5 STEPS TO CREATE AN ESTATE PLAN – PART II

You can’t do this all alone.  You have to assemble a team to help.

Your estate plan involves more than just you.  Here are some of the main people involved:

Your attorney – An attorney can help guide you through the process of building an appropriate plan.  Attorneys also may specialize in certain areas of estate law, such as special needs planning or elder law, so consider whether that expertise may be useful as you build your estate plan.

Your financial advisor – Your advisor can help you take inventory of your assets and work with your attorney to create a tax-efficient plan that serves your family’s financial needs.

Estate executor – This is the person you designate to manage the disposition of your estate.  They will need to, among many other tasks, file court papers, pay taxes, fulfill any financial obligations of your estate, and make sure your assets are distributed as you intended.

Guardian – In the event that you (and your spouse or children’s other parent) pass away, you need to designate a legal guardian for your minor children.  A guardian may also be necessary for an adult child with special needs, or even for an aging parent.

Power of attorney – A power of attorney (POA), also known as “attorney in fact” or “agent,” is a person you can appoint in writing to manage your financial affairs or your medical decisions while you are alive based on your instructions.  You may delegate this duty for financial and medical decisions to one person or separate people.

Trustee – A trustee carries out the instructions in the trust document, and is responsible for managing the assets and tax filings.  The trustee also makes distributions to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.  In some cases, a corporate trustee may make sense, such as when there’s a more complicated trust to oversee.

  1. Consider creating a trust

There’s a common misconception that trusts are only for the very wealthy.  However, trusts can play an important role in many estate plans.  They give you more control as to how assets are distributed and allow you to keep the details of your assets out of the public eye after you die.  In addition, trusts also can:

  • Reduce the taxes owed by your estate and heirs
  • Protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits
  • Put conditions on how and when your assets are distributed

People may often use a trust in conjunction with a will, but trusts can be more expensive.  Creating an estate plan that includes a trust can cost from approximately $1,000 to more than several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the situation and assets involved.  The expense of building an estate plan is generally a one-time fee.  However, there may be recurring costs associated with the administration of certain kinds of trusts or with the revision of your plan over time.

There are many kinds of trusts, each with specific advantages and disadvantages.  One of the most common is a living trust, which lets you retain control of the assets you place in the trust while you’re alive, then transfers them to your beneficiaries after your death.

If you do establish a trust, you’ll need to name a trustee.  The trustee is responsible for making sure the trust does what it intends.  The trustee’s responsibilities include managing the assets, ongoing administration and tax filings for the trust, as well as making distributions to beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.  For instance, you may want your children to use the trust funds only for higher education.  Your trustee would make distributions from the trust in accordance with the trust document.

When choosing a trustee, pick someone you trust.  Consider their age (often you want someone younger) as well as how confident you are in their decision-making ability.  A trustee may be a sibling or a close family friend, but also can be an independent corporate trustee with no ties to your family.

Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Naming the right trustee

  1. Update your estate plan regularly

Creating an estate plan is a great accomplishment.  But it’s not a plan that should sit around gathering dust.  Indeed, you’ll likely need to update your plan regularly so that it continues to reflect your wishes and needs, which may change along with your family and finances.

Also consider updating your beneficiaries.  Most financial accounts, such as insurance policies, retirement savings accounts, or brokerage accounts, require you to designate a beneficiary, and these beneficiary designations typically trump any directions in a will.  The estate planning process is a good time to make sure you’ve identified beneficiaries in each of those accounts, and to consider whether those beneficiary designations mesh well with your overall estate plan.

Experts recommend reviewing your estate plan every 2 to 5 years, and updating it after major life events, including marriage and remarriage, divorce, births or adoptions, and deaths.  Changes in your financial goals; purchases or large assets such as a home; or major financial events such as a bankruptcy, retirement, or business sale, are also important milestones that justify a review of your estate plan.

Procrastinating on creating an estate plan is certainly tempting.  But having a well-conceived plan is more than worth the time and money it will take to build it.  You’ll give your loved ones the authority and guidance they need to navigate a tough situation, that way you can rest easy, knowing that if something unexpected happened you’re prepared.

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5 STEPS TO CREATE AN ESTATE PLAN – PART I

Five ways to help you save on taxes and protect your assets and privacy.

Consider setting up an estate plan, especially if you want to minimize probate costs, protect your privacy, and find ways to save on taxes.

An estate plan helps you control the disposition of your assets upon your passing, ensuring that assets flow to your heirs according to your wishes.

Your estate plan does more than disperse your financial assets; it also provides guidance for your loved ones regarding your preferences for end-of-life medical intervention.

For many people, creating an estate plan is a task that routinely gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.  Some assume that estate plans are only for the wealthy.  Others may simply want to avoid thinking about some of the tough topics estate planning entails.  Whatever the reason, more than half of Americans don’t even have a basic will.

Yet, most everyone should have an estate plan.

In addition to arranging for the distribution of your assets, estate plans should include vital documents that address a range of thorny issues, from who will be the guardian of your children if you pass away, to how your loved ones should approach your medical decisions if you are incapacitated.

“An estate plan addresses many extremely important aspects of your medical and financial life, and ensures that your loved ones understand your wishes,” says Nathaniel Arnett, estate planning specialist at Fidelity Investments.  “Having a plan in place can help give you and your family real peace of mind.”

With the help of legal and financial professionals, drafting an estate plan is probably easier than you think.  Experienced advisors can help make sure you don’t miss any important pieces and that your estate plan addresses all your needs.

Here are the first three steps to get you on the right track:

  1. Establish a power of attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants another person the ability to make financial or medical decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated.  Such decisions may include liquidating investments to pay for medical bills, managing your insurance, and, in the case of a medical power of attorney, making sure you get the medical care and interventions that you want.

Financial and medical powers of attorney are generally 2 different legal documents and it may make sense to appoint 2 different people.  In the case of designating a financial power of attorney, consider someone you trust wholeheartedly.  This person will be opening your mail, contacting your banks, transferring your assets, and paying your bills, if needed.  They don’t need to be a financial whiz, but you should trust this person to make pragmatic and thoughtful decisions on your behalf.

