Connect with us

Politics

National Guard Coronavirus Deployments to End Just One Day Before Benefits Kick In for Thousands

Published

on

Source: U.S. Army National Guard/Col. Steve Rowe

  • In a call obtained by Politico, a senior FEMA official said Army National Guard deployment would come to a “hard stop” on June 24.
  • This coincides with the expiration of a federal order deploying the Guard in response to the coronavirus, though President Donald Trump did extend that order once. 
  • Still, many veterans have expressed concern because Trump’s extension is set to expire one day short of when thousands of active duty Guard members would be able to qualify for retirement benefits, as well as educational benefits under the G.I. Bill.

Thousands to Fail to Qualify for G.I. Benefits

More than 40,000 Army National Guard members have been deployed across the United States to provide backup for states fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but now, a scheduled “hard stop” to their deployments could leave thousands unable to access crucial benefits.

Notably, that would include aspects such as early retirement benefits and education benefits granted under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill

To access those benefits, Guard members must log 90 days of active duty, but the current federal order expires on June 24, meaning thousands of Guard members would have only logged 89 days, one day short of the threshold. That’s because many of these troops were deployed in late March. 

According to a call obtained by Politico, there is reason to believe that the order may not be extended to give those troops the ability to access their benefits. In that call, a senior Federal Emergency Management Agency official says the Trump Administration will reportedly put a “hard stop” on deployments on June 24. 

This would mean that not only would states see an abrupt loss of crucial frontline workers, but the Trump administration would also likely face questions about withholding access to their benefits. According to Politico, in this call, that FEMA official admits as much, reportedly telling dozens of colleagues that this move would require a delicate messaging strategy. 

“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.

Currently, Guard members have been deployed across 44 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia to help with testing people for the coronavirus, as well as to trace the spread of infections. Part of their duties also includes decontaminating nursing homes and setting up field hospitals. 

In fact, their deployment has been extremely valuable to understaffed and underfunded state public health agencies trying to contain outbreaks. It’s also the largest domestic deployment since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Why Can’t Troops Just Pick Up An Extra Day?

On the surface, picking up an extra day of work to obtain those qualifications doesn’t sound too daunting, but for these Guard members, without federal orders, that would be impossible. 

That’s because all 90 days of required active duty need to be from federal deployments.

For example, Guard members must serve twenty years before they can qualify for pension at age 60; however, for every 90 days they’ve served during a federal emergency, they can move up that retirement by three months. 

But the key phrase here is “during a federal emergency.” State deployments don’t count, and that’s even if states decide they need to keep troops around after June 24.

All of that then means that to see these benefits, Guard members would have to wait until their next federal deployment. Since federal emergencies obviously aren’t planned, it’s unknown how earlier or how late that could come. 

Will the Trump Administration Issue an Extension?

Another major question looming for many Guard members is if the Trump administration will issue an extension so they can see these benefits without having to wait indefinitely.

Multiple governors and lawmakers from other states have asked the White House to extend its federal order, arguing that pulling the National Guard out of states too soon could contribute to a possible second wave of infections. 

President Donald Trump’s original order was scheduled to expire on May 31.

In early April, federal lawmakers from states like New Hampshire, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Illinois all sought an extension through the fall. On April 29, Colorado’s entire congressional delegation joined the chorus by asking Trump for an extension through the rest of the year.

While Trump did issue an extension on May 8, it was actually only for 24 days. Very unusually here, that meant this deployment was scheduled to end in the middle of the week.

It seemed kind of weird to me,” retired Brigadier General and president of the National Guard Association, J. Roy Robinson said to Politico. “It’s a Wednesday. And it also coincides with 89 days of deployment for any soldiers who went on federal status at the beginning. I was getting all kind[s] of calls about it and I said, ‘It’s probably just a coincidence.’ But in the back of my mind, I know better. They’re screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.”

U.S. Representative from New York and National Guard captain Max Rose has also intensely criticized of the move, calling it the “definition of heartless.” 

“In peacetime, we should never balance our budget on the backs of our soldiers, so why anyone would think this is okay to do in the middle of a wartime effort is beyond human comprehension,” Rose said in a statement.

“This decision must be reversed not only because it is deeply unpatriotic, but also economically unsound and puts our gains against COVID-19 at risk for some short-term, foolish budgetary gimmick.”

