Eating healthy for just $40 a week? The federal government says no, but The Tea Party counters that.

ORLANDO – It can all be as a simple as having just $40 – maybe even $39 and change.

And it doesn’t require the federal government to look after you, the Tea Party says.

On the same day that President Obama was signing a bill to overhaul the nation’s food safety laws, Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, was delivering a very different message from her Lady Liberty Hour radio program: let’s take care of our own food and eating habits, and not look to the federal government to do it for us. 

Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, says people can eat healthy meals that cost less than $41 a week.

And that includes teaching even the poorest among us that they can shop – and buy – healthy, nutritious foods at their local grocery store without the federal government telling people what foods they should buy to maintain good health – or even providing the money to help them buy that food, Dunmire said.

“Our federal government spends $94 billion on food, and Peg Dunmire can tell you how to spend $40,” she said.  “This is truly something our government has taken over as part of the Nanny state.”

Dunmire’s radio show, which runs from noon to 1 p.m. daily on the Phoenix Network, railed against the federal government’s involvement in setting food safety standards that could just as easily be handled at the local level.

“If anyone thinks an inspection once a year or once every five years makes someplace safer, then they just don’t understand the nature of business,” Dunmire said, adding that if restaurants have poor cleanliness standards that leave their customers feeling ill, it’s a safe bet that word of it will get out quickly and that establishment won’t stay open for long.

“You will go out of business if you have a dirty establishment and you are serving food,” she said.  “Even if you don’t have a (local) ratings system, word gets around that people are getting sick there.”

Around the same time Dunmire was on the radio, the cable news stations were focusing on the bill passed by Congress last year and signed into law by President Obama today, that gives the Food and Drug Administration new and expanded authority to recall tainted food and step-up inspections of food processing plants.

The bill also requires large manufacturers to put together food safety plans.

Dunmire said the idea that the government can protect everyone from potentially tainted food borders on “hysteria” – not to mention a fundamental misunderstanding of what the government can actually accomplish.

“There is legitimacy in us being able to inspect food,” she said, “but the government is not what brings you food safety.”

People should make a habit of shopping or dining at places that have a good reputation for being clean and well maintained, rather than asking the federal government to pretend it can magically ensure that all these establishments are safe. She also said the federal government should stop spending so much on food stamps and other programs designed to help low income families buy food.

How do people know the food they buy at local supermarkets or grocery stores is safe to eat? Peg Dunmire says people should talk to one another to know which establishments have the best reputation for clean standards, and not expect the federal government to do that for them.

“They say, ‘If you’re poor, you can’t eat healthy,’ “ Dunmire said.  “Wrong. I’m here to tell you how you can eat healthy on $40 per person a week.”

Dunmire said she logged onto the Web site for the Publix supermarket chain and did some price shopping.  The average family can spend $14 a week on meat, $10 on produce, $8 on dairy products, $5 on grains, and $3 on bulk items – all of it healthy and nutritious.

“You can go to Publix and get one dozen eggs for $2,” she said.  “You can get two cans of tuna for $3.20.”

Add to that packages of carrots, onions, and celery for less than $2 each, and a pound of apples, plus five frozen vegetable packages for $10.

Toss in a gallon of milk for $3.50, packets of yogurt for $2.50, and two containers of oatmeal through a buy one, get one free deal, and you have the makings of a grocery bill that comes in under $40. Dunmire said she did the shopping herself on the Publix Web site, and “My grocery bill would have been $39.53.  You can have a healthy menu – there is no doubt about it.”

What Americans don’t need, she said, is the federal government spending so much on food stamps that tell recipients what they can or can’t buy.  She recommended that people looking to eat healthy try having oatmeal with milk and fruit for breakfast, a tuna or egg salad sandwich with an apple for lunch, and meat and vegetables for dinner, with some yogurt for dessert.  She offered that advice for free — a stark contrast, she said, compared to how much it costs the federal government to do the same thing, all on the taxpayers’ dime.

“It’s all healthy, nothing is processed,” she said.  “Americans really don’t know how to eat well. Our government is trying so hard to teach us to eat healthy, and it’s just not working.”

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Insisting that “Today, good isn’t good enough,” Teresa Jacobs becomes Orange County’s new mayor.

