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Study: Wyoming Residents Don’t Need Loans (As Much)

in Economy/Good news/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming came in almost dead last in a recent ranking of states where residents need loans due to the coronavirus.

According to personal finance website WalletHub, Wyoming was ranked 49th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia when it came to states whose residents were in the greatest need of some type of loan due to the coronavirus.

The loans ranged from payday to home equity.

Wyoming was 51st when it came to the number of times residents searched the Internet for information related to loans in general, but was No. 11 for searches regarding payday loans.

Wyoming was followed in the overall ranking by North Dakota and Alaska, respectively, in 50th and 51st place.

New York, Virginia and Washington state were the three highest-ranking states, meaning their residents needed loans the most due to the pandemic.

WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across four key metrics, which combined internal credit report data with data on yhe increased use of Google to search for three loan-related terms.

The analysis compared loan-related search interest values for August.

George Mason University professor Frank Shafroth suggested going to a trusted friend or relative if a person needs cash quickly instead of using a payday loan service. If that doesn’t work, he recommended a credit union.

“If a person has a trusted financial institution or bank, I would suggest meeting with a loan officer to assess what the credit implications might be,” Shafroth said.

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Wyoming Sales Down In Second Quarter, But Up In Retail

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While sales for most of Wyoming’s industries declined in the second quarter of the year year, recorded online sales actually went up, due largely to a change in tax rules, according to a state agency.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, in its quarterly report on the state’s economic conditions, said taxable sales across the state declined by almost 13% from the second quarter of 2019.

However, sales in the retail sector in the period from April through June actually increased by 6% over the same period last year, the report said, due largely to new laws requiring the collection of sales taxes on online sales. The department uses tax collections to monitor sales.

“This increase was mostly attributed to the increasing amount of submission from remote sellers, which is a result of a new legislation on collections of sales tax by marketplace facilitators,” the report said.

Overall, taxable sales in the state declined during the quarter by 12.8% from the same period one year ago to total $4.1 billion, the report said.

The largest reduction in sales was in the state’s mining industry, where the purchases of equipment, supplies and services fell by 53%.

“(This) was the largest year-over-year drop since the first quarter of 2016 — middle of the previous turndown,” the report said.

Sales in the leisure and hospitality industry dropped by 34.6%, the report said, while sales in the manufacturing and financial services sector fell by about 20%.

More than half the state’s counties saw declines in taxable sales during the period, the report said, with Sublette County seeing a 61.3% drop.

But Carbon County’s taxable sales more than doubled over last year’s figures.

“Carbon County experienced the largest growth of 108.6%, mostly reflecting a boost in activities of a wind power project,” the report said.

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Wyoming Lost 25K Jobs During Second Quarter Of 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming lost more than 25,000 jobs in the second quarter of fiscal 2020, a recent analysis confirmed.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information released its economic summary of the second quarter on Monday, which ran from February through April. The summary noted that compared to the same period in 2019, Wyoming’s employment fell by 8.9%, or 25,890 jobs, during the peak of the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic during the second quarter of the year.

Nationally, employment declined by 11.3% during the same period..

Wyoming’s unemployment rate of 8.9% during the period was the highest seen in the state since the first quarter of 1987. The leisure and hospitality industry (mainly restaurant and lodging) saw the biggest hit, with 10,700 jobs lost during the quarter.

The state’s mining industry also saw major losses, with about one-fifth of the industry’s employees being laid off due to “plunging” oil and natural gas prices that were affected by low energy demand caused by restrictions on businesses and travel.

Manufacturing was the only industry in Wyoming that wasn’t affected by the pandemic, and employment increased slightly compared to 2019, the report said.

However, Wyoming’s total personal income (income received by all residents from all sources) grew by 7.7% this year, the largest increase seen since the first quarter of 2018. The U.S. also saw a personal income grow by 10.4%.

The report also noted that visitation was down at both national parks during the second quarter, but this was due to the complete closure of both park because of the pandemic.

Lodging sales for the state were down by 49.6% compared to one year ago, which again was caused by the park closures, as well as a decline in mineral activities in the state.

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Wyoming Relief Fund Demand Nearly Over Available Amount

in Business/Economy/News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With the deadline nearing for Wyoming businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for federal funds to offset coronavirus losses, the state had already paid out more than $120 million for assistance through the two of its programs still running, according to state figures.

Numbers posted on the WyOpen.gov/wbc website showed that as of Sept. 10, the state had distributed $123.4 million through its coronavirus business relief and mitigation programs.

