HomeCoronavirus Live Updates: Staggering Unemployment Hits States as House Convenes Before Aid VoteBusinessCoronavirus Live Updates: Staggering Unemployment Hits States as House Convenes Before Aid Vote

Coronavirus Live Updates: Staggering Unemployment Hits States as House Convenes Before Aid Vote

As states face a downturn worse than the Great Recession, McConnell suggests they consider bankruptcy.

During the Great Recession, tax collections fell so steeply that state and local governments furloughed and laid off police officers and cut aid to key services like health care, transportation, and schools. Some cities turned off streetlights to save on electricity, and Hawaii cut its school aid so much that it closed them down altogether on many Fridays.

The current downturn is shaping up to be worse, and bipartisan groups of governors and mayors from around the country have been pleading with Washington for aid to help them keep workers on their payrolls as they grapple with a growing public health and economic crisis.

But Congress did not provide money for state governments in the new $484 billion aid package that the House was expected to pass on Thursday, after Democrats failed to persuade Republicans to do so, setting up the next political battle over pandemic relief.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, made it clear that he was reluctant to give them federal aid, suggesting that some should consider bankruptcy.

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”

It is true that some states, including Illinois, were struggling with enormous pension fund shortfalls even before the pandemic sent the markets plummeting, eroding the values of their funds and adding to their current budget woes. But many states and cities that were doing well before the virus hit are now seeing their tax collections fall off a cliff, which could force them to furlough and lay off workers and cut services just as the crisis has driven needs higher than usual.

States do not now have the ability to declare bankruptcy to reduce their financial obligations, but Mr. McConnell raised the possibility of letting them do so.

“I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,” he said.

The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group of governors from around the country, wrote federal officials this week pleading for $500 billion to help them make up for lost tax revenues during what they called “the most dramatic contraction of the U.S. economy since World War II.”

These continuing losses will force states and territories not only to make drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities, and public safety, but the national economic recovery will be dramatically hampered,” the group’s chairman, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, wrote with its vice chairman, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat.

In New York State, where officials were forecasting a shortfall of between $10 billion and $15 billion, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli wrote in a report this week that the crisis had left “greater uncertainty this year than ever before as to the level of funding the State will be able to provide for school districts, health care providers, local governments and others.”

Mr. McConnell’s staff issued his statement under the heading “Stopping Blue State Bailouts,” which suggested that the top Senate Republican was singling out heavily Democratic states such as California, Illinois and New York, which have been hard hit in the pandemic.

Mr. Cuomo accused Mr. McConnell of hyper-partisanship, calling the “blue-state bailout” label “vicious.”

“How ugly a thought,” the governor said Thursday. “Think of what he is saying. People died. 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominately Democrats, so why should we help them?”

The House convened Thursday morning ahead of a vote give final approval to a $484 billion package to revive a depleted loan program for small businesses and provide additional funding for testing and hospitals.

The aid legislation, the latest round of government aid to address the pandemic and its economic impact, is expected to pass through the chamber on a broad bipartisan margin. The Senate approved it on a voice vote on Tuesday.

As Carl Hulse notes in his news analysis, Democrats have now blocked two consecutive rescue packages and withstood withering criticism from Republicans to win concessions — and hundreds of billions of additional dollars — they said were vital.

The latest measure ended up being almost twice the size and much broader in scope than the original bill Mr. McConnell had tried to push through two weeks earlier without negotiations.

It was a potentially dangerous strategy for Democrats, particularly in an election year, but their willingness to take on those risks reflects their confidence that the terrain of the current debate — a public health crisis and economic disaster that will require the broadest government relief effort since the post-World War II era — plays to their core strengths as a party. But it may affect their leverage in the next fight over a much larger stimulus measure that is likely to top $1 trillion.

Before considering the aid package, the House is also expected to vote, likely along party lines, to create a special committee to oversee the government’s response to the virus and the spending of the stimulus money.

President Trump has denounced the idea as another partisan “witch hunt” by Democrats, and Republicans argued it was redundant on top of the oversight mechanisms that were already built into the stimulus law.

“Now we need a ninth committee to overdo oversight and it’s supposedly going to be bipartisan?” said Representative Debbie Lesko, Republican of Arizona. “I’m sorry, I call B.S.”

But the stock market rallied, driven in part by a rebound in shares of energy companies as oil prices rose. It’s not the first time in recent weeks that investors have shrugged off bad economic news, as the shock of the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic has eased.

The relentless increase in the jobless has intensified the debate over when to lift restrictions that have helped halt the virus’s rapid spread but placed the economy in a stranglehold.

State agencies have scrambled to handle the overwhelming flood of filings as well as a set of federal eligibility rules instituted to deal with the crisis.

