By Diana Setterberg, MSU News Service

Microbes and bacteria and biofilms – oh my! Though most of us go about our daily business without thinking much of the invisible lifeforms that exist all around us, Montana State University assistant professor Chelsea Heveran is looking for ways to use them to meet sustainability challenges in the building industry.

The journal Matter recently published a paper by Heveran, who teaches in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. She is the lead author of “Make engineered living materials carry their weight,” which she calls a “perspective piece” exploring the concept of incorporating engineered living materials, or ELMs, into building materials to significantly reduce carbon emissions and environmental costs during manufacture of things like concrete and cement.

The multi-disciplinary team has been awarded a $3 million Future Research Manufacturing Research grant from the National Science Foundation

“We want to use the functionalities of living cells to help make building materials more sustainable,” Heveran said. The article states that manufacturing the materials used in structures accounts for more than 25% of global carbon emissions, and that one way to reduce the impact is to replace some of their traditional components with materials made by, or including, microbes. Already, one Colorado company is manufacturing light-duty cinder blocks with a mineral formed from photosynthetic algae through a method requiring far less carbon than traditional processes, Heveran said.

So far, though, engineers have not figured out how to keep cells alive for the long term in structures capable of bearing heavy loads. Heveran’s paper suggests that engineers could learn much by studying how living bone functions.

“Bones, which both maintain living cells for decades and support structural loads, often provide mechanical function for an entire lifetime without undergoing mechanical failure. Such a long service life is almost unheard of in engineered devices such as vehicles and machines,” Heveran said. “Bone is able to maintain excellent material properties for much longer than most engineering materials because of the coordinated repair and replacement activities performed by resident bone cells.”

Could engineers design ELMs to function similarly?

“We could get closer to meeting the sustainability potential of engineered living building materials if we can surmount the twin challenges of keeping cells alive longer and generating materials to be stronger,” Heveran said. “Right now, the stiffest engineered living materials that we have can only be used for relatively low-load applications.”

Heveran says that cells used in bone-inspired engineered living materials do not need to be bone cells – common soil microbes that are associated with biomineral production in nature, such as calcite and vaterite, could perform the desirable functions in engineered living materials. Instead, bone can serve as an inspiration for how vascular-like networks can help keep cells alive in rigid materials for a long time so that they can perform desirable functions, like sensing and repairing cracks.

An outspoken adversary of COVID vaccines, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Florida, recently announced, “The Weaponization of Finance: Get ready for a rough ride.” It follows the cancelling of all of his business’ bank accounts in July by Chase Bank, as well as the cancellation of all the accounts held by Mercola’s key staff members.

The story is not new to Montanans, who have heard the story of gun and ammunition manufacturers relocating to Montana because of the discrimination they experienced from financial institutions in other states.

Mercola predicts “the time has arrived when, if you have a view that goes against the official narrative, you’re cut off from basic financial services.” His experience he believes is “just the start” of what is in store for any business or organization that stands in opposition to approved political narratives. He pointed out that his Mercola Market bank accounts were cancelled as well the “personal accounts of my CEO and CFO …and the accounts of their spouses and children.” This occurred despite the fact that a new Florida law specifically prohibits financial institutions from denying or canceling services based on political or religious beliefs.

Chase Bank responded to Mercola’s charged saying they cancelled the accounts because there was “unexpected activity” on one account and the action was typical of procedures followed in anti-money laundering purposes.

No money laundering charges have ever been brought, said Mercola, who added that in a real money laundering case, they seize your accounts outright. “They don’t instruct you to take your business elsewhere.”

Later, Chase Bank replied to an inquiry by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, that the accounts were closed because Mercola’s business had “been the subject of regulatory scrutiny by the Federal government … for engaging in illegal activity relating to the marketing and sale of consumer products.”

Mercola said that the last contact he has had with the Food and Drug Administration was in 2021 warning him not to recommend vitamins, etc. “to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19.” “We responded to the FDA’s letter and no further action was ever taken, because we had not, in fact, violated the law,” said Mercola. He went on to state, “…something else prompted Chase Bank to close our accounts, and the most likely reason appears to be the bank’s relationships to the technocratic control network that is trying to usher in a one world totalitarian government.”

Mercola’s concerns about financial weaponization are shared with the attorneys general from 19 states which earlier this year, accused JPMorgan Chase of “closing accounts and discriminating against customers due to their political or religious beliefs,” according to Business Insider. They reported, “the bank had canceled major organizations’ checking accounts and had asked screening questions focused on religion and politics before reinstating them.”

The accounts for the National Committee for Religious Freedom were cancelled and then informed they would reopen the account “if it provided a list of its donors, a list of the political candidates it intended to support, and details of the criteria used to determine its support and endorsements.”

Newsweek also had a report in April from Nebraska’s state treasurer, John Murante, who said he is disturbed by JPMorgan Chase’s “disturbing track record of debanking clients for biased or arbitrary reasons,” including fossil fuel companies and firearm manufacturers. Murante said Chase also conditions its services on whether company employees agree with customers’ political or religious activities.” He specifically identified that Chase cancelled accounts of  “… former ambassador Sam Brownback, the Arkansas Family Council, Defense of Liberty, and retired general Michael Flynn, Jr — for holding mainstream American views.”

The Hill.com has also commented on concerns on what it called “redlining,” “… against legal industries, for political and ideological reasons and blaming it on vague risks to the banks’ reputations.” As an example, The Hill stated, “Six of the largest U.S. banks already have committed not to fund new exploration and production projects in the Arctic….Debanking fossil fuel firms could lead to a disastrous energy shortage in the United States.”

Former U.S. Attorney Frank Keating writing for The Hill explained why banks were rejecting politically incorrect industries. “Officials at both the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) threatened banks with regulatory pressure if they did not bend to their will. . . Gun and ammunition dealers, payday lenders and other businesses operating legally suddenly found banks terminating their accounts with little explanation aside from ‘regulatory pressure.’”

Near the end of the Trump administration, The Hill said, “…the government should adopt a proposed new regulation to stop it…. In more general terms, banks are incapable of making qualitative judgments based on notions of morality. A situation in which banks refuse service based on possibly ephemeral perceptions of morality and societal good is a divergence from the open and generally capitalist system to which we have strived since our nation’s founding.”

The Hill in 2021 reported on Trump’s Fair Access Rule, put forward by The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) which “finalized a controversial rule banning large banks from rejecting businesses based on their industry,” which was praised by Republicans who had criticized banks that dropped clients in the firearm industry or that pledged to stop funding Arctic drilling projects. Those banks included Citibank, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase.

Democrats argued that the Dodd-Frank fair access principles are meant to protect people of color and low income communities who’ve faced decades of banking discrimination — “not powerful corporations with ample financial sector options.”

Banks also objected. “The rule lacks both logic and legal basis, it ignores basic facts about how banking works, and it will undermine the safety and soundness of the banks to which it applies,” said Greg Baer, president and CEO of the Bank Policy Institute, a research and advocacy group for big U.S. banks. 

Even free market advocates disagreed with the regulation. John Berlau, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Reason (magazine) that “the rule’s broad wording would do more than merely prevent large banks from discriminating against unpopular businesses. It would also force small banks into relationships with businesses they are not equipped to handle.”

Berlau argued that preventing banks from discriminating against certain industries “violates their right to free association and would hurt niche banks that specialize in specific industries, like farming, industrial lending, or financial technology, forcing them to lend to businesses with which they are less familiar.”

Reason Magazine later reported, “The Biden administration has rolled back a Trump-era regulation meant to protect politically disfavored businesses, like gun manufacturers and cryptocurrency exchanges, from being categorically denied banking services.”

