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Viral Photo of Two Kids Using Taco Bell Wi-Fi for School Sparks Debate Over Digital Divide

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  • Last week, a photo of two school-age girls doing their schoolwork outside of a Taco Bell in Salinas, California, went viral.
  • While many assumed that the girls originally only lacked access to Wi-Fi, a GoFundMe campaign later revealed that their family was set to be kicked out of their home because they couldn’t afford to pay rent.
  • As of Tuesday, that fundraiser has garnered over $130,000, far-exceeding its original goal of $20,000.
  • The situation has also stimulated debate surrounding the “digital divide,” and how to address it. It is estimated that 30% of K-12 students across the country lack access to the internet or a device capable of accessing it in their homes. 

Taco Bell Schoolwork Photo Goes Viral

A viral photo of two students using a Taco Bell’s Wi-Fi to complete their schoolwork has led to renewed attention around the “digital divide” and how the ongoing pandemic is exacerbating it.

The photo was first posted to Instagram on Wednesday. It shows two young girls in Salinas, California, sitting on a curb with laptops in hand as two employees approach them, likely out of concern for their safety. 

“Two students sit outside a Taco Bell to use Wi-Fi so they can ‘go to school’ online,”  Former California Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin de León, said Friday after sharing the photo on Twitter. “This is California, home to Silicon Valley… but where the digital divide is as deep as ever. Where 40% of all Latinos don’t have internet access. This generation deserves better.”

In the comments under de León’s tweet, a surge of people expressed interest in helping to provide a Wi-Fi router for the girls; however, some were concerned that the image might actually depict a form of child negligence. 

In fact, that photo attracted so much attention that it reportedly led to a welfare check, with Child Protective Services investigating the girls’ family for any potential child neglect or abuse. Ultimately, that investigation did not uncover any neglect. 

Over $130K Raised for the Girls’ Family

As more people reached out to help the girls in the photo, it was learned that their family didn’t just lack access to Wi-Fi at home. They were actually in danger of becoming homeless because their mother couldn’t afford to pay rent. 

Many of the details around the girls’ family have come from a woman named Jackie Lopez, who created a GoFundMe page for the family. Lopez said she originally wanted to start the fundraiser because these “dedicated little girls… didn’t want to miss out on learning due to the fact that they didn’t have internet access at home.”

On the fundraiser page, Lopez said the story touched her and that she made it her mission to locate the family, which she later did. 

According to Lopez, the girls’ mother, Juana, is a single mother and an essential field worker who picks berries. On her days off, Juana sells flowers on the side of the road. Lopez said Juana “doesn’t take a day off because that is a day she could be making a few dollars to provide for her girls.” 

“Upon meeting them and wanting to know what I can do to help, she started to open up to me,” Lopez said of Juana. “I asked her if I could get her girls a desk for distant learning and she mentioned there was no space in their home for that. She then said she shared a small bedroom with her 3 girls in the home she was living in. The same room she was going to be evicted from 3 days later on the 1st of September.” 

Lopez noted that Juana had been searching for a new home but had been unable to find one. 

After reaching out to her followers on Instagram, Lopez said she has been able to provide Juana’s daughters with items such as clothes, shoes, school supplies, essentials, and food. Additionally, Lopez said that support allowed her to buy the family a hotel room for a week while she and others help Juana search for a more permanent home.

The original goal of the fundraiser was set at $20,000. As of Tuesday, it’s raised that more than six times its goal, sitting at more than $130,000.

In an update on Monday, Lopez said that Juana has been set up with a new accountant to help manage her funds.

“The girls deserve it all and my heart is just filled with so much joy for this family,” Lopez said. “I can’t thank you all enough for making so many of their dreams a reality.”

In addition to that money, the school district Jauna’s daughters go to has also put out a statement saying it has now provided the family with a hotspot. 

Taco Bell Incident Highlights “Digital Divide”

While Juana’s family received an exceptional level of support, for many students and their families, this isn’t the case. Many will never go viral and will continue to struggle. 

According to a June study from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, “15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning.”

That’s 30% of all K-12 public school students. 

But not everyone is affected equally by the “digital divide.” It’s most pronounced in rural communities and households with Black, Latinx, and Native American students.

Southern states also have some of the largest K-12 divides within the country, with Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama showing the largest deficit by proportion. Other states like Texas, California, and Florida all have the largest gaps by population. Still, the report stresses that the “digital divide” is a problem in all 50 states.

Many of those concerns have been highlighted with the story of Juana’s daughters. 

“California is the technology capital of the world,” Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo told CNN. “This is an embarrassment.”

Alejo added that the embarrassment is compounded by the fact that Salinas is only 45 minutes away from Silicon Valley, a global hub of technology and wealth. 

“…we have such a huge divide that’s gone on for years, but now, it’s only amplified because of this pandemic,” Alejo said. 

“We know that there [are] thousands of other kids in a similar situation… there’s a lot of homes and a lot parents who don’t even know how to use computers or how hotspots work.”

See what others are saying: (KSBW 8) (Fox News) (CNN)

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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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