Health Insurance Marketplaces Open

The health insurance marketplaces are open! Let the questions begin.

What are the deadlines I need to know? By January 1, 2014, everyone must have health insurance. There is no penalty if you are below the poverty line and your state did not expand Medicaid. If you buy insurance on the health insurance marketplace, you must buy before December 15, 2013, for coverage to start on January 1. You can purchase health insurance on the marketplace until March 31, 2014. To see an estimate of your premiums before tax credits are applied, go to the “window shopping” link at

What happens if my income changes over the year? Will I have to repay my premium subsidy? When you buy coverage in the health insurance marketplaces, you use last year’s tax forms to estimate next year’s income. If you anticipate changes to your income, you should factor those in, and come up with the most accurate income estimate you can. If you end up making more than what you estimated and your premium subsidy is too big, you may have to pay some of the subsidy back. If you make less than your estimate, there is no penalty.

What if I need help purchasing insurance? There are a number of ways to get help with your health insurance purchase. answers some commonly asked questions on their website. There is an online chat function too, where you can ask questions via your computer to a live person. If you prefer phone, there’s a help line open 24 hours a day, call 1.800.318.2596 (TTY: 1.855.889.4325).

There are also people trained to help you. They are called “navigators,” “application assisters,” or “certified application counselors.” You can also go to various government agencies, such as Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offices. Insurance agents and brokers can also help. Visit to find help in your area.

Scammer alert! If a stranger calls you asking for personal information like your Social Security number, do not give it to them. Contact one of the places above instead. Read more about Health Insurance Marketplaces Open

  • Rural Health

Affordable Care Act - Keep Calm and Carry On

There has been much ado about the early failings of the federal health insurance marketplace, or exchanges. The marketplace was to launch on October 1, 2013. And it did, sort of… The online portal did not work properly and then a hue and cry went up from opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

In all the chaos, however, one overarching point was lost. Tens of millions of Americans are looking forward to an opportunity to find access to more affordable healthcare for themselves and their families through the health insurance marketplaces. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must fix the problems in the federal exchange immediately. It is simply unacceptable for this system not to work properly, there are too many working families, especially here in rural and small town America, counting on a working exchange for access to affordable health insurance.

At the same time, we urge everyone to stay calm and stay the course, there will be plenty of time for the exchanges to be fixed and for individuals to enroll through the online insurance marketplaces before the end of this enrollment period, which runs through the end of March.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we’re working tirelessly to make information available to those who are looking to the exchanges for access to affordable health insurance. Give us a call (402-687-2100) or check out our resources on the web at, we look forward to hearing from you.

  Read more about Affordable Care Act - Keep Calm and Carry On

  • Rural Health
Weekly column

States Face Tax Policy Debates as Outgrowth of National Movement

Nebraska is having a statewide debate on the future of our state tax policy. The 2013 legislative session established a Tax Modernization Committee. The legislature charged it with a full-scale review of the state’s tax system, the first such review since 1967. Of course, the economy and our behaviors have changed greatly since 1967. The committee is reviewing ways to bring the tax system into the 21st century based on a 21st century economy.

The Tax Modernization Committee is holding hearings across the state to gather public input on what the tax system should look like. I recently provided testimony to the committee on behalf of the Center. Our main points included:

  • Create a tax policy that focuses on job creation. And make sure Nebraska can invest in things that boost the economy, such as schools, safe communities, and health care.
  • Retain the progressive portions of the state tax system to ensure that middle-class and low-income Nebraskans have a fair and equitable tax system.
  • Explore methods to expand the state sales tax to recognize an economy that spends more on services than goods.

It’s important to remember how the Tax Modernization Committee came about, and the lessons that has for other states. The committee developed as a result of the failed efforts of some to eliminate the state income tax. That lost revenue would have been paid for through elimination of hundreds of sales tax exemptions, many that hit rural people and rural areas particularly hard.

The move to eliminate state income taxes is not unique to Nebraska. Such a move is underway in Kansas, was recently enacted in North Carolina, and is being discussed in other states. It is still the policy dream of some in Nebraska.

