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PM News Brief: Elk hunting permits, water bill assistance & issues with school lunch programs

 A photo of a half finished school lunch.
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Labor shortages and supply-chain issues are affecting Utah's school lunch programs. This story and more in Tuesday evening's news brief.

Tuesday evening, Nov. 2, 2021

State

Utah sees relatively mild 2021 fire season 

Utah fire officials are moving away from the term “fire season” because they’re happening year-round. People started around half of the fires in Utah this year and in 2020, humans caused almost 80%. Kayli Yardley, with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said this is a promising development but people need to continue to be cautious. Phil Dennison, a geography professor at the University of Utah, said what fire activity looks like next year will depend on snow storms in the coming months. He said no matter what happens this winter, it’s going to take many years to get out of the current drought. Read the full story. Lexi Peery

Getting a handle on elk hunting permits

Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources wants to add general-season elk permits to the big game drawing for one year. The permits are typically sold online and over the counter, but over the last few years, officials said they’ve grown in popularity and overwhelmed the license sales system. In 2019 DWR sold all 15,000 permits in 11 days. Last year, they sold out in eight hours. And this year, more than 17,000 permits were gone in 10 hours. Officials said by adding the permits to the big game draw on a trial period, they’ll be able to assess the pros and cons before offering a permanent solution. The public can weigh in on the changes online at wildlife.utah.gov. — Ross Terrell

Supply-chain issues affecting Utah’s school lunch programs

Labor shortages and supply-chain issues are affecting Utah's school lunch programs. The state Board of Education said in a press release Tuesday that means reduced menu options, frequent changes and food substitutions. Some lunchroom favorites, like orange chicken, aren't available as often this year. Education officials said many districts are also struggling to hire enough people to fully operate their food programs. In the meantime, officials said Child Nutrition staff are working with organizations nationwide to find solutions. Many school food service departments are also hiring immediately. Despite the disruptions, eligible students from low income households can still receive school meals free of charge. — Martha Harris

Low-income households eligible for water assistance through HEAT program 

Low-income households in Utah can now get help paying for water bills. The state’s Department of Workforce Services announced Tuesday the new financial assistance will be a part of the Home Energy Assistance Target program or HEAT. The program currently covers heating and cooling costs for households that earn below 150% of the federal poverty line. That's a little less than $40,000 per year for a family of four. Last year, HEAT helped over 32,000 households with their utility bills. Applications for water assistance are open now for people who haven’t sought help through the program since October 2020. — Martha Harris

Region/Nation

COVID’s impact on delaying health care 

Many Westerners have delayed health care during the Delta variant surge. That’s according to a recent poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. In 12% of our region’s households, at least one person had to go without medical care for a serious problem over the last few months. Those findings are in line with national trends. John Packham at the University of Nevada, Reno said that could be because people who lost income during the pandemic can’t afford out-of-pocket expenses. Many hospitals in the region have turned people away because they’re swamped with patients sick with the Delta variant. Whatever the cause, any delay in getting health care can make symptoms even more acute. — Bert Johnson, Mountain West News Bureau

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