by Cara Gardner and Joel Smith

Good Karma -- BOISE, Idaho -- It couldn't have come at a better time. Just as the holiday season sets in and the first snowfalls warn us of the long winter ahead, Idaho's Attorney General Lawrence Wasden parades in like Santa and announces $90,000 in grants to 45 homeless shelters, transition houses, domestic violence safe houses and group homes throughout the state.

Oddly enough, the money comes from two anti-trust settlements, in which several European companies conspired to fix prices for vitamin products and one company attempted resale price-fixing for household appliances. The money paid out to Idaho is now going toward real food and kitchen equipment for the needy.

Five of the grants went to organizations in Coeur d'Alene, two to Moscow and one to Sandpoint, for a total of about $17,000.

-- Cara Gardner

Losing Ground -- OLYMPIA, Wash. - Sliding in rank from 11th to 15th may not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to health, experts say it's monumental. Washington state is at No. 15 this year in state health rankings, the nation's second-largest drop in overall health scores. More alarming are the reasons: fewer women receiving prenatal care, more children living in poverty, lower high school graduation rates, worrisome public health infrastructure investments, the increasing number of uninsured, and the rising percentage of people reporting limitations to their activities due to poor health -- ouch!

"This news is very discouraging," says Greg Vigdor, CEO of the Washington Health Foundation, which works to connect sectors of the health care industry in ways that benefit the system. "After a decade of improvement, our state's health is headed in the wrong direction. This is a real wake-up call."

For the past 15 years, the American Public Health Association has published state health rankings based on a variety of factors that include a state's human demographics and health systems.

Washington is 44th in the percentage of dollars spent for public health and 39th in public health dollars per capita. It also has an increasing rate of cancer and cardiovascular death. But Washington does well in other areas; it ranks in the top 10 for non-smoking, low occupational fatalities, low motor vehicle deaths, low infant mortality and low rate of premature death.

"This report also reminds each of us that we all have to pitch in on some less obvious things that lead to healthier communities," Vigdor says. -- Cara Gardner

Get on the Omnibus -- OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Federal lawmakers are still pumping their fists in the air after passing what they see as a spendthrift Omnibus Appropriations Bill two weeks ago. Meanwhile, newspapers across the country are tearing into the $338 billion, 1,689-page spending bill -- and catching a whiff of pork in the air.

But while the pundits and pols sort out how much of the spending was really necessary (in the midst of a record deficit), one thing has become clear: the Inland Northwest is raking in some serious cash from the bill.

Sen. Patty Murray's Web site reports that she secured $17 million for Washington agriculture and millions more for state priorities ranging from education to law enforcement to economic development.

That means $2 million in funding for ongoing research of the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer; $500,000 for Inland Northwest Health Services in Spokane; $750,000 for an engineering program at Gonzaga University; and $300,000 to help St. Anne's Children and Family Center build a new facility in the University District.

Murray also says she secured $234.58 million of federal dough for state transportation projects. That translates to, (among other things), $7.5 million in improvements to Spokane International Airport, $3 million to extend and improve Riverside Avenue through the University District and $1 million to explore the possibilities of high-speed passenger and freight rail through Spokane.

The Idaho congressional delegation reports securing around $20 million for North Idaho. The biggest of these allocations are the collaborative aquifer study with Washington; almost $5 million to upgrade U.S. 95 through North Idaho; $3 million for forest conservation easements in the St. Joe Basin/Mica Creek area; and a little more than $2 million in transportation technology for new freeway signs.

The bill also includes legislative authority for the Idaho Forest Service to purchase the General Services Administration building in Sandpoint. -- Joel Smith

Publication date: 12/02/04

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