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Calls for Rent Freeze Grow as Coronavirus Leaves Millions Without Income

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  • As the coronavirus costs more and more people their income, many are demanding a rent freeze for the month of April. 
  • Some cities, like New York and Los Angeles, where rent is especially high, have already placed a moratorium on evictions, but renters fear this will not help them out in the long run as bills stack up.
  • Some politicians have also backed this idea, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asking how it could be “reasonable” to expect people to pay rent right now without aide relief or a moratorium.
  • Critics of this fear that a rent wipeout will have a ripple effect that could ultimately lead to a banking crisis.

What States Have Done So Far

As April first looms around the corner, many across the country are unsure how they will pay their rent. Widespread business closures have left millions without income, causing tenants and politicians to demand a rent freeze to protect people during these uncertain economic times. 

Some cities and states have taken steps to protect renters and homeowners in some capacity, but activists fear it is not enough. Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended mortgage payments.

California Governor Gavin Newsom took similar measures Wednesday night, by getting four out of the five major U.S. banks to agree to delay mortgage payments and stop foreclosures for 90 days. Bank of America will do so for only 30 days.

But this still leaves renters, who are in many cases the most economically vulnerable, in a tricky position.

While cities like New York and Los Angeles have halted evictions, rent payments are still on the calendar. If they cannot be met, costs will only pile up as the pandemic continues, leading to potential evictions and debt further down the road. In Los Angeles, more than 60% of the population spends at least 30% of their income on rent. Some spend more than 50% of their paycheck on housing.

Calls to Cancel Rent

Because of these severe financial burdens, many have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #CancelRent to encourage leaders to forgive April rent payments.

“How can you possibly justify not giving rent relief right now?” one Twitter user asked Newsom. “Your orders forbid us from making income.”

“Deciding between life saving medications and food/rent is highly problematic,” said another. 

Politicians on both a local and national scale have expressed their support as well. New York State Senator Mike Gianaris said he believes rent should be canceled for 90 days because of the virus.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also asked how it could be reasonable to expect people to pay bills and rent without aid or relief. 

Franchises and Others Push for Leniency

Companies have also felt the economic weight of the coronavirus and have also gotten involved in the discussion of rent. The Cheesecake Factory announced on Wednesday that it would not be paying rent at any of its locations because the decline in restaurant traffic has been a severe blow to them.

“We have to take both into consideration in terms of understanding the nature of our rent obligations and with respect to managing our financial position,” they told Eater in a statement. “We have very strong, longstanding relationships with our landlords. We are certain that with their partnership, we will be able to work together to weather this storm in the appropriate manner.”

Online, this move was received pretty well. Many who have been calling for a rent freeze saw it as a strong example, with some even saying that the restaurant was now “leading the revolution.”

Other restaurants are also trying to be flexible about rent this month. McDonald’s, which does not have its locations pay rent to a local landlord, and rather acts as its own by collecting rent from its franchises itself, is considering deferring rent. Other chains that function this way, like Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are deferring rent for their locations, according to Business Insider.

Outside of businesses, some landlords have decided to cut tenants some slack on their own, including Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard. The Hollywood couple owns and rents two properties in Los Angeles, and is waiving rent for their residents for the month of April. A representative for the two told Entertainment Tonight they informed tenants over the weekend.

“The message expressed empathy and encouragement, and promised to work with residents going forward as best as possible as everyone learns to adjust to the public health crisis,” the representative said.

Opposition to Rent Freeze

On the other side of this, there are people who do not see a rent strike as the solution to the economic issues created by the coronavirus. While some places have lifted mortgage payments or other kinds of debt relief, that is not the universal case, meaning that solving the rent problem could mean creating a mortgage one. A Bloomberg opinion piece suggested that freezing rent could “ignite a mortgage crisis.”

“There’s pretty much no way around people eventually paying what they owe, ideally with the help of the U.S. government, or else risk ‘turning a health crisis into a banking crisis,’” the piece said.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Los Angeles Magazine) (KQED)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

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

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