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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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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

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

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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