Across the country, state and local governments are clamoring for the federal government to rescue them from what could quickly become a fiscal catastrophe, saying that they may need in the ballpark of three-quarters of a trillion dollars as the coronavirus pandemic dries up many of their revenue sources.
Though Democrats sought to include roughly $150 billion in funding to state and local governments in the latest coronavirus aid package, set to pass this week, it did not make it into the final bill. Already, Congress approved $150 billion in funding for state and local governments as part of earlier coronavirus legislative aid — assistance governors and local leaders said would ultimately not be enough.
A Congressional Research Service report last week on the earlier coronavirus aid said “early evidence suggests that the COVID-19 economic shock will have a notable impact on state and local budgets,” pointing to the “sizable share of economic output” that derives from state and local governments.
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Linda Blimes, a leading expert on public budgetary and financing issues, told NBC News that the nature of the crisis prevents states from raising new revenue in traditional ways.
“Can you increase property taxes, retail taxes, income taxes, special investments? Can you increase service fees? Well, no,” she added. “Nobody’s using services. Toll roads. Can you expand the number of fees? Can you increase traffic violations. Well, nobody’s driving.”
These governments will need to instead lay off or furlough workers, reduce benefits, cancel projects, defer construction and maintenance, and more.
“But the problem is that by doing all of those kind of things and canceling a lot of those kind of capital projects, those are the things that create employment and activity in the community and in the economy,” Blimes said, adding, “It’s certainly capable of derailing a recovery or creating a second wave of recession.”
Already, governors, mayors and county executives are planning for substantial budget cuts. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, slashed roughly $235 million in planned spending. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, estimates suggest that billions in projected revenue over the next year will vanish. At the county-level, the National Association of Counties estimates close to $150 billion in lost revenue.
Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties, said counties are watching as revenue from sales and gas taxes, court filing fees and mortgage transactions evaporate. The losses mean “you’re going to see a cut in the staff at the exact wrong time, when their residents actually are going to need more services.”
State and local governments employ more than 10 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, including police officers, firefighters and public-school teachers. State governments heavily subsidize public universities and finance significant construction projects, while local governments handle everything from trash collection to pothole-filling.
Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, said her administration has felt the impact of the outbreak on its budget “right away,” and quickly furloughed nearly a quarter of the city’s employees and have since instituted a hiring freeze. She’s asked her departments to provide guidance on what an 18 percent spending cut would look like, which she said would affect police, fire and trash pickup, among other services.
“In 2009, in the Great Recession, most mid-sized cities in the middle of the country were decimated. We cut like 40 percent of our employees then,” said Whaley, a Democrat. “So we are on bare bones as it is.”
This crisis, Whaley believes, “will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two.”
In Oklahoma City, Mayor David Holt, a Republican, said his city faces budget cuts of 3.3 percent for police and firefighters and 11.25 percent for all other departments for the upcoming fiscal year. But Holt says his city is buoyed by a more than $100 million reserve fund.
“We’re always prepared for bad stuff to happen,” he told NBC News. “Nevertheless…these are probably some of the biggest cuts here in Oklahoma City that we’ve taken in the last two decades.”
Federal intervention will be needed within a couple of months, Holt said.
The National Governors Association has called for $500 billion in funding to state governments to account for budget shortfalls while counties and mayors have called for an additional $250 billion in emergency relief. On Monday, Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., unveiled a legislative proposal for $500 billion in state and local funding.
“In this crazy and political environment where you can’t get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said, “all the governors agree and have said to Washington, ‘Make sure you fund the states in any next bill you pass.'”
In three Rust Belt states, Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Tony Evers of Wisconsin, all Democrats, wrote to President Donald Trump last week asking him to work with Congress to get states and localities more funding.
“Without this leadership, the damage to our state economies will be exacerbated by the cuts we know we will be forced to make,” they said.
The boost won’t be coming in this current round of coronavirus aid, though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sounded optimistic it would be included in a future aid package.
In a letter to senators, Schumer said he was “disappointed” the funding was not part of the upcoming bill but added that “as a part of this agreement, we were able to secure a commitment from (Treasury) Secretary Mnuchin that he will support additional state and local relief in the next COVID-19 legislation, as well as a provision providing the flexibility to use all past and future relief dollars to offset lost revenues.”
The White House has acknowledged the bind these governments are in. Speaking to reporters Monday, White House senior adviser Kevin Hassett said the funding boost is “on (Trump’s) radar” and “if you look at state budgets, they’re in about as bad a state as you’ve ever seen because the economy more or less ground to a halt.”
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that “After I sign this Bill, we will begin discussions on the next Legislative Initiative with fiscal relief to State/Local Governments for lost revenues from COVID-19,” among other packages.
Asked what she’d say to those who think such a massive price-tag is too much, Whaley pointed to the total percentage of the workforce that state and local governments employ. “You want to talk about a drag on the economy, have state and locals be out of business,” she said.
Chase, of the National Association of Counties, said while there’s a narrative that state and local governments — because of certain prominent budget crises — are fiscally irresponsible, “that’s furthest from the truth.”
“We have counties that have been very fiscally responsible,” he said, “but when you lose this amount of revenue you can never save enough money.”
Missouri sues China alleging it ‘lied to the world’ about coronavirus
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government Tuesday accusing it of lying about the danger posed by the coronavirus when it first emerged in late 2019.
“In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real,” Schmitt said in a press release. “Thousands have been infected and many have died, families have been separated from loved ones, small businesses are shuttering their doors, and those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to put food on their table.”
The state is the first in the country to seek damages in this way. Schmitt argues that the Chinese government “must be held accountable for their actions.”
U.N. warns of ‘hunger pandemic’ amid threats of coronavirus, economic downturn
While the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the United Nations food agency warned on Tuesday that a looming “hunger pandemic” will bring “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.”