By Aikta Marcoulier, SBA Regional Administrator

The pandemic confirmed the essential role that small businesses play in our daily lives.  It sounds cliché, but locally owned small businesses truly are the heart and soul of our cities and towns. The holiday shopping season is a crucial time for small retailers and restaurants that depend upon the boost in sales earned between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Not so long ago, it was an annual holiday tradition to travel downtown and shop at one of the many locally owned main street businesses. Brick-and-mortar businesses would promote their best deals of the year in hopes of luring shoppers to make a purchase, or at least browse their shelves full of merchandise. Today, online shopping has quickly become the preferred way Americans buy their holiday gifts.  Recent estimates show that more than 80 percent of shoppers make regular online purchases throughout the year.  

Given the dramatic shifts in the retail environment over the last twenty years, those holiday scenes and traditions are in danger of passing into the realm of nostalgic folklore.

To better compete, small business owners have become very innovative in the way they sell and promote their products and services.  An encouraging transformation born out of the pandemic is that many entrepreneurs pivoted operating models to include e-commerce platforms, or changed product offerings, to meet the new demands of the online consumer. Some are even bringing back the retail traditions of the past by providing personalized one-on-one assistance to customers and the selling of locally produced niche items found nowhere else in town. Cottage businesses have started in record numbers as people realized their dream of small business ownership could begin in their basement or garage.

The success of this year’s holiday shopping season will have a huge impact here in Montana and across the nation. Montana’s 130,000 small businesses generate almost 50 percent of the jobs in our state, employing 253,000 Montanans.  As you shop locally at one of the 13,000 retail small businesses, you’re not only proving unique and memorable gifts, but you are also helping boost Montana’s economy and directly supporting local families. If you are leaning more towards creating memories verses traditional gift giving, consider one of the 7,000 small businesses that offer entertainment or recreational activities.

Small businesses are the backbone of our democracy, and the solution to our most challenging economic problems. If you’re an entrepreneur and need advice, please consider exploring the tools and resources of the U.S. Small Business Administration and its partners. SBA’s resource partners include the Montana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network with 10 locations throughout the state, our statewide Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, the Women’s Business Centers in Bozeman and Missoula, and SCORE. Each of these partners can help identify strategies to become more competitive and viable in what will likely be an ever-shifting business landscape.

In addition to our formal partners, small business owners can get involved with local support organizations such as chambers of commerce, business districts, and neighborhood associations. These organizations are actively involved in coordinating events and promotions to attract foot traffic to their small business members including local bazaars and shop small/dine small/entertain small, focused festivals.

This holiday season, please join me in making at least one purchase from a locally owned small business in your city or town.  These business owners are the true heroes of our communities, and they deserve our support, thanks, and appreciation.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced a delay to the reporting requirement threshold for transactions on payment platforms including Venmo, PayPal, and Airbnb. The delay will keep a $20,000 transaction threshold for 2023 and introduce a new significantly lower threshold phased-in starting in 2024. Despite the delay, this new rule will add to the harmful tax-related paperwork burden for small businesses and increase government overreach.

After the phase-in year, the mandate will require payment platforms to send a Form 1099-K to the IRS and users if their transactions total more than $600 for the year. The new requirement raises concerns that the IRS will not be able to differentiate between money received as payment for work and money that was received to split the costs of goods or services, creating confusion.

“For example, if you buy concert tickets and your friend sends you money electronically to pay for theirs, the IRS may treat this as income to you and tax it,” explained NFIB President Brad Close. “Multiply this by tens of millions of transactions, and you can see the magnitude of the problem facing small businesses. Small businesses expect the additional confusion and lower threshold will add to their already harmful paperwork burden and increase government overreach.”

The IRS does not have the authority to pick the threshold – only Congress has the authority to remove or change the 1099-K reporting threshold. While the ‘transition year’ $5,000 threshold temporarily relieves an unnecessary reporting burden and confusion for some, what small businesses need is for Congress to provide a complete fix by removing the new $600 threshold rule that will start in 2025.

