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Fixed Mortgage Rate Slides To 4.1 Percent; Obamacare Website Back Up This Morning; FAA: Using Electronics On Flights Is Safe; Wicked Weather Threatens Halloween; Watchdog: Syria's Chemical Weapons Sealed; Goalie Charged In Domestic Violence Case; Bus Driver Coaxes Woman From A Ledge; Cuts To Food Stamps Kick In Friday; Chili Sauce Plant Lands In Hot Seat

Aired October 31, 2013 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We have a story about your money. Just into the NEWSROOM minutes ago, we learned that 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have hit the lowest point in months. Let's go to our CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans. This is surprising to me. I thought they were going up.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I know. We've all been waiting for them to keep moving higher and moving higher, but Carol, the fed has kept interest rates low. And so, you're seeing this play out again in mortgage rates, this 30-year fixed rate mortgage, 4.1 percent, falling for the second week in a row. That's according Freddie Mac.

I mean, you look at this 15-year. This is a popular refinancing tool, Carol, 3.2 percent is that one. What it's telling you for consumers is there's still this window here for lower mortgage rates, not as low as they were a year ago at this time. We thought that this year they would be moving higher and higher and higher, but instead this pause here and you're seeing mortgage rates tick down.

So that window, if you thought you had missed your moment, you have not, 4.1 percent for a 30-year fix and 3.2 percent for the 15. That's a popular financing tool. I'll tell you another interesting stat though that I saw recently; 49 percent of September home sales, Carol, were all cash -- all cash.

So half the people buying houses in September, they didn't care what mortgage rates were. But for the rest of us who have to borrow money to buy a house, these kinds of numbers are very, very good for the housing market -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So refinance, right?

ROMANS: Refinance if you can, if you can, if you can lock in the lower rates. Some people are complaining that they can't. They don't have good credit. They're still underwater on their loan. That's still a problem for some people, but for those of you who do have a little bit of equity in the house, for those of you who can have a higher mortgage rate than this, you know, 4.1 percent. You've got a mortgage in the 5s or 6s, you still need to really be looking at this.

COSTELLO: Christine Romans, thanks so much. ROMANS: Well, it's up and running, the website at the center of President Obama's health care law. The insurance marketplace crashed Tuesday night. It was down almost all day yesterday, and we finally know who we can blame for this debacle, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius falling on the sword, taking responsibility. But that's not all she said in the hearings yesterday. She said a lot of things that made us say, what?


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I'm as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of So let me say directly to these Americans, you deserve better. I apologize. And Michelle Snyder is not responsible for the debacle. Hold me accountable for the debacle. The website has never crashed. It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability. The problem's being resolved, but we know that we don't have a fully functioning system.


COSTELLO: Not fully functioning because the website was down again for a time this morning. It's back up now, but, still. The president says he still stands by Sebelius, though. But a lot of Americans are asking why. Why doesn't the president fire Sebelius or someone?

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko. Good morning, Congressman.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL TONKO (D), NEW YORK: Good morning, Carol. It's great to join you and your viewers.

COSTELLO: Thank you for being here. We appreciate. So I'll just ask you that question, shouldn't the president fire someone over this? The problems persist.

TONKO: Well, you know, I think it's similar to when we rolled out Medicare Part D a number of years ago and it took months. And the spirit then was very bipartisan to make it work, and I think what we need to do is get the system up and running, get the kinks out of the system, and make it work.

But I think if everybody would work together, if Congress would assist in that effort if there's a way to do that, certainly providing the resources to get it up and running is important because I do know walking around my district, listening to my constituents, even the non-believers of the Affordable Care Act are wanting the many benefits that are born with it.

COSTELLO: But a lot of Americans are frustrated, and they want things fixed and they want them fixed right now. And they're wondering why President Obama doesn't sound angrier about this and why he doesn't send a message to the American people that 'I want to get things done.' Heads need to roll. Wouldn't it a send a big message to the American people that he's really getting this under control if he fired someone? TONKO: Well, I know they're working 24/7 to turn it around. It's a huge system. You know, in the beginning, all of the states were supposed to establish exchanges. That didn't happen. Many of the states where there's a single focus -- California, New York, Kentucky, it's been working well. But you had a massive group of states op-ed out. They're under the federal exchange, and I'm positive that they'll get this fixed. They had talked about several days if not weeks before it really gets all of the bugs out of the system, and it's a massive undertaking, and luckily we have a window of enrollment, which is (inaudible).