Famine in as many as three dozen countries is “a very real and dangerous possibility” due to ongoing wars and conflicts, economic crises and natural disasters, World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council during a virtual briefing.
As a result of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent economic ramifications, the food agency found an additional 130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of the year. The working poor would be hit the hardest as a result of the decline in tourism and exports, collapse of oil prices and any declines to foreign aid.
142 Italian doctors have died of COVID-19
The coronavirus death toll among Italy’s doctors has risen to 142, the country’s Medical Professional Association showed Tuesday.
However, official figures also showed a new daily record for the number of people who have recovered from the virus, rising by 2,723 Tuesday to 51,600. Italy has suffered one of the worst global outbreaks with more than 24,000 deaths, figures from John Hopkins University show. Only the U.S. has reported more deaths to date.
The country is looking at gradually reopening parts of the economy with 2.5 to 2.8 million people in sectors such as construction and manufacturing expected to go back to work May 4th.
Experts: Isolated indigenous tribes risk extinction from virus
When English explorer John Hemming first arrived in 1971 in the Amazonian state of Rondônia in Brazil, at the lower end of the Tapajós River, it was just weeks after the local Suruí people had initiated their first contact with the outside world.
Soon after that expedition encountered previously uncontacted peoples, an influenza outbreak wiped out roughly a fifth of the area’s 1,500 indigenous people, before measles devastated them two or three years later.
Experts and advocates for remote aboriginal communities not just in Brazil, but also elsewhere around the world, say they fear that geographic remoteness, an inability to socially isolate and poor access to health care might mean the COVID-19 pandemic could further imperil the existence of groups that survived earlier outbreaks.
Photo: Medical worker administers a swab test
What it’s like to be stuck on a college campus
Virus caused U.S. fatalities earlier than previously thought
Officials in Silicon Valley late Tuesday reported two virus-related deaths that predate a Washington state fatality previously believed to be the first victim of COVID-19 in the United States.
The California deaths on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 were not initially believed to have been related to the coronavirus.
The first U.S. COVID-19 death was reported Feb. 29 in Wsahington state.
“Today, the Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation from the CDC that tissue samples from both cases are positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19),” the County of Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner said in a statement.
The examiner-coroner’s office said limited testing criteria set by the federal government meant that the deaths were initially overlooked as possible coronavirus cases. Each victim died at home, it said.
Harlem church has lost 11 members to COVID-19
The senior pastor of Harlem’s Mount Neboh Baptist Church says that 11 of its members have died from the coronavirus illness COVID-19.
“When my phone rings, I’m always worried: Is it going to be another call with bad news?” Dr. Johnnie Green said Tuesday.
Green said that his congregation believes that faith in God is most authentic when it is tested, and he sees the trials of recent weeks as a test of faith.
“I believe that we’re going to come out stronger,” Green said.
New York City and state have been called the current epidemic of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. There have been more than 19,000 deaths statewide, according to an NBC News count of reports that includes more than 4,000 deaths in New York City which are being called probable COVID-19 cases.
WASHINGTON — On first glance, Joe Biden’s March fundraising report looks like a shot in the arm for a candidate who had long struggled to raise cash — giving his campaign a swift infusion of funds after sweeping victories on Super Tuesday and besting his January and February totals combined.
But just as Biden was emerging as the apparent Democratic nominee, the newly tapped gusher of money turned into a trickle as the coronavirus pandemic triggered an economic crisis and forced the campaign to rethink its financial strategy at a time when it needed to begin cutting into the formidable advantage accumulated by President Donald Trump and the GOP apparatus behind him.
The former vice president’s campaign announced Monday that it raised $46.7 million in March, its best fundraising month since Biden joined the race almost a year ago, and a dramatic acceleration in his pace after bringing in just under $9 million in January and $18.1 million in February.
But after starting March off strong, the sudden reduction in fortunes during the rest of the month is striking: Though he raised $33 million just days after the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries in early March, small-dollar donations slowed as businesses shuttered and millions filed for unemployment.
At a virtual fundraiser last week, Biden proudly said that his campaign had raised $5.3 million in the 48 hours following the endorsements of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
But that is comparatively less than the $5 million to $7 million he raised from online donations in the 24 hours after the South Carolina and Super Tuesday contests respectively, proving the increased difficulty of raising large sums of money quickly in the coronavirus era.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have built a formidable re-election effort that has raised $497 million this cycle through March. In comparison, the Democratic National Committee and Biden’s campaign have raised $283 million combined amidst a tense primary campaign.
The Trump campaign saw only a slight dip in contributions last month, raising $13.6 million in March compared with $14.2 million in February. Both of those months were markedly higher than the Trump campaign’s January fundraising — it raised $6.4 million in the first month of 2020.
Just as it was in position to capitalize on his stunning comeback in the Democratic primary race, Biden’s campaign was suddenly forced to do the unthinkable: cancel, rather than add in-person, high-dollar fundraisers; curtail its aggressive email and text appeals for small dollars and even shutter its online retail store, where new merchandise touting endorsements from his former rivals had sold out almost as quickly as it was offered. They have halted shipments of unity T-shirts and other Biden swag “for the safety of the Team Joe Webstore staff.”
Biden’s campaign is also carefully tweaking language of its online fundraising appeals to explain where even a modest $5 donation would go, while reminding supporters that without money they can’t defeat Trump. Fundraising emails now offer the option to opt out for two weeks at a time, acknowledging that the pandemic may have affected the recipient personally, or more simply they may “want to take a break.”
Biden, who has been effectively confined in self-isolation at his home in Delaware rather than on the campaign trail, is also now borrowing a page from Warren’s playbook, calling small-dollar donors to thank them for their contributions.
