- Unemployment numbers spiked for the second week in a row, marking the highest amount of new claims made since early October with 778,000 people filing. Over 20 million Americans are still collecting some kind of joblessness aid.
- Experts say this will only get worse as COVID cases continue to rise and states impose more restrictions. However, unlike during the spring shutdowns, struggling Americans and small businesses will likely not have any help from the federal government.
- Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in California reported that tens of thousands of inmates received upwards of $1 billion in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that officials described as “the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.”
Unemployment Numbers Spike
Another 778,000 Americans filed for unemployment this week, the Department of Labor reported Wednesday, marking the highest spike since early October and the second week in a row that new claims have risen.
According to experts, this data signals that the massive coronavirus spikes the U.S. has seen in recent weeks are slowing the economy once again. On Wednesday, the country reported a record 2 million new cases in the same two weeks that joblessness claims also went up, bringing the official case count to more than 12.6 million Americans infected and over 260,000 dead.
As the COVID-19 spikes continue, and with more state and local governments imposing new restrictions on public gatherings, limiting hours and operations for restaurants and bars, and temporarily closing down some businesses entirely, economists say this situation will get worse before it gets better.
Unlike the first wave of shutdowns this past spring, it seems almost certain that struggling Americans will have to weather these latest closures without any help from the government.
Already, many of the programs that gave trillions of dollars to unemployed Americans and small businesses under the CARES Act have expired, and most of the few remaining programs will run out soon.
That is especially concerning when it comes to unemployment benefits. According to a recent report from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, unless Congress and the White House sign off on a deal to extend key programs, roughly 12 million Americans will lose these benefits entirely the day after Christmas.
But after months of deadlock, any hopes for a new stimulus package petered out when the election came around. Democratic leadership is reportedly attempting to restart those talks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to approve some kind of bill before the end of the year.
However, it remains unclear how all the problems that had deadlocked the lawmakers for months during the earlier negotiations will be resolved in time.
Inmate Unemployment Fraud
Meanwhile, states are still continuing to struggle with distributing unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.
On Tuesday, a task force lead by nine district attorneys across the state of California reported in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that tens of thousands of prison and jail inmates — including more than 100 people on death row — have collected hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that the officials say “appears to be the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history,”
According to the task force, between March and August, inmates housed in every single California prison and in jails throughout the state filed 35,000 claims totaling at least $140 million in benefits, though the alleged crimes could total as much as $1 billion.
In most cases, officials said that the payments were given out in the form of prepaid debit cards sent to friends or family on the outside who would then later deposit the proceeds to inmate accounts.
In some cases, the joblessness benefits were sent directly to the jails and prisons. Sometimes the inmates used their real names, but other times, they used fake names and fake Social Security numbers.
In fact, prosecutors were tipped off to some of the cases by listening to inmates recorded phone calls, where they bragged about how easy it was the game the system.
As far as how such widespread fraud could happen, law enforcement officials blamed California’s Employment Development Department, which has been swamped with processing more than 16.4 million unemployment claims since March, resulting in a massive backlog of unfilled claims that, according to reports, has totaled upwards of more than 1.6 million people at times.
However, the task force also said that part of the problem was due to the fact that unlike at least 35 other states, California does not have the technology to crosscheck inmate rosters against unemployment claims.
In their letter, the officials called on Newsom to crack down on the rampant fraud and provide “significant resources” to do so.
Newsom, for his part, responded in a statement by calling the fraud “absolutely unacceptable,” and ordering the Office of Emergency Services to create a task force to help the prosecutors with their investigation.
However, as The New York Times pointed out, Newsom had already formed a “strike team” a few months ago to help the state’s employment department speed up claims and address other issues, including fraud at correctional facilities.
The district attorneys were still forced to form their own task force with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after the reports of fraud in the employment department continued and the “strike team” failed to uncover the large amounts of fraud the other groups had seen.
Currently, it is unclear how Newsom’s new task force is different from the largely unsuccessful “strike team.”
These problems also go beyond unemployment. There have been frequent reports of CARES Act funding being misused, including by people using small business loans to buy luxury cars, as well as large companies or businesses connected to President Donald Trump Trump and members of Congress improperly receiving funding.
As Congress considers another much-needed stimulus package, these issues of transparency and accountability have now become paramount.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today)
Conservatives Slam Elmo For Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19
While critics accused the muppet of promoting propaganda, CDC data shows the shots are safe and effective.
Elmo Gets Vaccinated
Conservative politicians expressed outrage on Twitter after the beloved “Sesame Street” character Elmo revealed he got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cleared the way for children between the ages of six months and five years to get vaccinated against the virus. The famous red muppet is three years old, making him finally eligible for the jab.
In a video shared by “Sesame Street,” Elmo said that he felt “a little pinch, but it was okay.”
Elmo’s father, Louie, then addressed parents who might be apprehensive about vaccinating their own kids.
“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” he said to the camera. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.”
“I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he continued.
Republicans Criticize “Sesame Street”
While some praised the video for raising awareness and addressing the concerns parents may have, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) quickly lambasted the effort.
“Thanks, Sesame Street for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” Cruz tweeted. “You then have Elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”
Despite Cruz’s claim, the CDC has provided ample resources with information on vaccines for children.
He was not alone in criticizing the video. Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, suggested that Elmo would be taking puberty blockers next.
Other anti-vaxxers claimed Elmo would get myocarditis and accused “Sesame Street” of promoting propaganda.
COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be both safe and effective against transmission of the virus, but this is not the first time conservatives have turned their anger against a friendly-looking muppet who opted to get the jab. When Big Bird got vaccinated in November, Cruz and other right-wing figures accused the show of brainwashing kids.
Big Bird’s choice to get vaccinated was not a shocker though, clips dating back to 1972 show him getting immunized against the measles.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Hill) (Market Watch)
Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council
If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.
Police Chief Faces Public Fury
Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.
Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.
Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.
Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.
He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.
Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.
Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.
Emotions Erupt at City Council
Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.
“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”
Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.
“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”
One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.
“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”
After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.
On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”
New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.
Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes
Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.
The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.
District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.
“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”
At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.
Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.
Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.
Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside
Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.
One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”
“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.
“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.
According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.
One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.
At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”