This is a national movement. It undoubtedly results in low-income and middle-class citizens paying more in taxes because sales taxes and property taxes impact them more. This national movement will also result in the loss of necessary state services and programs through substantial reductions in state and local budgets.

As the national movement to eliminate state sales taxes moves to other states, be wary of feel-good rhetoric that relies on short-term gain but results in long-term pain. Read more about States Face Tax Policy Debates as Outgrowth of National Movement

  • Small Towns

Farm Bill Limbo Doesn’t Change the Needs of Rural People

Our last farm bill update covered the House of Representative’s Farm Bill that left out the nutrition title. Later the House passed a separate bill covering nutrition programs. That included a $40 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a much bigger cut than the Senate Farm Bill.

Since then, the government shutdown and the Farm Bill expired – again! In mid October members of the House and Senate Agriculture Conference Committee were named. (See House members here and Senate members here.)

What does this mean for the Farm Bill? That remains to be seen. But whether it's a short-term extension or a final five-year bill, we will continue to press that a new Farm Bill should:

  1. Reform farm program subsidies to level the playing field by maintaining the effective payment limitations included in both the Senate and House bills.
  2. Maintain the income limitations to qualify for the full premium subsidy on federal crop insurance, as included in the Senate bill.
  3. Include a national Sodsaver provision for federally subsidized crop insurance to limit the incentive for converting native prairie to cropland.
  4. Fully fund innovative programs that help start small rural businesses, launch value added agriculture ventures, and establish beginning farmer and rancher opportunities on the land.

There is a real danger of losing these provisions in a deal-cutting extension or a final bill wrapped in a larger budget bill. Those deals are made by leadership of the Senate, the House, and the White House. If you remember, this is what happened on New Year’s Eve last year. Let’s remind those leaders that shouldn’t happen again.

If Congress does actually move to pass a stand-alone, five-year farm bill, there is also a real danger of losing farm program reform. Even though included in both the Senate and House versions, it could easily be stripped when hammering out a final bill. So we need to keep up the pressure. Read more about Farm Bill Limbo Doesn’t Change the Needs of Rural People

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill

How Is the Conservation Stewardship Program Signup Working?

Once 2013 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts are finalized, the program will have reached approximately 63 million acres enrolled nationally, helping nearly 48,000 farmers and ranchers increase their conservation.

The CSP has become America’s flagship conservation program. And in order to ensure that it continues to work as envisioned, to invest in farmers and ranchers who work so diligently to preserve America’s natural resources through conservation on working lands, we need to learn from farmers and ranchers using the program.

Previous applicants have helped us develop recommendations and influence the Natural Resources Conservation Service to make positive changes for the program so that it better reflects farmers’ and ranchers’ conservation efforts.

The program has sought to enroll roughly 12.8 million acres annually. Automatic budget cuts, known as "sequestration," will reduce future sign-ups by nearly 800,000 acres annually. Competition for contracts was stiff with full funding; budget cuts will make it even more competitive.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we believe that farmers and ranchers with the best stewardship should rank among the top applicants. Therefore, we created our Farm Bill Helpline - 402.687.2100 - to assist new applicants in navigating these application processes, and learn from their experiences.

No matter where you are in that process, give us a call! We can help, and it is vitally important that we hear from those who have utilized the program to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and problems that need fixing.

You can find out more about the Conservation Stewardship Program here. Read more about How Is the Conservation Stewardship Program Signup Working?

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
Weekly column

Q&A: Health Insurance Marketplaces Open

October brought the unveiling of  the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. You can go to the marketplace and find the health coverage that’s right for your family, discover whether you qualify for federal subsidies, and how much insurance might cost for you.

We receive many questions. For example:

I’m a small business owner with fewer than 50 full-time (or equivalent) employees. I know I’m exempt from the requirement to provide health insurance. Is there anything else I should know?

Yes. If you have one or more employees and at least $500,000 in revenue, you must inform all employees by a letter that the health insurance marketplaces exist, and that they may be eligible for tax credits. Letters to current employees were required by Oct. 1, 2013, and to new employees within 14 days of their hiring date.


I smoke. Will my insurance cost more?

Yes. The four things an insurance company can look at to determine your premium are your age, family size, location, and tobacco use. With tobacco use, they can charge you up to 50 percent more compared to a non-smoker, and the extra premium cost will not be covered by federal subsidies.