Your medical power of attorney—sometimes called your health care proxy, depending on where you live and how it is drafted—will make medical decisions on your behalf.  This person will use your living will (also known as an advance health care directive) as a guide for determining the care you desire.  Many people designate a spouse or adult child in this role, also naming an alternative in the event that the person initially named is unable to serve.

Whoever you choose, have a discussion to gain mutual understanding that makes sure they are aware of your medical preferences.  “Have a proactive conversation so that you can answer important questions and make the person’s job easier in the event that they ever need to fulfill the role,” Arnett says.

  1. Create a living will

Your estate plan certainly provides for the opportunity to do more than disperse your financial assets; it also provides guidance for your loved ones regarding your preferences for end-of-life medical intervention, in case you can’t communicate for yourself.

Most living wills address instructions for handling the following:

  • Life-prolonging treatments, including blood transfusions, medication, and surgery
  • Artificial life support and COVID-19 ventilators
  • Pain relief or palliative care
  • Administration of food and water (including tube feeding)
  • Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders

These documents can be as specific as you like, and can denote your religious preferences and any plans for organ donation.  “A living will offers much-needed guidance for your medical team and family, especially when a decision isn’t clear,” Arnett says.

Your attorney can help you draft a living will along with the rest of your estate plan.  Make sure you send a copy to your primary care physician to ensure that your living will is easily accessible and becomes part of your medical record.  These documents are also often coupled with the medical power of attorney paperwork, so consider making sure your doctor has access to all your important medical directives.

  1. Make a last will and testament

Your will is a crucial component of your estate plan.  This important document serves 2 distinct purposes.  First, it outlines who will receive your assets after your death.  If you have minor children, it also designates who will be their guardian.  Without a will, a judge likely will make both of these determinations.  “You probably have a distinct idea of who you want to inherit your assets or raise your children,” Arnett says.  “But if you don’t record your preferences in a will, a judge may make a decision that’s far from what you intended.”

A will can be as simple or as complex as your estate requires.  Begin by contacting an experienced attorney, who can walk you through the process.  Many offer flat fees for drafting a basic will, which can range from $300 to $1,000 or more.  You may also want to consult with your financial advisor to help you inventory and organize your financial assets.

You’ll also need to designate an executor—the person or institution who will oversee the management of your estate and will carry out the instructions of your will.  You may also want to designate an alternative in case the person you choose is subsequently unable or unwilling to serve as executor.  Their tasks may include taking inventory or your assets, selling your property, and paying your taxes.  In selecting an executor, choose someone you view as responsible, levelheaded, and trustworthy.  Also make sure they’re willing to take on the responsibility of being the executor or your estate.

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GOOD NEIGHBORS ARE HARD TO FIND

Here is one American’s take on the growing trade war with the US and Canada through an open letter written by a Florida judge about the CANADA/US relationships and history.

Robert Meadows (Circuit Court Judge, Florida) wrote:

“Have you ever stopped to consider how lucky we Americans are to have the neighbors we have?  Look around the globe at who some folks have been stuck sharing a border with over the past half century:

  • North Korea/South Korea
  • Greece/Turkey
  • Iran/Iraq
  • Israel/Palestine
  • India/Pakistan
  • China/Russia

“We’ve got Canada!  About as inoffensive a neighbor as you could ever hope for.  In spite of all our boasts of “American exceptionalism” and chants of “America first,” they just smile, do their thing and go about their business.  They are on average more educated, have a higher standard of living, free health care, and almost no gun problems.  They treat immigrants respectfully and already took in over 35,000 Syrians in the last two years.

“They’re with us in NATO, they fought alongside us in World War I, World War II, Korea, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, Afghanistan, the Kosovo War and came to our defense after 9/11.  There was that one time when Canada took a pass on one of our wars: Vietnam.  Turned out to be a good call.

“They’ve been steady consumers of American imports, reliable exporters of metals and petroleum products (they are the biggest importer of US products from 37 states), and partnered with NASA in our space missions.

“During 9/11 many aircraft were diverted to Newfoundland, an island province off Canada’s coast where Americans were housed in people’s homes for two weeks and treated like royalty.  In return for their hospitality, this administration slapped a 20% tariff on the products of Newfoundland’s only paper mill, thereby threatening its survival.

And what do Canadians expect of us in return?  To be respected for who and what they are: Canadians.  That’s what I call a good neighbor.

But the King of Chaos couldn’t leave well enough alone.  Based on his delusions of perpetual victimhood, out of the clear blue, he’s declared economic war on Canada.  On CANADA!  And he did it based on Canada being a national security risk to the US!  For no good reason, other than the voices in his head that told him it was a war he could win.  So then, why not do it?

Again, we’re talking about Canada.  Our closest ally, friend and neighbor.

On behalf of an embarrassed nation, people of Canada, I apologize for this idiotic and wholly unnecessary attack.  Please leave the back channels open.  We the People of progressive persuasion stand with you.”

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THE COST OF OUR UNLIMITED PROMISES

Today’s blog was written by Rodney Johnson, president of Dent Publishing.  It’s a story being enacted at all levels of government and a red flag of what is coming up at all levels of public enterprise.

122,000 active and retired school teachers in Kentucky have a math problem they can’t solve.  According to the latest report, their pension fund lost ground yet again in 2015, falling behind by another $3 billion.  As it stands, the fund has a mere 42% of what it needs to pay its bills.

But they can’t cry in their beer at the local watering hole to state workers.  Their pension has only 17% of what it needs, and will go broke in less than a decade!

Both pensions are controlled by the state legislature, so you’d think that state representatives would be going crazy looking for a solution.  Apparently, that’s not the case.  While they acknowledge the problem, and call it “grim,” their actions don’t match their words.

Last year state legislators contributed less state funds to pensions than required.  Every year that this happens, the funds fall farther behind.  Kentucky lawmakers have shortchanged pensions every year for a decade.