ORLANDO – Taking the reigns of Orange County’s government at a time of double digit unemployment and a housing market that may not have hit bottom, Mayor Teresa Jacobs was sworn in today with a pledge to make citizens, not politicians, her top priority.

“Our greatest asset is the people who live and work here,” Jacobs said during the ceremony. “Our greatest asset is you.”

Crowds of people -- the very citizens that Mayor Teresa Jacobs says the government needs to improve the local economy -- gather outside the Linda W. Chapin Theatre at the Orange County Convention Center for Jacobs' swearing in ceremony.

Jacobs took the oath of office along with the newly elected and re-elected members of the Orange County Commission inside the Linda W. Chapin Theatre at the Orange County Convention Center.  While expressing pride in the faith that citizens demonstrated in them during last November’s election, several of the commissioners stressed the very difficult economic times this region is facing, with a promise to make jobs and economic development their biggest issue.

Ted Edwards was sworn in as commissioner for District 5, replacing the man that Jacobs defeated in the mayor’s race, Bill Segal.  “I had a reputation for being fiscally tight, and that was in good times,” Edwards said.  “Now we’re in rough times.”

District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who takes the seat of former Commissioner and mayoral candidate Linda Stewart, likewise acknowledged the economic difficulties this county faces.

“I hope in the short term to create jobs, but in the long term to create an economic future that we can leave for our grandchildren,” she said.

The problems confronting the economy are steep. The unemployment rate in Florida remains in double digits, housing prices continue to fall, and the state continues to post one of the nation’s highest home foreclosure rates.

But there were words of hope and encouragement from the county leaders, including outgoing mayor Richard Crotty, who was on hand for the official passing of the gavel to Jacobs.

“I will tell you, I believe Orange County is in good hands,” Crotty said.  “We are going to move forward as a great community.”

Jacobs, though, offered less in the way of platitudes, and more of a frank acknowledgement of just how difficult the next mayor’s task will be taking on what she called “the toughest economy since the Great Depression.”

A former county commissioner from a West Orange County district, Jacobs won a landslide victory last November over Segal, taking 65 percent of the vote.  Looking back at the campaign, Jacobs said “It was fun. It was tough. But in the end, the experience was rewarding beyond measure.”

It was also sobering, she said, because as she traveled across the county meeting with voters, she found a lot of people who had a deep sense of pessimism about government in general and politicians in particular, and the ability of either to correct the economy distress so many are experiencing, Jacobs said.

“Unfortunately, many said they had lost faith in politicians, and maybe that’s nothing new,” Jacobs said.  “I am determined to create an Orange County government that our citizens can and do believe in.”

As mayor, Jacobs promised to operate under the principles of fairness, honesty and trust, and also to work closely and in cooperative with other county and local elected leaders.

“I have a plan for a stronger Orange County,” she said, “but I can’t do it alone.”

That also means getting citizens to believe in county government, and to work with municipal leaders to make the country stronger.

“I also believe we have the beginnings of a reenergized citizenry,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs' oath of office ceremony drew a large crowd today.

To improve an economy that’s been struggling since 2007, Jacobs promised to “work to attract better paying jobs” and to promote economic development by holding eight jobs summits throughout the year, and to streamline the approval process for building permits.

She also pledged to reduce any wasteful spending and ensure that taxpayers get their money’s worth out of county government.

“We will run a fiscally conservative administration,” Jacobs said, “and not burden our children’s future with risky debt.”

She also promised an administration that would be about action, not speeches, saying “Folks, this isn’t just talk.  Today, good isn’t good enough.”

Jacobs is the fourth mayor of Orange County, following Linda Chapin, Mel Martinez, and Crotty.

 Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

 

Debt counseling agency assists with that big January hangover: the huge credit card bills.

The classic dilemma with post-holiday credit cards: should you keep using them to buy, or cut them up?

ORLANDO – It’s that time of year: the holidays are over, and people are starting to feel a hangover – but not a lingering one from too many New Year’s Eve parties over the weekend.

Instead, it’s that feeling of anxiety, even dread in some cases, when the credit card and other bills start arriving, bringing with it a reminder of just how much spending everyone did in December.