As the campaign sent its headquarters staff home and shuttered field offices around the country, hiring was essentially frozen for weeks, at a time when it expected to be expanding its workforce to do battle with a Trump campaign that has been working arm-in-arm with the RNC since the president formed his re-election campaign the day of his inauguration.
Campaign officials, while acknowledging the unprecedented situation they face, say they have nonetheless adapted — and note that they have long become accustomed to trailing the pack in fundraising, especially online.
While the Biden campaign also spent heavily in March, it has just as dramatically wound down expenditures since then. Without rallies, there’s no need for expensive chartered flights or rented spaces and infrastructure for multiple rallies a day. The campaign also isn’t spending money on television ads, leaving it to outside Super PACs already spending millions to duke it out with Trump allies in battleground states.
And after a pause, the campaign expects to expand its operation soon.
“We are building on to all aspects of the campaign, especially digital, and have begun to hire additional people,” a senior official told NBC News.
While not the same, the campaign says virtual fundraisers Biden has hosted are proving effective with more traditional donors, and that a larger universe of Democrats is stepping up to help.
Obama campaign and administration alums Paulette Aniskoff, Rufus Gifford and Allison Zelman are inviting thousands over the Obama alumni database to a May 1 virtual fundraiser featuring the former vice president and 150 additional co-hosts including former senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, former chief of staff Denis McDonough and the “Pod Save America” hosts Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer.
With less time on the road, Biden has ramped up that schedule of virtual fundraisers, with six coming up just this week. Last week he held four fundraisers that were attended by more than 400 viewers combined, less than the number who attended individual fundraisers in person after his string of victories post-South Carolina. A Detroit fundraiser with Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California attracted 350 people on one night, according to the campaign, the largest audience for a fundraiser to date.
The campaign has also only recently begun raising money for the general election, allowing it to return to those who contributed the maximum of $2,800 for the primary to re-up for November.
And Biden is counting on his former rivals even more now, hoping to draw in support from their loyal followings and small-donor lists. Over the last two weeks, Harris co-hosted a fundraiser with Biden, Warren sent out a fundraising email to her supporters, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, called their large-money donors to redirect their contributions to Biden.
Notably absent from the fundraising haul is Sanders, the Democratic primary candidate who brought in the most money from grassroots online donations. Unlike other endorsers, he did not send a campaign email to Biden’s email list or offer to give the campaign access to his massive donor pool. However, Sanders did send a fundraising email through the DNC’s donor list asking them to contribute to their fund to unite Democrats.
Biden aides say they’re tracking how much money fundraisers with endorsers bring in compared to ones held by Biden alone. An LGBTQ star-studded fundraiser this week featuring performances by Kristin Chenoweth and Melissa Etheridge and headlined by Buttigieg, Billie Jean King, Billy Porter gives donors the option to raise $20,000 to co-host or contribute $5,600, $2,800 or $1,000 to attend.
They have also been experimenting with virtual “fireside chats,” question and answer sessions for donors who have a particular interest in discussing certain subjects like entrepreneurship and innovation, a topic for a fundraiser this week. Those interested in foreign policy attended one with former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken last week and one is scheduled this week with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
But there’s no disputing that Biden is at a serious disadvantage now. As John Morgan, a top Biden donor put it: “It’s really hard to raise money without that photograph line.”
“People want to meet him in person, they want to get that picture, they want to be with other people who are like them,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday for what both called a “productive” meeting on the need for federal help with coronavirus testing and financial help for hard-hit states.
“I think we had a very good conversation,” the New York Democrat told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace in a phone interview after the meeting, and there was an “acknowledgment that we all need to work together on this. It has to be a real partnership.”
“The state has laboratories in the state, the state regulates the labs, the state should determine where tests are taken and how they’re allocated. The tracing is a state function. But we need help from the federal government to make the supply chain work for the manufacturers,” Cuomo said.
Trump, at his daily briefing later on the pandemic, agreed the meeting was “productive” and said he and Cuomo are on the same page and had a “great talk on testing.”
“The federal government will work along with the state on the national manufacturers and distributors. Together, we’ll all work together to help them secure additional tests and we hope that this model will work with the other states as well. We think it will,” Trump said.
The governor said he also made the case for federal aid to the states.
“The states are in desperate shape,” and the funding deal announced by Congress Tuesday doesn’t provide them direct aid,” Cuomo said. “The president seemed very open and understanding of that and said the next piece of legislation that passes he’s going to be open to that.”
Cuomo also told Trump the crisis in New York — which has seen over 18,000 deaths from the virus — has improved to the point the state no longer needs the USNS Comfort, the Navy hospital ship the president deployed to New York City last month. Trump said “we’ll be bringing the ship back” to “get it ready for its next mission.”
Cuomo told MSNBC he’d requested the face-to-face meeting with Trump.
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At his daily pandemic briefing earlier Tuesday, Cuomo said he planned to talk to Trump about better coordination on testing. “Let’s coordinate who does what, what do the states do, what does the federal government do,” Cuomo said.
Trump in a pair of tweets on Monday said that it was the state’s responsibility to handle testing but that the federal government would “work with the Governors and get it done.”
The New York governor, with whom Trump has frequently traded barbs during the outbreak, acknowledged they might not necessarily see eye-to-eye on every issue during the meeting.
Asked Tuesday how he would handle the delicate but crucial relationship, Cuomo said it would require walking a “fine line.”
The two Queens, N.Y., natives have alternated praising and bashing each other in the weeks since New York became the area of the country hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
Cuomo has credited Trump for being accessible and responsive to the state’s needs, including sending a U.S. hospital ship to New York City and having the Army Corps of Engineers build a temporary hospital to help ease the strain on the state’s overburdened healthcare system.
He also criticized the president for not taking control of ventilator production, lags in testing and for allowing the federal government to outbid states — including New York — for personal protective equipment for front line workers.
