Monthly Archives: November 2014

Holiday Safety

There are accidents and incidents every day of the year and for the most part they happen to other people so we don’t worry too much and just get on with our lives.  The holiday season is different; there are some types of accidents and incidents we see with increased frequency and it is worthwhile thinking about how to prevent them.  
Around the home, the holidays involve cooking, home decorating, entertaining, and with that an increased risk of fire and accidents.   The holiday season also involves parties with friends and co-workers and a risk of over-imbibing and auto accidents.  Presents, late hours shopping and cash create increased risk for theft.   

Around the home, Christmas trees and lighting seem to be the principal safety hazards.  According to the National Fire Prevention Association, there are about 240 Christmas tree related fires every year and another 150 fires related to decorative lighting.  These fires result in an average of 21 deaths and $25 million in direct property damage every year.  About 5800 people a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for lighting related falls.  Make sure you check your Christmas lights carefully for frayed or broken wiring, don’t overload circuits, and don’t hang lights near flammable materials.  Modern LED lights are cooler than the incandescent type but you still need to be concerned about electrical shorts or plugs not fully seated.  If you are going to hang lights, choose a step stool or ladder and, not a chair and refresh your knowledge of ladder safety –  

In your car, it is important to remember that any holiday brings an increased risk because there are more people on the road.  One fact stands out among auto fatalities on all holidays – between 35% and 40% of fatal accidents involve alcohol.  This is a statistic that may be getting better in Washington as the figures for DUI arrests over the Christmas holiday was down from previous years. Still, the best advice for reducing your risk remains – don’t drink and drive and avoid any distractions that may turn your attention from the road.  It only takes seconds of inattention to create and accident or lose the opportunity to avoid one.  Around here there are often emphasis patrols over the holidays – you do not want to see your Washington auto insurance rates go up.  

On a personal level, you can take steps to avoid being a victim.  Both car prowls and home burglaries spike around the holidays Experts in law enforcement suggest being careful not to put attractive things where they can be easily seen.  This applies to both house and car. Keep presents out of sight in the trunk of your car while shopping; don’t display valuable items in the windows of your home or where they can be readily seen from the windows.  Be mindful of your surroundings – if you see someone who looks like they may be watching you, take extra care to put things away and lock up tight. 

Have a happy holiday season and stay safe out there!

The PDN Home Fund

This past Sunday marked the kickoff of the Home Fund appeal in the Peninsula Daily News (PDN).  The Home Fund is a cooperative effort between the PDN and OlyCAP – Olympic Community Action Programs.  This year marks the 25th year of this unique program of emergency support for Clallam and Jefferson county residents.

The Peninsula Daily News handles the fundraising for the program as it has every year since the beginning. The PDN collects inspirational stories from the program’s activities during the year and presents them to the public beginning on the Sunday following Thanksgiving and continuing to 1 January. The program began in 1988 and raised about $18,000 in that year; it has grown enormously since that time and in the last several years has seen contributions in excess of $250,000 per year.

The Home Fund has a simple, and very appealing, thesis. At some point in any of our lives, we may run into a rough patch where just a little help applied at the right time and in the right amount can put us back on track. The Home Fund aims to do just that. The funds motto is “a hand up, not a handout.” The stories that the PDN tells really illustrate this principle.

While the PDN manages the fundraising, the task of distributing the funds raised falls to OlyCAP. It’s not an easy task. The program sets an upper limit on the amount of funding that can be provided to any one client and generally limits the number of times a family can use the program to once per year. Home Fund case managers must have a very thorough understanding of all the resources that can be brought to bear on a particular problem and find a way to use the Home Fund dollars to leverage a solution. A single case may mean hours of phone calls and contacts across many agencies.

You might well ask how an amount that might be $200-$300 can possibly be a solution to a major family problem. It seems unlikely, but it happens virtually every day. For example, a working family that depends on the family car to get a family member back and forth to work can get into a pretty bad situation if the car is out of action. Just a few days out of work may mean there is not enough money for food or rent. Without the money to repair the car the situation can worsen and within a very short period of time a temporary lack of regular income can begin to threaten the family with homelessness.

Is it a point like this that Home Fund managers can step in and make a real difference. By recognizing what is likely to happen without intervention, they can step in early and help fix the problem at a minimal cost. Even a relatively simple fix like a car repair may get out beyond the spending limits for the program so now the case manager becomes a negotiator. They might call other service agencies or area churches to see if there are additional funds that can be put together with Home Fund dollars to make up the needed amount. They may contact the mechanic to try to negotiate a discount so the work can be done within the programs dollar limits.