The numbers were posted as the state neared its deadline of Tuesday for businesses and nonprofits to apply for the money made available through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislature, during a special session in May, approved three programs to distribute $325 million to Wyoming businesses affected by the coronavirus and related business shutdowns.

The first program, the Coronavirus Interruption Stipend, ended on July 2 after paying out $98.7 million to almost 4,000 businesses. Each business could receive up to $50,000 as relief for losses suffered because of business interruptions caused by public health orders adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Another $39.3 million has been distributed through a program designed to help businesses forced to close by the public health orders that may have been unable to apply for relief through the first Coronavirus Interruption Stipend program or that had losses exceeding what they received through the interruption stipend program.

One of the other two programs still running, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, makes up to $300,000 available to cover coronavirus-related losses.

The Wyoming Business Council, in a news release, said as of Friday, 2,480 businesses had applied for $182.7 million from the relief fund.

The second program, the Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend, makes up to $500,000 available to compensate businesses for expenses directly related to coronavirus, such as the purchase of personal protection equipment and the costs of extra sanitization measures.

As of Friday, 629 applicants had requested $28.3 million from the mitigation stipend program, the WBC said.

“The demand for the relief fund is very close to exceeding available dollars, while the mitigation fund requests have slowed to a trickle, potentially leaving millions of unused dollars,” said Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s chief executive officer. “We have decided to close applications in order to reallocate leftover funds to best serve the ongoing needs of Wyoming businesses later in the year.”

The state received $1.25 billion as its share of the federal coronavirus relief program. Under terms of the program, the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Gov. Mark Gordon said last week the state has spent about $829 million and is looking at other programs to provide assistance using the money, including funding for Internet service improvement in Wyoming’s rural areas, sending some of the money to local governments and providing funding to help meat processing companies in Wyoming expand their operations.

Wyoming Applies Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds To Internet, Processing Plants

in Economy/Mark Gordon/News
6280

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Two programs set up to help Wyoming businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are almost out of money, but the distribution of federal relief funds to help the state is continuing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a briefing, said the state is working to use the federal coronavirus relief money for items such as broadband service improvement, medical facility upgrades and agriculture relief as the two business relief programs still in operation draw to a close.

“Our two business relief programs are still open, but funding is beginning to run low,” he said. “These funds are open for small businesses and we are trying to be as accommodating with small businesses as we possibly can. We want to be sure the people of Wyoming and businesses of Wyoming have every opportunity to relieve some of the burdens placed on them by COVID-19.”

Of the $1.25 billion sent to the state through congressional action, the state has distributed $829 million, Gordon said.

Much of the money has been distributed through three business relief programs approved by the Legislature during a special session earlier this year.

Of the two programs still in operation, one is designed to offset the impacts on Wyoming businesses with up to 50 employees of business restrictions imposed to help limit the spread of coronavirus and the other is designed to compensate companies for the direct costs of dealing with the coronavirus, such as the purchase of protective equipment.

The state is required to spend the full $1.25 billion by the end of the year and the Legislature gave Gordon the authority starting Sept. 15 to spend any of the funds not already spent.

Gordon said one program that will use money will launch next week, when meat processing plant owners will be able to apply for funds to expand their operations. Gordon said meat producers around the state have been able to have their meat processed because of shortages of processing facilities.

The state has also used some of the money to expand broadband Internet service to rural areas of Wyoming.

“I’m pleased to report that some of the most rural parts of Wyoming will now have connectivity when these projects are completed,” he said.

The state has already started work to get some of the federal money into the hands of local governments and medical facilities

Wyoming Economic Indicators Up from May, Still Down From 2019

in Economy/News
Wyoming Economy Chart
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The indicators that point to Wyoming’s economic health improved slightly in June from May, but the state’s economic health remains worse than it was one year ago, according to a state report.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its regular report on “Wyoming Economic Indicators” said unemployment rates, tax income in the mineral and hospitality sectors and total employment were all below where they stood in June of 2019.

“The Wyoming Economic Health Index reported an index value of 97.3 in June 2020,” the report said. “This value was higher than the May 2020 value of 95.5, but significantly lower than the June 2019 value of 108.”

However, the report also said declines in the state’s unemployment rate in recent months are a good sign for the economy.

“These improved unemployment rates over the last couple of months are a bright sign that the recovery from the Covid-19 business shutdowns has begun,” it said.

Each of the four indicators fell during the year, the report said, with sales and use tax revenue from mining dropping by more than 66% to total $3.8 million in June, compared to about $11.8 million in June of 2019.