COSTELLO: But, Congressman, the administration knew all of these challenges before the website was set up. The president said that he wasn't aware of all of the problems before the launch on October 1st. Just the mere fact that, if I'm the boss and it's my signature legislation and nobody told me there were going to be these great - these problems, I would want to fire someone. I mean wouldn't -- wouldn't most Americans understand that?

TONKO: Well, I think the system probably from the hearings that we have had could have had a better shot of getting it up and running from the beginning if there were a longer test run period. That didn't happen and people are responding now in the best way. They have the best technical experts working on the system. And I'm confident that it will be up and running.

And, again, the enrollment period here is a long enough period. Even in Massachusetts when they started up the program, they found that the spike came near the end of the enrollment deadline, which just seems to be human nature. But there are people signing up.

And we have to remember, too, you can do this by phone. You can do it in person with navigators, an outreach that will be held at several public sites throughout the country. So this isn't the only segue, but I agree. It needs to be fixed up and running and fixed as quick as possible. She guaranteed that, you know, there will be a major focus here and by November, the end of November, they believe they'll get everything into sound working order.

COSTELLO: Well, we'll certainly be watching. Congressman Paul Tonko of New York, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

TONKO: My pleasure.

COSTELLO: New this morning, President Obama's approval rating is at an all time low. That's according to an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. Only 42 percent approve of the job the president is doing; 51 percent disapprove. That's down 5 percent from earlier this month. But the GOP is also hitting an all-time low. Just 22 percent say they approve of Republicans; 53 percent have a negative view. I think I read that wrong for you. We'll go back and check that. I'm good. I think I'm good. All right, let's move on then.

The FAA has just released a major announcement about your electronic devices, that using devices like E-readers and iPads are safe during all phases of flight. CNN's Chris Lawrence joins us now on the phone from Reagan National Airport where the FAA is holding a news briefing. What did the FAA says Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yeah, Carol, basically we're just minutes away now from the FAA briefing, and it's likely to be good news for a lot of travelers. If you have wanted to read your E-books, play games, watch videos on your iPad, on your mobile device, you are likely to be able do that throughout the flight, basically from gate to gate, even during takeoff and landing.

That's going to be good news for someone who wanted to get a jump on their movie or were coming to an end or they make you turn off all your devices in the middle of a good book. A lot of people have been frustrated wondering why they couldn't use some of the devices, especially the ones that weren't transmitting anything and weren't operating on a Wi-Fi network.

The FAA has taken about a year to really look at this issue and has determined it's pretty much going to be OK. They have to let the airlines institute it, which basically means the airlines have to come back and make sure that their planes are able do this without causing interference. The FAA is likely to say that many airlines will be able to do it by the end of the year since so many are already offering their own Wi-Fi service, so some good news. Again, we're just minutes away from the news conference, and as soon as it wraps up, we'll jump on the air and give you all the details.

COSTELLO: All right, we'll be waiting. Chris Lawrence reporting live from Reagan National this morning.

On this Halloween, something wicked is haunting the holiday. That would be hail and strong winds as they whip across Kansas. Flood waters are rushing across Central Texas. Scary weather has already spooked some cities into canceling or rescheduling their plans. Millions of other kids still in the path of this storm are holding their breath knowing that their own trick-or-treating plans could be washed away.


ROBERT LATHAM, DIRECTOR, MISSISSIPPI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We're going to have schools letting out, kids getting ready, parents getting ready to take their children, you know, trick-or -treating out for Halloween. So I'm concerned about, you know, the potential for heavy rains, number one.


COSTELLO: Indra Petersons is standing by to tell us who is in the path of this big storm. So we know about Kansas. What other states are in the crosshairs?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, this is what is so unbelievable, Carol. If you take a look at the map, you can actually see the system right now. Pretty much, if you're anywhere from the plains all the way to the northeast, you're going to be affected by this system. Here's the key though, 53 million of you will actually have a severe threat with this (inaudible). And that's including major cities, anywhere from Detroit down through Houston and even all the way down through Houston, you have that risk for, not only heavy rain, strong winds, as strong as 60 miles per hour, but even an isolated tornado cannot be ruled out. So the reason for this, why it's so atypical for this time of year, you're getting all this moisture really streaming in out of the Gulf.