As with any information on insurance forms, it is critical to be honest – if the insurer finds out you excluded information about your tobacco use, they can still cancel your insurance retroactively.

If you have questions or need to know where to look, visit, or call 1.800.318.2596.

These articles are meant solely to answer questions we receive and provide general information about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Center for Rural Affairs does not offer or provide legal advice. CFRA is not an insurance agency, broker, or consultant; does not recommend any health insurance product or policy or provide any advice on the purchasing of health insurance; and does not accept any compensation or consideration from an insurance company, insurance broker, or insurance consultant.

  Read more about Q&A: Health Insurance Marketplaces Open

  • Rural Health
Weekly column

Rural and Small Town Leaders should urge NPPD wind investment

This week, the Center for Rural Affairs is circulating a letter among rural community leaders, urging the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) to make investments in rural and small town Nebraska’s energy future by purchasing locally produced wind power at today’s historically low rates.

 Investing in Nebraska wind means making an investment in our communities’ future, which is crucial in rural Nebraska. Low prices of wind generated electricity, combined with the local economic development wind projects create and growing health concerns about coal-fired power, make a compelling argument for NPPD to invest in wind right now.

Due in part to the federal Production Tax Credit, which expires at the end of this year, wind energy costs have fallen more than 40% over the last five years. Wind energy provides more than 20 percent of the electricity in Iowa and South Dakota and more than 12 percent in nine states, but only about 4 percent in Nebraska.

All of us depend on reliable, affordable electricity. But the $2.7 billion dollars Nebraskans spend annually to meet our electricity needs can be managed more productively. More of it should be invested in purchasing Nebraska wind energy.

The Center for Rural Affairs invites leaders of mainstreet businesses, schools, small towns and civic organizations, as well as the farm and faith communities, to join us in urging NPPD to purchase locally produced, historically low-cost wind power. We will present the sign-on letter to the NPPD board and executives on Friday, October 11th.

  Read more about Rural and Small Town Leaders should urge NPPD wind investment

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

REAP Businesses Help Spur Energy, Economics in Rural Areas

REAP Reaches $9 Million in Historical Lending! The Center for Rural Affairs REAP Program reached a major milestone in 2013 by going over the $9 million dollar mark in total loans placed. REAP began in 1990 and didn’t reach the $1 million mark until 2002.

“That says a lot about the need for and success of our program. These small loans are important to Nebraska businesses and its economy. REAP loans help people start or expand small businesses across rural Nebraska. Many times rural areas lack quality employment. Starting a small business is the best and sometimes only option for making a living. Over 85 percent of the businesses in Nebraska are microenterprise in size (10 or fewer employees),” said Jeff Reynolds, REAP program director.

The stories below give a taste of how REAP loan funds and services help to fuel the creativity, drive, and dedication of Nebraska’s entrepreneurs. It is our privilege to serve them.

Ana Gonzalez, owner of Pasteleria Crystal, LLC, in Grand Island recently discovered a customer with connections. Imelda Catalan, new REAP Hispanic Business Specialist, had ordered Ana’s special cakes for Catalan family celebrations.

Several years ago Ana used help from Creighton University School of Law and REAP to organize her business. Now with the REAP connection rekindled, she has received technical assistance, a micro loan, and business training. Ana is a good example of how REAP helps small business develop and grow.

Linda’s Preschool & Discovery Center, in Ord began in 2003. Business founders Linda and Paul Horner bought an older home and brought it up to code for a licensed daycare. Last summer the Horners found a location that would allow a larger daycare able to serve more children.

Loans were obtained from their bank and the Ord Revolving Loan Fund to purchase and remodel the building. When it turned out a new electrical service was required along with unplanned plumbing improvements, funds to complete the project were short. REAP was able to provide assistance to finalize everything, and they moved into the new facility this spring.

Linda has a bachelor’s degree in education with 20+ years working in preschools, child centers, and elementary schools. She loves working with young children. Paul helps with maintenance and other chores. But the biggest winners are the parents who know their children are in good hands. Read more about REAP Businesses Help Spur Energy, Economics in Rural Areas

  • Small Business

Media Know-How: Smile, You’re on Candid Camera!

