Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Urges People to Stay Home Despite Governor’s Mandate

Earlier this week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a statement that the state would reopen certain nonessential businesses beginning this Friday, April 24, including hair salons, gyms, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been vocal in urging those in Atlanta– and the state at large– to continue staying home despite the Governor’s decision to reopen businesses.

While Bottoms’ power does not supersede Kemp’s, she is using her voice to encourage Georgians to “Follow the data, look at the science, listen to the health care professionals and use your common sense.”

“Simply because we have hospital beds available doesn’t mean that we should work to fill them up,” the Atlanta Mayor said.

I hope he’s right and I’m wrong. Because if he’s wrong, more people will die.”

Bottoms urged residents in Atlanta to use city services, like the food program and the small business loan program, during this difficult time. She added, “there’s nothing essential about going to a bowling alley during a pandemic.”

As of today, the state has confirmed 20,740 cases of coronavirus, including 3,959 hospitalizations and 836 deaths, according to Georgia’s health department.

Sources: AJC 4/22/20; CBS News 4/22/20; Georgia Department of Public Health 4/22/20; Washington Post 4/21/20

Federal Judge Allows Abortions in Oklahoma to Resume Despite COVID-19 Ban

U.S. District Judge Charles Goodwin has just issued a preliminary injunction against Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s attempted abortion ban, and is allowing all abortion services to resume on Friday, April 24.

According to a release by the Associated Press, “the injunction ensures that abortions can be performed in Oklahoma while the case continues in federal court” and is able to replace the “temporary restraining order that [Judge Goodwin] issued last week that allowed most abortions to continue.” AP notes that Stitt’s attempted ban comes “as part of a prohibition on elective surgeries aimed at preserving personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks, gowns and gloves, during the public health crisis.”

Stitt’s actions are not isolated, as governors all across the country have been addressing the public health crisis by halting nonessential procedures in order to ensure that they are able to care for an influx of COVID-19 patients. Red states in particular have decided that abortions should be included under that umbrella mandate, ignoring the essential nature of abortion related care and services.

According to Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, “Abortion is essential, time-sensitive medical care that should not be caught in the crosshairs or political agendas, especially during a public health crisis.” Reproductive health, wellness, and justice groups like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, as well as local lawyers, have been challenging these abortion bans in court in order to advocate for the essentiality of abortion services.

Sources; ABC News 4/21; Associated Press 4/21; The Oklahoman 4/22

Nurses Protest Unsafe Working Conditions and Demand More PPE

Nurses across the country are protesting dangerous working conditions, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and limited access to testing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses have reported being sent home for refusing to treat COVID-19 patients without sufficient PPE, being denied tests despite having COVID-19 symptoms, and being fired for publicly criticizing PPE shortages.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 9,000 American healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19, a likely underestimate of the actual infection rate. At least 50 nurses have died from the novel coronavirus; members of National Nurses United read their names aloud in a protest in front of the White House on Tuesday. The protesters called for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish protective standards for healthcare workers and urged President Trump to use the Defense Production Act to provide more PPE.

In Detroit, nurses at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital held a sit-in in protest of being assigned unsafe patient loads. In California, nurses at Providence St. John’s Health Center rallied in support of ten nurses who were put on paid leave after refusing to treat COVID-19 patients without sufficient PPE.

In New York, nurses are taking legal action to demand better working conditions. The New York State Nurses Association is suing the state health department and two hospitals for “compromising the health and safety of the nurses” treating COVID-19 patients, partly due to inadequate supplies of PPE. In the lawsuits’ affidavits, over a dozen New York nurses described working on the frontlines of the pandemic with only surgical masks to protect themselves and claimed they were denied COVID-19 tests despite presenting symptoms.

“We were instructed that we could only wear a surgical mask, which is not adequate protection against COVID-19, if the patient presented with a cough,” wrote nurse Pamella Brown-Richardson in her affidavit. “Otherwise we were prohibited from wearing a surgical mask because management believed that doing so could alarm patients.”

When nurses do have access to the more effective N95 protective masks, they are being forced to reuse them. “Right now what’s happening, in hospitals across this country, nurses are being told to reuse their N95 masks, not only their whole shift but for days or weeks on end. That is not safe,” Amirah Sequeira of National Nurses United said. “That is not protecting them, and it is not protecting their patients.”