In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan implemented this $600 threshold. For the 2023 tax year, the IRS will require payment platforms to generate 1099-K forms using the longstanding threshold of $20,000. Small businesses receiving 2023 1099-K forms from these platforms will see them in the mail or electronically in early 2024, similar to the tax-related forms received from banks regarding savings accounts.

For the 2024 tax year, the IRS will require these platforms to generate 1099-K forms at a threshold of $5,000 in transactions. Based on the November 2023 IRS announcement, in early 2025, every small business that has more than $5,000 in transactions on platforms like PayPal, Venmo, and others, will start receiving 1099-K tax forms for additional tax liabilities.

NFIB is calling on Congress to remove the new, lower threshold and return to the longstanding $20,000 threshold for 1099-K reporting and will continue to advocate for a repeal.

By Tu-Uyen Tran, Senior Writer, Federal Reserve Bank of  Minneapolis

Trends in the Ninth District’s construction industry are splitting along clear lines: For industrial and infrastructure projects, business is up. But the same can’t be said for residential and commercial construction, according to a recent Minneapolis Fed survey.

“There has been a real drop off in single family homes,” a concrete subcontractor in Greater Minnesota said. High interest rates have made homes much less affordable for many people, he said.

Yet, the same survey respondent expects work to pick up outside of housing. Federal and state governments are “dumping a lot of money” into public works projects, he said.

In the residential and commercial construction sectors, more survey respondents reported lower revenue than higher revenue. But the opposite was true in the industrial and infrastructure sectors.

The survey was conducted in partnership with dozens of construction and other trade organizations in early November. More than 300 respondents took part in the survey.

Compared with a year ago, revenue decreased for 61 percent of the residential sector and 41 percent of the commercial sector. Only about a third of the industrial and infrastructure sectors said the same.

The residential sector began to diverge from the other sectors in the middle of 2022, around the time interest rates began to soar, according to earlier Minneapolis Fed surveys. The commercial sector soon followed.

Survey responses suggest that homebuyers and commercial developers are more sensitive to interest rate hikes. One reason the infrastructure sector is less sensitive is that the clients are often governments.

A Twin Cities architect said most of the revenue growth her firm has enjoyed has been from out-of-state federal government contracts. “If it were not for those we would be sorely under sales and profits, and likely considering layoffs.”

In some areas, government spending incentivized private spending. A supplier of construction materials in western South Dakota said commercial buildings and hotels are being built in anticipation of growth at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Air Force plans to house its new B-21 stealth bombers there in the next few years.

The challenge of labor

When survey respondents were asked to name their top challenges, 66 percent in the residential construction sector pointed to high interest rates.

Far fewer respondents in commercial, industrial, and infrastructure sectors considered interest rates to be so challenging. In those sectors, labor availability was the top challenge for the largest number of respondents. Even in the slower-growing commercial sector, 44 percent said labor availability is a top challenge while 42 percent identified rate hikes.

This difference likely stems from hiring challenges. A majority of respondents in all sectors except residential said their firm is still hiring (Figure 3). These positions include new permanent workers, seasonal workers, and replacements for workers who quit. Workers in skilled trades are more in demand than those without specialized skills; respondents said skilled workers received bigger pay hikes.

“This is the biggest challenge we have had for the last three years that I can remember,” said a South Dakota general contractor specializing in commercial construction. “Wages are going up and people’s skillsets are declining.”

In the residential sector, less than half of respondents said their firm is hiring. Despite some warnings of potential layoffs, the majority of those not hiring are hanging on to the workers they have.

Inflation was a top challenge a year ago for a majority of respondents in all sectors. In this survey, it was only a top challenge for a majority of the residential sector.