To make matters worse, they don’t eat their own cooking.  While overall state level pensions have less than 40% of what they need to pay all the benefits they owe, legislators separated their own pensions…which has 85% of the necessary funding.  They’ve conveniently put their personal retirement out of harm’s way because they know the score.

At some point, employees will have to contribute a lot more and benefits will be cut.  But that still won’t be enough.  They’ll have to get a big chunk of money from another source to balance the books, and they’ve already identified the mark.

It’s you and me.

And there’s almost nothing we can do to get out from under the burden.  Whether you know it or not, if you live in the U.S. you have a financial promise to keep…a promise without end.

By virtue of residing in a state or territory, through the government, you have promised to make good on the pensions state workers earned.  In most areas, as the courts have ruled in Oregon and Illinois, these are promises without limitation or qualification.  No matter what happens, taxpayers like you and me must pay.  Unlike most any other area of spending, these obligations can’t be reduced by legislative action, voted away, or impaired because they cause financial duress.

The only way to change the pensions is to get beneficiaries to agree to take less than they are legally entitled to receive.  As we’ve seen in recent court cases, the chances of that happening are slim to none.

The fact that previous legislators, sometimes decades ago, agreed to very generous future benefits in exchange for smaller wage increases at the time doesn’t matter.  The fact that, to this day, they continue to short-change the funds even though they know what’s going on, doesn’t matter.  The bills are coming due, and we’re legally obligated to pay any amount necessary so that beneficiaries get every nickel they were promised.  Even if we run current state legislators out of town on rails, we still owe the benefits.

On the face of it, this might not sound so bad since every state has a pension fund.  But even though there are monies set aside to meet these obligations, the liabilities far outstrip the assets that have been socked away.  The average state pension fund has only 75% of what it needs to pay all benefits, and the numbers are going the wrong direction.

We know some of the reasons for this underfunding: the sky-high assumptions about market returns that don’t come true, and the failure of state legislators to make pension contributions year after year.

But there’s another reason for why states aren’t closing the funding gap, and it’s just now coming to light.  And once again, the blame falls squarely on the legislators that we sent to state capitols to work on our behalf.

For many states, even if they contribute every cent required to their pension funds, and even if they earn their magical assumed rates of return, they will still fall farther behind.  In short, their failure is baked in the cake…and they’re doing nothing about it!

As we march toward the fiscal cliff with pensions, things will get ugly.  Right now, we’re getting a taste of what lies ahead as Puerto Rico maps out a strategy for dealing with its debt and pension mess, which typically go hand-in-hand.

The commonwealth owes roughly $48 billion in pensions, but has less than $4 billion in assets.  And yet, their preliminary plan doesn’t include cutting benefits.  They’ll direct the pain somewhere else.  As taxpayers and investors, the islanders of Puerto Rico are looking to us to bail out their mismanaged fund, not only keeping their beneficiaries whole, but also preserving benefits for public employment retirees for years to come.

In addition to reputing debts and raising taxes, state governments will redirect spending from other areas, such as education, which aren’t constitutionally protected like pensions, and already went under the knife during the Financial Crisis.

The time to address this situation was years ago, in the mid-2000s, when the underfunding first came to light.  Back then, if our state representatives had taken their jobs seriously, they would have changed the earnings assumptions and fully funded pensions, even if it required higher taxes or budget cuts.  The painful moves would have alerted constituents to the massive issues we faced.  But it’s possible that we could have avoided the massive upheaval that lies before us today.

Now it’s too late.  There is no win-win option available, just the ugly job of picking winners and losers.

It you’re reading this, chances are you have assets and/or earn a solid income.  If you’re not covered by a state pension, then you fall in the loser category.

The winners are those covered by such pensions, since it’s likely their promised benefits will be preserved at all costs.

This is not a screed against such workers and retirees.  Through bargains cut with political representatives in the past, these teachers, policemen, firefighters, city and state administrators, etc., made deals that traded current income for retirement benefits.

The failure lies with our political leaders who agreed to such deals, and those who followed in their footsteps without providing adequate funding.  These elected officials failed in their basic duty to represent the best interests of the voters.

We can’t turn back the clock.  The best we can do is understand the situation as it stands today, and plan our way forward with an eye toward protecting our assets and limiting our financial pain.

Woefully Underfunded

At the end of June 2014, state pensions were underfunded by $934 billion.  That figure is based on each state’s estimate of their current assets, liabilities, future contributions from both employees and their own coffers, and their expected rates of return on investments.

The overall 2014 funding level was slightly higher than that of the previous year because of strong market returns, but that was then.  Equity returns were flat in fiscal years 2015 and 2016, which translates into subpar performances across pension funds.  But that’s part of the bigger problem.

In terms of the assumed rate of return, or what public pension funds must earn each year so that their assets grow as expected, “par” is a very high bar.  In fact, the assumed rates of return for public pensions are typically far above what private pension funds are allowed to use in their calculations.

We Could Be on the Hook for $4 Trillion

There was a time when earning an average of 7% to 8% on a portfolio of stocks and bonds was considered normal.  That was before the Financial Crisis.  Before central banks around the world colluded to push interest rates through the floor.  Before the developed world grew old.

Now, with productivity hovering near 1% and inflation struggling to stay between 1% and 2%, earning 7% to 8% is a lofty aspiration.  Unless you’re a public pension fund, of course.

Most of these paragons of investment knowledge assume that they’ll be able to clock such high returns so often as to make them average.  Assumed rates of return on public pension funds around the country range from a low of 6.5% in Washington, D.C., to a high of 8.5% in Houston, Texas.

Never mind that his hasn’t been the case since 2000.  Public pension funds keep up the charade of earning higher returns because it allows them to pretend that their current funding status is accurate.

The assumed rate of return, or discount rate, is used to calculate how much money is needed today to meet all the obligations of tomorrow.  This valuation is called the market value of the pension.  The higher the discount rate used, the less money needed today.

A great illustration of the difference between the valuation models recently came to light in California, which runs two large public pension systems: California State Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS).  When determining their own funding ratio, these systems use 7.5%, although both announced last year that they would lower their assumed rate of return to 6.5% over time.

