial Financial Data Transparency Act (FDTA) swiftly came out of nowhere to become federal law over the vocal but powerless objections of the state and local government finance community. Its impact on thousands of cities, counties and school districts will be a buzzy topic at conferences all this year and beyond. Meanwhile, software companies will be staking claims in a digital land rush.
The central idea behind the FDTA is that public-sector organizations’ financial data should be readily available for online search and standardized downloading, using common file formats. Think of it as “an http protocol for financial data” that enables an investor, analyst, taxpayer watchdog, constituent or journalist to quickly retrieve key financial information and compare it with other numbers using common data fields. Presently, online users of state and local government financial data must rely primarily on text documents, often in PDF format, that don’t lend themselves to convenient data analysis and comparisons. Financial statements are typically published long after the fiscal year’s end, and the widespread online availability of current and timely data is still a faraway concept.
So far, so good. But the devil is in the details. The first question is just what kind of information will be required in this new system, and when. Most would agree that a complete download of every byte of data now formatted in voluminous governmental financial reports and their notes is overwhelming, unnecessary and burdensome. Thus, a far more incremental and focused approach is a wiser path. For starters, it may be helpful to keep the initial data requirements skeletal and focus initially on a dozen or more vital fiscal data points that are most important to financial statement users. Then, after that foundation is laid, the public finance industry can build out. Of course, this will require that regulators buy into a sensible implementation plan.
The debate over information content requirements should focus first on “decision-useful information.” Having served briefly two decades ago as a voting member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), contributing my professional background as a chartered financial analyst, I can attest that almost every one of their meetings included a board member reminding others that required financial statement information should be decision-useful. A key question, of course, is “useful to whom?”
Two million people struck or marched in protests yesterday called by union federations against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension cuts. Polls show around 80 percent of the population oppose the cuts, which would increase the minimum retirement age to 64 with a minimum pay-in period of 43 years. Strike calls were widely followed by rail and mass transit workers, school staff, and electricity and refinery workers, and 200 protest marches were held in cities across France.
Trade unions reported that 400,000 people marched in Paris, 140,000 in Marseille, 38,000 in Lyon, 60,000 in Bordeaux, 50,000 in Toulouse and Lille, 55,000 in Nantes and 35,000 in Strasbourg. Moreover, many smaller cities saw large turnouts that surprised police authorities. There were 25,000 in Orléans, 21,000 in Le Mans, 20,000 in Nice, 19,000 in Clermont-Ferrand, 15,000 in Tours, 13,000 in Pau, 10,000 in Chartres, 9,000 in Angoulême and 8,000 in Châteauroux.
A total of 38,824 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2020, 2,570 (7.1%) more than forecast from models developed using data from 2011 through 2019 (Figure). In April 2020—the first full month of the pandemic—the number of fatalities was much lower than what would have been expected based on pre-pandemic trends. By May 2020, however, the actual number of fatalities was similar to historical levels. The number of fatalities greatly exceeded forecasts based on pre-pandemic trends for the remainder of 2020. In May through December collectively, there were a total of 28,611 traffic fatalities nationwide, which was 3,083 (12.1%) more than expected based on pre-pandemic trends.
The increase in traffic fatalities was not uniform across crash-, vehicle-, and driver-related factors. Scenarios present in greater than expected numbers in fatal crashes in 2020 included evening and late-night hours, speeding drivers, drivers with illegal alcohol levels, drivers without valid licenses, drivers of older vehicles, drivers of vehicles registered to other people, crash involvement and deaths of teens and young adults, and deaths of vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts. In contrast, several crash types followed pre-pandemic trends (e.g., crashes in the middle of the day; crash involvements of drivers with valid licenses; pedestrian fatalities), and a few decreased (e.g., crashes of elderly drivers; crashes during typical morning commute hours).
Question How many cases of COVID-19 in the US have occurred among people experiencing homelessness?
Findings In this cross-sectional study of 64 US jurisdictional health departments, 26 349 cases of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness were reported at the state level and 20 487 at the local level. The annual incidence rate of COVID-19 was lower among people experiencing homelessness than in the general population at state and local levels.
Meaning The findings suggest that incorporating housing and homelessness status in infectious disease surveillance may improve understanding of the burden of infectious diseases among disproportionately affected groups and aid public health decision-making.
Author(s): Ashley A. Meehan, MPH1; Isabel Thomas, MPH1,2; Libby Horter, MPH1,3; et al
It is essential that we stick to our statutory goals and authorities, and that we resist the temptation to broaden our scope to address other important social issues of the day.4 Taking on new goals, however worthy, without a clear statutory mandate would undermine the case for our independence.
In the area of bank regulation, too, the Fed has a degree of independence, as do the other federal bank regulators. Independence in this area helps ensure that the public can be confident that our supervisory decisions are not influenced by political considerations.5 Today, some analysts ask whether incorporating into bank supervision the perceived risks associated with climate change is appropriate, wise, and consistent with our existing mandates.
Addressing climate change seems likely to require policies that would have significant distributional and other effects on companies, industries, regions, and nations. Decisions about policies to directly address climate change should be made by the elected branches of government and thus reflect the public’s will as expressed through elections.
At the same time, in my view, the Fed does have narrow, but important, responsibilities regarding climate-related financial risks. These responsibilities are tightly linked to our responsibilities for bank supervision.6 The public reasonably expects supervisors to require that banks understand, and appropriately manage, their material risks, including the financial risks of climate change.
Central Bank Independence: “Price stability is the bedrock of a healthy economy and provides the public with immeasurable benefits over time. But restoring price stability when inflation is high can require measures that are not popular in the short term as we raise interest rates to slow the economy. The absence of direct political control over our decisions allows us to take these necessary measures without considering short-term political factors.”
New Goals: “Taking on new goals, however worthy, without a clear statutory mandate would undermine the case for our independence.”
Stick to Mandates: “It is essential that we stick to our statutory goals and authorities, and that we resist the temptation to broaden our scope to address other important social issues of the day.”
Climate Change: “Without explicit congressional legislation, it would be inappropriate for us to use our monetary policy or supervisory tools to promote a greener economy or to achieve other climate-based goals. We are not, and will not be, a ‘climate policymaker.‘”
At HCA Healthcare, the world’s largest for-profit hospital system, volunteers includeaspiring medical providers who work in patient rooms, in labs, and in wound care units, according to the company’s magazine.
Over centuries, leaning on volunteers in medicine has become so embedded in hospital culture that studies show they yield meaningful cost savings and can improve patient satisfaction — seemingly a win-win for hospital systems and the public.
Except, there’s a catch.
The U.S. health system benefits from potentially more than $5 billion in free volunteer labor annually, a KHN analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Independent Sector found. Yet some labor experts argue that using hospital volunteers, particularly at for-profit institutions, provides an opportunity for facilities to run afoul of federal rules, create exploitative arrangements, and deprive employees of paid work amid a larger fight for fair wages.
The federal government instructs that any person performing a task of “consequential economic benefit” for a for-profit entity is entitled to wages and overtime pay. That means profit-generating businesses, like banks and grocery stores, must pay for labor. A Chick-fil-A franchise in North Carolina was recently found guilty of violating minimum wage laws after paying people in meal vouchers instead of wages to direct traffic, according to a Department of Labor citation.