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News to Know: Demand for testing, life sentence, MSSU arts center repairs

TOPEKA, Kan. – Health officials in Kansas are working to improve the availability of covid-19 testing. The department says as the numbers of positive cases rise, the demand for testing is also increasing, causing delays in receiving tests and getting test results. In response, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment says it’s increasing staffing at existing testing sites and working to add 13 new testing sites. The department says it’s looking for new laboratories to reduce wait times for test results, and is searching for large indoor testing locations to prevent closures because of bad weather.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The CDC reports an average of about one in four covid tests is coming back positive, a huge increase. All 50 states are reporting a high level of community transmission. Missouri has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and the covid situation in the state’s biggest cities is dire. Hospitals there are swamped with patients. Governor Parson declared an end to the pandemic emergency three weeks ago. That emergency order gave hospitals the flexibility to move staff around and add beds, and without it, they say they’re struggling to keep up with the rising number of patients.

FAIRLAND, Okla. – A judge sentences a Fairland, Oklahoma man to multiple life prison terms for killing one man and injuring two others, including an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper. Edwin Ball gets three life sentences, with release after 35 years, for crimes that happened in March of 20-20. Ball shot and killed Brendan Van Zwell and shot and injured Peter Stokes. The victims were the adult son and brother of Ball’s girlfriend. Ball then barricaded himself in a house near Grand Lake, where he shot and injured an Oklahoma state trooper. In November, Ball accepted a deal, pleading guilty to three charges: Murder in the First Degree, Shooting with the Intent to Kill, and Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

JOPLIN, Mo. – Repairs are in full swing inside Missouri Southern State University’s Taylor Performing Arts Center, two and a half years after it closed. The center closed in July of 2019 because of structural problems with the main stage, stairwells, and rigging system. Missouri lawmakers last year provided $2.5 million dollars to make the 47-year old facility usable again. The university expects repairs to be complete later this year.

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: He’s a good dog… meet “Anymal” he’s a robotic dog used to keep researchers out of dangerous environments like Chernobyl and the Fukushima power plants. This morning we’re asking, how you feel about robotic animals? Join our KOAM Facebook discussion and cast your vote @ koamnewsnow.com/vote.

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Employers planning for big raises in 2022, survey finds

(NewsNation Now) — New data shows companies are doing more to keep employees happy, including putting more money in their pocketbooks.

A new survey by Willis Towers Watson shows that nearly a third of the more than 1,000 U.S. companies involved in the study are planning to bump up salaries from last year.

So how do you leverage this opportunity to earn more money in 2022?

“Raise your hand and say, ‘Boss, I’d like to earn more and I think I’m worth it,” Rebecca Knight, senior correspondent for Insider, said during an appearance on “Morning in America.” “A lot of people are doing it right now.”

We know that the “Great Resignation” is taking place. In November, the latest month for which figures are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs.

“One of the biggest reasons they’re doing so is to make more money,” Knight said.

According to Knight, employees got about a 2.8% salary bump last year. At the beginning of 2022, companies were considering about a 3% raise, but are now looking at about 3.4%.

“People are leaving their jobs in droves,” Knight said. “And companies are falling all over themselves to make sure their employees stay, to attract and retain the people they’ve got.”

Cost of living increases are normally around 3%, so companies might have to do a little better than that, especially with the inflation rates that we’re seeing.

But to keep and hire the best talent, is the money enough?

“So right now, it’s not working,” Knight said. “And it’s not working by a long shot because employees during this global pandemic — that has been pretty undeniably horrible for everyone — employees have really done a lot of soul searching and reflection and thinking they want more out of their lives, out of their careers. So they don’t just want the money.”

Of course, the money doesn’t hurt, but employees “want flexibility,” Knight said. “They want autonomy. They want to feel like the work that they’re doing matters. They want to feel purpose. They want to feel a connection with, not only with their colleagues but with their organizations.”

So employers have got their work cut out for them right now as we seem to be at a turning point in the marketplace, where employers are having to pay attention to the desire of their employees to want to make the world a better place while at work.

“We realize what we want out of our lives and I think employers if they are going to hold onto us and get the best out of us, they’re going to need to connect their mission, what they do, to what we’re searching for,” Knight said.

Watch the full interview with Rebecca Knight in the video player at the top of the page.

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Ford recalls 200,000 cars over brake light problem

DETROIT (AP) — Ford is recalling about 200,000 cars in the U.S. to fix a problem that can stop the brake lights from turning off.

The recall covers certain 2014 and 2015 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ midsize cars as well as some 2015 Mustangs.