But as Citrus Pest Control District #2 found out, when determining solvency, CalPERS uses a much different discount rate.

The small pest control district serves just six retirees and employees, and felt that it would be better to withdraw from CalPERS and convert their retirement system from a pension to a defined contribution (401K) program.  Their statements from the pension system showed that their account was fully funded, but upon withdrawal, they were hit with a bill of almost $500,000.

It turns out that when calculating the district’s funding level for withdrawal, CalPERS uses a much lower discount rate, one that approximates the risk-free rate of return on U.S. Treasury securities.

CalPERS offers no reason as to why its assumed rate of return is good enough for accounting purposes, but not good enough when participating entities want to withdraw.  Or conversely, why such a low discount rate should be used for those quitting the pension system, but not for regular valuations of the larger fund.  It’s as if CalPERS trustees are telling everyone else in California, “We know more than you do, and can do this better than you can,” even though the numbers shows it’s not true!  But at this point, if CalPERS moved to the more realistic valuation method, it would immediately put the fund deep underwater,

The risk associated with using assumed rates of return higher than what could be earned on high-quality bonds is so well understood that private pensions offered by corporations can’t do it.  Instead, they must use discount rates that, while not quite risk-free, are much lower than that used by public pensions.

Private pensions must use the prevailing interest rate on AA corporate bonds, which is currently 3.42%.  As the rate falls, private pension sponsors are required to add more funds to their pensions.  If rates move up, then the sponsors get a break.  This makes pension funding a bit of a moving target, but that’s the nature of the beast if a pension sponsor wants to count on investment returns to fund part of the pension.

Some companies have decided they’ve had enough.  Instead of dealing with the ups and downs of funding—and the havoc it can wreak on profitability as interest rates fall—they’ve handed off their pensions to outside insurance companies.  That’s probably a wise business decision, since it allows the company to focus on its core business.  But states haven’t gone down this road, and their funding problems continue to grow.

Failure Baked into the Cake

The last 15 years have been something of a perfect storm for pension funds.  The recession of 2001-2002 and Financial Crisis of 2008 dramatically cut investment returns at the same time that interest rates fell, which pushed up required contributions.  The economic downturns cut state revenue, and the beneficiaries retired in droves.  Essentially state pensions have more money going out, less money coming in, and falling returns.

Legislators can’t easily change state tax revenue, and they can’t tame the business cycle, but they do control the amount of money that states contribute to their pension funds each year.  On that score, they still fail to deliver.

From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2013, more than half the states contributed less than the amount required.  Nine states contributed more than required over the 13 years, while another eight states and the District of Columbia contributed the full amount.  The remaining 33 states fell short of what was required, with some states, like New Jersey (38%) and Pennsylvania (41%), well below the contribution threshold.

Remember, this is what occurred over 13 years, so most states short-changed their pensions for more than a decade!

Unfortunately, that’s not the worst part.  Even if states made their required contributions, and even if they earned their lofty assumed rates of return, new research shows that 35 of them would still fall behind in funding their pensions.  For these states, failure is baked in the cake!

Even if it all Goes as Planned, They Still Lose

We know that most states aren’t contributing what they should to their pensions, and we know that they all assume rosy investment returns.  But it wasn’t obvious that many states, 35 to be precise, are planning for failure.

Using their own numbers for required contributions, employee contributions, fund balances, assumed rates of return, and expected liabilities, 35 state pensions fall further behind every year.  So even if they meet all their projections, they still lose.

It’s no surprise that many of the culprits who aren’t making their required contributions are the same ones with pensions doomed to fail.  New Jersey tops the list of bad actors at a mere 28%, with Kentucky not far behind at 35%.

I’m certain that state legislators didn’t set up pension funds to fail.  Instead, they didn’t adjust to reality.

As they contributed less to their pensions than required, and they didn’t earn their assumed rates of return, the cost of funding increased.  But if they didn’t review their plan and take appropriate action (contributing more, etc.), then the result is a plan that cannot meet its goals.  This seems like a simple concept, and yet, more than half the states in the country are on this exact path.

Again, I don’t think state legislators are blind, or somehow unaware of the problem.  It’s more likely that they understood the implication of adjusting their pension funding.  As they fell farther behind, it would take more state funds to catch up.  Those are funds that states simply didn’t have, and most likely won’t in the future…unless they take drastic measures, like raising taxes and cutting spending in other areas.

According to the Brookings Institute, states would have to immediately cut 5.7% of spending in other areas simply to keep pension funding from getting worse.  To fully fund pensions over the next 30 years, they would need more than double that amount.

The possibility of states either redirecting 10% of annual spending to pension funding or raising taxes by that amount is essentially zero.  Remember, there are no “states,” or “funds.”  These are simply organized groups of people.  And in this instance, we’re talking about state legislators and pension fund trustees who’ve proven time and again that they’re not just willing to ignore the truth, but will let things get so far out of hand that bankruptcy looms as a likely option!

What Lies Ahead

While I don’t expect the dramatic policy changes needed to better deal with this problem, I do think there will be changes at the margin.  Cities and states will spend a bit more on pensions, as well as raise taxes.  But it won’t be enough.  The worst offenders, like Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, will have to find other solutions.  There are two possibilities—repudiating other debt and seeking federal aid.

Puerto Rico is a real-time example of how things might unfold…

The commonwealth issued bonds in the spring of 2014 that were backed by the full faith and credit of the government, adding to its existing mountain of debt.  At the time, their finances were so precarious that they had to pay over 8% interest on their tax-free bonds.

Investors scooped them up, placing so many orders that Puerto Rico was able to sell even more bonds than it had originally planned, bringing the offering to $3.5 billion.

In less than a year, it was obvious that the investors would not get all their money back.

It’s as if Puerto Rican administrators were playing a game of poker, bluffing the others as the table (investors) about how they would abide by the law…right up until they didn’t.

This doesn’t mean that Puerto Rico hasn’t inflicted pain on its own constituents.  The sales tax just jumped to 11.5% and fees of all sorts have jumped.  The government even tried to pass a business tax that would have applied only to companies with more than $2.75 billion in annual revenue…a tax that would only hit Walmart!