Nurses are also organizing counter-protests against demonstrations opposing state stay-at-home orders, concerned about potential surges in COVID-19 infections that could follow a relaxation of social distancing measures. “We don’t think we have enough equipment in all the hospitals in PA to take care of all the patients that are going to be coming in based on us getting a surge,” said Katrina Rectenwald, a nurse who counter-protested in Pennsylvania.

Sources: The Washington Post 4/21/20; NBC News 4/20/20, 4/21/20; USA Today 4/21/20

Dr. Ruth B. Mandel: A Life of Extraordinary Service

Dr. Ruth B. Mandel, a tireless advocate for women’s rights, died on April 11 at the age of 81 due to ovarian cancer.

Mandel was born in Vienna, Austria, to Mechel and Lea Blumenstock. Her parents fled with her when she was nine months old from Nazi Germany, setting sail on the SS St. Louis from Hamburg to Cuba in May 1939. They and the others on the ship were forced to return to Europe. Mandel’s family was accepted into England and moved to the United States in 1947.

Mandel’s experience as a survivor of the Holocaust informed the rest of her life, as she said in an interview in 2015: “My interest in politics didn’t come out of a political party. It came much more out of a family background of escaping from the Holocaust and thinking that unless we had good government and good democracy and the world got to be a better place none of us would make it through.”

She earned a B.A. in English from Brooklyn College in 1960 and a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from the University of Connecticut in 1969. She taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Rider College before going to Rutgers University in 1971 with her then-husband, Barrett Mandel.

She joined the Eagleton Institute of Politics first as a volunteer for the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), then as a director of the CAWP, then as a director of Eagleton itself. At the time of her joining, the CAWP was studying the developing field of women in politics. With Mandel’s leadership, it became “the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation.” Mandel herself was a respected source of wisdom about the topic, authoring the first comprehensive book about the experiences of women in politics at the time, “In the Running: The New Woman Candidate.” At the time of her death, she was a professor of politics and senior scholar at the CAWP, having stepped down in August 2019 from her role as director of Eagleton.

She was active in the Rutgers community, founding the Institute for Women’s Leadership, working with faculty members to create the Women and Politics Program within the Department of Political Science and chairing or serving on numerous search committees. She also taught in both the Department of English and Department of Political Science at various times during her long tenure at the University. She was awarded honorary doctorates by Chatham College and Georgian Court University.

Her life of service extended beyond academia and Rutgers, as she was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and later reappointed and made deputy chair by President Bill Clinton. She was a member of the governing body for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. from 1991 to 2005. She was also appointed to the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

“I do not know for sure that we learn from the past. I have my doubts that recalling evil can make people good. But at least we have to try. As an act of faith, we have to try,” she said.

Dr. Ruth B. Mandel is survived by her husband of 29 years, Jeff Lucker; her ex-husband and close friend, Barrett Mandel; her daughter, Maud Mandel; and two grandchildren.

Sources: CAWP 04/20/20; CAWP 08/12/15; Washington Post 04/17/20

COVID-19 Affecting Decisions About Having Children

The current COVID-19 pandemic has provoked a shift in the decision making processes of those considering having children. Originally when the pandemic began, many suggested that there would be a “baby boom” in nine months, especially as research suggests a spike in births after certain forms of disasters, especially in cases in which individuals are forced to remain indoors. There are many that decided to have a child; however, there are also many individuals that are delaying having children.

Clinics are reporting an increase in the requests for birth control and abortion medication. Plan C, a website that provides information on how to acquire abortion pills online saw a doubling in their online traffic in March, when the shelter in place rules were first implemented. Further, as unemployment rates are increasing during the current pandemic, as well as many losing their health insurance coverage, many are deciding to delay having children.

However, it is difficult for those living in many states to access reproductive health services, such as Texas, where courts are affirming abortion restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, procedures such as in vitro fertilization for those who cannot conceive or many LGBTQ+ couples, are currently suspended, delaying the ability for them to have children.