All were sold or registered in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Hawaii.

High temperatures and humidity can cause a rubber brake pedal part to disintegrate, keeping the lights on, confusing other drivers and increasing the risk of a crash.

Drivers with automatic transmissions also can shift out of “park” gear without having their foot on the brake.

Dealers will replace brake and clutch pedal bumpers. Owners will be notified by mail starting March 3.

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U.S. allows teens to drive big rigs in new pilot program

(AP) – The federal government is moving forward with a plan to let teenagers drive big rigs from state to state in a test program.

Currently, truckers who cross state lines must be at least 21 years old, but an apprenticeship program required by Congress to help ease supply chain backlogs would let 18-to-20-year-old truckers drive outside their home states.

The pilot program, detailed Thursday in a proposed regulation from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, would screen the teens, barring any with driving-while-impaired violations or traffic tickets for causing a crash.

But safety advocates say the program runs counter to data showing that younger drivers get in more crashes than older ones. They say it’s unwise to let teenage drivers be responsible for rigs that can weigh 80,000 pounds and cause catastrophic damage when they hit lighter vehicles.

The apprenticeship pilot program was required by Congress as part of the infrastructure bill signed into law Nov. 15. It requires the FMCSA, which is part of the Transportation Department, to start the program within 60 days.

The American Trucking Associations, a large industry trade group, supports the measure as a way to help with a shortage of drivers. The group estimates that the nation is running over 80,000 drivers short of the number it needs, as demand to move freight reaches historic highs.

Under the apprenticeship, younger drivers can cross state lines during 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, as long as an experienced driver is in the passenger seat. Trucks used in the program have to have an electronic braking crash mitigation system, a forward facing video camera, and their speeds must be limited to 65 mph.

After probation, they can drive on their own, but companies have to monitor their performance until they are 21. No more than 3,000 apprentices can take part in the training at any given time.

The FMCSA must reach out to carriers with excellent safety records to take part in the program, according to the Transportation Department.

The program will run for up to three years, and the motor carrier agency has to turn in a report to Congress analyzing the safety record of the teen drivers and making a recommendation on whether the younger drivers are as safe as those 21 or older. Congress could expand the program with new laws.

The test is part of a broader set of measures from the Biden administration to deal with the trucker shortage and improve working conditions for truck drivers.

In a statement, Nick Geale, vice president of workforce safety for the trucking associations, noted 49 states and Washington, D.C., already allow drivers under 21 to drive semis, but they can’t pick up a load just across a state line.

“This program creates a rigorous safety training program, requiring an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training, in which participants are evaluated against specific performance benchmarks,” Geale said. The program will ensure that the industry has enough drivers to meet growing freight demands, he said.

But Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, said federal data shows that younger drivers have far higher crash rates than older ones. “This is no surprise to any American who drives a vehicle,” he said.

Putting them behind the wheel of trucks that can weigh up to 40 tons when loaded increases the possibility of mass casualty crashes, he said.

Kurdock said the trucking industry has wanted younger drivers for years and used supply chain issues to get it into the infrastructure bill. He fears the industry will use skewed data from the program to push for teenage truckers nationwide.

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President Biden to speak today, Jan. 19, at 3:00 pm CST

President Joe Biden is holding a news conference today at 3:00 pm CST on his 365th day in office. You can watch the live stream on the KOAM YouTube page or here on KOAMNewsNow.com once it starts.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday will try to talk anxious Americans through the challenges of delivering on his lengthy to-do list as he holds a rare news conference to mark his first year in office and asks for patience with recent setbacks to his agenda.

In advance of the news conference, set for 4 p.m. EST on his 365th day in office, Biden gave no indication that he felt a reset was in order. But his appearance was playing out on the same day that prolonged Democratic efforts to overhaul the nation’s voter laws appeared set to fail on Capitol Hill and as Biden’s massive social spending package remains stalled.

The East Room event will offer Biden an opportunity to spotlight his accomplishments before a national audience.

Biden’s approval rating has fallen sharply over his first year in office and Democrats are bracing for a potential midterm rout if he can’t turn things around.

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COVID-19 emergency could end this year, WHO says

GENEVA (AP) — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization said Tuesday that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic — deaths, hospitalizations and lockdowns — could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.

Dr. Michael Ryan, speaking during a panel discussion on vaccine equity hosted by the World Economic Forum, said “we may never end the virus” because such pandemic viruses “end up becoming part of the ecosystem.”

But “we have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we’ve been talking about,” he said.