This is exactly what will happen elsewhere.

As citizens and businesses in Chicago know all too well, the city plans to increase taxes to pay for pensions.  Unfortunately, it won’t be enough, because the pensions still use unrealistic earnings expectations and have pushed out making full contributions for at least five years—these are the same bad habits that led to the pension underfunding in the process.

Eventually Chicago, Illinois, and countless other municipalities and states around the country will grapple with their underfunding, and will make the same calculation that Puerto Rico did.  It would be unconscionable to pay bondholders ahead of paying salaries and retirement benefits to everyday citizens.

Donald Trump’s election could make the process even easier.  While the president doesn’t have direct say over courts and laws, he does have a bully pulpit and sway in Congress.  Given his previous use of the bankruptcy code for his own purposes, it would follow that he sees it as a logical way to solve issues involving a mismatch of debt and revenue.

This sets off warning bells in my head.  In the private sector, investors put up their money and place their bets.  In the public sector, legislators are making “bets” with our money.  It’s a different world that calls for, and has, a different set of rules.  But who knows how his process will be affected by the next administration?

In other words, buyer beware.

If this occurs, it would be just like Greece and the European lenders.  The borrower still wouldn’t have the ability to meet all repayment demands, so the process just lets the charade continue for a few more years until there’s another bailout…and then another.  Eventually, this ends with no repayment, just as it will in Greece, leaving the lender on the hook.

That lender would be you and me, the American taxpayer.

Steps to Take

As this pension snowball rolls downhill, getting bigger and gaining speed, we should be what we can to get out of the way.

As I’ve cautioned before, all investors must review their portfolios, looking for exposure to cities and states that could have pension payment issues.  Typically this means owning general obligation municipal bonds issued by those cities and states, either directly or inside of a bond fund.

It takes work to perform such a review, but as holders of Puerto Rico debt will tell you, it is well worth the effort.  Do it now, before it’s too late!

Notice that I specified general obligation bonds.  Typically revenue bonds, such as those backed by water and sewer payments or toll roads, aren’t endangered by the paying ability of the city or state.  These bonds usually have identified revenue flow, and if it is sufficient to make all required payments, then those bondholders will be spared.  This is exactly what happened in Detroit, where the Detroit Water bonds paid off as anticipated, but Detroit general obligation bond payments were slashed.

Away from bondholders, all citizens should take a few minutes to review the finances of their city, school district, county, state, and any other territorial body that has jurisdiction.

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DISPATCH FROM THE CORONA HIBERNATION

BillO’Reilly.com – The Second American Civil War

Well, the second American Civil War is now underway.  It began when a Minneapolis police officer brutally killed George Floyd.  So far the radicals have taken the offensive, creating a scenario that the United States is a racist country that must be dismantled and replaced by a new woke power structure.

The traditional forces, understanding that reform should be implemented, nevertheless despise the radicals for their psychic and physical violence.  Traditionalists don’t want to “defund” the police and watch criminals run wild.  They don’t want statue destruction, corporate boycotting, and everything else the radical left is trying to impose.

Rodney’s Weekly Wrap – July 2, 2020

The U.S. Economy Regained 4.8 Million Jobs in June…The unemployment rate dropped from 13.3% to 11.1%.

What It Means – Bill Cosby claimed his grandmother had the best answer to the question of whether the glass is half full or half empty.  She explained that it depended on whether you were pouring or drinking.  It’s all about context.  Gaining almost five million jobs is fabulous, including the two million in leisure and hospitality.  But now we’re shutting down parts of the economy again, so how many of those jobs will remain?

Anderson Economic Group Estimates Damage From First Week or Vandalism and Looting at $40 Million…Protesting and vandalizing or looting aren’t the same thing.  Protestors can shot down businesses by blocking access on roads or sidewalks, but they don’t break glass, spray graffiti, or steal stuff.  Those activities are criminal.  The Anderson Economic Group estimates that looting and vandalism between May 29 and June 3 in the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. cost about $400 million, including property damage, lost inventory, cleanup, reconstruction, and closure-related lost wages.  This was for just one week, and the estimate was certainly on the conservative side, because the group only included verifiable instances of unlawful activity.  The group assigned no cost to lawful protests.

Union Bank – Protect Yourself or Someone You Love

We are all vulnerable to financial exploitation, and seniors especially so.  Always stay on alert for common scams like offers that are too good to be true—usually money you supposedly won—or a “technician” calling out of the blue to fix a non-existent problem on your computer.

Whether you are enjoying your golden years, know an older adult or are caring for a loved one, a few preventive measures can make a big difference.

6 tips to stay protected:

  • Shred receipts, bank statements, and unused credit cards before throwing them away
  • Lock up your checkbook account statements and sensitive information when you have visitors
  • Never provide your Social Security Number, accountant numbers, or other financial information over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted
  • Assign a trustworthy person to act as your agent in real estate matters
  • Check references and credentials before hiring anyone to help with chores in and out of your home

Warning signs to watch out for:

  • Sudden changes in bank accounts or banking practices, including unexplained withdrawals
  • Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents
  • Unexplained disappearance of valuable possessions

If you suspect someone is being exploited

  • Talk to their friends and/or loved ones to find out what is happening
  • Report the exploitation to the Adult Protective Services in your area
  • Call 911 or your local police if you think they are in immediate danger

The Economy May Not Survive Lockdown 2.0

  • The government’s crisis stimulus is expiring this month. Can the economy survive without it?
  • The Fed is committing to lubricating the economy for now, but people and businesses are wary about borrowing money.
  • John Ross shows you what will happen next.

“Dear World,

“Tens of millions of Americans are set to lose $600 per week of income after July 31.

“That’s when the unemployment benefits supplement expires.

“And the timing couldn’t be worse.

“Unemployment benefits were boosted in March.  The federal government wanted to help bridge the temporary economic black hole caused by the pandemic lockdown.

“And $270 billion of stimulus checks were written to ensure Americans could weather the storm.