Ever wonder how one person out here in rural America can have a voice in today’s 24/7, story-of-the-minute media world? This year I’ve worked with Center staffers Traci Bruckner and Virginia Meyer to hold a series of public policy trainings across Nebraska.

I handled the media training and hope to share some of that here. I encourage anyone interested to contact me and find out more about speaking out on rural America’s most crucial issues.

First and foremost, having an impact through the media requires building relationships with members of the media. The editor of your local newspaper, the station manager at your local radio station, the reporters and broadcasters you read and listen to every day are members of your community. Give them a call. Get to know them. Let them know about the issues you care about.

Remember, you are the world’s expert on your own, personal circumstance. Tell your story. Tell the story of your community. Share how your experience relates to the issue you want to impact. Facts and figures help, but the media will always be more interested in your story.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Write down one or two (never more than three!) talking points to get across. No matter what else happens in your media conversations, make those points. And while you’re talking to media, smile. It makes you sound more interesting, more intelligent, and  more knowledgeable. (Silly, I know, but it works.)

Questions? Contact me, John Crabtree, or 402.687.2103 ext 1010. Read more about Media Know-How: Smile, You’re on Candid Camera!

Blog (deprecated)

Small Town Advocate Beginning at Age 10

I am honored and excited to be the new Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs. I owe much to all of you - great supporters, our staff, board, allies, and those who came before. Because of you the Center rests on a rock-solid reputation and a track record of success.

You might wonder how I came to be at the Center. It all began the summer I turned 10. That summer we visited the family farm in Iowa. My grandparents had recently retired and moved to town. We were scouting the farm, and I was lobbying to move there from halfway across the country.

We did move back to Iowa one year following. Growing up on my family’s farm defined my life. I raised pigs and witnessed first-hand the dramatic change in livestock markets that was underway. I got a first-rate education at a small town school, and graduated with 32 classmates. 

I cut my teeth in high school working to stop large corporate livestock facilities in our county. And I watched as corporate consolidation gobbled up and then closed the largest employer in our town. I was on my way to becoming an advocate for small towns and the people who call them home. 

I even remember reading my first Center for Rural Affairs newsletter when I was 14. My dad was a subscriber. The words in the Center newsletter connected with the values I was discovering. In college, I immersed myself in philosophy, and wrote a master’s thesis on the moral obligation to save the family farm. 

Now, two decades after moving to a small town in Iowa, I get to come to work for the Center every day - the organization that first gave voice to how I felt about rural communities. 

This work is a life’s mission for me. It has been an honor to work at the Center for the past 7 years, and I am excited to continue. 

For 40 years the Center has grown steadily in breadth of work and geographic reach. With you, we are poised to drive this work forward for 40 more years, facing challenges head-on and capitalizing on emerging opportunities for small town America. 

I look forward to working with all of you to create a vibrant future for the places we call home.

Brian's photo by Tim Hinds, Sioux City Journal Read more about Small Town Advocate Beginning at Age 10

Your story

REAP Efforts in FY 2013–Making a Clear Difference

REAP has coined a phrase known as PIE. It stands for Production, Innovation, and Evolution. This a model to deliver great results and predict the future needs of entrepreneurs. I’m proud to share some of our key accomplishments from the past year with you.

Production: Another great year. In Fiscal Year 2013, REAP worked with large numbers of startup and existing entrepreneurs throughout Nebraska. We placed and leveraged close to $3,000,000 in loans and reached significant numbers of women and Hispanic entrepreneurs. The need for our services is at an all-time high, showing the massive need for our services in the state. REAP has proven we have the ability and capacity to produce results.

REAP staff are working hard to reach as many rural entrepreneurs as possible. We’re proud to make a major difference in challenging economic times. Due to the overwhelming need for services in rural Nebraska, we always look for better ways to build the scale and efficiency of our program.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, REAP provided assistance to 2,107 entrepreneurs. Over 70% were below low- to moderate-income levels. Over 63% were women. Of all the entrepreneurs served, 40% were Hispanic.

