NDDOT Has Website for Statewide Public Transportation

nddot_logoA website provided by the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) includes all of the transit providers, services, hours and contact information for the state of North Dakota.  The NDDOT administers federal transit grant funds to rural, non-urbanized areas and state-aid funding for the entire state.

Approximately 34 bus programs provide public transportation for anyone who needs a ride in rural North Dakota. The services provided include fixed route, demand response, dial-a-ride/para transit for people with disabilities and seniors, and intercity.

The NDDOT website includes information regarding which services are available in each county as well as in some cities. To learn what services are available in your area, go to https://www.dot.nd.gov/divisions/localgov/transit-providers.htm.

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May is Mental Health Month

mental-health-awareness-month-05022016Oftentimes, when mental illness or disorders are discussed, the language used to describe them is clinical and impersonal. These words don’t often do justice to what life with a mental illness feels like. This year’s theme for mental health month is life with a mental illness.

May is mental health month and it was started 67 years ago to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone.  Speaking out about what mental illness feels like can encourage others to recognize symptoms early on and empower individuals to be agents in their own recovery. Prevention, early identification and intervention, and integrated services work.

People experience the symptoms of mental illnesses differently, and sharing how it really feels can help others to understand if what they are going through may be a symptom of a mental health problem. The stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illnesses can be broken down if people start talking about mental health and sharing how it feels to live with a mental illness. Mental illnesses are common and treatable, and help is available.

It’s time to start speaking up about mental illness in real, relatable terms so that people do not feel isolated and alone. This year’s theme—life with a mental illness—is meant to help remove the shame and stigma of speaking out so that more people can be comfortable coming out of the shadows and seeking the help they need.

Obama to Forgive Student Loan Debt for People with Permanent Disabilities

President Obama Holds Bill Signing In Oval Office Of White HouseOn April 12, the Department of Education announced it will forgive an estimated $7.7 billion dollars in student loans for 387,000 people with permanent disabilities.  Starting next week, the Department of Education will send letters to Americans who have been identified as eligible for what is called a “total and permanent disability” loan discharge because they have a disability and are unable to work. The Department of Education and Social Security Administration worked together to identify borrowers who have been receiving disability payments and are eligible to have their loans discharged.

By law, anyone with a severe disability is eligible to have the government discharge their federal student loans. The administration took steps four years ago to make the process easier by letting people who have a “total and permanent disability” to apply for a discharge using their social security designation, but few took advantage.

This is why the Department of Education and Social Security Administration began to identify borrowers who have a specific designation of “medical improvement not expected.” Of the 387,000 people identified, about 179,000 of those people are currently in default on their loans, putting them at risk of losing their tax refunds and having their Social Security benefits garnished.

Starting next week, borrowers identified in the match will receive a letter form the government explaining the steps needed to receive a discharge. They will not be required to submit documentation of their eligibility. Notification letters will be sent over a 16-week period.

Hiring a Home Health Care Employee

It can be difficult to hire a home health care employee. Having a stranger come into your family’s home and care for a loved one can be nerve racking, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you are a caregiver, it is important for you to care for yourself, and arrange for time away from caregiving. When you have made the decision to hire a helper, these guidelines may help you.

Gather Information:

  • Ask family, friends, neighbors, and other persons you trust for recommendations. If you know someone who utilizes a home health care service, ask them about it. This can often be the best way to gain information.
  • If you attend a support group, ask other members what resources they would recommend based on their experiences.

Decide If You Would Like to Hire Someone Through an Agency or If You Would Prefer to Hire Someone Independently:

  • Hiring someone through an agency saves time and paperwork, and may provide trustworthy satisfactory assistance; however, it will be more costly.
  • Hiring someone yourself can reduce costs, but will take time and effort. If you pay someone more than $50 a quarter, you are required by law to withhold social security benefits, and make quarterly payments to the IRS. If the person you hire is already self-employed, they should then be paying their own social security taxes.
  • It is important to weigh costs, convenience, and legal responsibilities.

Be Specific About the Job Description, Hours, Rules, and Wages:

  • Be clear about the duties of both the helper and employer. A formalized agreement is vital in the case of disputes over wages, tasks, etc.
  • Make a list of tasks and questions that meet your needs and address your particular situation.

Ask Questions, Check References:

Ask the potential employee questions such as:

  • Where have you worked before?
  • Have you ever given care to someone with dementia (or whatever the health issue may be)?
  • Why are you choosing this type of work?
  • Request references, and advise them that you will be checking references and other resources regarding their employment history and character.

Ask references questions such as:

  • How long have you known the applicant?
  • In what capacity?
  • How did they get along with you and the person for whom they provided care?
  • Were they reliable and dependable?

