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Trump’s Tensions With USPS Block the Agency From Federal Funding Amid Crisis

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  • The United States Postal Service fears it could run out of money by September if it does not receive federal aid. It has seen a 30% decline in mail volume over the last week and anticipates $13 billion in losses this year.
  • While Democrats have tried to add funding to coronavirus bills for them, Trump has said he would not sign legislation that includes USPS funding.
  • Trump has a contentious history with the USPS. Some of these tensions stem from his dislike for Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Trump believes that USPS loses money delivering Amazon packages and should charge more.
  • Republicans also are reluctant to give aid because they want to privatize USPS, which is the most favorable government agency amongst Americans.

USPS Requests Emergency Funding

As the United States Postal Service’s plea for money has been largely ignored or outright refused by Republicans, the disputed future of the agency has taken center stage. 

After reporting a 30% decline in mail volume in the last week, USPS is asking lawmakers for $89 billion, according to the New York Times. Without financial help, it could run out of money by the end of September. The agency is predicting a $13 billion revenue loss this year. 

While Democrats have worked to include funding for USPS in coronavirus relief and stimulus packages, there has been little interest from Republicans in including these measures. President Donald Trump has been equally closed off to it. 

“We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it,” a Trump administration official told the Washington Post. “I don’t know if we used the v-bomb, but the president was not going to sign it, and we told them that.”

This has left the USPS with the option of taking out a $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department, which would not carry them as far and could cause longer-term problems for them.

Trump Vs. USPS. Vs. Amazon

Trump’s cold shoulder to USPS is nothing new. The president has long been vocal about his frustrations, many of which stem from its relationship with Amazon. Trump is not a fan of Amazon or its leader, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. He has documented this over the years on Twitter, calling USPS Amazon’s “delivery boy,” and saying USPS makes Amazon “richer” and themselves “dumber and poorer.”

Because of this, Trump wants USPS to charge Amazon more so it can churn a bigger profit off of the online shopping giant. This idea, however, has faced no shortage of criticism. 

“Raising rates too much would lead private-sector competitors to develop their own cheaper methods to deliver packages,” Lori Rectanus, the director of physical infrastructure at the Government Accountability Office told the Post.

According to a New York Magazine piece from the end of 2019 said that raising prices with Amazon may not even benefit USPS. Trump has often stated that USPS loses $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers, but writer Josh Barro claims that is a faulty number at best. Barro says that Trump is using a report from Citibank littered with mathematical errors, and that does not actually make that claim. 

“Citi makes no convincing argument that the post office is losing money on Amazon,” Barro wrote. 

“A rule forcing the post office to price packages higher, losing market share to private competitors, would lead to more unused capacity in the existing postal trucks, not to a right-sizing of the post office,” he added.

Privatizing USPS

On top of Trump’s rift with Amazon, for a long time Republicans have wanted to fully privatize USPS. The agency has seen a consistent revenue decline for years, and conservative lawmakers see turning it into a business as a way to bring in more money.

Hunter Walker, the White House correspondent for Yahoo News, wrote that this pandemic could give Republicans their shot at privatizing it if they wanted. Ronnie Stutts, the president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association told Yahoo that plans to get funding for the USPS in stimulus packages seemed promising “until they got to the White House.”

The Treasury Department and Trump want “to privatize postal service,” he added.  

“There’s no two ways about it,” Stutts told Yahoo. “And when it got there, he killed it. They said no. He was not going to give us any money.”

Privatizing USPS would likely come with consequences. They would no longer have to fulfill the obligation of delivering mail anywhere throughout the country at an equal rate, something that would largely impact rural areas. 

Public Favorability for USPS

USPS saw a lot of support online over the weekend, with people using #SaveThePostOffice to encourage people to buy stamps and give the service revenue during this crisis. USPS gets no taxpayer money and only profits off of the services it provides, making it even more vulnerable during this time. 

Despite these efforts to put the post office at risk, the public actually has a favorable opinion of the agency, which is established in the United States constitution. According to a 2019 poll from Pew, it is the most favorable government agency in the, getting a 90% approval rating. This is even higher than the National Parks Service and NASA. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Vox) (Vanity Fair)

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Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini

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  • A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
  • Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
  • After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.

Hines Defrauds Government

A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.

David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.

According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.

“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.

Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds

Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.

Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.

In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini

See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)

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Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March

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  • A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
  • Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
  • In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
  • No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.

Judge Cahill Postpones Trial

The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.

The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.

All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.

“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.

A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.

The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.

The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.

For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.

Uncertainty Around Sentencing

Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.

“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.

Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.

Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.

In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.

Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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