Pessimism in the residential sector

Looking ahead over the next six months, optimism outweighs pessimism in all but the residential sector, where 46 percent don’t expect business to improve. The infrastructure sector reported the best outlook, with 48 percent expressing optimism. In the commercial sector, optimism narrowly beat pessimism 39 percent to 35 percent; the remaining responses were neutral.

The outlook is gloomy for homebuilders, because many may soon run out of work and new contracts are scarce. Sixty-seven percent of the sector said their project backlog had decreased. Sixty percent reported fewer requests for proposal (RFP) from private clients, who dominate the sector.

“We have no backlog currently,” said a Montana homebuilder. “In years back we had 10 to 20 houses in our backlog, which makes up about 10 to 20 percent of our yearly sales.”

Other sectors also reported decreased prospects for future work, but not to the same extent. In the commercial sector, for example, 44 percent said backlogs decreased and 51 percent said RFPs for private projects are fewer. The bulk of projects in the commercial sector are funded by private developers.

Public projects are much more stable. A majority of respondents in all sectors reported the same or greater number of public RFPs. That’s a boon to the infrastructure sector, where a large amount of public funding goes.

In North Dakota, a general contractor specializing in infrastructure said, “We can pick and choose our projects.”

Will the federal government open the gateway to confiscating the property of inventors and innovators in the US by giving itself the power to invalidate federally-funded patents upon a whim?

Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) president & CEO Karen Kerrigan, commented, “President Biden’s proposed framework for march-in use under the Bayh-Dole Act amounts to an announcement that the U.S. government can invalidate patents and other intellectual property whenever it pleases. Make no mistake, the framework is not just about drugs, which is bad enough. It will chill innovation across the economy, dealing a major blow to small businesses and startups in particular, and across sectors.”

 “The 1980 Bayh-Dole Act was designed to ensure that federally-backed basic research wouldn’t just languish in laboratory archives, as much of it did before 1980. Thanks to the bipartisan law, businesses can license promising early-stage discoveries and develop them into revolutionary commercial products. Since Bayh-Dole’s passage, around 68% of licenses have gone to small businesses or start-ups.

 “The system created by Bayh-Dole has worked exactly as planned. The law has supported the creation of more than 15,000 new start-ups – many of them small businesses – while contributing an estimated $1.3 trillion to the US economy.

 “Until yesterday, the so-called march-in rights created under Bayh-Dole were conceived as an emergency provision. In cases where a company was either unable or unwilling to turn a licensed patent into a practical product, the government could revoke that license and reissue it to another firm better equipped to do the job. The circumstances justifying march-in are so limited that the government has never exercised the power in the more than 40 years Bayh-Dole has been on the books.

“Yesterday’s announcement is a sharp departure from decades of precedent businesses have come to rely on.

“If the Biden Administration finalizes this ill-conceived plan, the economic incentive to translate federally-funded science into commercial technologies will evaporate. Start-ups and investors won’t waste their time and money developing state-of-the-art products if federal officials can cancel their IP rights at will and without legal justification.

 “This proposal must be scrapped.”

In order to increase production and add new agriculture products, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $3 million to the State of Montana. The funds are to support technology that will “place products in consumer markets” throughout the state.

A press release claims the state’s investments through Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) Program will create a food systems infrastructure to support competitive and profitable market access for farm products.

Montana’s Department of Agriculture is accepting pre-applications for this Infrastructure Grant funding through Jan. 8, 2024.

In May 2023, USDA announced the availability of up to $420 million through RFSI to strengthen local and regional food systems. Through this program, AMS has entered into cooperative agreements with state agencies, commissions, or departments responsible for agriculture, commercial food processing, seafood, or food system and distribution activities or commerce activities in states or U.S. territories. RFSI is authorized by the American Rescue Plan.

USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt said, “The projects funded through this program will create new opportunities for the region’s small and midsize producers to thrive, expand access to nutritious food options, and increase supply chain resiliency.”