Jackie Kelvington knows this feeling well, but not necessarily from personal experience.  A lot of other people are constantly asking her advice on what to do now that the bills have come due.

 “At the beginning of the year, January and February are the shocker moments when the credit cards are coming in and people are potentially in shock mode when they open them,” Kelvington said.  “People are in the mode of ‘Gosh, how do our pay this off?’  Even with our unemployment rate being so high, people still wanted to be able to give gifts to their kids and family.  We’re in a sticky spot.

“But you’ve got to live within your means,” she added.  “That means spend what you can afford, and save, save, save.”

Kelvington runs Kelvington Consulting Group and is a media relations consultant for CredAbility, a nonprofit credit card and debt counseling agency that works with people to reduce their debt and learn better ways to manage their money.  The firm often hears from people around this time of year, when credit card debt rises following the big holiday spending season.

“CredAbility is one of the nation’s leading non-profit credit card education companies,” Kelvington said.  “What we do is all about financial wellness for individuals.  Right now, that is a huge, critical priority in our country, in our state and here in this market (Orlando). Focusing on financial wellness, we do everything from comprehensive housing counseling to avoid foreclosures to credit card debt and how to budget yourself well, to when not to use credit cards.  We often deal with clients who are contemplating bankruptcy, and last year alone we helped over a million people.”

Their goal is to assist people in understanding some common sense tips on how to avoid falling into too much debt to begin with.

“During the holidays,” Kelvington said, “it’s a time of year when people are spending money, more than any other time.  What we advise is those smart tips, like if you have to buy something, use cash first.  But if you have to use a credit card, make sure your goal is to pay it off by the end of the month. You don’t want the charges to accrue.

“Now, obviously, the holidays are over and people are more concerned about paying off the debt they built up, and a lot of it is on credit cards, so we educate consumers on how to manage their funds well,” she added.

The problem of rising debt has actually gotten better as the impact of the national recession, a nearly double-digit unemployment rate, and a still struggling housing market continue to be felt. The Federal Reserve reports that U.S. consumer credit outstanding fell in 19 of the last 21 months. With the jobs picture still murky at best, consumers have been retrenching, spending less, and saving more. It’s a big change from spending habits earlier in the decade, when the economy was stronger, the housing market was booming, and credit was easy to get.

“Up until a couple of years ago, things were kind of humming along economically,” Kelvington said.  “People had lots of disposal income, and people were less concerned about putting things on their credit card.”

Since the economy started to decline in the fall of 2008, consumer spending has tightened up considerably, and so has debt.

“People’s debt is actually going down, which is a very good sign, but people need to remember the mantra of living within their means, and we’ve got to get back to some fundamentals,” she said.  “Consumer credit card debt has dropped for 25 consecutive months, and the personal savings rate has increased to almost 5.8 percent in 2010. Those are some very good signs that consumers are tightening their money and using it to reduce their debt.”

Despite the improved savings rate, though, the picture isn’t entirely positive. The National Bankruptcy Research Center reports that the number of American consumers who filed for bankruptcy in 2010 was the highest in five years, reflecting still weak jobs and housing markets.

“It all goes back to living by those principles,” Kelvington said.

Those who are struggling with debt due to unemployment or the continued challenges facing the economy are the kind of people CredAbility helps, by teaching them to develop a household budget and stick with it, and to learn that good financial health doesn’t happen overnight.  People need to understand how to manage their finances over the long term, and not just worry about paying off one big credit card bill in January.

“We have lots of things that we do,” Kelvington said.  “The crux of our organization is one on one counseling. It’s all that we’re about. The majority of the counseling we do is by phone and online, and we do in-person as well. We’re non-profit, free and open to the public with workshops ranging from topics on first time home buying to money management.  There’s also online seminars, podcasts — all kinds of stuff that we offer. We’re affiliated with Heart of Florida United Way, and financial stability is one of the legs of what we teach.”   Heart of Florida United Way is a health and human services charitable organization in Orlando.

The local CredAbility office is at 3670 Maguire Boulevard in Orlando, right behind the Fashion Square Mall.  To learn more, call 1-800-251-2227 or log on to www.credAbility.org.

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