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Georgia Business Owners and Mayors Criticize Governor’s Plan to Reopen Stores Friday

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  • After Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that he would reopen businesses like gyms, bowling alleys, and hair salons on Friday, many business owners said they will remain closed anyway.
  • Kemp’s decision is the broadest rollback of state stay-at-home orders so far, and he also plans to reopen restaurants and movie theaters on Monday.
  • Mayors of some of Georgia’s largest cities have also urged people to continue staying at home, but Kemp’s order renders them powerless to impose local restrictions.

Businesses Divided As Georgia Reopens

Georgia will begin plans to restart its economy on Friday by allowing various types of businesses to reopen, but those plans haven’t set in well for some business owners.

Specifically, the state will begin allowing gyms, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, hair and nail salons, and massage therapy businesses to reopen their doors once more. By Monday, a second wave of reopenings will include dine-in restaurants and movie theaters.

While Governor Brian Kemp said those businesses will need to follow social-distancing and sanitation guidelines, this is still the broadest rollback of stay-at-home orders from a state so far. 

Because that order was so broad, many small business owners said they’d been caught off-guard and that they weren’t expecting to reopen the state so soon. Some even said they would need more than just a few days to ramp back up.

Other business owners were critical of this move in general, some saying they’d refuse to reopen before health experts said it was safe to do so.

“It’s putting economics before lives,” Diane Fall, owner of Maxim Barbers in suburban Atlanta, told The Wall Street Journal. “[Kemp’s] putting it out there like he’s doing us a favor, but I’d rather be alive than run my business right now.”

In fact, many business owners in Fall’s line of work have argued that people can’t properly socially distance in places like barbershops and nail salons. 

Alan Marsh, a pet shop owner, also told the WSJ that even though his revenue is down by a third and he’s lost employees, he will continue to fulfill online and phone orders only. Marsh then went a step further, saying that if he discovered one of his employees had been out to a restaurant or shop, he would take them off the schedule. 

That’s not to say Kemp’s order has been met with complete criticism. Many business owners have applauded the move, which will potentially allow them to retain and pay employees. Others have been more cautious about reopening, saying they like the idea, but if businesses mishandle the reopenings, they may have to shut back down.

At Odds with Kemp, Mayors Urge People to Stay Home

Notably, it’s not just business owners who were caught off guard by this decision. The mayors of Savannah, Augusta, and Atlanta have all said that they hadn’t heard about Kemp’s plan until he publicly announced it on Monday. 

Like many businesses, those mayors have criticized Kemp’s decision.

“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way,” Atlanta mayor Keisha Bottoms told CNN, “and again, I can’t stress enough, I work very well with our governor and I look forward to having a better understanding of his reasoning is, but as I look at the data, and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.” 

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson called the move “reckless, premature and dangerous.”

Despite those criticisms, mayors in Georgia actually now have less power than businesses do when it comes to the decision over whether to reopen or not. That’s because Kemp’s order will be implemented statewide, meaning that local governments can’t overturn or restrict it.

Still, that hasn’t stopped local leaders from continuing to urge people to stay home. In addition to Bottoms and Johnson, the mayors of Augusta and Albany have encouraged people to not go out to stores just yet.

Albany’s mayor, Bo Dorough, said he plans to ask Kemp to make an exception for the city, which has become one of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country

Kemp Defends His Decision and Other States Move To Reopen

Kemp has defended his decision, with a spokesman for him saying, “We can’t have shelter-in-place forever and we can’t have how businesses operated last fall, or even a month ago. We have to find a way to a happy medium.”

Even though Georgia is opening the fastest, it’s certainly not the only state that has started to reopen—especially in the South.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that his state’s stay-at-home order will be lifted at the end of the month and that most businesses will reopen by May 1st.

Ohio is also planning to roll out a gradual reopening on May 1st. 

In South Carolina, as of Tuesday, places like beaches and department stores have already reopened at reduced capacity. Like Georgia, there has been some criticism there for opening nonessential businesses so early; however, unlike Georgia, local municipalities can still restrict some reopenings such as beaches.

“I support what South Carolina Governor @henrymcmaster announced yesterday —  a small reopening of our state’s economy with a focus on social distancing,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Twitter Tuesday. “I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon.”

Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee all have yet to meet White House guidelines that recommend states should begin a phased reopening only after 14 days of a sustained decrease in coronavirus cases.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (NBC News) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Donald Trump and Eldest Three Children Hit With Fraud Lawsuit From New York AG

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AG Letitia James says that the former president “falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself.” 


Lawsuit Filed Against Trump 

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday that she filed a civil lawsuit against former president Donald Trump and his three eldest children over allegations that they fraudulently inflated asset valuations within the Trump Organization.

Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump are all listed alongside their father in the lawsuit. Executives Jeffrey McConney and Allen Weisselberg, the latter of whom recently pled guilty to tax crimes, are also listed alongside other Trump businesses. 

“Donald Trump, with the help of his children…and senior executives at the Trump Organization, falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums, and to gain tax benefits, among other things,”  a press release announcing the lawsuit claimed. 

The Attorney General’s office claims that between 2011 and 2021, Trump and the Trump Organization made 200 false and misleading claims about asset values on annual financial statements.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

“The complaint demonstrates that Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us,” James said while announcing the complaint. 

Her office is seeking to permanently ban Trump and his children from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation and to bar Trump and his organization from entering into any New York real estate acquisitions for five years. The office is also seeking to recover $250 million in penalty payments, among other forms of relief. 

 The Office of the Attorney General has also referred the matter to the federal attorneys in New York and to the IRS for criminal investigation. 

“There aren’t two sets of laws for people in this nation: former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans,” James added in a statement on social media. 

“Trump’s crimes are not victimless,” she continued. “When the well-connected and powerful break the law to get more money than they are entitled to, it reduces resources available to working people, small businesses, and taxpayers.”

Trump Allegedly Inflated Key Assets

According to James’ release, Trump “made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year.”

“And the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” the release continued. 

Among the assets Trump and his organization allegedly inflated was the Trump Tower Triplex, an apartment Trump allegedly claimed was 30,000 square feet when it is just around 11,000 square feet. Because of its ballooned size, the property was valued at $327 million in 2015, roughly three times as much as the sole apartment in New York City to ever sell for over $100 million at the time. 

For further comparison, the highest sale for a listing in Trump Tower at the time was only $16 million. 

Trump also allegedly claimed Mar-a-Lago was valued as high as $739 million based on the “false premise” that the property could be developed and sold for residential use. The lawsuit claims that Trump actually signed deeds donating those rights, limiting the property’s use to a social club. James and her office claim its value would fall closer to $75 million. 

Inflated Clauations Cannot Be “Excused”

“The inflated asset valuations in the Statements cannot be brushed aside or excused as merely the result of exaggeration or good faith estimation about which reasonable real estate professionals may differ,”  the lawsuit states, adding that instead, they are the result of improper methodology intentionally meant to falsely boost Trump’s net worth. 

The investigation into Trump’s alleged fraud began nearly three years ago, and the former president has repeatedly called it a politically motivated witch hunt. His attorney, Alina Habba, doubled down on that rhetoric in a statement Wednesday. 

“Today’s filing is neither focused on the facts nor the law – rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda,” Habba said. “We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims.”

For his part, Trump has blasted the lawsuit on Truth Social, calling James a “fraud” and a “crime-fighting disaster.”

Trump previously tried to impede the probe but was ultimately ordered by a judge to sit for a deposition and turn over subpoenaed documents. Reports say he pled the fifth hundreds of times during his deposition. 

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The Washington Post) (Reuters)

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Hurricane Fiona Causes “Catastrophic” Damage in Puerto Rico, Leaving Many Without Power

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While power has been restored to some, more than a million remain without it as continued rainfall, flooding, and landslides are expected to cause further damage across the island.


Hurricane Fiona Wreaks Havoc

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico Sunday, bringing heavy rains, flooding, and landslides, while also knocking out power for the entire island and killing at least one person.

Photos and videos posted on social media show floodwaters consuming major streets and engulfing cars. Some pictures show an entire bridge flooded, making it impassible. Other footage shows a different bridge entirely uprooted and a metal barrier ripped away from the road and floating down a river of floodwater.