In addition to economic difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, the state has been hit with a collapse in coal prices that has led to declines in its coal industry.

Lodging tax income also fell from 2019, dropping by 46.2% to total $1.7 million in June. Although the income was higher than it was in May, it also marked the fourth consecutive month that lodging tax revenues dipped below the previous year’s levels by 35% or more, the report said, due largely to the coronavirus.

“These large decreases in collections from lodging tax are not surprising because of the stay-at-home orders and lack of travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

The state’s unemployment rate of 7.6% in June was a drop from the rate of 8.8% seen in May, but it remained considerably higher than the rate of 3.6% seen in June 2019.

In addition, the number of people with jobs in June totaled 266,300, an increase of 2,500 from May, the report said, but a decline of 24,100 from June 2019.

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Budget Cuts Could Reduce Medicaid Providers, Wyoming Health Department Says

in Economy/Health care/News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Reductions in the amount of state money paid health care providers through Medicaid made as a way to tackle the state’s budget shortfall could result in providers leaving the program, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The department, in a report outlining the impacts of its $28 million reduction in benefits it pays for health care for some Wyoming residents, said the reductions will lead to limits on services in some cases.

“In some cases, some Medicaid providers may choose to leave the program entirely, which may create access issues in some more rural or frontier areas of the state,” the department said in a report on its recent budget cuts.

The Health Department was the hardest hit by budget cuts outlined by Gov. Mark Gordon recently to offset a $1.5 billion shortfall in revenues predicted to occur during the current two-year budget period.

Of almost $254.5 million in cuts in spending from the state’s “general fund,” its main bank account, the Department of Health saw the largest reduction, almost $89.1 million.

More than a quarter of that amount, almost $28.2 million, will come from cuts in reimbursements to health care providers from the state.

The cuts would be matched with a $28.2 million reduction in federal funds.

The Department of Health, in its report on the reduction, said the spending cuts would come from a 2.5% decrease in reimbursement rates for health care providers and through service reductions.

The cuts are likely to cause a decline in Medicaid involvement by health care providers, the department said.

“Various second-order effects are likely as well, including Wyoming Medicaid providers limiting services to Medicaid members or in some cases no longer accepting new Medicaid clients,” the report said.

Another spending reduction of almost $3.7 million will be seen in the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program or “CHIP,” a program that provides low-cost health care for eligible children.

The program had been managed by a private company, but the state received no bids to continue the program during the most recent renewal period.

As a result, the program will now be run through the state, with claims processed through the Medicaid Management Information System, the Health Department said, with lower Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers.

The change will save the state $3.7 million without reducing benefits to covered individuals, the department said, although some patients may have to find new health care providers.

“A small number of clients may need to change providers if (the Health Department) cannot convince the providers to enroll due to lower rates,” the report said.

Federal funds to the state to help pay for the program will also be reduced by about $6.8 million, the report said.

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Gordon: State Does Not Have The Rainy Day Funds To Fix Revenue Crisis

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In a somber press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon sought to clear up the misperception that the state has enough money saved up to fix the state’s revenue crisis.

The governor said the notion that the state has large sums of money “stuffed away in coffee cans” isn’t true and the use of emergency funds won’t solve the problem.

“Sure we can spend the entire rainy day account down over the next two years but then what?,” Gordon said.

“Many people may be thinking we’ve got all this money in permanent funds and other accounts,” he said. “We’ve got to get [the budget picture] down to a very simple approach so people understand there just isn’t that much money.”

To that end, he said the state needs to plan five years out instead of the biennial process so “we know in five years we still have a state we can run.”

“We are approaching this cliff and we don’t have a way to affect a slowdown or a pause,” he said of Wyoming’s education funding mechanism.

Gordon said he hoped new legislators — many of whom ran on anti-tax pledges during the recent primary campaign — take time to learn about the budget and that government then clearly communicate to the public.

 “The people of Wyoming need to be assured that what they see in the budget documents is exactly what the state has,” he said.

Gordon said he hoped the public understands the severity of the problem before the state runs completely out of money.

“I know there are several people in the Legislature who feel this (running out of money) has to happen before anyone looks at this,” he said. “But the state has been through this a time or two before.”

He said he spoke to both former Gov. Mike Sullivan and Gov. Jim Geringer about the budget crisis acknowledging that each of them faced similar challenges.

An issue is trust, he said. 

“I do think people in Wyoming have got to be satisfied that we are out of money,” he said.