One of the most astounding things about the program is that the case managers in the program are a mix of professionals and volunteers. In recent years about 25% of the fund has been administered through the work of volunteers in the program. It is one of the most important ways that OlyCAP has to keep the program administration costs as low as possible. The PDN makes no charges for its support of the program or for fundraising and OlyCAP is able to keep its administrative costs low so that more than $.90 of every dollar contributed close directly into the hands of those in need.

It’s no secret that Homer Smith Insurance is a fan of OlyCAP and the Home Fund is one more good reason to support this important community organization on the Olympic Peninsula.  Look for Home Fund stories in the PDN on Sundays and Wednesdays, they are always worth reading.

History of Our Thanksgiving Holiday

An act of kindness or diplomacy in the fall of 1621 has morphed over the years into one of our best loved national holidays.  The first “Thanksgiving” was a three-day feast held sometime between September 21 and November 11, 1621.  The remnants of the Pilgrim party who had arrived in the Mayflower in 1620 were joined by 90 or so of the local Wampanoag tribe, including Chief Massasoit, for a harvest party. For the record, William Bradford, who led the pilgrims, had sent men out “fowling” and narratives of the time indicate the Indians brought some deer for dinner. They also likely ate dried berries, fish, clams, plums, and boiled pumpkin. It seems likely most of the foods were prepared “Indian style” since the pilgrims don’t appear to of had much in the way of cooking equipment ashore at that time. Thanksgiving was observed on and off in the colonies for years after that as a sort of autumn observance. We can credit George Washington for beginning the process of turning this sporadic feast into a national holiday. George issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789 declaring in suitable legalese of the day: “… I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us…” While George’s proclamation settled the 26th of November, 1789 as the first official American Thanksgiving it did not completely settle the matter and individual states and areas celebrated when and if they saw fit. It fell to President Abraham Lincoln to unify the country around a common day for a Thanksgiving celebration.  Lincoln had been influenced by Sarah Josepha Hale the author of the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” nursery rhyme.  Hale had been advocating for a national, annual Thanksgiving holiday for years. In the run up to the Civil War, Hale saw the holiday as a way to give hope and unity to a divided nation.  and belief in the nation and the constitution. So, with the nation torn apart during the Civil War and Lincoln searching for a way to bring the country together, he discussed the matter with Hale. The result of their discussions was Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. On October 3, 1863,  Lincoln wrote: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union….”  Presidents after Lincoln continued to honor the tradition by issuing their own proclamations of Thanksgiving. That seemed to work out pretty well till the late 1930s when some slippage began to be apparent. In 1939 Roosevelt proclaimed November 23 as Thanksgiving Day but a number of states had already declared November 30, the last Thursday of the month, as their Thanksgiving Day. In effect, the country got two thanksgivings. Roosevelt had actually moved Thanksgiving a week earlier than it was traditionally celebrated in part to help kick off the Christmas season and get some more sales in. It will come as no surprise that this set off a great hue and cry in the country that wasn’t resolved until Congress passed a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year. And that, friends and neighbors, is how we got to Thanksgiving today. Homer Smith insurance wishes you a very happy and safe one.

Mayflower docks at Plymouth Harbor

We are a nation of firsts – and sometimes if we can’t get an absolute first, a relative first will do. In beauty contests, for example, we are now getting rid of “second” in favor of “first runner-up.” Maybe it is just ingrained in our nature to want to excel.

We are coming up this month on a historic anniversary that sort of illustrates our dedication to “first principles;” the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims and the Puritans (yup, two different groups, one boat) landed at (or maybe just near) Plymouth Rock 387 years ago on December 18, 1620. They were not the first Europeans to arrive and settle in the new world – that honor goes to Columbus over a century earlier in the Caribbean. They were not even the first English settlers – the Jamestown Colony wins that race by 13 years, landing as the “first English settlement” in 1607. The Mayflower colony did come in first in one major category – they were the first English settlement of families. While there were some adventurers aboard, many of the company were families seeking a new life and settling in a new land. They were incredibly purposeful in their intent to found a new order, if not a new country.

The “Pilgrims,” a name applied later, were a particular branch of Puritans within the Anglican Church who had decided the church could never be purged of catholic influences and so separated themselves from it. This group was known as Separatists in contrast to the majority of Puritans, who remained within the Anglican Church and were known as nonseparating Puritans. The two branches of Puritanism were quite hostile to each other and a number of Separating Puritans had moved to the Netherlands seeking religious freedom.