According to the federal government’s press release the program will fund projects that support the addition of new technology to increase production and add product lines for agriculture products, invest in business capacity to place products in consumer markets, build cold storage capacity throughout the state, and expand food distribution lines. “The state’s priorities are informed by stakeholder engagement and outreach to underserved producers to better understand their needs,” it claims.

Montana’s Department of Agriculture Director Christy Clark said in accepting the federal funding, “These grants support infrastructure to invest in capacity and the expansion of food distribution lines,” that will improve “Montana’s producers’ ability to innovate and grow their operations.”

Michael Layman, senior advisor to the Coalition to Save Local Businesses (CSLB), issued the following statement highlighting CSLB’s rapid nationwide growth. Since its November relaunch, CSLB has driven almost 60 groups across 10 states to call on their state congressional delegations to support a bipartisan resolution to overturn the job-killing joint employer rule.

“Momentum is building to stop the job-killing joint employer rule,” said Layman. “Small and local business owners across America know this overreaching and unworkable regulation will kill jobs, shutter storefronts, increase litigation and make an already uncertain economic outlook that much worse. It’s encouraging to see the widespread support in communities across the country for overturning this disastrous rule.”

The NLRB’s final joint employer rule would expand 6he definition of joint employer, stripping small business owners of authority over their employees. This new joint employer rule expands on an old joint employer rule that destroyed an estimated 376,000 jobs, cost small businesses an estimated $33 billion, and led to a 93% spike in lawsuits in the franchise sector alone.  Proposed in Sept. 2022, the expanded joint employer rule was finalized on Oct. 26, 2023, was scheduled to take effect on Dec. 26, 2023 and has now been postponed until February 26, 2024.

Brad Griffin, CEO of the Montana Equipment Dealers Association said, “Agriculture is the lifeblood of Montana’s economy and supplying this vital industry with proper equipment is fundamental to its success. We oppose the joint employer rule, because it will negatively impact our dealer-member’s relationships with their agriculture partners. The Montana congressional delegation should absolutely support the effort to overturn this harmful rule.”

Earlier this year, a group of 72 organizations sent a letter urging Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the NLRB’s final joint employer rule. Following the initial letter, organizations in Arizona, California, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and North Dakota sent similar letters to their state congressional delegations.

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Joe Manchin (D-WV), Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Representative John James (R-MI) and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) introduced resolutions of disapproval under the CRA to overturn this new job-killing rule.

The Coalition to Save Local Businesses represents hundreds of thousands of local businesses and millions of American jobs through its membership and partner organizations.  The coalition’s goal is to raise the voices of everyday Americans who own, operate, work for and depend on local businesses for their livelihoods.

By Scott Hodge, Tax Foundation

Underlying every fiscal policy discussion in Washington is the question of progressivity: how much should tax and spending policy redistribute from high-income households to low-income households?

This debate is often more rhetorical than substantive, but a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) fills this void by presenting data showing that the current fiscal system—both taxes and direct federal benefits—is very progressive and very redistributive.

The CBO study estimates the impact of federal fiscal policy on household incomes in 2019 (the most recent data). It does this by contrasting how much households benefited from social insurance programs (e.g., Social Security and Medicare) and means-tested transfer programs (e.g., Medicaid, SNAP, and Supplemental Security Income) with how much they paid in total federal taxes—including individual income taxes, payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, estate taxes, and various excise taxes.

These policies lift the incomes of many households (who receive more in federal benefits than they pay in total federal taxes) while reducing the income of others (who pay more in federal taxes than they receive in direct federal benefits). CBO’s data allows us to measure the impact of these policies on the average household within various income groups and then aggregate the results to measure how these policies redistribute income between groups of households.

To be sure, households do benefit from other federal programs such as national defense, highway spending, and public education, but CBO does not include the benefits of such programs in this exercise. The study is solely focused on fiscal policy that directly impacts household incomes.

