COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Stimulus Checks Substantially Reduced Hardship, Study Shows
In offering most Americans two more rounds of stimulus checks in the past six months, totaling $2,000 a person, the federal government effectively conducted a huge experiment in safety net policy. Supporters said a quick, broad outpouring of cash would ease the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Skeptics called the policy wasteful and expensive.

The aid followed an earlier round of stimulus checks, sent a year ago, and the results are being scrutinized for lessons on how to help the needy in less extraordinary times.

A new analysis of Census Bureau surveys argues that the two latest rounds of aid significantly improved Americans’ ability to buy food and pay household bills and reduced anxiety and depression, with the largest benefits going to the poorest households and those with children. The analysis offers the fullest look at hardship reduction under the stimulus aid.

Among households with children, reports of food shortages fell 42 percent from January through April. A broader gauge of financial instability fell 43 percent. Among all households, frequent anxiety and depression fell by more than 20 percent.

While the economic rebound and other forms of aid no doubt also helped, the largest declines in measures of hardship coincided with the $600 checks that reached most people in January and the $1,400 checks mostly distributed in April.
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A Venezuelan ring is accused of stealing over $800,000 worth of stimulus checks during the pandemic
  • The Miami Herald reported a Venezuelan ring is accused of stealing over $800,000 in stimulus checks.
  • The FBI has been investigating the ring since January, which was also charged with identity theft.
  • Biden has not yet said if more stimulus checks are on the way amidst calls from Democrats urging him to do so.
Since the start of the pandemic, the government has distributed three rounds of stimulus checks to Americans in order to help prompt economic and financial recovery. But a ring of Venezuelans might have prevented hundreds of people from receiving those checks.

The Miami Herald reported on Wednesday that Venezuelans living in South Florida and Mexico have stolen over $800,000 in stimulus checks since the start of the pandemic, according to federal authorities. The feds have so far charged Jesus Felipe Linares Andrade for conspiring to steal government money, along with identity theft, and prosecutors in South Florida said Linares could have as many as four other "co-conspirators."

Linares was arrested in May and pleaded not guilty after being caught in an undercover FBI operation in which he, and his conspirators, stole checks in South Florida and Mexico and created fake IDs to correspond with the names of actual US taxpayers.

According to the Herald, an FBI informant met with one of the conspirators in January to discuss cashing about 30 stimulus checks totaling to $36,000. Then, in April, Linares met with two FBI informants to make arrangements to pick up a package with 416 more stimulus checks worth about $249,000.

The meetings continued through April and eventually totaled to over $800,000 in stolen stimulus payments.

"During the meeting [in April], Linares placed an envelope in the vehicle containing over $150,000 in stolen U.S. Treasury checks and over 30 identification documents," the affidavit wrote. "The identification documents consisted of copies of driver's licenses, including Florida driver's licenses. Some of the names on the driver's license matched the names on the checks."

Linares is being held without bond.
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Republican Senate candidate in Ohio sets fire to a face mask indoors, claiming it demonstrates 'freedom'
  • GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel posted a wordless, 10-second video of himself setting fire to what appears to be a surgical face mask.
  • Standing in a nondescript stairwell, Mandel uses a lighter to set fire to the mask, which he then drops on the floor.
  • Mandel is attempting to position himself as the most far-right candidate in the GOP primary for Sen. Rob Portman's seat.
"FREEDOM," he tweeted with two emojis alongside the video.

The far-right candidate, who was formerly Ohio's state treasurer, has focused his campaign on culture war issues and attacking Republicans he believes are insufficiently conservatives, appealing to former President Donald Trump's base. He's called the proposed bipartisan January 6 Capitol riot commission "a sham and waste of taxpayer money," attacked transgender rights, and suggested that Dr. Anthony Fauci should be imprisoned.

"America was better in every single way under President Trump," Mandel recently tweeted.

Mandel and many other Trump-aligned Republicans have used opposition to masks and other COVID-19 mitigation practices to signal their conservatism and appeal to the GOP base.
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10,000 Volunteers Quit Tokyo Olympics Amid Covid Fears
About 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who had stepped forward to help with next month’s Tokyo Olympics have quit, the chief executive of the Games’ organizing committee said on Wednesday, amid rising worries about holding the event during the pandemic.

The chief executive, Toshiro Muto, told reporters that there was “no doubt” that volunteers were worried about becoming infected with the coronavirus, while some who quit cited personal reasons. About 1,000 volunteers withdrew in late February after Yoshiro Mori, who was then the organizing committee’s chairman, said that “Women talk too much in meetings.”

Mr. Muto said that there were still enough volunteers to assist with the Olympics and Paralympics, and that operations for both events would not be affected, since they have been streamlined.

Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary, confirmed Mr. Muto’s announcement on Thursday.

“I expect the organizing committee to take through anti infection measures for volunteers,” Mr. Kato said, “and they need to respond carefully to volunteers as well as Japanese people in regards to concrete infection prevention measures.”
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GOP states cutting $300 unemployment benefits early will cost local economies $12 billion because people will have less money to spend, a bipartisan congressional committee said
  • Ending unemployment benefits early could cost local economies dearly, a congressional committee said.
  • The 25 GOP states ending $300 weekly payments early could cost themselves a collective $12 billion, it said.
  • Texas alone could lose out on $3.51 billion in less than four months, the Joint Economic Committee said.
Cutting the benefit early could ultimately hamper economic recovery from the coronavirus because people would have less money to spend, the Congressional committee said.

So far, 25 states – all with GOP governors – have said that they're ending the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), introduced through the CARES Act, at least seven weeks before the national expiry date of September 5.

This would cut disposable income for local residents, the report said. The sooner states prematurely cut off FPUC, the more money their local economies stand to lose.

The committee estimated that every $1 in unemployment insurance generated $1.61 in local spending. This equated to more than $12 billion in total between June 19 to September 5, based on the expiry date and number of FPUC claims in the states cutting off benefits, it said.

Texas is set to lose the most local spending, at $3.51 billion, per the report. More than 1 million people – or 7.5% of its total labor force – received FPUC in April.

Texas is followed by Ohio, which could lose $1.91 billion, the committee said. Nearly 10% of its total labor force received FPUC in April.

Twenty of the states pulling the plug on FPUC are also ending the two other unemployment insurance schemes introduced through the CARES Act: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which the report said would cut spending even further.

"By ending these programs early, states are refusing billions of already appropriated federal dollars that could be spent in local groceries, restaurants, and retail shops," the committee said.

And it hit back at claims that unemployment benefits were suppressing reemployment. The average unemployment benefit plus the $300 supplement exceeds average weekly wages in only three states, an analysis by Insider found.

The committee said that, instead, concerns about the virus were the most likely reason why some people weren't reentering the workforce.

"Claims of worker scarcity are largely anecdotal and not supported by national data," the committee said in its report. It came just one day after the US Chamber of Commerce called the labor shortage a "national economic emergency" that's getting worse by the day.

The committee's report also cited a May 26 note from JPMorgan, which said that the decision to cut unemployment benefits was "tied to politics, not economics."

The committee said that unemployment insurance "played an important role in the recovery by stabilizing consumption and keeping jobseekers from dropping out of the labor force entirely."

It said that people would still be able to afford rent, food, and medications, and that the insurance would give them "the breathing room they need to find a better-paying job."
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia