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Amtrak Trains in the Midwest Now Have Free Wi-Fi
JEFFERSON CITY, MO, (SLFP.com), February 11, 2014 - AmtrakConnect® cellular-based Wi-Fi service is now available on Amtrak trains in the Midwest, with eight corridors offering this free amenity to nearly 3.3 million Amtrak passengers.

"We continually look for ways to improve the customer experience on board our trains. The availability of a free Wi-Fi service that delivers the speeds and connectivity passengers are looking for is yet one more way to achieve this goal and maintain a competitive position among transportation providers," said Matt Hardison, Amtrak Chief Marketing and Sales Officer.

AmtrakConnect utilizes multiple cellular carriers to provide the best mobile experience possible, taking advantage of 4G technologies where available. Amtrak installed the equipment under contracts with the states of Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin as part of their sponsorship of Amtrak service. This brings the Wi-Fi coverage to about 85 percent passengers across the national network.

Hardison explained that AmtrakConnect is provided at no cost to passengers and has proven very popular - as evidenced by the fact that it routinely supports between 30 and 50 percent of passengers on a given train.

Wi-Fi service is now provided on these Chicago Hub Services routes in addition to Amtrak trains on the East and West Coasts (FY2013 ridership data):

Illinois: 1.22 million passengers
Lincoln Service: Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis (expanding to all four round-trips);
Illini/Saluki: Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale;
Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg: Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy

Michigan: 1.05 million passengers
Wolverine Service: Chicago-Ann Arbor-Detroit-Pontiac;
Blue Water: Chicago-East Lansing-Port Huron;
Pere Marquette: Chicago-Holland-Grand Rapids

Missouri: 200,000 passengers
Missouri River Runner: St. Louis-Jefferson City-Kansas City

Wisconsin (contract shared with Illinois): 821,000 passengers
Hiawatha Service: Chicago-Milwaukee

As the demand for on-board Wi-Fi continues to grow, and in order to ensure the best experience for everyone, data-intensive activities, such as streaming video and music, and large file downloads that can slow everyone down, will be restricted. Doing so helps ensure that high-volume data users onboard the trains do not degrade the experience for others.


U.S. Postal Service Records Loss of $354 Million
JEFFERSON CITY, MO, (SLFP.com), February 9, 2014 - The U.S. Postal Service ended the first quarter of its 2014 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2013 - Dec. 31, 2013) with a net loss of $354 million.

This marks the 19th of the last 21 quarters that it has sustained a loss. Though the Postal Service has been able to grow revenue by capitalizing on opportunities in Shipping and Package Services and has aggressively reduced operating costs, losses continue to mount due to the persistent decline of higher-margin First-Class Mail, stifling legal mandates, and its inflexible business and governance models.

"The Postal Service is doing its part within the bounds of law to right size the organization, and I am very proud of the achievements we have made to reduce costs while significantly growing our package business," said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe. "We cannot return the organization to long-term financial stability without passage of comprehensive postal reform legislation. We appreciate the efforts of the House and Senate oversight committees to make this happen as soon as possible."

Without legislative change, the Postal Service will be forced to default on another required $5.7 billion retiree health benefits prefunding payment due by Sept. 30, 2014, because it will have insufficient cash and no ability to borrow additional funds at that date.

The Postal Service will continue to have a low level of liquidity through October 2014. In the event that circumstances leave the Postal Service with insufficient cash, the Postal Service would be required to implement contingency plans to ensure that all mail deliveries continue. These measures could require the Postal Service to prioritize payments to its employees and suppliers ahead of some payments to the federal government, as has been done in the past.

Citing that the Postal Service could not wait for legislation indefinitely, the Postal Service's Board of Governors directed management in 2013 to accelerate alignment of its operations to further reduce costs and strengthen its finances.

The Postal Service leveraged employee attrition and increased use of non-career employees - as provided by new labor agreements - which allowed for better alignment of staffing and workload levels, resulting in reduced labor costs.

"We grew revenue by over $300 million through aggressive marketing and improving service, and we reduced operating costs by $574 million in Quarter 1, partially due to the separation of approximately 22,800 employees in 2013 under a Voluntary Early Retirement program and improved efficiency in our workforce," said Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President Joseph Corbett.

The Postal Service's shipping business continues to show solid growth. Shipping and Package revenue increased $479 million or 14.1 percent over 2013 first quarter results, fueled by the growth of online shopping, Sunday deliveries in limited U.S. markets and the ongoing success of Postal Service campaigns to promote the value of Postal Service shipping services.

The Postal Service continues to capitalize on its competitive advantage in providing "last mile" service, resulting in a 34.3 percent increase in revenue from Parcel Return and Parcel Select Service over the same period last year.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.


Farm Bill Improved, but Still Will Do Harm
JEFFERSON CITY, MO, (SLFP.com), February 9, 2014 - The Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) has expressed concern for the estimated 850,000 U.S. households who will have an average of $90 less per month for food due to provisions of the Farm Bill signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama.

In a release, Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of MASW, said, "While hungry families in Missouri will see little change, the deep cuts in other states cause us sorrow." The new law calls for a reduction of $8.6 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) over ten years by increasing the threshold at which persons receiving the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may receive SNAP benefits.

Missouri has not opted to use this option, often abbreviated as "heat and eat." Missouri SNAP recipients had already seen a reduction of about $36 per month for a family of four when additional federal cuts went into effect on Nov. 1, 2013.

"We fear the cuts in the Farm Bill are more evidence that our state and national leaders are not taking the problem of hunger seriously enough," Oxford added. "One out of four families with children in Missouri currently face food insecurity. This demand the attention and commitment of all of us."

MASW does celebrate that social justice advocates were able to win many positive changes in the Farm Bill as it went through the legislative process. Among these were:

  • Reduction of cuts from almost $40 billion over ten years down to the $8.6 billion cut to SNAP in the final version.
  • Elimination of aid to some able-bodied adults without dependents, simply because they cannot find work in a struggling economy.
  • Restoration at a national lifetime ban on SNAP receipt for convicted drug felons, even after they serve their time and return to society. The ban was part of the 1996 federal welfare reform law, but most states have now sought waivers to end the ban in total or in part.
Oxford stated, "We were glad to see rejection of the return of the national lifetime ban on SNAP receipt for ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society. Missouri has the opportunity to join the forty other states who have ended this senseless and cruel ban by passing House Bill 1589 or SB 680 this year. We strongly support this legislation."

HB 1589 will be heard by the House Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday, February 11.


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