In light of the pandemic, this uncertainty of what the future holds, of who can visit a person who just gave birth in a hospital, the structure of education and childcare, amongst other factors are all stressors that can prevent a person from deciding to have children in this unprecedented moment in history.

Sources: Vox 4/21/20; Feminist Newswire 4/20/20; Feminist Newswire 4/13/20; Vox 4/14/20

Trump Says He’s Halting All Immigration to the US Amid Pandemic

As the United States continues to suffer from the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, President Donald Trump announced yesterday that he was going to issue an executive order suspending all immigration into the United States for an indefinite amount of time. In yet another tweet sent out by the president yesterday, he said, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”

Trump’s words were defended by his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who said that the president’s concern was for the “well-being” of American citizens. “As President Trump has said, ‘Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers,’” she said. “At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.” Trump has frequently touted that Black and Hispanic unemployment rates were at record lows, but McEnany’s statement contained nothing about how ceasing immigration would stop the spread of COVID-19.

Trump said the move to cease immigration would protect American workers from foreign competition, which seems to be his primary focus. According to the New York Times, a formal order could be issued within the next few days preventing any new green cards or work visas to be distributed. Some workers in industries deemed critical could still be allowed to receive visas, but many workers who for years have received visas to work will not be allowed.

This immigration pronouncement via Twitter is the latest in a series of anti-immigration mandates, usually in order to please his base, only to be stalled or reworked by legal challenges. “He tweets out a broad tweet without details, and the administration tailors it to figure out what might pass judicial review,” Franita Tolson, University of South California constitutional and election law student, told the New York Times. She predicted the administration would yet again be faced with legal challenges. “Given our infection rate and the lack of testing, he’s taking advantage of a national crisis.”

Sources: HuffPost, 4/20/20; New York Times, 4/20/20.

COVID-19 Job Losses Wipe out Insurance Access for Millions of Americans

As millions file for unemployment, many are now dealing with a pandemic-related ripple effect: a massive loss of employment-dependent health and dental insurance across America.

It’s difficult to count just how many Americans have lost insurance. Since Mid-March, about 22 million workers have filed unemployment claims. As the pandemic continues and state workforce offices slowly work through claims, this number is likely to climb. The latest census data shows 55 percent of Americans rely on their jobs for health insurance coverage. Policy think tanks and healthcare consulting firms are now estimating that anywhere from just over 9 million to more than 35 million will lose coverage.

The Economic Policy Institute placed 9.2 million U.S. residents as “high risk” for losing their coverage. Health Management Associates, a consulting firm, estimates that over the course of the pandemic, nearly 12 million to 35 million Americans will lose their insurance. These numbers do not include the 27.5 million Americans who had no health insurance prior to COVID-19.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people experiencing sudden job loss are given a special enrollment period to buy a health plan through the federal insurance marketplace. However, the Trump administration has resisted calls to open the marketplace’s online enrollment system.

As a result, many of these workers are looking towards Medicaid, public insurance for poor Americans, as a fallback. Medicaid has a waiting period, as well as an income threshold. Thresholds and waiting periods vary state to state; in public health emergencies, states tend to expand Medicaid.

While expansion is happening under COVID-19, as the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, implementation varies. Unlike the federal government, states are also obligated to balance their budgets—expanding Medicaid, which is funded through rapidly vanishing tax revenues, can threaten state economies. While Congress has chipped in to cover more costs, experts believe Medicaid will require much more help.

Additionally, some states did not expand Medicaid under the ACA, leaving their residents at a disadvantage. In 13 of those 14 states, people who have no dependent children can’t qualify for Medicaid regardless of how much income they’ve lost due to COVID-19.

For now, workers rely on COBRA, a transitional coverage provider. But premiums on COBRA can be extremely unaffordable. As the Washington Post and health care bloggers report, COBRA’s medical and dental premiums can range from $570 to over $1,500 per month, depending on household size, previous premium, and other factors.

Because of the long wait for Medicaid and the high costs of provisional insurance, many are turning to emergency and low-income clinics. As a result, these clinics are overwhelmed and overworked.