“One estimate says this added $3 of extra income for every $1 that was lost to the economic lockdown.

“That’s crazy.  And it was welcomed by many.

“But that money is almost gone, and it threatens the economic recovery investors have banked on.

“This breakdown of American incomes from January through May shows the looming problem:

“Americans’ incomes jumped by 10.4% in April due to stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.

“But income dropped 4.2% in May.  That’s even with many of those benefits still in effect.

“That’s a dismal indicator for the months ahead.

“Those stimulus checks have been cashed and spent.  And when the supplement expires at the end of this month, unemployment benefits won’t make up for lost wages.”

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HAPPY HALF YEAR

It’s great to have a New Year’s celebration on January 1st each year, but it seems to me to be appropriate that (in this troubled year) we give some notice to the halfway point and start over.

So to start a new tradition of acknowledging the halfway point each year, I am presenting a few thoughts to spread the cheer.

HHH…HAPPY HALF YEAR

  1. My husband and I divorced over religious differences. He thought he was God and I didn’t.
  2. I don’t suffer from insanity; I enjoy every minute of it.
  3. Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks it was called witchcraft. Today it’s called golf.
  4. According to Parkinson’s Law, companies with a multitude of employees can provide enough work for themselves.
  5. Higdon’s Law – Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
  6. An optimist believes we live in the best of all worlds; a pessimist fear this is true.
  7. A woman might as well propose. Her husband will always claim she did.

Thoughts on exercising after 50:

It is well documented that for every mile you jog, you add one minute to your life.  This enables you at the age of 85 to spend an additional five months in a nursing home at $5,000 per month.

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60.  She’s now 97 and we don’t know where the heck she is.

I have flabby thighs but fortunately my stomach covers them.

The advantage of exercising every day is that you die healthier.

The only reasons I would take up jogging is that I would hear heavy breathing again.

I joined a health club last year, spent 400 bucks, and haven’t lost a pound.  Apparently you have to show up.

  1. An older gentleman was on the operating table awaiting surgery and he insisted that his son, a renowned surgeon, perform the operation. As he was about to get the anesthesia he asked to speak to his son.  “Yes, Dad, what is it?”  “Don’t be nervous, son; do your best and just remember, if it doesn’t go well, if something happens to me, your mother is going to come and live with you and your wife…”
  2. Restaurant menu entry: “T-Bone: $.59.” “With meat, $17.95.”
  3. Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charles Chaplin look-alike contest in Monte Carlo. He placed third.
  4. 71% of waterbed owners say they’re more fun than ordinary beds; 68% say more sensual; 57% “everything is better.” The main benefit (sleep) was never mentioned.
  5. If you arrive at work one hour earlier every day for one year, you’ll add a month of extra work.
  6. Good phrase to remember to combat emotional upset: “It’s not Nuclear War.”
  7. Counteroffers to employees to get them to stay usually don’t work. Most execs who accept leave within 18 months.
  8. Success of new products introduced by top companies like 3M, Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, is less than 25%.

Psychiatric Hotline:

Hello, Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.

If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.

If you have multiple personalities, please press 3,4,5 and 6.

If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.

If you are manic-depressive, it doesn’t matter which number you press.  No one will answer.

If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want.  Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.

Wisdom in songs:

  • Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy…Eagles
  • Nothing left to lose..Janis Joplin

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SCHOOL CHOICE – A PATH TO A BETTER EDUCATION

According to U.S. News & World Report, “National tests show little to no gains in math or reading for US students.”  The state of American education is in complete disarray.

You might think I’m talking about the fallout from the coronavirus crisis—schools canceled, parents being forced to teach and work at the same time, confusion everywhere.  But it’s not just that.  I’m writing to you about something that goes much deeper than that.

Whether you are single or married, whether you are a parent or a grandparent, you and every American have a giant stake in how well our nation educates the next generation of our citizens.

If you accept that premise, then I urge you to read my letter, because it details the serious decline in American educational achievement—and what that decline portends for our nation.

But, importantly, the educational disruption caused by COVID-19 also offers a remarkable opportunity.  It lays bare both the problems of the present and new ways of doing things.  It also describes the exciting movement to expand school choice opportunities for American families, a movement that is already bringing about positive reform in education.

The biggest threat confronting school choice for our children is the constant, aggressive legal attacks launched against popular school choice programs by defenders of the failed educational status quo.  And even before the global pandemic forced schools to remote, teachers’ unions were walking off the job, leaving our children to fend for themselves.

The express purpose of these lawsuits and walkouts is to deny children the chance to access an education that meets their individual learning needs.  What millions of parents are seeing, right now, in their own homes, is how many schools are failing to meet those needs.

As support for school choice grows from the public and lawmakers—both Democrat and Republican alike—the pushback from unions and special interest groups is the same: lawsuits and intimidation, their only weapons for slowing the expansion of school choice.

We must fight off these opponents to school choice—and ensure that our nation’s students have the freedom they need to flourish?

As I am sure you know, every year, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars—federal, state and local—are poured into America’s public-school systems.  The best estimate we have is a staggering $621 billion!  That works out to an average of more than $12,000 per student.

Yet despite this enormous investment, we see consistent underperformance on standardized tests and other performance metrics.

For example, in April 2016 the results of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress for high schoolers were released.

  1. Scores on the 2015 reading test for high school seniors showed a five-point drop since 1992 (the earliest year with comparable scores).
  2. High school math scores remain unchanged during the past decade.
  3. While 82% of high school seniors graduated on time, the report suggests that only 37% of them are academically prepared for college coursework in reading and math.

Troubling statistics like these are nothing new.

One recent survey of 15-year-old students in 34 countries showed that Americans ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics.

And 25 of the nations surveyed also had higher graduation rates than the United States.  We are falling behind the rest of the world.

Money is certainly not the problem.

Because even as the measurable “outputs” of American public education consistently decline, the per-student cost burdens of American public education consistently increase, putting enormous financial strain on already stretched state and local finances.

Why are the costs of a declining public education system continuing to increase?