Trump has praised Cuomo’s professionalism and said “we get along,” while also mocking the governor’s earlier demand for up to 40,000 ventilators, more than the number in the national stockpile and also, as Trump has noted, thousands more than the state wound up needing. Cuomo said the request was made based on projections from the Trump administration.
Tensions boiled over last week, after Trump declared that he had total authority to order states to reopen – leading Cuomo to suggest Trump was trying to act like a “king.”
On Friday, Trump took aim at Cuomo after the governor said the state needed federal help to perform testing and reopen the economy.
“Governor Cuomo should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining’. Get out there and get the job done,” Trump tweeted.
Cuomo responded to the tweet at his press briefing.
“You want me to say thank you? Thank you for doing your job,” he said Friday.
The prospect of cheaper gas at a time when most Americans are holed up at home is not much of a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic. Energy analysts say there is little upside to the unprecedented plunge in oil prices that sent crude oil futures spiraling into negative territory on Monday, spooking Wall Street.
Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, predicted that the national average gas price could drop below $1.50 a gallon in the coming weeks, noting that a few states have already hit this benchmark. But he said drivers shouldn’t expect to see gas fall as sharply as crude prices. “Unfortunately for motorists, it may not fully make it to the pump, given that stations are trying to keep the doors open — even with volume down 50 to 70 percent,” he said.
Analysts also note that the concept of “negative oil,” as President Donald Trump referred to it in a news briefing on Monday, is more theoretical than actual. Although it suggests that a seller would have to pay a buyer to physically take a shipment of oil, it is largely a “paper transaction” by the financial instruments that hold oil futures contracts.
Paper or not, prices tumbling into negative territory is a symptom of a very real problem: With demand for everything from gasoline to jet fuel plummeting, producers are literally running out of places to store oil once it leaves the ground.
Trump on Monday floated the idea of solving that problem by purchasing roughly 75 million barrels of oil, the spare capacity in the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as well as banning imports of Saudi Arabian oil. Neither is likely to be terribly effective, analysts say.
“Refineries are set up to handle specific slates of crude. You can’t simply disallow Saudi oil and replace it with American oil,” said Stewart Glickman, energy equity analyst at CFRA Research. Oil has variations in density and sulfur content, and refineries can’t process the kind of oil extracted from American soil.
“Putting a tariff on Saudi crude would do nothing to address the underlying problem,” said Jim Burkhard, vice president and head of oil markets research at IHS Market. “A tariff will not conjure up demand growth.”
“It’s not a terrible idea to fill the SPR with prices where they are, but there is a limit,” Glickman said.
Glickman said American oil producers need prices of at least $20 a barrel just to cover day-to-day operations. For the industry to make money in the longer term, including investing in exploration and equipment, prices need to be roughly double that.
If prices don’t regain stability, analysts’ biggest fear is that the U.S. energy sector won’t be able to bounce back. “The longer oil remains this low, the more risk there is that when demand rebounds, oil production won’t,” DeHaan said.
Michael Moebs, CEO and economist at financial consulting firm Moebs Services, said plummeting oil prices could drive interest rates — already at historic lows — down even further, a prospect that could have negative implications for banks and destabilize financial markets already shaken by the coronavirus pandemic. “It would be a double-whammy. We see COVID causing a problem… But that’s going to pass,” he said.
By comparison, the hangover from the oil crash could linger well into 2021.
“Oil and gas investment has grown to be a large and important source of U.S. business investment and employment over the past 10 to 15 years, so the decline in prices and falling investment will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy,” Burkhard said.
Although jobs in energy will be the first dominos to fall — especially smaller producers who don’t have the financial cushion to withstand a sustained downturn — they won’t be the last, said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor.
“There also will be spillover effects to businesses that service those industries, everything from car sales to retail spending to real estate,” he said.
“It’s not just drilling wells and producers, it’s everything that goes downstream… pipelines, refineries, petrochemicals, oil field services,” said Peter McNally, global energy sector lead at investment and research firm Third Bridge.
“There are much broader economic implications this time. It’s not just oil seeing demand drop — it’s pretty much every industry,” McNally said.
“Employment in the oil industry is probably going to stay under pressure until we start to see futures prices go above $40 a barrel, and we don’t see that,” Glickman said.
“On a net basis, this is pretty atrocious for the U.S. economy,” he said.
Two first responders in Detroit who lost their young daughter to the coronavirus hope their grief can be used to warn others to take the pandemic seriously.
Skylar Herbert, 5, was a little girl who loved to dance and dreamed of being a pediatric dentist one day. She was bubbly and feisty and never let fear stop her from trying something new, her parents said.
She is believed to be the youngest person in Michigan to have died after testing positive for the coronavirus.
LaVondria Herbert, a police officer, told NBC News that her daughter’s diagnosis came as a shock because Skylar hadn’t left their home in days. Neither she nor her firefighter husband, Ebbie, have tested positive.
“This is something that has gotten out of hand, and we need to do something about it, and that’s the reason why we’re doing this interview,” Ebbie Herbert said. “To let people know that it doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s coming for you.”
At first, Skylar’s symptoms seemed more like strep throat, her mother said. The coronavirus never crossed their minds.
“She was being herself — eating, drinking, playing for, like, the first couple of days,” LaVondria Herbert said. “But on that fourth day, she started complaining about the headache. And the fever — I just couldn’t break the fever.”
Skylar’s oxygen levels were fine, and she didn’t display any signs of respiratory distress, but she was diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis due to complications from COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus. On April 3, doctors put Skylar on a ventilator as a precaution.
“So even the doctors were baffled, but they really reached out and tried to find something to do to help her,” LaVondria Herbert said.
Skylar died Sunday with her parents — as well as the doctors and nurses of the pediatric intensive care unit who looked after her — surrounding her.