As Washington Post reporting shows, even during absolute lockdowns, clinics are still providing new patients with care. “Even with what Settle calls ‘an absolute lockdown’ on visits that are not emergencies, the clinic has accepted 113 new patients over the past 30 days, compared with 72 during the same period a year ago,” writes The Post. “They are not infected with the coronavirus, though the clinic is doing testing in a tent out back and at a nearby soup kitchen. They just need urgent help.”

Sources: [Axios, 4/1/2020] [Kaiser Family Foundation, 3/2020; 3/13/2020; 4/17/2020]  [The Washington Post, 4/16/2020, 4/18/2020] [Health Management Associates, 4/3/2020] [Economic Policy Institute, 4/16/2020]

Women Are The Majority of America’s Essential Workforce

Nearly one in three jobs held by women are officially considered essential work, meaning women are the majority of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a new report by The New York Times, nearly 52 percent of all essential workers are women. This includes 77 percent of the health care worker, 78 percent of social workers, and more than 66 percent of grocery and fast-food employees. In contrast, just 28% of all male workers have been deemed essential.

A majority of these jobs are underpaid and undervalued. As The Times notes, the U.S. healthcare industry “spreads far beyond hospitals” and encompasses at-home and on-demand workers who tend to the sick, old, and disabled.

“While women have steadily increased their share of high-end health care jobs like surgeons and other physicians, they have also been filling the unseen jobs proliferating on the lowest end of the wage scale, the workers who spend long and little-rewarded days bathing, feeding and medicating some of the most vulnerable people in the country,” wrote reporters Campbell Robertson and Robert Gebeloff. “Of the 5.8 million people working health care jobs that pay less than $30,000 a year, half are nonwhite and 83 percent are women.”

“Care work,” as University of Massachusettes sociologist Dr. Mignon Duffy characterizes it, “is part of the infrastructure of our whole society. It holds everything together… But now we’re being forced to identify who the essential workers are,” Dr. Duffy said. “And guess who they are?”

Yet, increased visibility does not necessarily translate into wage increases or basic protections. New CDC data shows nearly 75 percent of health care workers infected with coronavirus are women. While nurses and hospital workers have access to basic protective equipment, home healthcare workers and personal aides are struggling to receive basic workplace protections, let alone N95 masks.

Pam Ramsey, a home health aide who spoke with The Times, has gone years without health insurance. She goes to work with no protective gear, beyond what is available at the local dollar store. Despite providing necessary care, she does not have a formal letter identifying her as an essential worker.

“We’re still a part of health care and we’re not recognized at all,” she said. “People don’t look at us because we have no license, no certificate, no proof that we’re as good as they are.”

 

[The New York Times, 4/18/2020][SHRM, 7/5/2016] [Rutgers University Press, 2011]

Judge Blocks Tennessee’s Coronavirus Abortion Ban

A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s halt on procedural abortions during the coronavirus pandemic. This decision is another victory for reproductive rights advocates fighting abortion bans across the United States, including in Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled Friday that Tennessee cannot prohibit procedural abortions because they are time-sensitive procedures. Friedman also determined that the ban would not fulfill its purported goal of preserving any significant amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19-related care. “Delaying a woman’s access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether,” Friedman wrote in his opinion.

On April 8, Governor Lee halted all non-emergency medical procedures until April 30 to reduce patient-provider interactions and preserve supplies of PPEs. A spokesperson later clarified that the halt also applied to abortion care.

Several Tennessee abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, sought a temporary restraining order for the governor’s ban. They argued that abortion is essential healthcare that cannot be delayed without potentially severe health and economic consequences for patients. The providers also argued that the ban would actually facilitate the spread of COVID-19 by pushing patients to travel to other states for care or forcing them to give birth, a procedure that requires more PPE use and patient-provider interaction than procedural abortions.

“The court’s decision today ensures that women in Tennessee can continue to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting based on what is best for their families,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Especially during a pandemic, it is crucial that women have access to a full range of health services, including abortion, to ensure their health and well-being,”

Sources: CNN 4/18/20; The Hill 4/19/20

Millions of Low-Income Individuals Waiting for Relief Payments That May Never Arrive

Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that more than 80 million Americans have received their COVID-19 relief payments via direct deposit. However, millions of people are still waiting, or may never receive their payments.