Officials have said conditions are still too dangerous to fully evaluate the extent of the crisis. In remarks to the public, Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, described the damage as “catastrophic.”

He asserted that the storm has been one of the most significant since Hurricane Maria — which hit the island almost exactly 5 years ago to the day — killing more than 3,000 people, leaving many without power for months, and causing destruction that the island is still recovering from.

Pierluisi noted that Puerto Rico has received over 30 inches of rain and that some areas have even gotten more rain than during Hurricane Maria. As of Monday afternoon, the National Gaurd has led 30 rescue operations so far, saving more than 1,000 stranded residents in 25 municipalities, according to the governor.

Pierluisi also added that more than 2,000 people were in the island’s 128 shelters, with officials further saying there is plenty of shelter space for those who need it. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, which will allow federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief.

Continued Issues As Storm Rages On

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s water authority has confirmed that just over 70% of the island is still without water. According to poweroutage.us, more than 1.3 million customers were still without power as of Monday morning.

The power company LUMA also stated that electricity had been restored to around 100,000 customers over the course of Sunday night, though it previously warned that the full restoration of power could take several days as the storm has created “incredibly challenging” conditions.

While Hurricane Fiona has passed through Puerto Rico, having now made landfall in the Dominican Republic, officials and experts say that heavy rains and further flooding are still to be expected for the next few days.

The National Weather Service has warned that “life-threatening and catastrophic flooding” as well as mudslides and landslides are expected to continue across the island. As a result, Pierluisi has urged Puerto Ricans Monday to remain home and in shelters so that officials can continue to respond to others in need.

He also noted that the areas most impacted by the hurricane include the southern part of the island, the southwest, and the mountains.

After moving through the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Fiona is expected to head towards Turks and Caicos Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center has said that the storm will continue to grow and by Wednesday, it is set to become a major hurricane — which means a Category 3 or higher.

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

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Government Aid Cut Child Poverty in Half During Pandemic, Data Shows

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The reduction occurred similarly across geography, race, family type, and citizenship status.


Largest Drop in Half a Century

The United States’s child poverty rate sank to the lowest level on record last year, primarily thanks to pandemic relief measures and other government programs, according to an analysis of census data released Tuesday.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s supplementary poverty measure, which accounts for safety net programs and tax credits as well as regional differences in the cost of living.

From around 11% in 2019, the percentage of kids living below the poverty line fell to 9.7% in 2020 and 5.2% the year after that.

In just two years, nearly 5.5 million kids were lifted from poverty, marking an almost 60% drop in the child poverty rate.

The Center’s researchers gave most credit to the federal government’s numerous interventions in the economy, from stimulus payments and the expanded child tax credit to eviction moratoriums and expanded unemployment insurance.

Without government intervention, poverty in 2020 would have experienced its second-largest recorded increase, the Center claimed, but instead, it underwent the largest single-year decline in over half a century.

Especially impactful was the expanded child tax credit, which sent up to $300 per child to households with children every month between July and December 2021.

According to the analysis, this policy alone pulled nearly three million kids out of poverty.

But the tax credit’s expansion expired at the end of the year despite Democrats’ efforts to prolong it with Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill, which was blocked by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who reportedly told colleagues he was concerned that families might use the payments to buy drugs.

Poverty Before COVID

Child poverty has fallen by 59% since 1993, when it sat at around 28%, according to another analysis published Sunday by The New York Times and the nonpartisan group Child Trends.

They found that the decline occurred across all 50 states and D.C., as well as in different levels of poverty.

It similarly affected nearly all subgroups of children, — white, Black, Asian and Hispanic, single-parent and two-parent, immigrant and non-immigrant.

The causes driving the pre-pandemic decline included general economic improvement — low unemployment, a higher labor force participation rate among single mothers, and growing state minimum wages — but the researchers pinned government welfare programs as the dominant factor.

They specifically mentioned the earned income tax credit, social security, unemployment insurance, and nutrition and housing assistance.

Despite the positive trend, more than eight million children still live below the poverty line, and that number excludes those who live just above it but still struggle to meet basic needs.

The current poverty line sits around $29,000 for a family of four in a location with typical living costs.

Moreover, disparities still persist, with Black and Latino children about three times as likely as their white peers to be poor.

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

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