“You have doctors out here trying and nurses out here trying,” Ebbie Herbert said. “And they get attached. They were crying, too. It’s hard on everybody.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has received backlash from some conservatives over public health restrictions in the state, but the Herberts said they appreciate everything she’s done to try to keep people safe.
“When you’re dealing with a virus like this, we’re learning, and even now,” Ebbie Herbert said. “It doesn’t care what color you are. It doesn’t care about your nationality. It doesn’t care about your political preference. It’s just a monster that is trying to destroy whatever is in its way.”
He wouldn’t wish this pain on his worst enemy — just waking up in the morning and seeing his daughter’s toothbrush hurts — the grieving father said.
LaVondria Herbert said she couldn’t pinpoint one thing she misses the most about her daughter, whom she calls her partner in crime. She’ll miss the mornings when she woke up to Skylar’s kisses and her saying, “I love you.”
“She’d just climb in the bed, step on your back,” LaVondria Herbert said. “She was just, she would do so many things. We miss so many things about her.”
Though President Donald Trump insists on calling it an “invisible enemy,” COVID-19 is ever before us and the data increasingly make clear that the South will soon become ground zero for coronavirus deaths.
According to a new analysis from Pew’s Stateline, the South is poised to see more death and economic loss from COVID-19 than any other region in the country — and not only because so many Republican governors delayed stay-at-home orders, included extreme religious exemptions that allowed large crowds to continue to gather, and now seem poised to reopen everything from beaches to nail salons long before the curve has truly started to flatten. Stateline notes that decades of policies that undercut government programs and left individuals to fend for themselves have led to higher poverty rates, gaping holes in the social safety net and a health care system in which 75 rural hospitals across the region have been shuttered in the last year alone.
COVID-19, then, is a contrast dye, highlighting the South as the native home of poverty in America.
Long before this present crisis, the South suffered from a pandemic of poverty that was broadly hidden from public life. Politicians who preached freedom from government as the heart of American liberty used any assent to deregulate corporations; they preached “individual responsibility” and used that to justify the dismantling of and resistance to public services and anti-poverty programs. If people are poor, they said, it is not the fault of the wealthy who used the labor of the poor with too little care or remuneration; it is not, they said, the fault of the government that failed to promote the common good when it could promote a limited one.
The lie of Southern politics for 50 years has been that the poor are to blame for their own poverty.
And, according to a study the Poor People’s Campaign conducted in partnership with the Institute for Policy Studies, poverty is most extreme in the places where systemic racism was, and often remains, the greatest. And in the South, systemic racism can be no more explicit than in the voter suppression that targets people of color.
The former Confederate states — all of which had been subject to federal supervision after the 1965 Voting Rights Act — have passed voter suppression measures targeting nonwhite voters since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby decision stripped the act of its power to compel those states to submit any voting changes for federal review.
In North Carolina, for instance, the state Legislature passed an omnibus bill to suppress votes as soon as the Shelby decision came down. The North Carolina NAACP sued and a federal court found that the bill had targeted African Americans with “near surgical precision” — but the damage was done. People elected as a result of voter suppression passed policies that denied Medicaid expansion, limited unemployment benefits and changed the tax code in ways that exacerbated poverty.
Even before 2013, states like Alabama had passed restrictive voter identification bills. But with preclearance requirements removed, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas quickly followed suit, while other states moved to restrict registration or purge voter rolls through “exact match” programs, like the one that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp implemented when he was secretary of state. According to the Brennan Center, this act of voter suppression, implemented mostly over the past decade, is simply a dressed-up version of the early 20th century’s Jim Crow tactics.
When we look at a map of states that have actively worked to suppress voter rights since 2010, those states also have extremely high rates of poverty and child poverty, and lack access to affordable health care. Most of those states also refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and many have passed state-level legislation to override a municipality’s power to raise the minimum wage.
The lack of access to political power, then, feeds into the lack of access to economic opportunities and health care, creating a dangerous environment in which a pandemic is now spreading — and is exacerbated by the idea, now trumpeted in right-wing media, that the economic costs to the wealthy are not worth the physical harm to the poor.
The available demographic data on COVID-19 deaths to date already make clear that African Americans bear an extremely unequal share in the South. In Mississippi, where African Americans make up less than 40 percent of the population, they already account for 72 percent of the state’s deaths from this virus. In our home state of North Carolina, the percentage of African American deaths is also nearly twice the representation in the population.
But while a disproportionate number of black people in the South are poor, in raw numbers, there are more poor white people in the South. And because all poor people either do not have stable homes in which to stay, or cannot afford to stay at home when they are most likely to either be deemed “essential” employees or forced back to work under gubernatorial orders meant to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic, this disease will continue to spread fastest among them.
But the virus will not remain a disease of the poor when we insist that they serve our essential needs and provide us our luxuries. Wherever it goes, this pandemic will highlight how poverty — and our willingness to let people remain in it — presents a clear and present danger for all of us.
As dire as this situation is, though, it also presents an opportunity for us to consider the policies that got us here. The Southern politicians who have passed laws that hurt most of the people they represent have often gotten away with it by talking about their supposed values and calling themselves “pro-life.” But COVID-19 reveals the malignancy of reactionary “traditional values” that simply serve elite interests and corporate profits.
In this election year, we must compel Americans to see the pain that this virus is making ever more visible. If Southerners come together — black, white and brown — we have the ability to build a coalition that transforms public life, as we did during Reconstruction and the civil rights movement. Across the South, a 3-5 percent increase in participation of poor Black, white and Latino voters could fundamentally shift the political calculus. If we come together now, we can not only survive this present crisis; we also have the potential to revive the heart of American democracy.
Coronavirus has torn through communities at unprecedented rates, stretching health care systems to their breaking points and bringing the economy to a standstill. It’s been said that the coronavirus is a great equalizer, but we now know from what little racial and ethnic data that exists, communities of color are disproportionately hurting.