WHO has slammed the imbalance in COVID-19 vaccination between rich and poor countries as a catastrophic moral failure. Fewer than 10% of people in lower-income countries have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Ryan told the virtual gathering of world and business leaders that if vaccines and other tools aren’t shared fairly, the tragedy of the virus, which has so far killed more than 5.5 million people worldwide, would continue.

“What we need to do is get to low levels of disease incidence with maximum vaccination of our populations, so nobody has to die,” Ryan said. “The issue is: It’s the death. It’s the hospitalizations. It’s the disruption of our social, economic, political systems that’s caused the tragedy — not the virus.”

Ryan also waded into the growing debate about whether COVID-19 should be considered endemic, a label some countries like Spain have called for to help better live with the virus, or still a pandemic — involving intensified measures that many countries have taken to fight the spread.

“Endemic malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people; endemic HIV; endemic violence in our inner cities. Endemic in itself does not mean good. Endemic just means it’s here forever,” he said.

Public health officials have warned it is highly unlikely COVID-19 will be eliminated and say it will continue to kill people, though at much lower levels, even after it becomes endemic.

Fellow panelist Gabriela Bucher, executive director of the anti-poverty organization Oxfam International, cited the “enormous urgency” of fairer distribution of vaccines and the need for large-scale production. She said resources to fight the pandemic were being “hoarded by a few companies and a few shareholders.”

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, decried the “total collapse of global cooperation and solidarity” over the last two years, saying it was “totally unacceptable” that only 7% of Africa’s population was fully vaccinated.

He also sought to douse the belief among some that vaccine hesitancy is widespread in Africa, citing studies that say 80% of the continent’s populations were ready to get shots if the vaccines were available.

The comments came on the second day of the online alternative to the annual World Economic Forum gathering, which was postponed over pandemic health concerns.

In speeches at the event, world leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed approaches to the pandemic. He said his country, which quickly rolled out a widespread vaccination campaign, has a strategy of being “at the forefront of the medicines and the vaccines” against COVID-19.

Citing advanced research in Israel, Bennett said, “We want to be first in the world to know how vaccines and the new variants respond to one another.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said separately that his country had high levels of vaccination because society values protecting the elderly and vulnerable. He plans to keep stringent border controls in place until the end of February.

He said he was trying to balance restrictions with keeping the economy open but that “so-called zero COVID policy against the omicron variant is not possible nor appropriate.”

In a separate press briefing Tuesday, WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the omicron variant of COVID-19 “continues to sweep the world” and said there were 18 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week.

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How to order your free at-home COVID tests from the federal government

(NEXSTAR) – Americans are now able to request free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government as the country faces widespread shortages. Those shortages will also impact how many free tests you can request, with the White House limiting orders to just four free tests per home.

While it was initially reported that the website would not begin accepting orders until Wednesday, Jan. 19, the website, COVIDTests.gov, is now online and appears to be processing requests for tests. These tests are completely free to order, with tests expected to ship within 7 to 12 days.

Available tests are rapid antigen at-home tests, not PCR tests. All of the tests being shipped are FDA-authorized, but you will not be able to select which brand you receive. The tests give results within 30 minutes and can be used whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms or are vaccinated.

On the website, the White House recommends taking the at-home test if you begin having COVID-19 symptoms, at least five days after you have close contact with someone with COVID-19, or when you are going to gather with a group of people.

How to order your free COVID tests

Once you visit COVIDTests.gov, you will see a button on the homepage to order your tests. If you need a COVID-19 sooner than the free tests are expected to arrive, the federal government recommends reviewing other testing options, such as purchasing an at-home test and having your health insurance cover the costs.

When you click on the “Order Free At-Home Tests” button, you will be taken to a new page on the U.S. Postal Service’s website. There, you will need to fill in your contact information and shipping address.

You won’t be able to select how many testing kits you order – the U.S. Postal Service’s website defaults to the limit of four tests. After filling in your contact and shipping information, you can select “Check Out Now.”

If you input your email address to get status updates on your order, you should receive a confirmation email shortly after checking out on the U.S. Postal Service’s website. Once your order ships, the U.S. Postal Service says it will send you a tracking number and updates on the expected delivery date.

COVID-19 tests are expected to begin shipping in late January.

Can I order more tests?

Amid the December surge in omicron COVID-19 cases, President Joe Biden announced the White House would purchase 500 million at-home tests to kick-start this program. In January, President Biden announced he would double the order to 1 billion tests.