With government phones and websites clogged and drop-in centers closed, legal aid lawyers are fielding complaints from people who say they don’t know where else to turn.

“Our office has received thousands of calls,” said John Tirpak, a lawyer with the Unemployment Law Project, a nonprofit group in Washington.

Pain is everywhere, but it is widespread among the most vulnerable.

In a survey that the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday, 52 percent of low-income households — below $37,500 a year for a family of three — said someone in the household had lost a job because of the virus, compared with 32 percent of upper-income families (with earnings over $112,600). Forty-two percent of families in the middle have been affected as well.

Those without a college education have taken a disproportionate hit, as have Hispanics and African-Americans, the survey also found.

Many states are scrambling to process an avalanche of jobless claims from the crisis, struggling with overloaded websites and phones that don’t answer. But Florida has emerged as one of the slowest in the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have been waiting for weeks for a check. It has taken some as long as that to file. As Florida’s unemployment website became unusable under the weight of the traffic, the state agreed this month to accept paper applications, a tacit acknowledgment that the system was all but broken. Florida’s breakdown became a national symbol of distress, when footage of a snaking line for those applications outside the public library in Hialeah, a blue-collar city outside Miami, went viral online.

The debacle has become an embarrassment for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who has had to spend more and more time addressing the shortcomings. He called the system “cumbersome” last week and acknowledged that only 4 percent of 850,000 pending claims had been paid. He appointed an unemployment czar and signed executive orders waiving some requirements to ease the traffic on the website. The number of paid claims has slowly inched up.

But the fixes follow what experts say has been an intentional weakening of the unemployment system over a decade, aimed at reducing taxes on employers, that has left Florida particularly ill-equipped to handle the crisis. The state’s unemployment benefits are among the lowest in the nation: The maximum is just $275 a week. (A new federal relief law will augment that; it pays $600 per week on top of state benefits.)

“Florida is a terrible state to be an unemployed person,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project in Washington. “It’s hard to get in. Once you do it’s easy to get disqualified. The benefit level is way below average. And that was before the crisis.”

Mr. DeSantis said that easing the benefits gridlock is his top priority, and blamed the unprecedented number of claims for the breakdown. “Not nearly enough” applications have been processed, he said.

Georgia’s Republican governor on Thursday appeared undeterred by a torrent of resistance, led by Mr. Trump, to his plan to allow many businesses to reopen this week.

Less than 24 hours after Mr. Trump said he opposed Gov. Brian Kemp’s strategy, Mr. Kemp used his Twitter account to publicize a list of frequently asked questions about how Georgia intended to relax its rules.

He gave no indication that he intended to reverse his decision, announced on Monday, for what he described as a measured process meant to bolster the economy. The governor’s plan gives permission to gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Then, on Monday, restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in service, and movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen.

The decision was immediately assailed, as public health experts, the mayors of Georgia’s largest cities and others warned that it stood to have perilous consequences. Business owners who were otherwise eager to revive their livelihoods said they would hold off. Then on Wednesday evening, Mr. Trump, whose endorsement in a 2018 primary helped to lift Mr. Kemp’s political fortunes, said the plan appeared premature given the number of virus cases in the state.

“I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he is doing,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “I think it’s too soon.”

Mr. Kemp acknowledged speaking with Mr. Trump in a series of Twitter posts after the president’s briefing. And while he praised Mr. Trump for his “bold leadership and insight,” he gave no indication he was reconsidering his decision.

“Our next measured step is driven by data and guided by state public health officials,” he wrote.

States around the nation have been trying to balance combating a public health crisis with the need to ameliorate a growing economic crisis. In some states, small protests — with the support of some conservative groups — have urged governors to ease restrictions. But polls have found that Americans are more fearful of easing restrictions too early than too late, and some business leaders have cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen.

On Wednesday, Mayor Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas called for the city’s casinos, restaurants and other businesses to immediately reopen but declined to provide any guidance on social distancing measures that might protect employees and customers.

“They better figure it out,” she said in an interview on CNN, during which she said she had offered the city “to be a control group” for relaxing restrictions.

The mayor, an independent, does not have the power to reopen the city’s economy, but Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat, and the largest union representing Las Vegas casino workers swiftly condemned her comments. “I will not allow the citizens of Nevada, our Nevadans, to be used as a control group,” Mr. Sisolak said.

The Trump administration is moving migrant teenagers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers as they turn 18, putting them at greater danger of exposure to the virus. The health risks with the spread of the virus are a new concern for the policy — that some question if it is even legal.

As of Wednesday night, ICE had confirmed 287 cases among detainees and 35 cases among staff members.

