- After much confusion, the Department of Labor finally issued guidelines clarifying how President Trump’s executive action expanding unemployment benefits would be enacted and funded.
- While Trump said that he would provide $400 a week in benefits, his plan only provides $300 in federal funds, and states would be required to cover the other $100.
- Under Trump’s original memo, if a state did not agree to chip in $100, it would not be able to access the additional benefits. After bipartisan backlash, his administration agreed to give states the $300 without requiring the extra payout.
- But even after walking back that decision, there are still concerns as to whether states will opt-into the program because it has many legal and logistical problems.
Trump’s Unemployment Plan
The Department of Labor issued guidelines Wednesday for states to execute the $300 expansion of unemployment benefits President Donald Trump authorized in an executive memo Friday.
The move comes after days of confusion over the implementation and funding levels of the executive action.
In announcing the memo, Trump claimed that the move would give people an additional $400 a week on top of the benefits they receive at the state level. But there was a big catch: the federal government would only pay 75%, or $300, and states have to cover 25% by chipping in $100.
Under the initial plan Trump laid out, even just to get that $300 states would need to enter into a financial agreement with the federal government that says they will give people the $100 from their own funds.
However, many states have already tapped out their unemployment funds because of the millions of Americans who have filed for unemployment throughout the pandemic.
Governors from both parties expressed concern over the idea that states would have to agree to payout more from their already depleted funds to access the federal benefits, and because Trump’s memo allowed states to opt-in to receive the extra $300 but did not require them to do so, many worried that states would opt-out.
In the days following the announcement, the Trump administration seemed to walk back the plan to make it mandatory for states to pay the extra $100 to get the $300 in federal benefits. However, between Trump’s announcement and Tuesday, administration officials also offered five different contradictory versions of how the benefits would work.
The new DOL directive clears that up. Under the new guidelines, the agency says that states can either chip in the $100 or count the first $100 they already pay in state-level benefits.
While that does lower a significant barrier, it also means that unless states chipped in— and many would probably be unable to— their citizens would only get half of the $600 they had been receiving before.
Even without that barrier, there are still concerns that states will not want to opt-in to the extra $300 for a number of reasons.
States cannot legally use their existing unemployment systems to give out benefits that have not been authorized by Congress. As a result, Trump’s memo would require them to create and implement entirely new insurance disbursement programs from scratch to even be able to give out the benefits.
However, some states are struggling so much financially that they might not be able to do it at all, and even for the states that can financially implement new programs, experts have said that it could take weeks or even months for them to set up and implement those systems.
For many, that onerous and expensive process may not be worth it, especially because there are serious concerns about how Trump plans to fund the extra benefits.
In his memo, Trump calls for $44 billion of funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund— which is normally used for national disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires— to be shifted to unemployment.
Not only would that be pulling from natural disaster funds in the middle of what is expected to be a major hurricane season, at the current rate of unemployment, experts say that money would run out in about five or six weeks.
Additionally, opting-in to Trump’s program could also pose a risk for states because of two major legal issues with his plan.
First, the emergency fund that Trump is using to bankroll the executive action is one that is set aside by Congress. But Congress, not the president, has the power to allocate federal funds under the Constitution, so there are legal questions as to whether Trump can unilaterally divert that money.
“The basic notion here is the president is rejecting Congress’ power of the purse,” David Super, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown Law told the Washington Post. “That is something nobody who cares about separation of powers can let slide, even if they like what the money is being spent on.”
The second issue, as Super also explained to The Post, is that it is actually illegal for the Trump administration to waive the additional state contributions of $100 as a requisite for receiving the $300.
In fact, the 25% state funding match that was in Trump’s initial plan because it’s required under the law Trump cited to create this benefit program. What’s more, counting the first $100 states already payout in state-level benefits rather than requiring new spending to meet the state-match requirement also violates a federal rule outlined by the Office of Management and Budget.
