Connect with us

U.S.

House Passes $2 Trillion Spending Bill

Published

on

The package, which provides historic levels of funding for key policy areas, now faces an uphill battle in the Senate.


Historic Legislation Clears First Hurdle

After months of negotiation, the House on Friday approved the $2 trillion social safety net and climate spending package at the center of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

The legislation, dubbed the Build Back Better Act, was passed by a vote of 220 to 213 along near party lines. Just one Democrat voted against the measure.

Republicans remained in their unified opposition to the bill, and its passage was delayed after Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) took to the floor to speak for over eight hours through the night, setting a new record for the longest continuous House speech in modern history.

The package represents a massive overhaul of American education, healthcare, climate, and tax laws that, in some instances, provides historic levels of funding for key policy areas.

Among other measures, the bill would allocate $550 billion in clean energy investments, an amount that the White House said represents the largest federal expenditures in initiatives to combat climate change.

Some of the biggest funding areas also center around education, including a provision that would provide universal free pre-kindergarten for all 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, which the White House has described as the most significant expansion in such education programs since public schools were first created nearly half a century ago.

The universal pre-k program is part of a broader $400 billion in funding aimed at making childcare more affordable by ensuring that families earning under $300,000 annually will not have to spend more than 7% of their income on childcare for any children under six.

On top of that, the bill will implement affordable health care changes that are estimated to extend coverage to an additional 7 million Americans through expansions to Medicaid and further reductions in the costs of premiums for plans bought under the Affordable Care Act.

Most of the spending proposed in the act would be paid for by taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans. The legislation puts forward a 5% surtax on taxpayers with incomes above $10 million and an added 3% on incomes above $25 million.

For corporations, a 50% minimum tax on foreign profits would be levied, and companies that bring in more than $1 billion in profits would face a 15% minimum tax.

A Long Road Ahead

The $2 trillion price tag falls short of the initial $3.5 trillion that Biden had asked for, but even with the pared-down spending, the package still faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.

Democratic leaders have said they intend to pass the legislation through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with a simple majority and thus, no Republican support.

That plan, however, would require all 50 Democrats to sign on. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), however, have continually sought to negotiate down many elements of the Build Back Better proposal and so far have withheld their endorsements of the House bill.

Manchin has expressed his opposition to a provision in the bill that would give four weeks of paid family and medical leave for most American workers who are not already offered the options. 

Meanwhile, Sinema has not made her specific objections clear. She instead has voiced general grievances regarding broad spending and tax hikes on high-income earners.

The two moderate Democrats have already forced months of negotiations that resulted in the House version of the package being scaled down significantly, but additional efforts to further prune the act will likely risk alienating more progressive Democrats, whose votes are as equally essential to final passage.

Democrats will also need to make sure their package follows the strict rules outlined under the reconciliation process, which requires that all provisions have a direct fiscal impact and has already forced Democrats to drop certain wishlist plans, including providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Despite the daunting hurdles, Democratic leaders said they hope to pass a final version of the act before the end of the year, though they may be delayed by a series of pressing fiscal deadlines.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

U.S.

Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

Published

on

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

Continue Reading

U.S.

U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

Published

on

India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

Continue Reading

U.S.

Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

Published

on

Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

Continue Reading