Fort Dodge Messenger (Iowa), June 13, US taxpayers deserve better than this

Seventeen billion dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term fiscal challenges facing the Social Security program. Still, it is serious money, and Congress should demand answers about how the system managed to pay it out improperly.

More to the point, lawmakers should insist on convincing answers to their questions about what Social Security officials are doing to prevent similar waste in the future.

Sadly enough, it comes as no surprise that the Social Security Administration’s inspector general found nearly $17 billion in disability benefits was paid out improperly during the past decade.

What is startling, however, is the fact that nearly half the people receiving disability benefits got at least some money for which they were not eligible.

Various reasons were cited. They included payments to dead people, those who earned too much to qualify for the program and others who received checks even after they were no longer disabled.

Social Security officials were able to recover about half the money, the inspector general noted.

Few businesses could keep their doors open if they made major errors involving half their customers. But Social Security is the government, and virtually no one is ever held accountable for mistakes there.

That must change. Better management of money is absolutely critical.

The Grand Island Independent (Neb.), June 14, Farm officials smart to move against bird flu

Poultry shows have been cancelled across Nebraska, swap meets and live bird auctions have been eliminated and 47 million chickens and turkeys have been killed in parts of the country — all because of fears of the bird flu.

Is it an overreaction?

No. Most would say it has been a reasoned response to the mysterious disease plaguing poultry farms.

The scope of the bird flu is startling. So far, more than 47 million chickens and turkeys have been killed by the disease or will be culled to prevent its spread. Most of the hens have been in Iowa. The loss of these egg producers is expected to drive the price of eggs to record highs.

In Minnesota, the top U.S. turkey-producing state, 9 million birds have been lost to the disease.

However, the impact of the avian influenza outbreak will hit more than poultry farmers and fair exhibitors. Consumers also will feel the impact as the price of eggs is expected to skyrocket.

One of the highlights of visiting the animal barns at county fairs across Nebraska and at the State Fair is seeing the variety of poultry shown at the events. Some are exotic birds, but others are poultry cared for and raised by young 4-H and FFA members.

These shows will be missed this year. But the Nebraska Department of Agriculture was right to cancel them. To protect poultry operations throughout the state, steps must be taken to stop the highly pathogenic virus from spreading. And one way it could get spread is through the commingling of birds at these shows.

Already more than 7 million birds have been destroyed or quarantined at four farms in Dixon County and one farm in Knox County where the virus was found.

More than 10 states, including Nebraska, have taken similar steps to protect poultry flocks. So far the disease has been detected in 20 states, spreading from the Northwest to Midwest. Even North Carolina has decided to ban all poultry shows and public sales from mid-August to mid-January.

Much about the bird flu is still not known. It is believed to initially be contracted from droppings of wild birds. The disease can unwittingly be spread by humans who come in contact with infected birds. That’s why many poultry farms have strict biosecurity measures.

The latest outbreak however is occurring in bizarre ways that has many experts baffled. Some farms are getting infected, while others aren’t. Researchers are looking at if the virus travels by air, and if it does, how far it can go.

All of these unknown factors make it wise for precautions to be taken. Certainly, young people raising poultry will be disappointed in not being able to show their birds. Fairgoers also will be disappointed.

But with the bird flu spreading like wildfire already, ag officials are being smart in doing what they can to stop it.