Federal benefit programs and taxes can either raise market incomes or reduce them. For example, in 2019, households in the lowest quintile paid almost no federal income taxes but received nearly $22,000 in transfer benefits. As a result, these policies more than doubled their household incomes, an increase of 126 percent.

The story is very similar for households in the second and middle quintiles, although not as extreme. After netting their federal taxes paid, direct federal benefit policies raised the incomes of households in the second quintile by 39 percent and the incomes of households in the middle quintile by 11 percent.

The story changes completely for average households in the top two quintiles. On average, they paid more in taxes in 2019 than they received in direct federal benefits. Households in the fourth quintile, for example, saw their incomes fall by 4 percent, while households in the highest quintile saw their incomes fall by 21 percent.

At the very top of the income scale, the story is even more dramatic. Households in the top 1 percent paid an average of roughly $600,000 in federal taxes and received about $15,000 in federal benefits. As a result, federal tax and spending policies reduced the incomes of households in the top 1 percent by nearly one-third (30 percent).

It is interesting to note that federal benefit programs are distributed relatively evenly across the income scale, while federal taxes skew very heavily to higher-income earners.

Federal fiscal policy increased the overall income for households in the lowest quintile by $566 billion in 2019. Households in the second quintile gained $390 billion in income while households in the middle quintile gained $187 billion in income.

Combined, the first three quintiles gained more than $1.1 trillion in income thanks to federal benefit policies, even after netting out their federal taxes paid.

On the other end of the income scale, progressive fiscal policy reduced the incomes of households in the fourth quintile by $109 billion in 2019. However, this is a fraction of the nearly $1.7 trillion that households in the highest quintile saw their incomes fall due to federal fiscal policy. Of this amount, some $702 billion came from households in the top 1 percent alone.

Overall, federal fiscal policy lowered the incomes of the top 40 percent of American households by roughly $1.8 trillion in 2019. Of this, more than $1.1 trillion was redistributed to lift the incomes of households in the bottom 60 percent of the population, while the remaining $656 billion went to pay for other federal spending.

The cost of prescription drugs will likely increase 42-57 percent for retired Americans enrolled in Medicare’s Part D prescription coverage in 2024. The reason is the manipulation of the market by government which encourages insurers to shift costs from one group of users to be borne by another.

A change in the Inflation Reduction Act, which reduces co-pays for some, especially those with chronic conditions, shifts that cost to about a fourth of Medicare recipients who exceed the threshold of the new $2000 cap and will be expected to cover 60-80 percent of their prescription costs.

Earlier reports projected slight premium declines across Part D plans next year, but the HealthView report, published in November 2023, contrasts sharply with a July projection by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that administers the Medicare program, 

CMS said there would be a 1.8 percent decline in Part D premiums for 2024, because of “reforms” in the Inflation Reduction Act. However, HealthView forecasts major hikes for retirees in states with large senior populations. They projected average increases ranging from $269 in Texas to $510 in New York.

The Inflation Reduction Act lowered the maximum out-of-pocket spending cap for Medicare Part D prescription drugs from $7,050 in 2023, to $2,000 in 2025, reducing co-pays for some, especially those with chronic conditions. However, financial liability will shift to insurers expected to cover 60-80 percent of costs once patients hit the new $2,000 cap.

With roughly a quarter of Medicare recipients exceeding this threshold, HealthView analysis suggests carriers will raise premiums to account for their increased coverage requirements. The higher premiums are a way for insurance companies to cover the expected increase in costs.

So, while the Inflation Reduction Act aims to lower overall healthcare costs for retirees, it may actually increase 2024-2025 Part D premiums for 75 percent of enrollees seeing no co-pay relief.

Epoch Times reports, “Americans pay for prescription drugs over 2.5 times more than other high-income nations. One in five seniors alter medication use due to high prescription costs, a May 2023 national survey found. They either skipped, delayed, took less medication, or took someone else’s medications.”

HealthView analysis shows 2024 increases could outpace the average retiree’s Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) by 70 percent – posing real financial challenges.