The key challenge for the IRS is getting payments to individuals who are not typically required to file tax returns–largely low-income people, students, disabled people, and people in the prison system. For example, individuals are not required to file tax returns if they earn less than $12,200 a year. Tax experts estimated there could be 10 million individuals who are eligible for the payments but may never receive it because of this communication issue over payment information.

The IRS is making various attempts to remedy this issue, and get payments to the people most in need–on a delayed timeline. First, the IRS will dole out automatic $1,200 payments to members of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program whether or not they filed tax returns. The SSI program benefits elderly, blind, and disabled individuals with little to no income.

Second, the IRS launched an online form called “Non-filers: Enter Payment Info Here,” as a way for people to disclose basic information that the IRS would already have if they were required to file tax returns. Similarly, an online form called “Get My Payment” allows people to provide direct deposit information, instead of waiting to get their paper check in the mail. The IRS is not expected to start sending paper checks until sometime next week.

Although these online tools may be convenient for some, many low income individuals also lack the internet access necessary to learn about these tools and input their information online.

Sources: The Hill, 4/17/20; CNN, 4/8/20

Deportations Continue, Threaten Other Countries’ Health Security Amid Crisis

The Trump administration has continued the deportation of detainees, despite the global pandemic. The Trump administration has been deporting thousands to their home country including many infected persons, despite the threat of COVID-19.

Specifically, in Guatemala dozens have tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from the United States through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Tuesday, the country’s health minister stated that the United States was responsible for driving up the country’s total cases, according to officials on one flight 50-75% of the deportees tested positive for COVID-19.

The president utilized executive authority to shut down the southwestern border claiming it was necessary to prevent migrants from bringing the virus. This move came after he allowed European travelers back into the country despite Europe having a much higher outbreak rate than southwestern countries. In addition to these restrictions, deportations of unaccompanied children and teens have increased steeply. Previously, these children were allowed to be moved to a refuge shelter and time to apply for asylum, now they are being sent back on flights with large numbers. Authorities from Guatemala have accused the United States of sending infected people back across its borders which is hard to refute considering deportations have increased and the United States has the most coronavirus cases globally.

The administration has also recklessly continued deportations to Honduras and El Salvador knowing that these countries would be devasted by the virus because of severe poverty and poor health systems. Migrant advocates and some Central American government officials have voiced their concerns emphasizes the area’s vulnerability to the pandemic.

Sources: The New York Times 4/18/20; Fox17 4/14/20

U.S. “Megadrought” Underway Showing Evidence of Climate Change

Researchers confirm that a megadrought is a “naturally occurring event” which began in 2000 and is still underway. Climate change has impacted the rising temperatures, and is making the drought even worse. What’s worse, researchers now believe that the severity of this drought may be equivalent to super-droughts which have not been witnessed in over 1,000 years.

What is a megadrought? According to authors of recent research confirm that a megadrought, in North America, “refers to a multi-decade event, that contains periods of very high severity that last longer than anything observed during the 19th or 20th centuries.” Evidence in this report taken from soil moisture data confirms that in U.S. history, only 4 out of 40 droughts meet criteria for a megadrought.

The study also confirmed that even of the worst of these droughts in history, the past soil moisture records from 2000-2018 have already indicated that the current period is worse than 3 of the 4 other megadroughts on record. Plainly put, these naturally occurring events are now being exacerbated by climate change, making them both longer in duration and of higher severity.

Though research is still in relatively infantile stages, impacts of the megadrought can already be observed through the shrinking of two reservoirs in the US’s western region: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Additionally, wildfires have increased exponentially in the area. Though scientists are not ready to declare a megadrought, that is ultimately what the future holds in only a short matter of time. As scientist Dr. Angelina Pendergrass with the US National Center for Atmospheric Research confirms, “Whether or not the western U.S. has crossed a threshold into an event that goes by any specific label, what’s been clear this century is that water is an essential resource in the western U.S., and it’s a precarious one, because the region can have long spells with little precipitation.”