The Process:

  • When you decide to hire someone, show them what a typical day is like and describe your loved one’s habits. Show him/her around the house and how to use specific appliances. Don’t expect him/her to plan meals. Instead, write down menus and details. For example, write down how the person likes his/her chicken or how much sugar he/she likes in their coffee.
  • Make a list of who to call in case of emergencies and what time your loved one may require medications. Make a chart for the time of each medication and have the employee cross off when it is given. This helps to eliminate any confusion related to when a medication was dispensed.
  • If you do not live near the person who is in need of care, make sure you get the phone numbers of neighbors and friends, as well as giving them your loved one’s house keys in case of emergencies.

The Agreement:

  • Write down his/her responsibilities, salary, vacation, benefits and day that he/she will get paid. Make expectations very clear. Request that he/she give you two days’ notice if they can’t be there for specific day.
  • Let him/her know if you don’t want them to have visitors or make long distance phone calls. Spell everything out very clearly so there are no misunderstandings.
  • Put all money and jewelry in a safe. Have checks from pensions, investments, and Social Security deposited directly into an account, and do not give home health care aides access to bankbooks or finances.
  • Be sure to maintain a professional relationship. Letting him/her become a member of the family opens the door to possible exploitation, especially if you don’t live nearby and cannot monitor the situation closely.

Finding a good home health care employee is invaluable so make sure you find the right fit for you and your loved one.

Social Security Benefits to Remain the Same

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has come out saying there will be no automatic cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for 2016. SSA has said the reason there will be no change is because inflation is too low to warrant an automatic benefit hike.

Since 1975, federal law has mandated that Social Security benefits adjust upward annually to account for increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. There have been only two other years (2010 and 2011) without a COLA.

Without an adjustment, the maximum federal Supplemental Security Income benefits for individuals will remain at $733 per month.  Couples can receive $1,100 per month. Across the nation, over 59 million people receive Social Security benefits and 8 million rely solely on SSI.

October is Bully Prevention Awareness Month

October is Bully Prevention Awareness Month. Bullying impacts children of all ages all over the world. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or happen online. School dropout rates and absences among children who are bullied are much higher than other students. In fact, more than 160,000 students in the USA stay home each day because they are scared of being bullied.

The group of students with the highest risk of being bullied is students with disabilities. Students with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers without disabilities. Researchers have also discovered that students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared to students without disabilities.

One out of every four students reports being bullied during the school year. Students who experience bullying are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties and poor school adjustment. The students who do the bullying are at an increased risk for substance abuse, academic problems and violence later in adolescence and adulthood. In fact, by age 24, 60% of students who bullied others in grades 6-9 had one or more criminal convictions. The students at the highest risk for both mental health and behavior problems are students who were both bullied and bullied others.

Not only does bullying lead to mental health problems, but it can also lead to suicide. There is a strong association between bullying and suicide-related behaviors. Youth victimized by their peers were 2.4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation and 3.3 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than youth who reported not being bullied. Students who are both bullied and engage in bullying behavior are the highest risk group for adverse outcomes.

So what can be done? School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%. Students reported that the most helpful things teachers can do are: listen to the student, check in with them afterward to see if the bullying stopped, and give the student advice. Students reported that the most harmful things teachers can do are: tell the students to solve the problem themselves, tell the student the bullying wouldn’t happen if they acted differently, ignored what was going on, or tell the student to stop tattling.

The best way to stop bullying is to engage bystanders. Students who experience bullying report allying and supportive actions from their peers as the most helpful actions. Students also said that they find peer actions to be more helpful than educator or self-actions.

While October is Bully Prevention Awareness Month, it isn’t the only time we should talk about bullying. Bullying happens all year long and impacts people every single day. It’s important for us to not only talk about bullying, but to also work to prevent it from happening in the future.

Winter Energy Saving Tips

None of us want to think about winter just quite yet, but it’s just around the corner. The time has come to start thinking about winter heating costs. Here are a few tips to save money this winter and still stay toasty and warm.

  • A humidifier can help control heating costs because the moist air will feel warmer, allowing the thermostat to be set at a lower temperature.
  • Use draperies, blinds, curtains or shutters on all windows to slow the loss of heat through the glass. Keep window coverings open on sunny days to let in the sun’s warmth.
  • Rearrange furniture, placing it next to inside walls and away from windows. Avoid blocking heat registers with furniture, draperies or carpet.
  • Use kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans sparingly. In just one hour, these fans can exhaust a houseful of warm air.
  • Closets and cabinets on outside walls can leak a great deal of cold air, so make sure the doors fit snugly and keep them tightly closed.
  • When you’re not at home, turn the thermostat down 10 degrees. It can save you around 10% a year in heating costs if done for 8 hours a day.