Migrants under 18 have been held in relatively benign shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Immigrations lawyers have said that the safest option for these teenagers would be that they are released to a sponsor, but short of that, the young migrants should be held in shelters and group homes where there is more space and better care than at the detention facilities. The administration’s system of deciding where to place such “age outs” exemplifies the extent of the president’s hard-line immigration policies.

“Our clients are terrified of the prospect of being transferred to a secured detention facility with large numbers of people in close, confined settings, which is in direct contravention with C.D.C.’s advice on how to save oneself from this pandemic,” said Anthony Enriquez, the director of the unaccompanied minors program at Catholic Charities.

The Trump administration has moved to clamp down on immigration as the virus spread, arguing that the efforts would limit additional exposure to Americans and reserve the job market for United States citizens, a theory that past studies have rebuked.

About 21 percent of about 1,300 people in New York City who were tested for virus antibodies tested positive, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday.

The results come from a state program that randomly tested 3,000 supermarket customers across New York State this week. Nearly 14 percent of those tests came back positive, he said.

If those numbers translate to the true incidence of the virus, they would mean that more than 1.7 million people in New York City, and more than 2.4 million people statewide, have already been infected. These numbers are far greater than the 250,000 confirmed cases of the virus itself that the state has recorded.

By the time New York City confirmed its first case on March 1, thousands of infections were already silently spreading through the city, according to a model of the disease by researchers at Northeastern University.

On Thursday, the governor said 438 more people had died, according to official state figures, a number that remained troublingly high as the state’s death toll hit 15,740. The number of virus patients entering hospitals has stayed around 1,350 per day for the last three days. That is down from around 2,000 per day last week.

He also announced that nursing homes in the state would be investigated to ensure that they were following strict rules put in place during the outbreak; facilities found to be in violation of those rules could be subject to fines, or lose their licenses entirely. More than 3,500 people have died in nursing homes, according to state data — roughly 20 percent of all the state’s deaths.

A new study of thousands of coronavirus patients in New York City-area hospitals found that more than 90 percent had at least one chronic health condition and most had at least two.

The findings are from a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association describing the characteristics of thousands of Covid-19 patients admitted between March 1 and April 4 to a dozen hospitals in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County that are part of Northwell Health. The paper was written by scientists at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, the research arm of Northwelll; the senior author cautioned that the study was observational in nature, and there was no comparison group with which to contrast frailties or outcomes.

Researchers found dozens of children and teenagers were hospitalized with the virus, but survived. Women showed a clear survival edge — fewer of them were hospitalized to begin with, and they were more likely to survive. One in five of the hospital stays ended with the patient dying.

The mortality rate, 88 percent, is higher than some other early case reports, which found death rates ranging from 50 percent to close to 70 percent. But given that the length of hospital stay for the Northwell cases was relatively short, four days on average, it’s possible that those who died were mainly patients who were so ill that they were unlikely to be helped by any treatment.

Like several other reports on smaller patient groups from area hospitals, it indicated that obesity, as well as high blood pressure and diabetes, were common risk factors for severe Covid-19 disease requiring hospitalization. One of the most striking findings was that a mere 6 percent of the hospitalized patients had no underlying health conditions at all.

As many Americans look to the summer months with some hope of a return to normalcy, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the coronavirus and the seasonal flu season will likely overlap later this year. This scenario would overwhelm hospitals and health care symptoms as the virus has in some communities, like New York City.

“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the virus may not come back at all, a theory his own infectious disease advisers have rejected.

In an effort to protect patients from unnecessary exposure to the virus, doctors, including pediatricians, have transitioned wellness checkups to video appointments. In doing so, public health experts said, immunizations have been dropping at a dangerous rate. And children are not receiving routine vaccines that protect them against measles and other life-threatening illnesses.

“The last thing we want as the collateral damage of Covid-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake,” said Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases.

As Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman reported, Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and removed as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health.

In a statement, Dr. Bright, who received a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis from Emory University, assailed the leadership at the health department, saying he was pressured to direct money toward hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” and repeatedly described by the president as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus.

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”

Doubts about the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment and the lack of evidence about the drug’s effectiveness — including some small studies that indicated patients could be harmed — appear to have dampened Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm for it.

Weeks before there was evidence that the virus was spreading in U.S. communities, Patricia Dowd, a 57-year-old auditor at a Silicon Valley semiconductor manufacturer, developed flulike symptoms and abruptly died in her San Jose kitchen, prompting a search for what had killed her. Flu tests were negative. The coroner was baffled. It appeared that she had suffered a massive heart attack.

