The February Almanac
1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act -- the sweeping welfare-reform bill signed by President Bill Clinton last August -- childless able-bodied adults aged 18 to 50 cannot collect food stamps for more than three months of any three-year period unless they have part-time jobs or are in employment-training or workfare programs. When the provision took effect, last November 22, states were required to give three months' notice to recipients who stood to lose their food stamps unless they met the new requirements. State and local governments can apply for waivers for residents of areas where the unemployment rate is 10 percent or more or where it is deemed that appropriate jobs are lacking. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the provision could mean that a million fewer people at a time receive food stamps, at savings to the federal budget of $5.1 billion over six years. Soup kitchens, shelters, and food banks are gearing up for an increase in demand for their services.
Water Environment Federation, a nonprofit educational and technical organization, will report the final results of a survey commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency on the state of the nation's sewage sludge, or the residue left behind after sewage has been treated. This is the first comprehensive inventory of the methods by which wastewater-treatment plants use and dispose of sludge. It is intended to assess compliance with regulations issued in 1993. Among the topics the survey will address is public acceptance of the use of sludge as both agricultural and nonagricultural fertilizer, a frequent but controversial practice. Opponents argue that toxins that may remain in treated sewage pose health risks to grazing animals and nearby human populations. As part of its efforts to emphasize the positive qualities of the substance, the EPA has recently abandoned the term "sludge" in favor of "biosolids."
February 14: Valentine's Day; Americans will buy some 30 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates today. Many recipients may puzzle over the contents, however, since few chocolate assortments come with "maps." Some general guidelines: Round or oval pieces are likely to be creams (before being coated with chocolate, cream centers are usually forced through a funnel, resulting in a dome shape). Square pieces probably contain some sort of nougat or caramel (hard or chewy centers are usually cut from large slabs into small squares). Thin rectangular pieces are probably brittles. There are exceptions, of course: some top-of-the-line chocolates are manufactured in a more complicated and delicate process involving molds of varying shapes.
[For daily information on the skies, visit the Skywatcher's Diary of Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.]
respiratory syn cytial virus (RSV), a nearly ubiquitous illness -- virtually all children contract it by age three -- that usually resembles the common cold but sometimes progresses to pneumonia or bronchiolitis. RSV can be especially serious in very young infants and the elderly, and in those with congenital heart or lung disease. Each year some 90,000 children with RSV are hospitalized; 4,500 of them die. RSV is highly contagious: it can live for days on clothes, toys, or countertops. Efforts to develop a vaccine have so far been unsuccessful, even disastrous: some children vaccinated in one trial became very ill, a few fatally so.
Illustrations by Juliette Borda
The Atlantic Monthly; February 1997; The February Almanac; Volume 279, No. 2; page 16.