Although this seems like a large number of tests, the White House is imposing a limit of four at-home tests per residential address, regardless of how many people live in each house. If you are searching for a free test, there are other options available, like community testing sites and by-appointment testing with major retailers and pharmacies.

The White House has also instructed health insurers to cover the costs of purchasing at-home COVID tests. This means private health insurers are now required to cover eight home tests per month for each of their members.

Depending on when and where you purchase the at-home tests, you may be able to get it covered by insurance on the spot, says the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If you do pay out of pocket, you’ll want to keep your receipt as proof of purchase. You’ll need to file a claim for reimbursement with your health insurance company, not the federal government.

How much money you can be reimbursed for depends on if your insurer has set up a “network of preferred stores, pharmacies, and online retailers at which you can obtain a test with no out-of-pocket expense,” explains CMS.

If your insurance company has set up a way for your to get a test without paying upfront, then you will get up to $12 per test. If your insurer has not set up its own network or way for you to get the test through them, then they’ll owe you the full cost of the test kit, even if it’s more than $12. More details about this program can be found here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Legendary Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee dies at 102

WASHINGTON (AP) — Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman who flew 409 fighter combat missions over three wars and later helped to bring attention to the Black pilots who had battled racism at home to fight for freedom abroad, died Sunday. He was 102.

McGee died in his sleep at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, said his son, Ron McGee.

After the U.S. entry into World War II, McGee left the University of Illinois to join an experimental program for Black soldiers seeking to train as pilots after the Army Air Corps was forced to admit African Americans. In October 1942 he was sent to the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama for flight training, according to his biography on the website of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

“You could say that one of the things we were fighting for was equality,” he told The Associated Press in a 1995 interview. “Equality of opportunity. We knew we had the same skills, or better.”

McGee graduated from flight school in June 1943 and in early 1944 joined the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group, known as the “Red Tails.” He flew 136 missions as the group accompanied bombers over Europe.

More than 900 men trained at Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946. About 450 deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives in training or combat.

In recent years the Tuskegee Airmen have been the subject of books, movies and documentaries highlighting their courage in the air and the doubts they faced on the ground because of their race. In 2007 a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award from Congress, was issued to recognize their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”

McGee remained in the Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force, and served for 30 years. He flew low-level bombing and strafing missions during the Korean War and returned to combat again during the Vietnam War. The National Aviation Hall of Fame says his 409 aerial fighter combat missions in three wars remains a record.

He retired as a colonel in the Air Force in 1973, then earned a college degree in business administration and worked as a business executive. He was accorded an honorary commission promoting him to the one-star rank of brigadier general as he turned 100. Another event marked his centennial year: He flew a private jet between Frederick, Maryland, and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

In 2020, McGee drew a standing ovation from members of Congress when introduced by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address.

In addition to encouraging young men and women to pursue careers in aviation, McGee was a source of information about the Tuskegee Airmen and offered a unique perspective on race relations of the era through the airmen’s nonprofit educational organization.

“At the time of the war, the idea of an all African American flight squadron was radical and offensive to many,” McGee wrote in an essay for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“The prevailing opinion was that blacks did not possess the intelligence or courage to be military pilots. One general even wrote, ‘The Negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-rate fighter pilot.’ The Tuskegee Airmen certainly proved men like him wrong.”

Charles Edward McGee was born Dec. 7, 1919, in Cleveland, the son of a minister who also worked as a teacher and social worker and was a military chaplain. He graduated from high school in Chicago in 1938.

Survivors include daughters Charlene McGee Smith and Yvonne McGee, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and a great-great grandchild. His wife of more than 50 years, Frances, died in 1994.

A family statement described McGee as “a living legend known for his kind-hearted and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn.”

In tweets Sunday honoring McGee, both Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III called him an American hero.

“While I am saddened by his loss, I’m also incredibly grateful for his sacrifice, his legacy, and his character. Rest in peace, General,” Austin wrote.

In his Smithsonian essay, McGee wrote that he was often asked why the Tuskegee Airmen were so successful in combat.

“I would say it was because of our courage and perseverance,” he wrote. “We dreamed of being pilots as boys but were told it was not possible. Through faith and determination we overcame enormous obstacles. This is a lesson that all young people need to hear.”

He added: “I am most proud of my work as a Tuskegee Airman that helped bring down racial barriers and defeat the Nazis.”

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Turbo Tax opts out of IRS's Free File program

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)-Intuit, the company that owns Turbo Tax, said that it would no longer be participating in the IRS’s Free File program in July. For years the company offered free e-file services and was featured on the IRS website.