One reason can be found here: the U.S. Department of Education has reported that since 1950 the number of K-12public school students in the United States increased by 96%.

At the same time, the number of public-school teachers increased by 252%…

And the number of “full-time equivalent” public school employees (meaning administrators and other employees who are not classroom teachers) literally exploded…increasing by a whopping 386%.

In fact, the underlying problem with American K-12 education today is our antiquated system of harnessing the funding of education to the administration of education in our public-school system.  Fold an unanticipated nationwide shutdown into the mix, and the organizational inefficiency and curricular failures just become that much more obvious.

Now that I’ve gotten the bad news out of the way, I want you to know that we are optimistic that our work to advance educational choice is counteracting administrative waste—and achieving real and significant opportunities for students.

Contrary to the frequently hysterical assertions of defenders of the educational status quo, the founders of EdChoice strongly supported America’s historical commitment to using public funds (taxes) to support education.

But EdChoice parted company with the current system of public education when it came to the public administration of schools.

Instead of requiring that tax dollars, and students, follow a single path to public schools, EdChoice believed that the funds earmarked for education and generated by taxes should be directed by parents to the schools of their choice.

“Vouchers” is the word used as shorthand to describe this means of letting parents direct the public funds designated for their children’s education.

Centralized government, with its big bureaucracies and its inherent predisposition to stagnation, is not good at providing the diversity of educational opportunities and choices that a nation as big and diverse as America needs and that American children deserve.

Government monopolies in public funded education—which is what our public-school systems are—operate like nearly all other government monopolies: poorly.

When the Friedman Foundation came into being twenty-three years ago, there were only a total of 6 school choice programs in the United States.

Today, despite bitter and unyielding opposition from defenders of the failing educational status quo, 65 school choice programs are on the books in 29 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

A more important statistic is that today approximately 1.5 million American children are making use of a variety of private school choice programs to choose a school that meets their learning needs!

Over the course of the past twenty-three years, EdChoice has become the acknowledged national leader in the school choice movement, and the go-to resource center for parents and activists who want to learn how to make educational opportunity a reality.

We carry out our mission with the following activities:

  • Research and Thought Leadership—EdChoice is a national leader in school choice research. We publish dozens of studies, surveys, legislative analyses and blog posts each year to help the public, the media and key stakeholders understand how school choice is affecting families and students across the United States and internationally.  Our premise is simple: The more people know about and understand educational choice, the more they can help advance the movement.
  • Training and Outreach—For too long, parents have been told to sit down, be quiet and let the professionals handle their kids. Policymakers have similarly been bullied by those who seek to protect and preserve an educational system that has chronically failed many of whose who most depend on it as their pathway to a successful life.  We offer a variety of trainings to help school choice supporters learn how to advocate for high-quality programs that put students first.
  • Focused State Advocacy—We know from experience that bringing new school choice programs to fruition takes a lot of hard work. We also know that educational decisions should be made by those closest to it: at the local level.  That’s why we’re focused on engaging at the state level where it makes the most sense while supporting school choice efforts more broadly with our research, outreach and trainings.

Since 2010, the number of school choice programs has more than doubled, from 27 to 65.  Today, with school choice programs now on the books in more than half the states, and a pro-school choice presidential administration directing federal education policy in Washington, D.C., I believe that breakthrough has occurred!

And let me make a bold prediction: as things get back to normal after the coronavirus crisis, there will be a groundswell nationwide for greater educational freedom.

Why do I say that?  Because millions of Americans are experiencing in real time, the failures of the current education system, and the need for greater choice and flexibility in their children’s education.

And another reason: While a great many public school systems have floundered and failed their students, in spite of their massive taxpayer-funded resources, other private and charter schools have responded to the crisis nimbly and creatively.

At EdChoice, we see firsthand how such schools—ranging from a group of Montessori preschools in Houston to a network of Catholic Partnership schools in Harlem and the South Bronx—have found innovative ways to keep their students (and parents) supported and engaged in the learning process.

But maybe most importantly of all, parents and students are realizing that the public school system doesn’t have a monopoly on education.  The “one size fits all” style just might not, in fact, fit them.

But this doesn’t mean everything will change overnight.

Historically, the greatest opposition to school choice has come from the leadership of public teacher unions.  Sadly, the union leaders are more committed to preserving their influence as funders of politicians who will dance to their tune when it comes to negotiating lucrative contracts for their members.  They believe that any redirection of public funds designated for education away from the public-school systems (to parents, for example), represents a threat to their power.

The union leadership has been helped over the years by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who believe that permitting parents to direct the funds set aside for their kids’ education to religiously-affiliated schools will be counterproductive.

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12 COMMANDMENTS FOR SENIORS

#1 – Talk to yourself. There are times you need expert advice.
#2 – “In Style” are the clothes that still fit.
#3 – You don’t need anger management. You need people to stop making you mad.
#4 – Your people skills are just fine. It’s your tolerance for idiots that needs work.
#5 – The biggest lie you tell yourself is, “I don’t need to write that down. I’ll remember it.”
#6 – “On time” is when you get there.
#7 – Even duct tape can’t fix stupid—but it sure does muffle the sound.
#8 – It would be wonderful if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes, then come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller!
#9 – Lately, you’ve noticed people your age are so much older than you.
#10 – Growing old should have taken longer.
#11 – Aging has slowed you down, but it hasn’t shut you up.
#12 – You still haven’t learned to act your age, and hope you never will.

And one more:

“One for the road means going to the bathroom before you leave the house.

Some Thoughts to Make You Crazy:

• Atheism is a non-profit organization.
• Where do forest rangers go to get away from it all?
• If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
• I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where’s the self-help section”? She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
• If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
• Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?
• If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?
• How do they get deer to cross the road only at those yellow road signs?
• What was the best thing before sliced bread?
• How is it possible to have a civil war?
• If you ate both pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?
• Is there another word for synonym?
• If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
• Don’t worry about old age, it doesn’t last that long.
• Life is sexually transmitted.
• Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.
• Men have two emotions: hungry and horny, and they can’t tell them apart. If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.
• Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet, and he won’t bother you for weeks, maybe months.
• Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.
• All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
• In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.
• Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today may burn your ass tomorrow.
• Death is the number one killer in the world.