It’s been said that coronavirus is a great equalizer, but we now know from what little racial and ethnic data that exists, communities of color are disproportionately hurting.
Our most vulnerable neighborhoods are falling through the cracks. And as stimulus money starts to hit bank accounts across the country, we need to focus on the many people in America who will not be getting any help as quarantine drags on. In the absence of additional federal leadership and funding, it’s up to states and cities to step in and protect those most at risk from health and economic catastrophe.
California and Los Angeles County provide a case study underscoring why a one-size-fits-all approach simply will not work.
In March, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that California will lose over 1.6 million jobs by this summer, close to a quarter of which will be in the leisure, hospitality and retail sectors. Nowhere will this be more acutely felt than Los Angeles County where fashion, food and tourism are staples of our economy. And a recent report released by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, and Ong & Associates finds this could affect Latino and Asian neighborhoods the most, leaving families scrambling for solutions without the means to pay rent or put food on the table. These communities are also the ones that will likely not receive a fair share from emergency financial relief programs.
While many people have been able to socially distance while continuing to work, our research suggests that Latino and Asian workers disproportionately rely on low-wage jobs in industries where the most layoffs in the wake of COVID-19 are occurring. They are also more likely to be employed in low-wage blue-collar manufacturing jobs that have been shut down. These workers are grandparents, parents and children who live on the brink of poverty on the best of days. Now with the loss of their jobs, they are facing an uncertain future.
In Los Angeles County, our research finds that approximately 30 percent of Latino majority neighborhoods and 20 percent of Asian majority neighborhoods will face economic uncertainty versus just 3 percent of white majority neighborhoods due to the impact of COVID-19 on the service and retail sectors.
There was hope that the federal government would step up to meet the needs of these uncertain times. But the CARES Act stimulus packages don’t go far enough.
Right now, to qualify for CARES unemployment benefits, you must not only work enough hours at a single place of employment but have earned enough wages to rise above the minimum threshold put in place by the state. If you’ve been unemployed for an extended period, however, and only recently secured a new job, you may not be eligible. Further, many service workers, including fast-food workers or hotel cleaners, are part time and often hold more than one job to make ends meet. If one of those jobs is deemed an essential service, many states will reduce benefits based on the wages an individual continues to earn.
Los Angeles County’s neighborhoods also demonstrate the widespread financial pain that entire communities will face by excluding undocumented immigrants from relief. Even with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to extend relief to undocumented immigrants, the coverage and benefit levels are capped at $1,000 per household, with only enough money in the fund for about 150,000 people in a state where the undocumented population is over 2 million. And across the nation, an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants could face the same predicament.
Ignoring these glaring deficiencies is not only inhumane in the midst of a crisis but shortsighted. As the two youngest and fastest-growing populations in the nation, Latinos and Asians will help determine how and when we rebound from this pandemic.
Exclusion of residents from economic recovery efforts is being driven by both lack of knowledge about the magnitude of the burdens these neighborhoods bear as well as racialized politics that have demonized far too many residents and painted them as unworthy of assistance. Either way, we have a humanitarian crisis that must be addressed.
It is imperative that states take the lead to ensure no one is left out of the recovery. This requires recovery programs focused on those who are at highest risk of not receiving federal COVID-19 relief. Further, states should create a wage replacement program for those ineligible for unemployment insurance. States must also impose accountability measures, such as collecting and analyzing data for demographic groups and neighborhoods to ensure COVID-19 relief is actually reaching those most in need.
No one is exempt from this deadly virus, but those with the least resources will carry the heaviest burden if we fail to act. Our nation, states and local communities have a stake in resolving this crisis, and our moral compass and ability to thrive in the future depends upon our leaders making the right choices now.
The reaction among Georgia business owners and public officials to Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen some businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic has been decidedly mixed.
Some business owners welcomed the opportunity to reopen their doors, grateful to be able to avoid layoffs, while others questioned the parameters outlined by the state and whether they are enough to protect customers and staff.
Sabra Dupree, owner of Kids Kuts Salon in Marietta, where she lives, said her business will operate quite differently when it reopens Friday.
Instead of eight workstations, the salon will now have six. She rearranged them so they are more than several feet apart. And rather than have as many as five stylists on the floor at a time, no more than two will be scheduled to work each day. Dupree said she will also be checking customers’ temperatures before letting them inside the salon. Anyone with a fever will be turned away. Everyone will be required to wear masks, and customers who do not have one have the option to buy one. She will also be monitoring employees’ health.
Dupree said she has removed all toys and books from the waiting area and was forced to temporarily lay off her receptionist to avoid having another person in the 1,000-square-foot shop. That decision was a painful one, because her staff and clients are like family to her, she said.
Dupree will no longer be taking walk-ins, and all reservations must be made online. Dupree said she has already lost about 25 percent of her annual profit while the salon has been closed.
She recognizes that not everyone supports the governor’s decision, announced Monday, which would allow gyms, bowling alleys, hair and nail salons and massage and tattoo parlors to reopen Friday if they follow strict social distancing and hygiene requirements.
“I have two stylists who won’t come in until they see if we have more cases,” she said, referring to the state’s coronavirus cases. “I don’t blame them.”
She also does not fault Kemp.
“I don’t think the governor is doing something wrong,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Because it’s your choice to stay home.”
Dupree, 56, said her husband, who works at an auto body shop, is deemed an essential worker, so she has not suffered as much financially as many of her stylists because of the shelter-in-place order. Dupree said she applied and was approved for a small-business loan through the Paycheck Protection Program and planned to help her staff with any money she received. But the program ran out of money in two weeks, before she received any aid.
She has accepted that this will be her new reality, she said. Any way you cut it, the salon had to adapt.
“I don’t foresee this setup will change in 90 days,” Dupree said. “I feel like my business as I know it is gone.”
