- 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)
Couple Slammed Over Slavery-Themed Pre-Wedding Photoshoot
Many have expressed outrage at the duo for trying to romanticize slavery while others were left completely dumbfounded by the entire ordeal.
Photoshoot Goes Viral
A couple has come under fire after sharing images on Instagram from their slavery-themed pre-wedding photoshoot.
The photos show a Black man in shackles looking deeply into his white fiancé’s eyes before she works to releases him.
“1842. Days passed and everything changed, our love got stronger and stronger, he was no longer a slave, he was part of the family,” the post’s caption reads.
To indicate his transition from “slave” to family, a fourth image shows him wearing a long coat and top hat with well-shined shoes, as opposed to the white shirt, trousers, and straw hat he wore in the previous images.
Social Media Users React
It’s not immediately clear who these people are since the social media handle is redacted in the images circulating online.
Still, many have expressed outrage at the duo for trying to romanticize slavery while others were left just completely dumbfounded by this entire ordeal. Some also directed criticism at the photographer who agreed to the shoot, along with the hundreds of Instagram users who liked the original posts.
To see people romanticize this shit is infuriating – these people are too much. There is no such thing as slave consent and the sexual abuse of male slaves was real.— Nurse Elise 🌒 (@EliseRootedMind) July 21, 2021
There were three people there counting the photographer and not one thought should we? And over 1400 people hit the like button? And it’s part 2 like there’s more? I so want to be at the wedding when minister asks if anybody objects.— Randi Pro Democracy (@RandiKinman) July 21, 2021
See what others are saying: (The Daily Dot) (Black Enterprise) (BET)
Couple Whose Gender Reveal Sparked CA Wildfire Hit With 30 Charges, Including Involuntary Manslaughter
The fire, which caused massive damage and took months to extinguish, also killed the head of an elite firefighting team.
Gender Reveal Sparks Deadly Wildfire
A couple whose gender reveal party sparked the El Dorado wildfire in Southern California earlier this year has pleaded not guilty after they were hit with 30 charges, authorities said Tuesday.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez triggered the fire in Yucaipa on Sept. 5 with a smoke bomb that exploded in especially dry and hot conditions.
By the time the fire was extinguished in November, it had burned over 22,000 acres of land, injured more than a dozen people, forced hundreds of evacuations, and destroyed at least 10 structures.
The blaze also took the life of 39-year-old Charlie Morton, the leader of an elite firefighting team who worked as a firefighter for 18 years.
“He’s fighting a fire that was started because of a smoke bomb. That’s the only reason he’s there,” San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said at a news conference.
Charges Include Involuntary Manslaughter
Authorities have charged the couple responsible for the wildfire with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, four felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures, and 22 misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing fire to the property of another.
The charges were filed after a grand jury heard 34 witness interviews over four days. A total of 434 exhibits were ultimately presented to the grand jury, leading to the indictment that was unsealed Tuesday.
After entering their not guilty pleas, the duo was released on their own recognizance until their next scheduled court date. CBS Los Angeles reported that they could face up to 20 years each if convicted as charged.
“You’re obviously dealing with lost lives, you’re dealing with injured lives, and you’re dealing with people’s residences that were burned and their land that was burned. That encompasses a lot of, not only emotion, but damage, both financially and psychologically,” Anderson explained at the press conference.
He also stressed that part of the reason the investigation and ultimate prosecution took so long was because authorities wanted to make sure justice was fully served.
“Given the scope and the impact of the El Dorado Fire on the land and lives of so many, particularly Charles Morton and his family, it was imperative that every investigation be completed within both federal and state agencies to provide a full, fair presentation to the members of our community,” he said.
Los Angeles County Reinstates Indoor Mask Mandate Amid Rising Cases
The renewed restrictions for the nation’s largest county come as coronavirus infections have been spiking across America, with new cases doubling in the last two weeks.
L.A. County Masks Up, Again
Starting Saturday, Los Angeles County will require people to wear face masks indoors again regardless of vaccination status as the nation’s most populous county grapples with a surge of COVID-19 cases.
In a press conference Thursday, L.A. County health officials pointed to low vaccination rates, a steady climb in new infections, and the rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant as driving factors behind the decision.
“We’re not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something will be too late given what we’re seeing now,” county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.”
Without providing full details, Davis said there would be some exceptions to the restrictions, including people being allowed to take off their masks while eating and drinking at restaurants.
The move comes as community transmission in the county has skyrocketed since June 15, when California reopened its economy and ended capacity limits, along with social distancing guidelines.
For the week-long period ending on that date, L.A. County had averaged 173 new coronavirus cases a day. Exactly one month later, those numbers have increased by nearly 580%, with the county reporting an average of 1,176 infections a day for the seven-day period ending July 15.
On Thursday, officials logged over 1,537 more cases — the highest figure since early March. Around 70% of COVID samples in the county from June 27 to July 3 were identified as delta variants.
Notably, the vast majority of those impacted have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. According to reports, between Dec. 7 and June 7, unvaccinated people made up 99.6% of L.A. County’s COVID cases, 98.7% of hospitalizations, and 99.8% of deaths.
Only five million of the more than 10 million residents in the county have been inoculated against the virus.
Cases Surge Across U.S.
L.A. County is not the only locality that has seen a spike in COVID cases, though it is one of the few that has taken firm action.
New cases largely driven by the delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says now accounts for nearly 60% of all infections in the U.S., have more than doubled in the last two weeks, according to The New York Times tracker.
The 14-day average has risen dramatically from 12,799 on July 1 to 28,315 on July 15.
According to The Times, 49 states have seen at least a 15% increase over the past 14 days, and 19 of those states are reporting double or more the number of new infections. Full outbreaks, largely concentrated in the South, have emerged in a number of states with low vaccination rates.
In the last two weeks, Arkansas, which is currently reporting the highest per capita COVID cases in America, has seen increases of 120% for new cases and 77% for hospitalizations. Florida and Tennesee have seen the most significant 14-day spikes in terms of population percentage, reporting surges of 232% and 373% respectively.
Some states and counties have begun to make additional safety recommendations. Officials in Mississippi, where cases have risen over 70% since July 1, have urged both vaccinated and unvaccinated senior residents to avoid large indoor gatherings.
Health officials in California’s Sacramento and Yolo counties also issued voluntary warnings this week for all residents to wear masks while indoors.
However, it remains to be seen whether more localities will reimpose mandatory requirements or restrictions as cases continue to swell and the delta variant proliferates.
Rising cases in the U.S. and abroad also pose a more long-term threat to global efforts to fight the pandemic. On Thursday, the World Health Organization warned that the influx of new cases in many parts of the world will enhance the likelihood of more severe variants emerging that will be difficult to control with vaccinations.
The WHO also urged wealthier countries like the U.S. — where just over 50% of people are vaccinated despite the existence of supplies for all those eligible — to send more jabs overseas.