Houstonian Corner (V10-I43)

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Houstonian Corner (V10-I43)

Shifa Foundation

Houston, TX (October 11, 2008): It started in 1997 with ten community volunteers of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), coming together to serve the humanity through free basic healthcare services for the uninsured, legal consultation for those who could not afford lawyers and imparting computer literacy in a small 100 square feet space with some old furniture.

That sincere desire of extending earnest human services to disadvantaged people in the Greater Houston Community without regard to ethnicity, color, or creed, has resulted in the creation of a most vibrant Shifa Foundation 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization. In ten plus years, more than 17,000 needy people have benefited from these services worth $3-Million.

Last Saturday, Mayor Bill White of Houston inaugurated the Shifa Foundation Building funded through Community Donations and a City of Houston Matching Grant of $800,000. In his presentation, Mayor White emphasized that the Shifa Foundation is clear evidence of the best in the humanity. This Benevolent Spirit of Shifa Foundation should be spread in Houston, in the Nation & in the whole World and soon we will all see our contemporary conflicts and issues getting resolved.

Special recognition awards were given to: Hashim Badat, Acting President of ISGH; Donald Sampley, Assistant Director of the City of Houston Housing Department; Gayve Ankelsaria of the City of Houston Housing Department; Dr. Donnie Aga of the Kelsey Seybold Clinic (providing Physicians and other amenities on regular basis); Honorable Council Member M. J. Khan and Honorable Mayor Bill White.

Earlier Dr. Laeeq Khan President, Dr.  Azeem-ud-Din Vice President and Dr. Moien Butt General Secretary of the Foundation welcomed Honorable Mayor Bill White, Honorable Congressman Nick Lampson and Honorable City Councilman Masrur Javed Khan, as they entered the inauguration ceremony tent behind the ISGH Synott Road Masjid. Also present on the occasion were some of the Board Members like Dr. Hasan Naqvi, Dr. Abdul Fustok, Iqbal Alam, Ahmad Batanjeh, Bapsi Sidhwa and Bilal Muhammad.

Coordinator of the Ceremony Mrs. Maria Irshad informed that at present, Shifa Clinic provides every Saturday 11am.-3pm. services in general medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, and mental health.

“Through community help, there are plans to soon make it a full-time clinic with services every day”, informed Dr. Azam Kundi.

Mrs. Maria Irshad further said that although there may be some specialty referrals, major emphasis is on primary health care, provided with the help of more than 160 volunteers including 55 specialist doctors. Shifa is not only providing primary healthcare, it also has a network of specialists, who provide quality health care in other areas, like Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Chiropractic, Lab Services (on site Blood, Hemoglobin & Urine) and Dental Hygiene Services.

Recognizing the work of Shifa Foundation, the City of Houston has approved a $1.50-Million grant to establish Low Income Housing project on West Bellfort Avenue. For more information, please visit http://shifaclinichouston.org/ or call 281.561.5767.

Sen. Ogden on the Economy

Austin, TX (October 11, 2008): “We are blessed here in Texas,” said Sen. Steve Ogden of Bryan, addressing a standing-room-only crowd at the 6th Biennial Legislative Communications Conference in Austin this week. Saying it is a “difficult time” for the American economy, Ogden addressed the recent $700 billion bailout by Congress of American financial firms, and then followed with his take on the issues facing the upcoming 81st Texas Legislature. Ogden was one of a number of legislators and government officials, who addressed the Strategic Partnerships, Inc. and The University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs-sponsored conference.

“Many of you saw the bailout legislation as an effort to hold rich Wall Street types harmless,” he said, adding that the bailout was necessary because many of the country’s large financial institutions were “essentially bankrupt.” He said without the bailout of those institutions, “the entire nation would have suffered along with them.”

Ogden said there is plenty of blame to go around – from the lenders who loaned too much money to the people who weren’t qualified to take on the loans. If not for the bailout, he said, those bills would be due on demand and there would have been a flurry of foreclosures. “Our economy would come to a standstill.” The bailout, he said, was a “means for buying time.”

Fortunately for Texans, said Ogden, who also chairs the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, “Our legislature does not control the state economy,” and Texas is “not in the same financial fix as other states.” He noted that federal spending and federal government programs are growing, federal taxes have been curtailed and the federal government gave rebates to American taxpayers, all of which have resulted in adding to the deficit. Even before the bailout, the nation was facing a $9.5 trillion deficit, he said, which climbed to some $11 trillion after the bailout.