Look at the humidity, Fred (ph), here. Denver where it was cold and snowy, 28 percent humidity going into about 81 percent humidity near Nashville. As that system goes between one air mass into the next, you get a clash of those two air masses and you get that risk for severe weather, very easy to see (inaudible) for all that moisture you would normally see in the springtime that is really making its way, even as far north as Chicago.

Then the jet stream is lining right up with it. So that's those ingredients that's giving us the threat for severe weather as we go throughout today. Now, farther to the south, closer we're seeing that moisture stream. That's where you're gonna have the heavier rain. We already saw about 13 inches outside of Austin, Texas yesterday. Another three to five inches of rain is possible. So farther to the south, flooding concerns. That's what we're going to be looking for here. Rain tapers off about one to two inches the farther north you go.

But watch this system as it makes its way across. It really tightens up. It enhances. It strengthens here. So what does that mean? If you're farther north closer to the lake, you're talking about stronger winds, I mean, really strong gusts here. If you're in Chicago, look for 36-mile-per-hour gust, 43-mile-an-hour gusts around Cincinnati, Buffalo, even as high as 41 miles per hour. And really, we're talking like it's even upwards to 60-mile-per-hour winds out there. So definitely a system everyone should be aware of, Carol. I mean, it's unbelievable this kind of system this late in the season, and really, unfortunately, it's Halloween. I know everyone wants to have such a fun night, but it's really important to stay safe at the same time.

COSTELLO: We'll be careful. Indra, thank you so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, food stamps are a lifeline for one in every seven Americans, but starting tomorrow, the government will cut their benefits. I'll talk with the head of the food bank for New York City after the break.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 15 minutes past the hour. Syria has destroyed its chemical weapons-making facilities, and its chemical weapons have been sealed to keep them from being used. Well, that information is coming from a global watchdog group. The group said it visited two except two which Syria had said had been abandoned and were too dangerous to visit. The announcement means Syria has met the first deadline for getting rid of its chemical weapons stockpile.

Starting goalie for the Colorado Avalanche is due in court this morning. CNN affiliate, KUSA, is reporting that Semyon Varlamov is charged with assault and kidnapping related to a domestic violence incident. He turned himself into Denver police. According to KUSA, the team released a statement saying it's aware of the allegations, but won't say anything else until an investigation is complete.

A bus driver in Buffalo, New York being hailed as a hero. Darnell Barton was behind the wheel when he saw a woman standing on the ledge of a bridge. He pulled over, walked to the edge, put his arm around this woman and helped her step away from the ledge. The surveillance camera on the bus caught the whole scene, and when he got back on board the bus, the passengers cheered him.

Life is about to get tougher for more than 47 million Americans on food stamps. Starting tomorrow, people who get benefits through the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, will see their monthly payments dropped by 5 percent. The cuts will save the federal government $5 billion in the first year. For a family of four, it means $36 less per month. And while that may not seem like a lot, the cost of an average food stamp meal is $1.40, meaning the cuts could add up to more than 20 missed meals a month. Joining me now is Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank of New York City. Welcome, Margaret.


COSTELLO: You're worried about the cuts. Why?

PURVIS: We're worried about the cuts for so many reasons. We believe one of the reasons is so many Americans are unaware of what's about to happen. A cut that will impact 48 million of our most vulnerable Americans is something that's serious. It's not something that can be about them. It will impact all of us.

COSTELLO: Well, you know what the stereotype is, that it's -- a lot of people who accept food stamps, they just don't want to find a job. They're lazy. They're taking advantage of the government and our taxpayer dollars. Who's the average person getting food stamps?

PURVIS: The first thing that I think is always amazing is when people believe poor people don't pay taxes. Actually, poor people pay a larger percentage for taxes. The people who are on food stamps will be impacted this, the largest group within this group of lazy people would be children, then the seniors, and then the disabled. This is the overwhelming amount. More than 40 percent of the people on this program actually do work. In New York City, many of the folks have more than one job.

