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Unemployment Numbers Rise Amid Debate Over Extending Enhanced Benefits

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  • Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total count to more than 38 million.
  • This comes as President Trump and GOP leaders said they do not want to extend federal unemployment benefits that give everyone an addition $600 a week and are set to expire in July.
  • Those Republicans say the benefits disincentivize people from going back to work because many are currently getting more money from unemployment insurance than they would at their normal jobs
  • Others argue that the enhanced benefits are an essential part of the broader economic recovery effort because it puts money in people’s pockets and acts as a stimulus.

Unemployment Continues to Rise

Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, the government reported Thursday, bringing the official total count to more than 38 million in the last nine weeks.

While the newest numbers still support the continued downward trend the U.S. has seen over the last few weeks, that is only one part of a much bigger picture.

Almost 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns. That does not include the estimated millions more that are currently applying for benefits or waiting for their applications to be approved.

Even though more places are reopening and more people are going back to work, those numbers might not be as optimistic as many have hoped.

In fact, continuing claims— which show how many people are still collecting unemployment after their initial application— rose by 2.5 million to a record 25 million. Some believe that is a sign that unemployment is still straggling even as states being to ease restrictions.

While that figure is reported on a two-week lag and thus might not be representative of recent reopenings, it is clear that many Americans are still hurting. 

According to a recent household survey from the Census Bureau, 47% of adults said they or someone in their household have lost employment income since March 13, and nearly 40% “expected that they or someone in their household would lose employment income over the next four weeks.”

Now, more and more economists are warning that many of the job losses meant to be temporary could become permanent. One recent report published by the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute estimated that 42% of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

Debate Over Extending Enhanced Benefits

Despite these growing concerns, President Donald Trump and other top Republicans have said they want to end the enhanced federal unemployment benefits that were laid out under the stimulus bill.

Normally state governments are the ones that give out unemployment, but under the CARES Act, Congress authorized an additional $600 a week on top of that for all unemployed Americans.

However, those extra benefits are set to expire in July. On Friday, the House passed a $3 trillion stimulus package that would extend those benefits until the end of the year, but Republicans have broadly rejected a number of provisions in that bill.

According to reports, Trump privately expressed his opposition to extending those benefits during a private meeting on Tuesday. 

The next day, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly said that the enhanced unemployment benefits would not be in the next stimulus bill, and added that Republicans are “going to have to clean up the Democrats’ crazy policy that is paying people more to remain unemployed than they would earn if they went back to work.”

That pretty much sums up why Republicans want to end the benefits. They believe that if unemployed people are getting more money from unemployment than they would normally, or even if they are just able to get by existing on those benefits, then they will not go back to work.

There has been some anecdotal evidence of companies saying they are having a hard time getting workers to go back to their old jobs. Although, according to reports, some workers say this is because they are concerned about unaddressed safety issues.

But here’s the thing: legally, people who are offered reemployment and turn it down are likely to lose their unemployment benefits.

That, however, puts employers in a tough position because they have to make hard choices about keeping their business afloat and rehiring people who might be better off on unemployment.

This is true for a lot of people. While some studies estimate that about 40% of workers made less at their jobs than they would get from the expanded benefits, others say two-thirds of unemployed workers who are getting those benefits are taking home more than they would from their previous job. 

The Benefits of More Benefits

On the other side of this debate, many argue that giving people more money right now a good thing— not just for everyday people who are hurting, but for the economy as whole.

“Unemployment benefits represent a critical component of the country’s recovery effort, as the weekly payments to out-of-work Americans function as a form of stimulus in their own right,” the Washington Post explained.

Normally, joblessness benefits are supposed to provide around 45% of a person’s wages, but in order to boost the economy, the extra $600 in the CARES Act is intended to be enough to give most people 100% of their lost wages.

“Unemployment insurance in a normal recession is a great stimulus because it has high bang for your buck. People spend it,” Chad Stone, the top economist for Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told the Post. “It’s very valuable to the people receiving it, and it’s beneficial to the economy.”

With rising concerns that more and more of the job losses caused by the pandemic will become permanent, that could be incredibly important for supporting the economy in the long term.

When it comes to unemployment, planning for the distance has proven to be essential in the past.

For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, Congress extended unemployment benefit eligibility up to 99 weeks.

While it was an expensive and controversial move, some experts said the payments were essential for people who were unemployed for way longer than their states would normally give them benefits, which currently is around 26 weeks in most parts of the country.

If more job losses are permanent, some argue extending these federal benefits could be absolutely necessary.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (MSNBC) (ABC News)

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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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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

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

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