When the Mayflower embarked on September 6, 1620 from somewhere around Plymouth, the Separating Puritans had arranged for the voyage, but the company included both Puritans and Pilgrims or separatist Puritans. By accounts, it was not a pleasant voyage. The Mayflower left England on a two-month voyage bound for Virginia in the Americas. Navigation at that time being a bit less accurate than today’s GPS, they landed in way northern Virginia – what we now know as Cape Cod in Massachusetts. There were 102 passengers – about one-third of which were separatist Puritans or Pilgrims and there were 41 men among them, including heads of families, single men and servants.

The Mayflower arrived on November 11, 1620 at what is now Provincetown Harbor and before going ashore, the Company of men articulated and signed the Mayflower Compact – a document which committed the signers to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey any laws made for the good of the colony.  In effect, the Mayflower Compact planted the bare root of democracy in America. The Compact read:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth,Anno Domini; 1620.

Cape Cod is a nice place in the summer, but not so much in November and the company sent scouting groups to find a place to build a settlement. One of these groups found a good harbor on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. With all deliberate speed, the Mayflower Company set sail and made for what we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts landing, according to legend, at Plymouth Rock and settling into a cleared area that had been abandoned by the Wampanoag Indians.

On December 18, we can reflect that our nation was founded by a group of independent families dedicated to principles of law and social order. Their spirit still informs us all.

A Season for Giving

There are nearly 800 registered nonprofits out here on the Olympic Peninsula; not all nonprofits are or are required to be charities. The state of Washington defines charitable organizations as “… any entity that solicits or collects contributions from the general public where the contribution is or is purported to be used to support a charitable purpose …. “Churches and political organizations are not charitable organizations under Washington law but they are required to follow some of the same rules outlined in RCW 19.09.  In Washington charities must have a purpose that is beneficial to the community and the list of possible beneficial areas is long. It includes, environmental, humanitarian, patriotic, or civic purposes, the support of amateur sports competition, the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, the advancement of social welfare, or the benefit of law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and other persons who protect public safety. In short, almost any aspect of human endeavor can be corralled under the general term “charitable purpose.” 

The holiday season is a time when many of us consider providing a gift of support to one or more of those charitable organizations whose “charitable purpose” appeals to us. This is a good thing because many of these organizations depend heavily on donations from the public or purchases of items that support them as Jake Beattie of the Northwest Maritime Center pointed out in a recent letter to the Port Townsend Leader.  

We have many nonprofit charitable organizations on the Peninsula working hard every day to enrich our lives.  OlyCAP is a favorite local charity of ours and it reaches out to the community through the Peninsula Home Fund and other programs aimed at people in poverty.  There are plenty of others that address other interests in our lives.  Centrum offers us the arts and education, the Maritime Center, Marine Science Center and Jefferson County Historical Society help us maintain a link to our past and educate us in areas that have been so important to our development here.  Jumping Mouse and the Gathering Place help residents with special needs. Habitat for Humanity helps people obtain housing and UGN and United Way offer a broad, community based approach to helping nonprofits.  If you have a passion, a need, or even just a desire to help out, you can likely find a community based nonprofit here that shares your interest.

When you decide to give in support of local organization you generally know a fair amount about it or know people who do.  If you are not familiar with an organization’s structure or charitable purpose or concerned about the management or finances of the organization, there are resources that can help you understand.  Washington’s Secretary of State maintains a website where you can look up charities in Washington to see if they are registered, assess their financial health and determine how much of their income is spent on program services.  There are also websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator that can help you find detailed information on charities nationwide.  These resources will not ignite your passion, but they can help you direct your support more effectively.  

Finally, if there are areas you really care about, consider offering the most precious gift of all – your time.  Most charitable organizations need the service of volunteers as much or more than they need financial support.  Whether it is financial support, time or expertise, giving to those organizations that further your interests can be a very rewarding thing to do. 

Your Personal Insurance Program

If you are an automobile owner, you are required by law to have auto insurance.  If you own a home, your mortgage holder likely requires that you have home insurance.  If you are out of your parent’s home and on your own, you probably have, want to have, or shortly will be asked to have health insurance.  Virtually everywhere you turn, institutions that have an interest in your risk of financial harm are there to make certain their financial interests are not compromised.  It may be refreshing to know that there is a type of insurance that serves your interests without reference to the government, the state or the bank.  It is called a personal umbrella policy and it is designed to increase your overall liability protection beyond the basic coverage provided under your homeowners or auto insurance policies. Personal umbrella policies are relatively low cost options for protecting you and your family against a catastrophic lawsuit or judgment.

