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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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Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally

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  • The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.  
  • The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds. 
  • Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.

State of Emergency Declared

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week. 

“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”

“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.” 

In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.  

Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured. 

“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”

Monday’s Plans

The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.

On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.

The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms. 

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”

Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (ABC)

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Student Expelled From Christian School After Rainbow-Filled Photo

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  • A 15-year old girl was expelled from a private Christian school after her mother, Kimberly Alford, shared a photo of her wearing a rainbow-striped sweater next to a colorful cake. 
  • Alford said the color scheme was a coincidence with no LGBTQ meaning, but the school interpreted the post that way and said it contradicts its beliefs.
  • The school later clarified that the teen was not expelled for the photo alone but also for repeated student conduct violations.
  • While Alford admitted her daughter had made previous violations, she still argued that the repercussions for the photo were unjust.

Teen’s Expulsion

A private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky expelled a student last week after her mother posted a photo of the teenager wearing a rainbow shirt posing next to a colorful cake.

Fifteen-year-old Kayla Kenney celebrated her recent birthday with a small gathering out at a restaurant at the end of December. Her mom, Kimberly Alford, set up the event and posted a photo of Kenney to Facebook shortly after.

The image shows the girl grinning to the camera with a frosted rainbow birthday cake sitting before her. The cake’s decor matches the striped rainbow design on Kenney’s sweater.

Credit: Kimberly Alford.

On Jan. 6, Alford said she received an email from Bruce Jacobson, the head of Whitefield Academy where her daughter is a student. In it, Jacobson allegedly said that Kenney was being expelled over the post and attached the image in his message.

“The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” Jacobson wrote, according to Alford.

“We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”

The school’s reaction to the birthday image baffled the family. Although a rainbow is widely recognized and used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and support, Alford said the color scheme was just a coincidence with no deeper meaning for her daughter. 

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post. “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me… I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

School’s Rationale

In a later statement, Whitefield Academy clarified that this was not Kenney’s first breach of their protocol. The school condemned “inaccurate media reports” for making it seem like the expulsion was solely based on the cake photo and said that the teenager had “unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”

Alford acknowledged that her daughter had misstepped in the past, and cited instances of Kenney being found with e-cigarette paraphernalia and ditching class one day after lunch. She said that in October, after an e-cigarette incident, her daughter had been put on probation. 

But the cake picture being the last straw made no sense to Alford or her daughter.

 “She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford told The Washington Post

She added that her daughter told her, “‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

Whitefield Academy, which serves as a ministry of the Highview Baptist Church, disagreed. According to the school’s parent/student handbook, the Biblical role of the school is to work with families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”

“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook states. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”

The handbook notes that the school reserves the right to refuse admission or discontinue enrollment of any students who may go against its religious beliefs. According to a local Kentucky news outlet, The Courier-Journal, exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance grant Whitefield Academy the authority to do this. 

Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion but reported that she was denied. She said that administrators did agree to change the expulsion to a “voluntary withdrawal” as to not reflect poorly on Kenney’s record.

The mother said her daughter is now attending a public school and has received overwhelming support from friends at her former school, though she still thinks Kenney was treated “unjustly” and that is why she’s chosen to make the story known.

“I just want to defend her in a graceful way,” Alford told NBC. “I want to stand up for my child,” she said. “Just treat people with kindness and love, and don’t be judgmental.”

See what others are saying: (NBC) (WAVE3) (ABC)

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At Least 60 Treated After Delta Jet Dumps Fuel Over LA Schools

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  • A Delta flight headed for Shanghai was ordered to return to LAX shortly after departure due to an engine issue. 
  • To reach a safe landing weight, the plane released jet fuel that showered over six LA schools, causing minor injuries to at least 60 students and adults. 
  • Though rare, fuel dumping typically happens at high altitudes or over an unpopulated area. 
  • Local officials are demanding answers and accountability and the Federal Aviation Administration is launching an investigation to understand why normal fuel dumping procedures were not followed. 

Dozens Treated for Injuries 

At least 60 people were treated for minor injuries on Tuesday after a Delta flight making an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport dumped fuel over several local schools.  

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School district confirmed that a low-flying plane discharged jet fuel around noon, however, the district could not confirm how many campuses were affected. Based on reports of injuries, it’s estimated that it was at least six. 

Approximately 20 schoolchildren and 11 adults from Park Avenue Elementary School were treated after they were exposed to fuel that rained on over a playground, according to LA County firefighters. 

In a statement, the district said, “Students and staff were on the playground at the time and may have been sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes. Schools immediately called paramedics, who are on the scene and are treating anyone who is complaining of skin irritation or breathing problems.”

“Educators are also visiting every classroom to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff,” it added. 

Several other students and adults treated were from San Gabriel Avenue Elementary and Tweedy Elementary in South Gate, Jordan High and 93rd Street Elementary in South Los Angeles and Graham Elementary in Inglewood. 

Many patients complained of skin and eye irritation but were treated with soap and water and were not taken to the hospital. Others also reported a strong toxic smell that lingered in neighborhoods, making it hard to breathe. 

Emergency Landing 

LAX officials said a Delta Boeing 777 on its way to Shanghai when it declared a mechanical emergency shortly after takeoff and was ordered to return to the airport. 

According to an online flight tracker, the plane turned around just 24 minutes after departure. 

None of the 149 passengers on board were injured and the aircraft landed safely after the release of fuel, which Delta said was “required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight.”

However, according to aviation safety experts, the move is rare and in most cases, it’s done over water or unpopulated areas at a high altitude so that the fuel can disperse and vaporize before reaching the ground. 

Delta released a statement about the incident acknowledging the impact it had, saying, “We are concerned about reports of impacts on the ground from the fuel release, and are in close communication with Delta and first responders as their investigators continue. We thank LA County Fire, the LA Fire Department and other responding agencies for their fast response and we are working to learn more.”

Locals Demand Investigation 

Residents and local officials have expressed anger over the incident, demanding answers and action. 

“Sadly, our entire community has been adversely impacted by this incident, including dozens of children,” Cudahy City Councilman Jack Guerrero said. “I am calling for a full federal investigation into the matter and expect full accountability from responsible parties.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration promised to investigate. 

“The FAA is thoroughly investigating the circumstances behind today’s incident involving a Delta Air Lines flight that was returning to Los Angeles International Airport,”  the agency said in a statement before acknowledging that the move was unusual.

“There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major U.S. airport. These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground,” the agency added.

Health officials advise anyone who might have been hit by the jet fuel to shower, get rid of the clothing sprayed, and seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

See what others are saying: (CBS LA) (Los Angeles Times) (USA Today

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