The unexpected new finding, as reported by Thomas Fuller, Mike Baker, Shawn Hubler and Sheri Fink, makes clear that the virus was circulating in the Bay Area of California as early as January, even before the federal government began restricting travel from China on Feb. 2. It also raises new questions about where else the virus might have been spreading undetected.

With little local testing throughout February — in part because of botched testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with strict guidelines that limited who could get tested — officials were not aware of the virus transmitting locally in the country until Feb. 26, in Solano County, Calif.

Previous cases had involved people who had traveled to China, where the outbreak began, or who had been exposed to someone who was sick. But the Feb. 26 case in Solano County was of unexplained origin. Similar cases of community transmission were quickly identified in nearby Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, as well as in Washington State and Oregon.

The new test results made public late Tuesday show that even this timeline failed to reveal how long the virus had been circulating. Ms. Dowd had not recently traveled outside the country, the authorities said, and yet she died a full 20 days before the earliest recorded case of community transmission. Another previously unconnected death in Santa Clara County, on Feb. 17, has also now been linked to the virus.

“Each one of those deaths is probably the tip of an iceberg of unknown size,” Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s medical officer, said in an interview.

During the weeks of legal wrangling that went all of the way to the Supreme Court, Texas had argued that abortion was like any other elective surgery, and should be delayed to preserve the personal protective equipment needed by medical workers exposed to the virus.

Lawyers for abortion clinics said the state was using the pandemic to advance its own political agenda, and took the state to court.

Abortion access in Texas swung wildly for a month, with clinics canceling dozens of appointments and rescheduling them days later, as the case bounced through the court system. Texas residents scrambled, with some traveling long distances to clinics in nearby states like Kansas and Colorado.

At least six other states — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee — have tried similar abortion restrictions, often through emergency orders by their governors.

But hospitals around the country have been under financial strain after postponing often lucrative elective surgical procedures to make way for virus patients, and last week, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas eased the restrictions on some surgical procedures. A court filing in a federal court in Texas late Wednesday confirmed that abortions were included in the relaxing of the rules.

“Finally, women in Texas can get the time-sensitive abortion care that they are constitutionally guaranteed,” said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents some of the clinics. “Women never should have had to go to court to get essential health care.”

Dyana Limon-Mercado, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said, “The past month has been an unthinkable nightmare for Texans who have been forced to travel out of state just to access essential health care.”

Islam’s call to prayer will play throughout a Minneapolis neighborhood during Ramadan as the authorities urge people to stay apart during the holy month.

The call, known as Adhan, will be played over a loudspeaker in the Cedar-Riverside area of the city five times a day until Ramadan’s conclusion next month.

“At a time when physical distancing requires we pray apart, it’s incumbent on leaders to create a sense of togetherness where we can,” Mayor Jacob Frey, who helped arrange a noise permit, said in a statement.

“Adhan provides solidarity and comfort — both of which are essential during a time of crisis,” he said. “As our Muslim community prepares for Ramadan, we hope the broadcast will offer a measure of stability and reassure our entire city that we are all very much in this together.”

The call will come from a loudspeaker positioned outside the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque, near downtown and the University of Minnesota, and will be played “at volumes consistent with city regulations.”

Local officials said they expected thousands of people would be able to hear it.

Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the playing of the call would be “welcomed by the Muslim community and all those who value diversity and mutual understanding.”

Ramadan, which begins Thursday and concludes May 23, is among the holiest periods for Muslims, who fast during the day throughout the month.

Here are tips on tending to your budget.

You may be wondering how to cut some expenses right now. One way is to figure out who owes you money from the many services you pay for but aren’t in business right now. Think day camps, gyms and airlines. But when is it fair to ask for your money back? Here are some guidelines to help.

Hospitals have adopted anthems like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Empire State of Mind” to celebrate recovery.

Pick a hospital in the New York metropolitan area these days, and you are likely to find that the staff has identified a song as the fitting soundtrack to the release of patients who had been hospitalized because of the virus.

Many have chosen “Here Comes the Sun,” long associated with finding joy through hard times. When it and other songs are played, it is not only a tribute to the resilience of the patient, but also an anthem of affirmation for the medical professionals: Through long shifts, with few positive moments and supplies stretched thin, they have saved another life.

Reporting was contributed by Eileen Sullivan, Alan Blinder, Patricia Cohen, Patricia Mazzei, Sabrina Tavernise, Carl Hulse, Sheri Fink, Mike Baker, Thomas Fuller, Shawn Hubler, Peter Baker, Karen Barrow, Jan Hoffman, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Andy Newman, Roni Caryn Rabin, Pam Belluck, Lara Jakes, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Rick Rojas, Katie Rogers, Marc Santora, Dionne Searcey, Nancy Coleman and Neil Vigdor.

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