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AMAZING TOWN TO VISIT

I love Washington, D.C—no, not the government; not the politicians—I love the buildings, the history, the sense of purpose, and the pride it generates that we are a strong, knit-together democracy of tolerant factions.

One of the newest additions to the scene on the mall is the National Museum of the American Indian, a key part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Kevin Gover, the director, says: “Please consider joining us to help bridge the gap between misconception and truth, shatter stereotypes, and forge a path of healing and understanding for all people, Native and non-Native alike.”

Here are a few examples of the museum’s work on producing factual work about three Native American icons portrayed very inaccurately in many popular publications.

Pocahontas, 1595-1617 – Historic Figure

Pocahontas was the nickname of a young Powhatan woman, born Matoaka, who is a pivotal figure in world history. Her father was the leader of the powerful Powhatan Confederacy, which dominated the coastal Atlantic region when English colonists established the James Fort (later Jamestown, Virginia) in 1607. Pocahontas often accompanied her father’s men to the fort on what they considered peaceful missions. But English colonists abducted her in 1613 and held her hostage for a year.

Pocahontas later married the colonist John Rolfe. In 1616 she traveled to London with him, her infant son, and an entourage of Powhatan. There she was received in the court of King James as the daughter of a “Mighty Prince Emperor.” Within a few years of her death, Pocahontas was well known to literate Europeans. Associated with the success of Jamestown—and a reminder of the deeply entangled history that Americans and American Indians share—Pocahontas has remained an indelible part of the American national consciousness for more than four hundred years.

Geronimo, 1823-1909 – Apache Leader

A symbol of Native American resistance and warrior spirit, Geronimo acquired a reputation as a fearless fighter while wreaking vengeance on Mexican troops who had murdered his wife, children, and mother. When U.S. miners, settlers, and soldiers intruded on Chiricahua Apache lands in Arizona, Geronimo and his people resisted the newcomers, rejected U.S. efforts to settle his people on reservations, and were denounced as murderous renegades by angry whites. Hunted relentlessly by U.S. soldiers and Apache scouts, Geronimo was finally persuaded to surrender in 1886, and was shipped as a prisoner of war to internment camps in Florida, Alabama, and finally Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In his later years, Geronimo converted to Christianity, sold autographed photos of himself, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. Despite his notoriety, the old warrior was never allowed to return to his tribal homeland. He died a prisoner of war at Fort Sill in 1909. Yet Geronimo’s legend as a warrior survived. In 2011, the U.S. military operation that eliminated Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was code-named “Geronimo.”

Sitting Bull, 1831-1890 – Hunkpapa Military, Religious and Political Leader

Sitting Bull was a stalwart defender of his people’s lands and lifeways, which were threatened by the intrusion of white settlers and miners on treaty-guaranteed tribal territories, and by U.S. government efforts to concentrate Indians on reservations. These violations provoked war in 1876, in which Sitting Bull and other war leaders masterminded the defeat of U.S. troops at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Faced by a massive U.S. military counteroffensive, Sitting Bull and his 4,000 followers fled to Canada, but returned in 1881. After two years as a prisoner of war, Sitting Bull settled on the Standing Rock Reservation in present-day North Dakota, where he became a successful farmer, and later toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Yet he remained a staunch critic of U.S. Indian policy, and became an apostle of the Ghost Dance—an Indian religious revival movement, which spooked white officials at the Standing Rock Reservation. In 1890, Indian police stormed his cabin, sparking a bloody shootout in which Sitting Bull was killed. He was buried at Fort Yates in North Dakota.

The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the many outstanding sites to visit in Washington, D.C.

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GUIDE DOGS CREATE NEW WORLDS

May has long come to symbolize graduation and new beginnings. And you are helping us create new beginnings at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) with every guide dog team we graduate.

How? Your generous financial support makes everything we do here possible!

GDB graduations are joyful occasions, marking the beginning of new, life-changing partnerships that commemorate our graduates’ accomplishments after successfully finishing two weeks of intensive training.

In the past 78 years, GDB has graduated more than 15,000 guide dog teams. Watching the bond that is forged between our clients and their new guide dog is truly magical.

And today, as our country manages life with the coronavirus, I am sure our clients are particularly grateful to have their trusted guide dog by their side.

In addition to the enhanced mobility and independence our graduates experience, their dogs provide much needed companionship and emotional comfort in these challenging times.

Jane Fowler has enjoyed three graduation days since she graduated with her first guide dog, Ari. She recently described what the day feels like from a graduate’s point of view:

“Graduation day is such a unique experience. Family and friends are there to celebrate with you and you actually feel like a celebrity,” she says.
Jane was born legally blind and, at the age of eight, was diagnosed with a retinal degenerative eye disease.

How did a guide dog change her life?

“Someone once said that the dogs guide you back into society and that’s so true. I used to be very shy, but Ari brought people to me and helped me be more sociable. It brought me out of my shell.”

Now a self-described “extrovert,” Jane is enjoying life with her third guide dog, Pilaf. She tells us that, as her vision has declined, Pilaf has scented the need to be more helpful.

Recently, she wrote to us: “Thank you for all of your love and dedication to GDB. I am so blessed to have this sweet little girl who works so hard for me. She has never met a person or dog that she doesn’t love. And she is that guide that will walk through a movie theatre lobby and ignore all the popcorn on the floor. Good girl! She makes walking out the door every day more fun and a lot less stressful.”

You make all of this possible. As you know, we receive no government funding and all of our services, including room and board, veterinary financial assistance if needed, training, and ongoing support are provided to our clients free of charge.

Thank you for opening up a whole new world for our graduates today as well as our future graduates. I hope you will continue with us on this transformative journey by sending a generous gift today.

It is hard to imagine how limiting and hopeless it must feel to have eyes that work only in small ways…and then teaming up with a trained guide dog to open up a new world.
A friend and a companion indeed. Guide dogs are great!

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