While top National Guard and other federal officials on that call didn’t dispute the June 24 cutoff or bring up the possibility of an extension, a spokesperson for the National Guard has said that a decision to extend deployments could still be made in the coming weeks. 

At the same time, the National Guard’s Hall has seemingly countered by saying that the 90-day threshold is cumulative and that Guard members can pick up that final day upon the next federal deployment. 

An abrupt end to National Guard deployment could also create an expensive hole for states to have to attempt to fill.

Reportedly, it costs $9 million a month to support 1,000 active duty members.

Because of that, the National Guard Association has warned that without federal orders and funding, most states won’t be able to “support significant Guard deployments.” 

That would, in turn, potentially create an even bigger problem because for the members that states can’t support, they may actually be taken out of the field before June 24. This is because National Guard members will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks before returning to civilian life.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The Hill) (Slate)

Politics

House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination

Published

on

  • The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
  • Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
  • The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.

House Approves Equality Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places. 

The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers. 

Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.

But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.

A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.

Support and Opposition

Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.

“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”

However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.

Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.

Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.

Shift in Public Opinion

Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.

“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”

Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.

A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

Continue Reading

Politics

Former Aide Accuses New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of Sexual Harassment

Published

on

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was accused of sexual harassment by his former aide Lindsey Boylan in an essay she published on Medium Wednesday.
  • Boylan claimed she was subjected to inappropriate remarks and behavior from the governor for years, including an instance in 2018 where he allegedly kissed her without her consent after a meeting.
  • Boylan said Cuomo created an administration, “where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
  • Cuomo denied the allegations, but Boylan’s essay comes as numerous current and former top officials have recently accused the governor of engaging in intimidation and creating a hostile work environment.

Lindsey Boylan Details Allegations Against Cuomo

A former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) published an essay Wednesday accusing him of sexual harassment, expanding on allegations she made in December. The aide, Lindsey Boylan, first made the accusations in a Twitter thread about women being harassed in the workplace.

“Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years,” she wrote. “Many saw it, and watched.” 

At the time, Boylan did not provide any more details to the media, and Cuomo denied the allegations.

“I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” he said at a press conference after the accusations surfaced. “But it’s just not true.”

In her essay, published on Medium, Boylan accused Cuomo of subjecting her to several years of deeply uncomfortable situations, including an instance after a meeting in 2018 when he kissed her on the lips without her consent.

She claimed that Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs” and that over the years, “His inappropriate gestures became more frequent.”

These alleged actions also included one time in October 2017, where she said he sat across from her on a jet and said “Let’s play strip poker.” Boylan outlined a number of other inappropriate actions and comments she claimed the governor made. She even embedded screenshots from emails and text messages that she said supported her story. However, she said her fears got worse after the kiss in 2018, and that she “came to work nauseous every day” until she eventually resigned in September of that year.

Notably, Boyland additionally stated that Cuomo’s “pervasive harassment” extended to other women as well, and that he would make “unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues” and “ridiculed” them about their romantic relationships.

This kind of behavior, she said, was part of the culture Cuomo created in his administration, “where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”

He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences,” she said, stating that after she first tweeted the accusation in December, two other women reached out to her but were too afraid to speak.

One allegedly told Boylan she lived in fear of what would happen if she rejected Cuomo’s advances, and the other said he had instructed her to warn people who upset him that they risk losing their jobs.

Cuomo’s Response

Cuomo’s press secretary Caitlin Girouard responded to the allegations in a statement Wednesday by reiterating the governor’s past remarks.

“As we said before, Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false,” she told reporters.

Girouard also disputed Boylan’s story about the jet ride, sharing a statement from four current and former administration officials who were on one or more of the four flights in October 2017 that Boylan had taken with Cuomo.

“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” the four officials said.

Other Allegations

Boylan is by no means alone in some of her specific accusations. Cuomo’s last few weeks have been mired in scandal after a top aide revealed his administration had withheld nursing home data on COVID-related deaths. In the aftermath of the revelations and Cuomo’s handling of it, numerous top officials have accused the governor of intimidation, bullying, and fostering a toxic workplace.

Many of those accusations surfaced after New York Assemblyman Ron Kim (D), who has been an outspoken critic of Cuomo, claimed that the governor threatened to “destroy” him on a call last week.

