“It’s crunch time now,” Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in an interview in which he predicted more layoffs in the public sector. “Essential services that citizens of this country depend upon will be cut, and they will be slashed, and people in those respective communities will be hurt.”
Congress allocated $150 billion to state and local governments under the CARES Act in March, but it limited use of that money to coronavirus-related costs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected calls for another $500 billion in support and said that money is better spent elsewhere.
With local economies wracked by the pandemic, officials “are being very opportunistic to try and figure out ways to bridge the gap and extend credit where they can to help both people and businesses to stay thriving during the pandemic,” Dave Wallack, head of the Democratic Treasurers Association, said in an interview. “Every state in the country is hungry for federal funds, and there’s no substitute for the federal government stepping in.”
Here is a look at the ways six states and one city — Washington, D.C. — are using their own scarce resources to stimulate the economy, protect the vulnerable and keep the money flowing to their own agencies.
Colorado’s state Legislature convened a special session the first week of December to pass a series of bills funneling state cash to local restaurants and food pantries.
The $342 million package directs $5 million to the state’s Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program, $60 million into rental and mortgage assistance, $50 million into tax relief for restaurants, $45 million for child care providers, $20 million to broadband internet access for educators and students and $5 million to help residents pay for utilities, and $57 million to the creation of a program dedicated to aiding small and minority-owned businesses, along with art organizations.
The federal Paycheck Protection Program “was a lot of money, but it really ended up going to the larger businesses in the state,” Treasurer Dave Young, an elected Democrat, said in an interview. “And the smaller … businesses that didn’t have a banking relationship got left out of the mainstream of that.”
To address the gaps, the state created a “very small” grant program, the Colorado Energized Gap Program, to funnel CARES Act funds to “the smallest of our small businesses,” Young said. “But then along the way, we began to also think about those businesses that had been successful for the one or two or three years before the pandemic hit but now were struggling and, if they got the kind of support they needed, would have a lifeline and be able to survive.”
“We wanted to offer these businesses that we know had been viable … some working capital that they use in order to get their businesses going again,” Young said.
In Wisconsin, state lawmakers have been the least active of any full-time state Legislature.
So Sarah Godlewski, the state’s elected treasurer, took matters into her own hands.
“These are unprecedented times,” Godlewski, a Democrat, said in an interview. “And so we have to take unprecedented action.”
Godlewski began making calls around the state to see what she could do in her capacity as state treasurer. Her first call, she said, was to a librarian in northern Wisconsin.
“She said, ‘Look, Sarah, we want to set our kids up for success. But we don’t have all the tools and resources to scale to meet this distance-learning need,’” Godlewski recalled.
Godlewski’s mind went to the state’s Common School Fund: When Wisconsin became a state, it acquired public land that it later sold. The revenue from the sale was then put into the fund, run by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which makes a disbursement every year to the state’s public schools.
It was time for a big rainy-day withdrawal, Godlewski reasoned.
The $5.3 million distribution was announced in April, and schools received the money a few weeks later. That was on top of the $38.2 million that had already been slated for distribution in 2020.
The money added a jolt of spending to the state’s sagging economy — and delivered the learning tools needed to help close the distance learning gap.
“Teachers could buy those hot spots, could buy those Chromebooks, to help kids that were really at a disadvantage because their parents didn’t have the resources to set them up,” Godlewski said.
Another step Godlewski took to buoy the economy was working with county and municipal treasurers to identify people who were about to become delinquent on their property taxes for the first time. She helped pilot a program — the COVID Property Tax Foreclosure Prevention Program — that contacted homeowners who were underemployed or unemployed “through no fault of their own” to help them meet the payment and avoid being sucked into a cycle of higher interest rates.
In addition, the state stood up a program that helped local governments, many located in rural communities, that were not eligible for CARES Act funds and unable to obtain loans to finance projects amid falling revenue and increasing expenditures.
“I’ve got to get creative, because that’s my only option during this crisis,” she said.
New Mexico officials last month enacted a bipartisan relief bill that will deliver a one-time $1,200 check to every unemployed worker and provide $100 million in grants for small businesses.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill a day after both chambers of the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the measure.
“I’m grateful to the Legislature, both chambers and both parties, for their work,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after signing the measure. “New Mexico will always step up, even when the federal government won’t.”
More than 100,000 New Mexicans are expected to receive the $1,200 payments, the governor’s office said.
The pandemic relief package also included other assistance, such as $15 million for emergency housing and other aid for the homeless; $5 million for emergency food bank services; $5 million for direct assistance to low-income residents who did not receive an “economic impact payment” from the federal government; and $10 million for contact tracing, testing and vaccine distribution.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia received less CARES Act funding than any state: about $500 million. To keep workers and businesses afloat, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council were forced to supplement heavily with their own initiatives. Most recently, they announced in November a $100 million Bridge Fund to backstop struggling businesses and testing infrastructure. While $20 million of that was CARES Act money;, $80 million came from the city. The program set aside $35 million for restaurants, $30 million for hotels, $20 million for entertainment and $15 million for retail.
“Prior to the pandemic, the government was very financially healthy,” Council Chair Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, said in an interview. “So we took that excess money and we put that into relief and also to help with the budget shortfalls.”
The district has also taken a number of steps that did not involve dipping into contingency reserves. Most recently, Council members in December passed a bill that requires restaurant, venue and retail employers with 50 or more employees to reinstate workers laid off during the pandemic as soon as their jobs reopen. Prior to that, the Council enacted other measures such as caps on how much delivery services could charge restaurants, the requirement that utilities provide payment plans and the release of “less concerning offenders” from jail, Mendelson said.
But this is about where the council taps out, Mendelson warned. Without federal aid, the district’s falling revenue means members’ hands are tied.
“It’s not sustainable in the long run,” Mendelson said. “There’s little more we can do.”
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.
The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.
“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”
But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.
On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.
Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.
The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.
Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.
Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.
A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.
But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.
The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.
Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.
A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.
Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.
The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.
Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.
It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.
The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.
“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.
In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.
“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.
“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”
Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.
He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same.
“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”
Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.
But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.
Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”
The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”
The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.
“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided.
“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.
“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”
The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.
He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.
He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.
“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.
“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.
“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”
Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”
How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers
Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.
The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.
After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.
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