 

Sources: BBC News 04/16/2020; BBC News 02/13/2015

Seven Midwest States Announce Their Plan to Partner on Reopening

On Thursday, governors from seven Midwestern states announced that they will coordinate on reopening the Midwest regional economy. The Midwest pact joins the Northeast and West Coast in an effort to coordinate amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Midwest bipartisan effort includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kentucky.

In the governors’ collaboration, they announced their focus is on at least four factors to determine the best time to reopen state economies. These include sustained control of new infection and hospitalization rates, enhanced testing and tracing capabilities, adequate health care capacity to respond to a resurgence, and best workplace social distancing techniques.

Just an hour before the president introduced his phased approach, the governors released a statement stating, “We look forward to working with experts and taking a fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19.”

The coordinated efforts by the Midwest, West Coast, and in the Northeast will prove vital to the country’s effectiveness in combatting the virus. In total there are now 17 states involved in pacts to partner their states’ reopening. Although coordinated efforts do not mean all states will take the same exact measures, it does mean that the partnerships will be closely coordinating with bordering states and can plan accordingly. The Midwest states working together host nearly half of the country’s population. The governors stated that “phasing in sectors of our economy will be most effective when we work together as a region.”

Sources: CNN 4/17/20; ABC 4/16/20

Polish Parliament Postpones Vote on Restrictive Abortion Bill

The Polish parliament has indefinitely delayed a final vote on a controversial bill that would almost completely ban abortion in the country. Poland’s current abortion laws, some of the strictest in Europe, only allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, danger to the pregnant person’s life, or severe fetal impairment. The proposed bill would remove fetal impairment, the justification for 98 percent of legal abortions in Poland, from that list.

Rather than vote on the bill, legislators sent it to two committees for further discussion. Human rights groups and activists criticized the government for considering the bill at all, particularly during the coronavirus crisis. Legislators withdrew a similar proposal following mass protests in 2016, an impossibility now due to Poland’s COVID-19 lockdown. Gatherings are limited to five people, with violations punishable by fine.

Protests occurred despite those restrictions. People hung posters on bikes and cars and posted protest videos online. On streets in Warsaw and Poznan, protesters wearing masks and standing six feet apart held signs supporting abortion access.

“They thought we wouldn’t protest at all,” Marta Lempart, founder of Women’s Strike, a grassroots women’s rights organization. “I think they thought we would be afraid of the economic persecution.”

Polish lawmakers are also considering a divisive and conservative bill that would criminalize “the promotion of underage sex,” effectively banning sex education in schools. Activists also warn that this bill would be used to persecute gay people.

“Attempting to pass these recklessly retrogressive laws at any time would be shameful, but to rush them through under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis is unconscionable,” said Draginja Nadazdin, the director of Amnesty International in Poland.

Sources: AP News 4/16/20; CNN 4/15/20; ABC News 4/15/20; BBC News 4/15/20

COVID-19 Small Business Loan Program Runs Out of Funds as Businesses Struggle

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a new federal program part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law late March, is already running out of funding. With no viable proposals by lawmakers in the works as of yet, the risk of bankruptcies and additional millions of unemployed workers seems more and more plausible during this period of economic decline.

If funding for this new federal program runs out, the Small Business Administration, in turn, will have to stop approving applications. As of April 15th, over 1.4 million loans had been approved at a value of approximately $315 billion. So far, Congress and the Trump administration have failed to reach an agreement on increasing the federal funding of this program. This replenishment of funding is necessary to help keep millions of businesses afloat. The struggling loan program was one of the first measures introduced by Congress in the stimulus package, and has been riddled with problems since it first was enacted.

While some lawmakers have pushed to quickly infuse the program with cash to keep it going, others have firmly insisted that new restrictions must be implemented to ensure that money is going to minority-owned businesses and other companies which are disadvantaged in the lending market. Lawmakers in favor of these restrictions have also advocated for more money to go towards hospitals, food-stamp recipients (SNAP), and local and state governments for tax receipts. There has been no movement from lawmakers of either side of this debate. Small businesses will continue to suffer until an agreement is reached.

