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Nearly 700,000 People to Lose Food Stamp Aid Under New Policy

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  • A new rule was finalized on Wednesday that tightens work restrictions for the federal food stamp program.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 688,000 people will be cut from the program when the rule takes effect next year.
  • Those in favor of the change argue that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs, while critics say it will hurt them more than it will help them.

New Rule

Trump administration finalized a new rule that could remove almost 700,000 people from the federal food stamp program. The rule, announced in a press release on Wednesday, creates stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents,” the press release said.  

Under current regulations, this demographic can receive three months of SNAP benefits throughout a three year period, unless they work or undergo professional training for at least 20 hours a week. 

States have had the ability to waive this time limit to account for economic turbulence, and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were eligible for these remissions. The new rule will make 6% the minimum unemployment rate to qualify for these waivers, according to the Washington Post.

It will take effect on April 1, 2020.

Impact on Americans

While the USDA originally estimated that up to 750,000 people would be cut from SNAP with this change, now they have adjusted that number to 688,000. 

The finalized regulation is the first of three proposed measures to limit access to the federal food stamp program. A new study by the Urban Institute found that if the other two rules are approved, nearly 4 million people would lose access to food benefits.

After the new rule was proposed in February, there was an abundance of public comments imploring the administration not to go through with it. 

But the USDA was not swayed and held strong in their argument that SNAP should be a form of temporary assistance instead of a long-term lifestyle. 

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Those who support the rule are optimistic that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs. 

“The changes reflect the belief that more Americans can enter and reenter the workforce,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary, told the Washington Post. “So they can know the dignity of work.”

Critics of the change were extremely disappointed upon the news of the rule’s finalization, deeming it a step in the wrong direction.

“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness and hypocrisy in this administration.”

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, released a press statement on Wednesday after hearing the news.

“The Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger…” she said. “…Instead of considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the Department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (NBC)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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