In this time frame, we placed 78 loans totaling $1,084,950 and leveraged an additional $1,777,685 from other sources due to our “loan packaging” assistance. REAP lending and assistance helped create or retain 518 jobs.

Since REAP began in 1990, we have placed 949 loans totaling $9,367,681. We leveraged an additional $16,232,574 from other sources due to REAP assistance. That’s over $25 million in lending capital.

Innovation: The best ideas come from our customers. REAP has a national reputation as an innovative program. We’re known for striving to better meet today’s small business needs. Our innovation and direction is solely based on working with REAP’s creative, energetic entrepreneurs.

We use several methods to determine the changing needs of Nebraska's entrepreneurs. Staff live and work in small towns and rural communities across the state, and they encounter entrepreneurs daily. We’re also a networked nonprofit, collaborating with people and organizations across the state and the nation, continually learning.

But you know our best method? Back in 2008 we started a statewide Small Business Needs Assessment. We’ve done the survey every two years since, and it has paid dividends for REAP and others involved in small business development. Survey results identify what’s at the top of the “needs” list for startup and existing small businesses, and help us adjust our programming accordingly.

A good example of recent REAP innovation and collaboration is the Nebraska Small Business Collaborative (NSBC). This dynamic collaboration of experienced and high-performing Microenterprise Development service providers includes REAP, Community Development Resources, and Catholic Charities Micro-business Training & Development Program.

The collaborative offers one-on-one technical assistance, various small business trainings, loan packaging, and micro-loan access up to $50,000 for small businesses of 10 employees or less. Services include linking micro businesses to additional resource providers and lending sources, including commercial lending sources. These programs and services are available statewide in distressed areas of Nebraska, allowing a greater reach for underserved rural and urban entrepreneurs.

Evolution: Mission stays the same, but organizational model gets an update. Big changes are slated for REAP in 2014 and future years, though our commitment to helping Nebraska’s small businesses is unwavering. The Center for Rural Affairs continues navigating the rigorous process of having REAP become a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

A CDFI is a specialized financial institution dedicated to serving low-income individuals and communities that lack access to financial services from mainstream financial institutions. CDFI’s offer loans for small and micro-size businesses and provide services such as business planning and one-on-one counseling.

We’re also working on additional changes and updates in online assistance, new and innovative loan products, and establishing productive collaborations with various programs and organizations throughout Nebraska and the United States. We’ll keep you updated on progress with these and other cutting-edge changes with REAP and the Center for Rural Affairs.

REAP strives to achieve maximum scale in rural Nebraska. We’re committed to strengthening small towns and rural communities through small, self-employed business development. Our entire staff works every day to make a critical difference for all startup and existing small businesses in
rural Nebraska. These businesses need core small business services. We will meet that need head-on.

You can discover more about REAP at View our historical timeline here. Read more about REAP Efforts in FY 2013–Making a Clear Difference

  • Small Business

Tending, Working, Helping to Build Stronger Rural Communities

I grew up on an acreage three miles out of Howells, Nebraska. We had 12 acres where we raised a small herd of Angus show cattle, custom fed 500 head of hogs, and raised hundreds of chickens. Mom’s annual garden and our fruit trees provided a delicious bounty every summer.

The oldest of four kids, I helped as much as I could. Pictures of my sister and I helping feed the chickens when we were as young as 3 and 4 years old still hang on my parent’s wall.

As I grew older, I took on other responsibilities — tending the cattle, working the hogs, and helping Grandpa make hay. My love for agriculture runs deep.

Growing up in a rural area, I began seeing things that didn’t strike me as right, like hardworking families struggling to survive despite their exemplary work ethic. I realized realities like unreliable health insurance, corporate farms absorbing acreage that had been owned and worked as family farms for generations, and shrinking small towns were all threats to a way of life that I love.

I decided then I wanted to go into public service. My goal is to help those hard working Americans I saw struggle. I want those who are the backbone of our country to have a chance to achieve the security, well being, and peace of mind we all strive to attain.

My work at the Center reflects that goal. With your help, we’ll continue our mission to build a promising future for Rural America.

Tyler's family photo by Katie McDonald photography. Read more about Tending, Working, Helping to Build Stronger Rural Communities



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