I think that something that happens with SNAP that really is terrible is that we look at the program and we completely negate the reality of our economy. You know, we say things like and believe things like the government will save $5 billion. Well the part they won't tell you is every dollar that goes into food stamps, it returns a $1.73 to local economy. So it's not just the government's going to save $5 billion. Every city in this country is about to have millions of dollars snatched right from your town and no one asked you. It's actually against the law. COSTELLO: But Margarette, many law makers would say the economy is getting better. I mean, it's been slow, but it is getting better. The unemployment rate is going down. So it's time to wean people off the system.

PURVIS: And that would be people who never read anything from the Congressional Budget Office that said that for the poorest people, the people closer at the bottom who actually have lost 4 percent of their so-called wealth in the last couple of years, they haven't read anything. Because our economy really will not see an uptick for them -- and we've all known this - until, I believe, 2005.

So to have this happen - to actually, to have allowed it to expire before it was supposed to is criminal. To point to the people who are in need and call them the problem when -- they're absolutely right. The program is huge. But the program is huge because hunger is huge. We are in the middle of a crisis. And it is going to be a crisis - it is a crisis for all of us, all of us who are Americans, all of us who believe in some of the things that make our country great, which is that we don't allow the most vulnerable, many of them who are absolutely working and who are children. By the way, that's illegal for children to go and get a job though their bodies be able. It's actually just against the law. And it's -

COSTELLO: Margarette, I mean, it's obvious that you're very angry about it. So - so describe --

PURVIS: And I think more people should be angry, honestly. I'm not angry because I work at a food bank. I'm angry because this is unreal. Let's just say I'm just an economist. There is never an example in a history of ever that a program that returned $1.73 for every dollar invested has ever been cut. It just doesn't happen. Simple math. Doesn't make sense.

COSTELLO: Margarette Purvis, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

PURVIS: Thank you so much for having us.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM more than just a little spice, a hot sauce factory is getting people in one California town headaches, watery eyes, stinging throats. After the break, what a judge could do about this company.


COSTELLO: Nothing better than hot chili sauce unless you have to smell it 24/7. The people that live near the Sriracha hot cause factory in Irwindale, California claim the smell is making them sick and now the city is suing the company. More now from CNN's Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it chiligate 2013. Sriracha hot sauce, its tell-tale green top and rooster on the bottle is in the hot seat, complaints the smell emanating from its new plant in East Los Angeles is making people sick.

CELESTE GAMEZ, ALLERGIC TO PEPPERS: It smells more like pepper. It's very like stinging.

MARQUEZ: Celeste Gamez, a college freshman who lives in the shadow of the plant says the chili makes her sneeze and her throat soar. Others have complained to the city of Irwindale of headaches and difficulty breathing, the city now filing an injunction to force the plant to either fix the problem or shut down.

DAVID TRAN, OWNER, HUY FONG FOODS INC.: Now seems like Irwindale, they are not friendly to me.

MARQUEZ: David Tran is the Vietnamese immigrant who turned the mix of red jalapeno peppers, garlic salt and vinegar into a multi-million dollar brand. He says the plant, which was chosen to be built here by the city of Irwindale, cost $40 million and has state-of-the-art filters, even taking the media to the roof to prove it. At fault (ph), it's harvest and chili-grinding time, truckload after truckload of the hot peppers brought in over a three-month period in the last week. The Air Quality Department has logged 11 complaints. It sent an inspector finding no smells and no violations at the plant.

While Sriracha might look hotter than Hades, it's nowhere near, rating only about 2,000 points on the Scoville. That's about half where Tobasco sauce and nowhere near the hottest chilies in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.

MARQUEZ: Here's a man eating a Navabut hallocia (ph), one of the hottest.


MARQUEZ: Srirach's jalapeno? Nowhere near that hot. And the new plant has brought needed jobs to the area. Even those who suffer agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it's possible to fix the problem, then that would be best because even one of my friends recently got a job there.

MARQUEZ: How hot is too hot? Now in the hands of a judge.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


COSTELLO: A ruling on a possible factory shutdown expected later today. We'll keep you posted.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, some critics are saying if the GOP can't defund, delay or repeal Obamacare, they're gonna have help fix it, but will they ? We'll ask the Republican National Committee's communications director next.