Amtrak Backs Down From $25,000 Quote for Group Traveling With Wheelchairs
- When an advocacy group for people with disabilities planned to take a two-hour Amtrak train to a conference, the railroad service told them it would cost over $25,000 to accommodate two extra wheelchairs.
- Amtrak cited a new policy in which they will no longer absorb the cost of refiguring train cars for accommodations, leaving the group members to cover the expense of making space for additional wheelchairs.
- Many criticized Amtrak, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois who uses a wheelchair herself.
- Amtrak apologized and offered the group its normal $16 price on tickets, adding that it will review its policy and open discussions with Duckworth, who requested that it be eliminated.
Hefty Price of Train Tickets
Amtrak apologized and retreated on Monday from its $25,000 quote for two wheelchair users to take a short train ride. The railway operator had originally told the passengers they would have to pay this price to cover their disability accommodations — a large deviation from the normal $16 price of a one-way ticket.
Members of Access Living, a Chicago-based advocacy group for people with disabilities, had planned weeks in advance to take a two-hour trip to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois for a conference on Jan. 22. Of the 10 members planning on going, five use wheelchairs.
Access Living had traveled with Amtrak before and had been accommodated in the past when they gave advance notice of their members’ needs. The group wrote to the company to inform them of their need for wheelchair accommodations again on this trip.
The train Access Living members planned on taking had three cars, with one wheelchair seat per car—they were in need of additional space for two more wheelchairs. In late December, an Amtrak agent emailed back to let them know that the cost of their tickets will be over $25,000.
When the advocacy group members thought there must have been some kind of error, they wrote back questioning the price.
“I thought it was a mistake. That’s the price of a car,” Adam Ballard of Access Living told NPR, who first reported the story. “How can that be possible? I was sure it was a mistake.”
But sure enough, when Amtrak responded they were firm in their number. The agent informed Access Living that the spiked fee comes from covering the expense of removing seats from a rail car to fit the additional two wheelchairs, citing a new policy implemented in 2019 in which Amtrak would no longer absorb the costs for reconfiguring train cars.
Backlash and Amtrak’s Retreat
After NPR‘s report, Amtrak faced a slew of backlash from individuals including Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a veteran who lost both her legs in Iraq and uses a wheelchair herself. Duckworth tweeted her disappointment in the rail line on Sunday.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years,” Duckworth wrote. “Yet in 2020, Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years. Yet in 2020, @Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together. (2/4)— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) January 19, 2020
In the wake of the backlash, an Amtrak spokesperson told The New York Times that the new policy was meant for any group requesting that a train be reconfigured to fit passengers and not limited to those with disabilities.
On Monday, Amtrak apologized to Access Living and said they could find space on the train for the two extra wheelchairs at the normal price. The advocacy group accepted the offer.
Amtrak also said they would review the new policy and open talks with Duckworth, who requested a meeting with CEO Richard Anderson to discuss striking it down.
To prevent future incidents, I will be requesting that @Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson meet with me to discuss eliminating Amtrak’s nationwide policy of refusing to absorb any costs associated with reconfiguring a railcar to accommodate a group of wheelchair users. (4/4)— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) January 19, 2020
See what others are saying: (NPR) ( The New York Times) (The Washington Post)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.