Tara Villalvazo, 36, who lives in Acworth, a city in Cobb County, is a tattoo and permanent makeup artist. She owns Mystic Owl Tattoo in Marietta.
She said it was negligent for Kemp to allow businesses to reopen Friday, especially those like hers that provide personal care services. When she applies permanent makeup on customers, they breathe in her face.
“My question for him is, how do you tattoo someone who is 6 feet away?” she said.
Villalvazo said she fears for the safety of the entire state.
“It makes me scared for clients and other people who will open because they feel that it’s OK,” she said. “The fact that he said it’s OK to open doesn’t mean that the virus transmission is different or that less people will die.”
She said she stopped working before the governor issued a statewide shelter-in-place order and that supplies she uses, such as nitrile gloves, surgical masks and face shields, are now impossible to come by.
“I didn’t rely on his guidance to close. I sure as hell won’t be relying on him to tell me when to reopen,” she said.
Albany Mayor Bo Dorough, whose city is at the center of one of Georgia’s biggest outbreaks, said Kemp’s decision was dangerous.
“We are not ready for this,” he told NBC News on Tuesday, adding that “it is misguided for the governor to prevent local governments from implementing measures to protect the health and safety of their citizens.”
There were 60 people on ventilators in Albany, Dorough said Tuesday, and 15 funerals were held in Dougherty County over the weekend.
“It is a positive development that fewer people are being admitted with COVID symptoms,” Dorough said. “But we are not out of the woods, and it is irresponsible for the governor to take these measures.”
There were 19,981 coronavirus cases in Georgia on Tuesday, with 799 deaths.
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Dorough said he planned to ask the governor to make an exception for Albany. He also said he is sympathetic to people living paycheck to paycheck who want to return to work and to business owners worried that they could not survive the state shutdown.
“I understand the concerns that people have. I realized that is a factor that the governor considered,” Dorough said. “But as I’ve said before, he had a difficult decision. Unfortunately, I think he made the wrong one.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms both said in interviews that they had no warning of the governor’s decision to reopen.
Johnson said the decision is “not based in any type of science or best practices.” Bottoms said that the governor’s order supersedes anything she can do as mayor but that she will continue to ask Atlantans to stay at home.
“I understand it is extremely concerning when people don’t know how they will eat and how they will pay their bills, but these are concerns that you have when you are amongst the living,” Bottoms told ABC News. “And if we don’t continue to distance ourselves, if we don’t heed what we’ve seen happen in other cities, our population will be at risk.”
The biggest outbreak in the state came from two funerals in Albany, Bottoms said. “So for us to go back to opening up houses of worship just seems a bit premature to me,” she said.
Kemp said Monday that he was seeing “great improvement” in Albany. He said restaurants limited to takeout orders could return to limited dine-in service April 27.
Some businesses posted their decisions not to do so on social media.
Home.made, a restaurant in Athens, about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta, is one such business.
“Out of concern for the health of our staff, our customers, our families and our community, Home.made will continue with curbside service until this unprecedented health crisis is under control,” owner Mimi Maumus wrote in an announcement on the restaurant’s Instagram page. “We are eager to get back to work but cannot, in good conscience, participate in reopening.”
Autumn Weaver, 42, of Athens, a manager at the restaurant, said Maumus texted the staff shortly after the governor’s announcement to inform them that the restaurant would not offer dine-in service Monday. “The text put us all at ease,” Weaver said.
“All the information we have is for us to maintain social distancing to stay safe,” Weaver said. “The numbers still are fluctuating.”
Weaver said that before the pandemic, the restaurant had a staff of 30 people. It is now down to six employees.
“In the restaurant industry, within a couple of days, we went from business as normal to having to lay off the majority of our staff,” Weaver said. “To suddenly reverse course seems very counter to all the things medical experts are saying.”
Whether housebound Americans are preparing more of their own meals or turning to takeout and delivery, one thing is certain as coronavirus restrictions get extended: People are generating more food waste at home than they did when dining out was an option.
But there’s an eco-friendly fallback you can exercise for all the peels, grounds, expired lettuce and uneaten leftovers: composting at home. Thanks to a growing line of at-home compost bins and kits, you can turn a lot of your organic kitchen waste — and natural yard waste — into a nutrient-rich soil additive that helps plants grow. You’ll also be helping reduce your impact on the climate. We consulted experts about shopping for the best compost bins and other tips.
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Composting in a bin can help the environment
America has a food waste problem. Every year we throw out the equivalent of 30 million acres worth of crop production, or almost a pound of food per person per day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. Most of what’s discarded winds up in landfills, where it breaks down and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that experts say contributes to global warming.
And some cities that run food-scrap collections to divert organic waste from landfills have suspended them. “Due to the need to limit person-to-person contact and redirect personnel to essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak, all food scrap drop-off sites in the city … are closed until further notice,” agriculture charity organization GrowNYC shared on its blog in late March. So it’s not a bad time to take up composting, especially if new projects are part of your stay-at-home routine.
How to make compost: what goes in and what doesn’t
Compost is decayed organic matter including — but not limited to — food waste that is then used for fertilizer. The number and variety of yard, garden, kitchen, bath and other household items that can be composted might surprise you: The list ranges from moldy bread and pizza boxes to grass clippings and cotton balls, and it runs into the dozens, says Rhonda Sherman, who teaches about composting through North Carolina State University’s extension program and who wrote “The Worm Farmer’s Handbook” for businesses and other institutions that want to compost using “vermicomposting,” or worms. Most — but not all — kitchen waste can go into compost. “If you’re cleaning out your fridge, and you’ve got fruits and vegetables that have gone bad, those are great for composting,” says Jennifer Trent of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center at the University of Northern Iowa.