Why would you think about investing in a personal umbrella policy? Well, let’s look at some numbers.  Your Washington State auto insurance policy must have minimum liability limits for any one accident of $25,000 of bodily injury or death of 1 person, $50,000 of bodily injury or death of any 2 people and $10,000 of injury to or destruction of property. 

If you are an average person living here on the Olympic Peninsula, you will be about 50 years old and your annual household income would average around $47,000 a year (US census data).  A simple formula for determining net worth suggests that your net assets should equal one-tenth of your annual pretax household income multiplied by your age.  Your net worth in this scenario would be about $235,000 – likely more if you are a homeowner.  

Now, let’s assume you are saving money by maintaining the minimum auto insurance policy and during the course of an afternoon drive to Costco in Sequim, you cross the centerline on a curve on Route 101 and hit a car driven by a thirty-two year old electrician.  His car is totaled and the young father is totally disabled.  It isn’t necessary to draw out the story; only sufficient to note that your auto insurance coverage may only dent the hospital bills and hardly begin to cover the total liability assessed.  There are two catastrophes in this scenario – the injury to the victim and the fact that a judgment against you could easily take not only your net worth, but your future earnings.  

An umbrella policy is a reasonable way to manage the risks associated with this sort of scenario.  Umbrella policies are inexpensive because they are activated only after you have exhausted your liability coverage under your auto or homeowners policy.  Think of it as a catastrophic policy with a deductible equal to the amount of liability insurance you already have.  There are some requirements.  Most insurers will require you to have a higher limit than the minimum coverage in our example – $300,000 or $500,000 in liability coverage on your car and home, for example.  However, if you have $500,000 in liability insurance on your auto policy and a $1-million umbrella policy, you will have $1.5 million in liability coverage and the $1 million added will cost only a small fraction of the total bill.  

The first $1 million of umbrella coverage can cost as little as $200 and the price generally declines with higher limits.  More importantly, this is not a coverage that protects the interests of your mortgage holder or the state; it is a coverage that protects you and your family against financial catastrophe. 

Life Expectancy in the US – An Update

Last year we learned from the US Census Bureau that Jefferson County was in the top ten of the oldest counties in the nation.  The good news now is it also appears we are among the healthier of the nation’s counties.  A study led by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation looked at changes in longevity, health and health care between 1990 and 2010 and gives the US a pretty poor grade overall.  

It seems we are living a bit longer – about 3 years longer than we were in 1990.  Life expectancy in the US has risen from 75.2 years to 78.2 years in 2010 and that’s not bad in an absolute sense.  What is troubling is that other countries are increasing longevity at a greater rate.  It is a race to the death and, unfortunately, we are winning.  

It isn’t for lack of effort – we are throwing money at the health care problem at a higher rate than other developed countries.   The U.S. spends more money per capita on healthcare than any other country and our high tech approach to medicine appears to be successful when judged by how well we deal with some diseases, like our five year survival rates for some cancers.  It seems though that we are the victims of our own bad choices –individual choices and collective choices.  In the individual choices arena, the things that are killing us are ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, pulmonary disease and auto accidents.  These killers are related to things like smoking, stress, alcohol consumption and a general tendency to obesity.  Our collective choices relate more to our health care delivery system which is obviously not created equal.  Counties with higher incomes and higher levels of education do better; poor counties with lower educational levels tend to do worse.   On a county by county basis in the United States we have some counties that are as healthy and long lived as any developed country on earth while others are the health equivalent of third world countries. 

There should be some practical implications of these observations on our health status.  For example, life insurance should cost comparatively more in the US because our chances of dying young are higher.  On the downside, our experience on the peninsula suggests we should pay more for Washington Life Insurance. You can look at the interactive map of life expectancy by county in the US and see how well off we are here on the peninsula.   

And, the study did not just look at life expectancy; it looked at quality of life as well. We are not doing well there either.  In fact, the number of years we are living with disabilities is increasing and that is not a good thing.  Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases are continuing to erode the last 10 years or so of our quality of life. 

The good news is there are clearly gains to be made, although they may not be easy.  Getting more people covered under health insurance may help reduce the disparities we now see in a county by county survey of health.  On an individual level, it looks like we need to lose the Twinkies and start exercising and snacking on vegetable bits and other healthy food items.  In other words folks, when it comes to long life and good health, we need to heed the sage words of Pogo Possum – “We have met the enemy and it are us.”