Turbo Tax does have a free file option on its website, even though they are not participating in the IRS’s program. There are limitations on who can use their free service and people who have used Turbo Tax’s free file service in the past may find themselves unable to this year.

“This decision will allow us to focus on further innovating in ways not allowable under the current Free File guidelines and to better serve the complete financial health of all Americans through all of our products and services, in tax preparation and beyond,” Intuit said.

Turbo Tax’s free service is only available to people who are filing a simple tax return. There are two options, one allows customers access to an expert to get questions answered, the filing deadline for this service is March 31. The other option (full service) puts customers in touch with a professional who will prepare their taxes, the filing deadline for that service is February 15.

Who can use Turbo Tax’s free services?

Turbo Tax said a simple tax return uses form 1040 and covers:

  • W-2 income
  • Limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV
  • Claiming the standard deduction
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)
  • Child tax credits
  • Student loan Interest deductions

Who can’t use their free service?

Customers who have:

  • Itemized deductions (like mortgage or property deductions)
  • Unemployment income reported on a 1099-G
  • Business or 1099-NEC income
  • Stock sales
  • Income from rental property
  • Credits, deductions and income reported on schedules 1-3
  • Charitable donations
  • Education expenses

“We are obsessed with helping millions of Americans looking to take charge of their finances so they can prosper. Intuit’s AI-driven expert platform makes it simple for consumers to make better financial decisions, helping them not only receive their maximum refund but empowering them by putting control in their hands so they can make smart money decisions and realize their financial dreams,” the company said.

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Inflation soared to highest rate in 40 years as prices rose 7% in past year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Prices paid by U.S. consumers jumped 7% in December from a year earlier, the highest inflation rate since 1982 and the latest evidence that rising costs for food, rent and other necessities are heightening the financial pressures on America’s households.

Inflation has spiked during the recovery from the pandemic recession as Americans have ramped up spending on goods such as cars, furniture and appliances. Those increased purchases have clogged ports and warehouses and exacerbated supply shortages of semiconductors and other parts. Gas prices have also surged, in part because Americans have driven more in recent months after having cut back on travel and commuting earlier in the pandemic.

Rising prices have wiped out the healthy pay increases that many Americans have been receiving, making it harder for households, especially lower-income families, to afford basic expenses. Polls show that inflation has started displacing even the coronavirus as a public concern, making clear the political threat it poses to President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats.

On Tuesday, Chair Jerome Powell told Congress that the Federal Reserve was prepared to accelerate the interest rate hikes it plans to begin this year if it deems it necessary to curb high inflation. Fed officials have estimated that they will raise their benchmark short-term rate, now pegged near zero, three times this year. Many economists envision as many as four Fed rate hikes in 2022.

Those rate increases would likely increase borrowing costs for home and auto purchases as well as for business loans, potentially slowing the economy. The rate hikes also mark a sharp reversal in policy by Fed policymakers, who as recently as September had been split over whether to raise rates even once this year. The Fed is also rapidly ending its monthly bond purchases, which were intended to lower longer-term interest rates to encourage borrowing and spending.

Yet the Fed’s quick pivot hasn’t quelled questions from many former Fed officials, economists and some senators about whether the Fed has acted too slowly to end its ultra-low-interest rate policies in the face of accelerating inflation — and put the economy at risk as a result.

In his testimony to Congress on Tuesday, Powell said the Fed mistakenly believed that supply chain bottlenecks that have helped drive up the prices of goods wouldn’t last nearly as long as they have. Once the supply chains were unsnarled, he said, prices would come back down.

Yet for now, the supply problems have persisted, and though there are signs that they are loosening in some industries, Powell acknowledged that progress has been limited. He noted that many cargo ships remain docked outside the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s largest, waiting to unload.

With the Biden administration facing public discontent over the rise in inflation, President Joe Biden has said his administration’s investments in ports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure would help ease inflation by loosening some snarled supply chains.

In the meantime, many restaurants have been passing some of their higher labor and food costs on to their customers in the form of higher prices. So far, many consumers seem willing to pay more. Gene Lee, CEO of Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and other brands, told investors recently that this is “the toughest inflationary environment we’ve seen in years.”

The company said its food and beverage costs jumped 9% during the quarter, and its hourly wage costs rose nearly 9% as it raised pay to attract workers. Darden said it raised its prices, in turn, by 2% during the quarter and expects to raise them by 4% over the next two quarters to help compensate. Rick Cardenas, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said those higher prices have yet to reduce consumer demand.