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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Target hackers may have been discovered

MINNEAPOLIS - Security blogger Brian Krebs first broke the news of the security breach that hit Target just after Thanksgiving and now says he may have tracked down a criminal benefitting from the breach. 

On his website, Krebs identifies a Ukrainian man as the culprit behind selling credit and debit card information, alleging Andrew Hodirevski is offering the scammed information for up to $100.  He identified the man as a likely suspect through comments on Internet forums used by hackers.  The New York Times reports that Krebs does not link Hodirevski to the data breach itself.


Snow emergencies have been declared in Minneapolis and St. Paul and many other communities statewide, with most areas receiving two to four-and-a-half inches of snow Christmas Eve into Christmas Day  The National Weather Service says Minnesota will see milder weather for the rest of the week, but there is a big change coming this weekend.  Another arctic cold front will arrive Saturday afternoon, and it will bring the coldest air so far this winter.  Highs will struggle to even get into positive territory early next week.


Police are investigating what they term the "suspicious" death of a 64-year-old man in west-central Minnesota.  Montevideo Police and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are investigating the death of Thomas Dickson, who was found was found dead Monday night in his apartment.  The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office will determine the cause of death.  Police say the public does not appear to be at risk.


Starting January 1st, Medicare home health funding will be cut by 3.5 percent each year between 2014 and 2017.  Eric Berger is CEO of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare, and says that in Minnesota alone, more than 31,600 seniors depend on the Medicare Home Health benefit.  That care is delivered by nearly 19-thousand professional caregivers.  The proposed 14-percent cut in Medicare funding would cause nearly half of all home health agencies in Minnesota to experience net operating losses and possibly to close their doors.


The Minnesota Coalition for Homelessness is praising the state's recently-unveiled plan to end homelessness.  Kenza Hadj-Moussa says they are pleased with the emphasis on prevention, because in the realm of public policy issues often go unaddressed until they become problems.  The plan incorporates 11 state agencies--including corrections, foster care, employment centers, schools and healthcare organizations--and requires those agencies to take action up-front in the effort to prevent homelessness. 


Minnesota's unemployment rate is at a six-year-low and the state budget is back in the black, but for many of the working poor, the economic rebound has yet to be felt.  Director of Minnesota FoodShare Suzanne Shatila says the need at foodshelves remains near record levels and recent cuts to SNAP have more people looking for help in feeding their families.  In addition to recent reduction from the ending of an economic stimulus program, a new Farm Bill could bring more cuts to SNAP benefits.  More than 500,000 Minnesotans receive nutrition assistance.


The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train had a record year in 2013.  CEO Hunter Harrison says the train, which gathers donations that support food banks in Minnesota and other locations along Canadian Pacific routes, gathered $2 million dollars and more than 300,000 pound of food.  The cross-border, rolling fundraiser is wrapping up its 15th year, and in that time Harrison says the program has brought in close to $9.5 million and 3.3 million pounds of food for local food shelf programs.  The Breakfast Club of Canada and Feeding America also each received $250,000 from CP in support of their national programs.


Now that the gifts have been opened and the wrappings are discarded it's a good idea for Minnesota parents to look over their children's new toys to make sure they are safe  Shaina Shay of the Public Interest Research Group says one concern is toys with high levels of lead.  For example, the group's testing shows that the Marvel Superhero Soft Shield contains 29 times the acceptable standard.  Shay also says the volume of toys is a growing concern  The maximum level for any plaything held within an inch of the ear is 65 decibels, but there is at least one that goes well beyond that.  The Leapfrog Count and Chat Smartphone exceeds not only the 65-decibel range but prolonged periods of 90 decibels.  The Trouble in Toyland report, which is posted on the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's website, contains a list of toys that may be dangerous and even toxic.


The Recycling Association of Minnesota is collecting old and unwanted Christmas lights this holiday season.  Spokeswoman Maggie Mattacola says the program "Recycle Your Holidays" is statewide and managed by the Recycling Association of Minnesota.  The work is contracted out to vocational centers that employ individuals with disabilities, who collect and sort the material.  Mattacola says the goal is to collect 150-thousand pounds of holiday lights by January 31st and they already have about 143-thousand pounds.  The website has an interactive map that shows drop-off locations across the state.