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Reason For Optimism In Wyoming’s Future, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite the economic problems that have forced Wyoming to make deep budget cuts to its government agencies, there is reason for optimism in the state’s future, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the state is actually in good condition in several areas, including its low coronavirus infection and unemployment rate, and has been helped by actions that have been taken to provide assistance to portions of the state’s economy.

“This is a challenging time, but I do believe there are reasons for optimism,” he said. “There are bright days ahead because of the sacrifices we are making. Those are having positive effects and those positive effects will have a ripple into our economy.”

Gordon pointed specifically to Wyoming’s low rate of positive results on coronavirus tests, which are averaging 2.45%, and to the state’s unemployment rate of 7.1%, well below the national average of 10.5%.

The state has directed more than $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to the state’s small businesses and has worked to issue contracts for the cleanup and reclamation of old coal mines and oil wells, he said, to help offset losses seen in the state’s coal, oil and natural gas industries.

“This year we are spending more on more (reclamation) projects,” he said. “It is anticipated that we will spend more than $200 million this year.”

Gordon also noted that Wyoming was one of the few states to allow its state and county fairs to proceed.

Such forward steps will be important as the state continues its work to climb out of the economic problems created by the coronavirus pandemic and energy industry slump, he said.

“Right now Wyoming feels pretty good,” he said. “We’re doing what Wyoming does. Let’s just be mindful about it. Let’s make sure we have a successful fall. That’s what’s going to be important for us to get out of this economic slump.”

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Gordon: Budget Cuts Will Be Devastating And Just Tip Of The Iceberg

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The first round of Wyoming government budget cuts as proposed by Gov. Mark Gordon has been finalized, totaling more than $250 million, with an additional $80 million in cuts to maintenance of state buildings.

The 10% cuts to state agencies, boards and commissions will have significant effects on Wyomingites and their communities because they will affect important services that people depend on and will reduce general fund dollars that enter the private sector, Gordon said Wednesday as he announced the cut.

Gordon said the state’s largest five agencies would see the largest cuts, totaling almost $200 million.

“These cuts that we have made are devastating, but necessary given the state’s fiscal picture,” Gordon said in a news release. “A third of our revenue has dried up since the beginning of the year. I am constitutionally required to balance the budget. Our state cannot deficit spend the way the Federal Government can. Just to manage this crisis, difficult decisions had to be made.”

The governor began his Wednesday press conference with remarks about the budget, detailing some of the cuts that have been made. He noted it’s taken about two months to decide on what would be best to cut in the first phase.

He also asked the Wyoming school districts to make voluntary 10% budget cuts, although he noted it would make for difficult decisions.

The Wyoming Department of Health, with the state’s largest budget, will see a 9% cut totaling approximately $90 million.

WDH programs facing cuts and elimination include those that serve senior citizens, disabled individuals and those with very low incomes, Gordon said.

Among the cuts planned are the phased elimination of the Wyoming Home Services program, an Aging Division program which provides services to individuals who are at risk of premature institutionalization; the elimination of some immunization funding for children; and a reduction in funding for early childhood developmental and educational programs. 

UW and the state’s community colleges had their budgets cut by 10% as well.

These cuts will mean reduced higher education options for Wyoming students, Gordon said. One program eliminated was Wyoming Works, an initiative the governor supported to help prepare adult students to enter the workforce. 

The Department of Family Services is eliminating vacant positions in the state office and field offices across the state, including at the Boys School in Worland and the Girls School in Sheridan.

Additionally, this means fewer people will be able to work on foster care and child protection Gordon said.

DFS cuts also mean the defunding of the Community Juvenile Services Boards, county-based diversion programs to prevent juvenile incarceration, and the burial program, which pays up to $500 to funeral homes for burial expenses for the indigent. 

The Department of Corrections will also see significant cuts to programs that keep the public safe. Parole agents will now be required to supervise additional offenders, and programs that help inmates re-enter Wyoming communities and not reoffend will see reductions in funding. 

The Department of Health, Corrections, Family Services, the University of Wyoming and the community colleges make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget. 

The governor is considering options for addressing the remaining $500 million shortfall.

State agencies have already developed proposals on further cuts to services, and the governor is working with legislators on other options, all of which require legislative action. 

On top of these cuts, Gordon has put furloughs in place for higher paid state employees and is consolidating human resources across the state government. 

“None of the cuts are easy, nor are they designed to highlight critical programs for political effect,” Gordon said. “These are the types of cuts we will continue to have to make to get our budget in balance. These hurt, and what comes next hurts more. I recognize the impact these cuts will have on Wyoming families and I am truly saddened that we had to make them.”

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