What should you avoid composting? As before, there’s a list. The experts we consulted advised against using meat and bone scraps or uneaten dairy products (eggshells are fine in compost). Dead leaves? Yes. Pine needles? No: Their waxy coating is harder to break down. Compost “is a resource,” says Jean Bonhotal, director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute and co-author of “Composting at Home.”
The food, leaves, and all those things are nutritional resources that the soil needs, and we can provide,” Bonhotal told NBC News.
How to use a compost bin
The first, easiest step towards composting at home is collecting your daily food waste in a bin or other container that keeps it separated from trash and recyclables as it accumulates.
“I advocate keeping it in the freezer,” says Sherman, who uses a pair of plastic shoe boxes. From there, the scraps go into your composting kit — typically a perforated or ventilated bin with a lid (for traditional composting) or a stacked set of trays (for composting with worms). Most are best when placed outdoors. You can make some work on porches and patios and, in some cases, indoors.
Inside the composter is where the actions begin, as materials mix together and decompose over a period of weeks and months. “Millions of micro- and macro-organisms are the work force,” Bonhotal and “Composting at Home” co-author Mary Scwartz wrote. For best results, your compost mass should to be a mix of waste that is:
- Nitrogen-rich, or “greens:” food scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings
- And carbon-rich, or “browns:” leaf mulch, straw, twigs
- And it may require some added moisture, experts say.
“All too often, I will walk into a situation where all I see is food piled up outside in a bin, and that really isn’t composting,” says Bonhotal. Trent recommends a 3:1 ratio of browns to greens, a.k.a. carbon-rich to nitrogen-rich materials. The NYC Master Compost Manual advises a 2:1 ratio.
Sherman says the food scraps should effectively be wrapped in the nitrogens because a compost heap that is all food and no foliage will create other problems — especially if it’s a bin-less, open-air pile. “It’s dense, smelly and wet, so if you only put that in your compost bin, it’s going to stink to high heaven,” she says, “and all the animals in the neighborhood are going to be heading for it.”
Worms for compost bins — or no worms?
If space is limited and traditional composting looks unwieldy, think about using worms. A worm composting bin is also known as a vermicomposter. With vermicomposting, earthworms that eat up to their own weight each day speed the conversion of organic waste into natural fertilizer euphemistically called worm castings. These pooping worms can accelerate the composting time frame from months to weeks, says Mary Murphy, PhD, a South Africa-based environmental educator with Great Britain’s University of Cambridge, and author of “Beginner’s Guide to Earthworm Farming.” “You let the little earthworms do what they’ve been doing for millennia without us; you’re simply giving them the space to do it in a productive and compact way,” says Murphy.
Worm composting kits are smaller and more adaptable to small or enclosed spaces because they don’t generate heat and gases. Traditional composting, in contrast, “releases moisture and carbon dioxide, and it’s just not suitable to have it in your home,” says Sherman. Worms also tolerate temperatures as high 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit), although Murphy says to keep their composting environments cooler. Given its benefits and versatility, worm composting also involves more moving parts than traditional composting — including the worms themselves, which you can buy online.
- Experts say worm composting requires more attention to variables such as bedding (coffee grounds) and a moistened top cover (wetted newspaper strips).
- And you don’t want to overfeed or starve your worms.
“With vermicomposting, you’re practicing earthworm husbandry,” says N.C. State’s Sherman. “You have to keep the worms alive. You have to understand the worms.” Worm care may seem a little daunting. But done properly, vermicomposting is “completely odorless,” virtually undetectable to would-be interlopers such as fruit flies and it generates less greenhouse gas than wormless composting, says Murphy. You’ll know when your efforts have yielded a good, soil-ready batch of compost:
- The food particles will be gone.
- It won’t stick to your hands.
- And, Murphy says, “It’ll smell like forest earth.”
Best compost bins
If you’re convinced and want to try your hand at composting, or have been doing so and looking to upgrade your setup, here are some of the best compost bins to shop for right now.
For smaller households producing food waste in lesser amounts, Norpro makes this compact, single-gallon receptacle in multiple colors if repurposed shoe bins or coffee cans aren’t for you. It’s made with lid holes for breathability and a countertop-friendly design for orderly storage of organic waste before it heads to your compost pile.
With 1.75 gallons of capacity, the OXO bin is also designed to be fitted with biodegradable bags that hold organic waste so it can either go out for curbside collection or migrate to a composting heap.
3. Natural Home Stainless Steel Compost Bin (limited availability)
Natural Home’s bin is itself made from recycled stainless steel, has a ventilated lid and holds up to 1.3 gallons of compostable food waste.
If keeping an open-air compost pile isn’t feasible, this hefty outdoor composting drum will hold and break down up to 82 gallons of the organic waste you collect around the home. The single-unit container body is made of recycled, all-weather materials. The animal- and pet-resistant lid is twistable for airflow adjustment, and a wide opening allows you to easily add or remove material and manage the mix of composting ingredients.
Nicknamed the “Yimby” (as in, “yes in my backyard”), this rotating composter on a metal stand promises hand-free mixing of your compost ingredients with regular turns of the container. The Yimby features a pair of adjoining, aerated drums with a combined capacity of 37 gallons, one each for organic waste at different stages of decomposition to produce a steady flow of compost to your garden soil.
The stackable Worm Factory is a set of four connected trays in which worms level up, a tier at a time, as they finish their eating in one environment and then climb to the next. The Worm Factory also collects moisture — the “compost tea” generated by the work of these industrious little annelids — that can be tapped from a spigot at the bottom and used on garden soil.
Urban Worm dispenses with the worm-condo model of composting for a roomy, zippered fabric container that is suspended from a metal and plastic frame. Recommended for indoor use, the Urban Worm Bag also boasts more room than standard worm farms. Breathable fabric with zippers allow for moisture control. Drawstrings enable simple collection of finished compost from the bottom of the bag.