“All 300 million of us Americans – all of us – are on the hook for more than $35,000 each,” he said.

Ogden also offered that uncontrolled government spending has weakened the dollar, meaning imports cost more. And one of the nation’s prime imports is crude oil. “The high price of gas has more to do with the weak dollar than anything else.” The nation’s economic problems, he added, are due to borrowing too much money that can’t be paid back and the government continuing to print money, making the value of the dollar decline.

Regarding Texas, Ogden said, “A balanced budget is the key to economic strength.” He pointed to a $2 billion General Revenue surplus in Texas, $3 billion having been set aside for property tax relief and $6 billion in an economic stabilization fund as some of the reasons Texas is not facing multi-million-dollar budget deficits like some other states.

Ogden said in January, members of the legislature would do well to remember the reason the state economy is doing so well – “because we exercised great fiscal restraint last session.”

As Texas prepares for the upcoming 81st Texas Legislature, Ogden outlined some issues lawmakers will face:

Health Care Coverage – Health care costs have a huge effect on state spending, said Ogden. Those costs are $60 billion for the current biennium and make up 34 percent of the state budget.

Increases are generally 2.5 percent above the general inflation rate. A 10 percent increase in health care costs over a two-year period “means the state of Texas has to find $6 billion just to stay even.”

State Trust Funds – Ogden wants to explore investing a portion of state trust funds such as the Teacher Retirement System, the Employee Retirement System of Texas, the Permanent University Fund, etc., in Texas road projects. He cited how investors from outside Texas currently invest in Texas transportation projects and that private dollars and trust fund dollars could also reap legitimate dividends if invested in projects such as toll roads.

Mental health issues – Noting that the U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating possible violations of the civil rights of individuals in homes and schools for persons with mental retardation, Ogden said the way the state funds and operates these facilities is coming under scrutiny. “Texas needs to get off of the defensive,” he said, adding one “fix” might be creating a system where consumers of these services have choices.

Public Education – Calling public education “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” the Senate Finance chair said the state has “basically minimized a system that had been declared constitutional” and that lawmakers will have to “look very closely at the equity in the system.” He noted school districts are under a lot of pressure because of the need for salary increases and increasing operational costs, chief among them utility cost increases and diesel fuel cost increases for their bus fleets. “We’ve got enough money to address these concerns, but we’ve got to spend as wisely as we can.”

State Employee Pay Raises – Ogden said the state is having an increasingly difficult time “providing service we’re obligated to supply” because of the turnover among state employees. “We’re short-handed out there,” he said, particularly in the state’s prisons, law enforcement, health and human services agencies, state schools and child and adult protective services.

Higher Education – Ogden said while the state has poured billions of dollars into higher education, institutions have raised hundreds of millions through increased tuition and fees.

According to Ogden, the state needs to say, “If you’re a Texan and you’re willing to work hard, we’re willing to send you to a state school at a price you can afford.” He said while others talk about the need to increase the number of Tier I universities in Texas, “What I want to talk about is how to keep a college education affordable. I’m willing to put some money behind that statement.”

Transportation – In addition to seeking to have state trust funds invest in highway projects, Ogden noted voters last year passed a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to issue up to $5 billion in general obligation bonds to fund highway projects. He said he does not expect all $5 billion to be issued over the next biennium, but does expect a “significant increase” in the amount of transportation funding available.

Hurricane Costs – Recent hurricanes will result in approximately $5 to $6 billion in claims through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Pool, which currently only has $2 billion. Ogden said there are mechanisms available to make up that difference, including possibly borrowing against future tax revenue.

Pension Funds – The condition and future of state pension funds will have to be explored. Ogden said these funds have taken a “substantial” hit as a result of the Wall Street meltdown. He said there is little prospect of changing benefits over the next two years, but there needs to be a plan for the future.

State Business Tax – The new business tax has resulted in revenues that are currently $1 billion to $1.5 billion below state projections, but some of that is being offset by higher-than-expected sales tax revenue, said Ogden, so the business tax deficit is “not a matter of urgency.”

Ogden added the legislature seeks to partner with state government, and expects them to “find good solutions and put them into effect faster, rather than spending a lot of time and money studying the problem.

“Together we can keep Texas a land of opportunity today – and for years to come.”


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