Unemployment Claims Drop, But Indicators Worry Experts
The questionable legality and other underlying issues with Trump’s plan paired with the inability of Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to negotiate a coronavirus relief bill has left many worried about their livelihoods nearly two weeks after the $600 federal unemployment benefits expired.
On Thursday, the government reported that the number of people who filed for this week fell to under one million for the first time since March, with new unemployment claims clocking in at 963,000, down 228,000 from the week before.
While it is significant that new claims dipped after 20 consecutive weeks of being more than a million, like all good news during the pandemic, there is some nuance here.
First of all, the unemployment numbers that are reported every Thursday are not the full picture. They do not account for people who have exited the workforce entirely or independent contractors and self-employed workers who are not eligible for unemployment and are currently receiving benefits under a separate federal program.
This week, another 489,000 people applied for that program, and when those people are including the count, there are still over 1.4 million people who filed to receive some kind of unemployment benefits this week.
On top of that, while the 963,000 number on its own is the lowest count since the economic closures started, it is still incredibly high by historic measures. According to reports, before the pandemic, the previous worst week on record was in 1982 when 695,000 people filed for unemployment.
Additionally, while unemployment has been trending down in general, many of the claims filed earlier on in the pandemic were due to temporary layoffs and furloughs. Now, however, experts say that most of the new job losses that are being reported now are likely going to be permanent.
Last week, the DOL reported that employers brought back 1.8 million jobs in July, which is way down from the 4.8 million they brought back in June. With multiple enhanced benefits and protections provided under the CARES Act already expired, economists warn that the slowdown will continue through August.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Forbes) (The New York Times)
SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Police in Two Qualified Immunity Cases
The move further solidifies the contentious legal doctrine that protects officers who commit alleged constitutional violations.
SCOTUS Hears Qualified Immunity Cases
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of police in two separate cases involving qualified immunity, the controversial legal doctrine that shields officers accused of violating constitutional rights from lawsuits.
The topic has become a major flashpoint in debates over police reform and curbing police violence since the protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the summer of 2020.
On one side, supporters of qualified immunity claim it is necessary to ensure that police can do their jobs without worrying about frivolous lawsuits.
However, opponents argue that judicial interpretations of the doctrine over time have given police incredibly broad legal immunity for misconduct and use of excessive force. Under a previous Supreme Court ruling, in order for officers to be held liable, plaintiffs have to show that they violated rights “clearly established” by a previous ruling.
In other words, officers cannot be held liable unless there is another case that involves almost identical circumstances.
As a result, many argue the doctrine creates a Catch-22: Officers are shielded from liability because there is no past precedent, but the reason there is no past precedent is because officers are shielded from liability in the first place.
An Ongoing Debate
Critics argue that the two cases the Supreme Court saw Monday illustrate that double bind, as both involved accusations of excessive force commonly levied against police.
In one case, officers used non-lethal bean bag rounds against a suspect and knelt on his back to subdue him. In the other, police shot and killed a suspect after he threatened them with a hammer.
The justices overturned both lower-court rulings without ordering full briefing and argument because of the lack of precedent. The court issued the decisions in unsigned orders with no dissent, signaling they did not even see the cases as close calls.
Advocates for qualified immunity claim the decisions signal that the current Supreme Court is not open to changing qualified immunity, and the most likely path for opponents of the doctrine is legislation.
While Democrats in Congress have made numerous efforts to limit qualified immunity, including most recently in the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act passed by the House earlier this year, all those attempts have been blocked by Republicans.
At the state level, dozens of bills have been killed after heavy lobbying from police unions. As a result, it remains unclear what path proponents for reform have at this juncture.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)
Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days
The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.
Centner Academy Vaccination Policy
A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.
According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.
“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.
“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.
According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”
In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.
Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.
Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation
In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”
“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.
The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.
In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.
According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.
The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.
See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)
Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem
Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.
Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg
In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism.
Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.“
Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice
“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.“
According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject.
Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out.
Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.