Sources: NY Times 04/15/2020; NY Times 04/03/2020

Masterpiece Cakeshop Owner Faces Second Lawsuit for LGBTQ Discrimination

Autumn Scardina is the plaintiff in the second lawsuit against Masterpiece Cakeshop Owner Jack Phillips for LGBTQ discrimination. The lawsuit argues that the business unlawfully refused service to Scardina, a transgender woman, who requested a trans-themed birthday cake.

Scardina had previously filed a complaint against Phillips when the refusal happened in 2018, but Phillips sued the state claiming the state was targeting his religious beliefs. The state of Colorado settled in March of 2018 and agreed not to pursue the case. Last June, Scardina filed a separate lawsuit that cites Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act and the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. The lawsuit argues that the shop “refused to sell a birthday cake to Ms. Scardina because she is transgender despite repeatedly advertising that they would sell birthday cakes to the general public, including LGBT individuals.”

In 2018, the Supreme Court voted on Phillip’s first case in denial of a same-sex couple’s wedding cake. The court ruled 7-2 that the commission violated Phillip’s first amendment rights over his refusal to provide service. In the Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop claimed it would serve any baked good to the LGBTQ community, but it was the religious significance of the wedding cake that prompted the refusal. Based off the owner’s own words it would seem that a birthday cake would be a normal transaction of the shop and not carry religious significance.

The 2018 Supreme Court case failed to issue a broader ruling on religious objections based on gender and sexuality. The Denver court has not yet released whether the state intends to dismiss that case, but if allowed to continue, Scardina’s lawsuit could prompt decisions that the 2018 case did not cover.

Sources: The Hill 4/15/21; NBC News 4/15/20

The Afghan Girls Robotics Team Makes Ventilator Out of Toyota Parts

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, five girls from Afghanistan who are a part of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team have designed a cheap ventilator powered by a Toyota Corolla.

In a report by Ashleigh Stewart at The National, Roya Mahboob, tech entrepreneur and one of the first female chief executives in Afghanistan, started the project in order to “help young women build digital literacy.” According to Mahboob, her and her team “help [their] people and [their community]. [As they] will do anything to help them.” The girls have proven themselves to be quite successful as they have won international contests in Europe and have participated in science competitions in India.

 

As cases of COVID-19 are increasing in Afghanistan, communities are in desperate need of ventilators in order to properly treat those affected by the virus. Luckily, some of Mahboob’s students, five young-women – Somaya Faruqi, Dyana Wahbzadeh, Folernace Poya, Ellaham Mandori, and Nahid Rahimi – have been working on prototypes for about a year.

 

According Stewart, “one is a gear-based system based on a design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. The other uses parts from a Toyota Corolla.” Mahboob notes that “the idea of these machines is that we use them for emergency cases, when there are no professional ventilators. The thing in Afghanistan is, we don’t have enough ventilators, but that’s the case for many countries, even Italy or New York. If we don’t have access to anything professional we can use these ones.

As a new governor of Herat has just taken office, Mahboob does not yet know the immediate reality for their designs, but she does hope that the new governor will look at their work favorably. Mahboob believes that, “if these girls have access to the opportunity or the tools, their lives can be changed. But not only their lives, they can change their community too.”

 

Sources: The National 4/6; The Diplomat 4/7

ACLU Files Lawsuit Over Idaho Transgender Athlete Ban

The ACLU has filed a complaint in Boise federal court on Wednesday, April 14 following Idaho Governor Brad Little’s signing of a bill banning the participation of transgender women and girls from women’s public and university sports into law on March 30.

The lawsuit challenges the new law, set to go into effect on July 1. According to Cynthia Sewell for the Idaho Statesman, this would make “Idaho the first state to impose an outright ban on participation of transgender athletes, and it’s the only statewide law regulating transgender and intersex athletes in the country.”

The ACLU’s 60-page complaint states that, “Idaho now stands alone in imposing the threat of unwanted, medically unnecessary invasions to bar and chill participation in women’s and girl’s athletics.”

Attorneys from the National ACLU, ACLU of Idaho, Legal Voice, and Cooley LLP have filed the complaint on behalf of 19-year-old Lindsay Hecox, a transgender Boise State University Student as well as a 17-year-old, anonymous, non-transgender student from Boise High School; both of whom identify as female. In an interview with the Associated Press, Hecox said that she “would like to compete as a female” and that she shouldn’t have her “privacy invaded.”