Cuomo said Kim was lying about the conversation, but shortly after, many current and former aides and other insiders gave The New York Times similar accounts of aggressive behavior and intimidation.

Also on Wednesday, Karen Hinton, another ex-Cuomo staffer, published an op-ed in the New York Daily News that echoed many of Boylan’s claims about a toxic work environment for women.

That claim also appeared to be supported up by three people who worked in the governor’s office at the same time as Boylan. They told The Times it was true that Cuomo would make inappropriate remarks and comment on people’s appearances. 

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

Continue Reading

Politics

Former Capitol Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for Insurrection

Published

on

  • During the Senate’s first hearing into security failures that lead to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, top officials provided new insights but shirked responsibility.
  • Many blamed the FBI for not gathering more information or properly communicating what they did know, arguing that the breakdown was a result of the intelligence community not taking domestic extremism seriously.
  • Police leaders noted that a bulletin from an FBI field office warning of a “war” at the Capitol, issued a day before the insurrection, was not properly flagged or delivered.
  • However, others noted that the Capitol Police had in fact issued an internal alert three days before warning of similar threats.

Security Officials Shirk Responsibility

Former top officials responsible for security at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection testified before the Senate for the first time Tuesday.

While the testimonies represented the most detailed accounts of the security failures leading up to and during attacks, they also raised questions about how those failures came out.

The top officials did acknowledge some of their own mistakes and admitted they were unprepared for such an event. Still, they largely deflected responsibility for the breakdown in communication and instead blamed intelligence officials, their subordinates, and even each other at times.

All of the officials testified that the FBI and the intelligence community had failed to detect information about the intentions of the pro-Trump insurrectionists and properly relay what they did know before the attack.

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee depicted the collapse in communication as a broader failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to take domestic extremism as seriously as foreign threats.

Specifically, both officials mentioned this in the context of a bulletin issued a day before the insurrection by the FBI’s office in Norfolk, Virginia. That bulletin warned of a “war” at the Capitol on Jan.  6.

In his testimony, Sund — who resigned the day after the insurrection — disclosed for the first time that the alter had in fact been sent to the Capitol Police through the Joint Terrorism Task Force but said it was never forwarded to him or either of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.

Contee also said the D.C. police department received the warning, but it was a nondescript email and not labeled as a priority alert that would demand immediate attention.

“I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something,” he told the Senators.

Contradictory Information

However, lawmakers pointed out that the Capitol Police did have warnings about the attack in the form of their own internal intelligence report issued three days before the planned pro-Trump rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol.

In that 12-page memo, some of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the Capitol Police intelligence unit warned that “Congress itself” could be targeted by Trump supporters who believed the electoral college certification was “the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election.”

The memo also noted the large expected crowds, the fact that organizers had urged Trump supporters to bring guns and combat gear, and that “President Trump himself” had been promoting the chaos.

Two people familiar with the memo told The Post that the report had been relayed to all Capitol Police command staff, though in their testimonies Tuesday, the former security officials said the intel they had did not have enough specifics about the potential for an attack.

Some, however, appear to doubt the series of events detailed by Sund. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed filed a lawsuit against the Capitol Police for records related to the insurrection. The agency has been criticized for not providing enough information to the media, and contradictory testimonies delivered to Senators likely raised more red flags.

Lawmakers Emphasize Need for Better Precautions 

The argument that there was so much vague, threatening online chatter making it hard to distinguish what was legitimate is something that many law enforcement officials have used to explain their failure to prepare for the attacks.

In fact, that was the exact same response the FBI gave reporters Tuesday after Sund and Contee blamed them for not giving an explicit or strong enough warning. Lawmakers hope that the many hearings and ongoing investigations into the matter will result in tangible policy changes to prevent similar attacks from happening again.

While it is currently unclear what that will look like, many leaders have emphasized the need for a broad rethinking of how the U.S. addresses domestic extremist threats at every level.

“There’s no question in my mind that there was a failure to take this threat more seriously, despite widespread social media content and public reporting that indicated violence was extremely likely,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mi.) told reporters Tuesday. 

“The federal government must start taking these online threats seriously to ensure they don’t cross into the real-world violence.” 

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

Continue Reading