The NCAA already has a policy in place that allows transgender athletes to compete, but according to AP, “the sponsor of the Idaho law, Republican Barbara Ehardt, has called the NCAA policy “permissive.’”

According to Sewell, “Attorneys are asking the judge to enter a preliminary and permanent injunction barring the law from going into effect because they say it violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection, due process and search and seizure clauses, as well as Title IX, the 1972 law that bars sex discrimination in education.”

In a news release from ACLU of Idaho Legal Director Ritchie Eppink, he remarked that, “businesses, major employers, schools, doctors and counselors have all warned that this was is terrible for Idaho.” This comes after five of Idaho’s largest companies also decided to speak out against the state’s failure to support diversity and has encouraged the rejection of this legislation.

Sources: Idaho Statesman 4/15; New York Times 4/15; Associated Press 4/15

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Arkansas Coronavirus Abortion Ban

In a victory for reproductive rights advocates, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has issued a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of Arkansas’ ban on abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like several other states, Arkansas attempted to stop all but emergency abortions during the pandemic, supposedly to preserve resources for COVID-19 care and reduce the virus’ spread.

As part of its coronavirus response, the Arkansas Department of Health ordered a halt on all medical procedures “that can be safely postponed shall be rescheduled to an appropriate future date.” The Arkansas Attorney General’s office declared that order applied to “any type of abortion that is not immediately medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” The order would permit medication abortions but prohibit all surgical abortions.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several Arkansas abortion clinics challenged the order, requesting a temporary restraining order to allow abortion care to continue as normal. Baker granted that request, noting that the state’s order is likely unconstitutional because it would eliminate abortion access for anyone for whom medication abortion is not an option.

“With this order, the court has ensured that essential, time-sensitive health care can continue, and rebuffed Arkansas’ attempts to restrict access to abortion,” said Ruth Harlow, an ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project senior staff attorney.

This ruling is the latest in a series of legal victories for abortion advocates fighting restrictions in several states during the coronavirus pandemic. Just this week, federal courts blocked bans in Oklahoma and Alabama. On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed its initial decision upholding Texas’ ban, ruling that the state must allow medication abortions to continue.

Sources: The Hill 4/14/20; CNN 4/14/20

San Francisco Supervisors Order Mayor to House Homeless in Hotels

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a pandemic-driven emergency ordinance giving the Mayor 12 days to secure 7,000 hotel rooms to house the city’s homeless population and an additional 1,250 rooms to house the city’s frontline workers.

During a Tuesday video conference, the Board rebuked Mayor London Breed’s more moderate strategy to place only the city’s most vulnerable in hotel rooms during the pandemic. The unanimously-approved emergency ordinance requires the mayor to secure rooms for San Francisco’s entire homeless population by April 26. If Mayor Breed is unsuccessful in brokering deals with hotel owners, the ordinance allows her to use emergency powers to commandeer the rooms.

Prior to the vote, San Francisco had leased about 2,000 hotel rooms but filled just under half. The city prioritized rooms for homeless persons more vulnerable to COVID-19, old people and those with underlying health conditions. Mayor Breed had resisted advocate calls to house all or most of the around 8,000 homeless San Franciscans, calling it logistically impractical.

“It’s not as easy as everyone would like to think,” Breed said during a media briefing on Monday. Managing the roughly 750 homeless people already in hotels required hundreds of staff. Additionally, although most hotels are empty, owners have refused to offer their properties to house the homeless.

Then, a majority of the people staying at MSC-South, the city’s largest homeless shelter, were infected with Coronavirus. Over 100 staff and guests tested positive, forcing officials to rush shelter residents to hotels where they could self-quarantine and recover.

During the vote, several members of the Board of Supervisors recognized the city failed to heed warnings from experts and advocates, who warned them that shelters like MSC-South would become fertile grounds for COVID-19.

“I am sorry,” Supervisor Dean Preston apologized to shelter residents, “that after weeks of warnings, only the confirmed outbreak in your shelters spurred action from all of us.”

NPR, 4/15/2020; the Mercury News, 4/14/2020; CalMatters, 3/20/2020

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