Tuesday News: Spend it now


NC TO RECEIVE $700 MILLION IN RENTAL ASSISTANCE FROM STIMULUS: North Carolina could get nearly $700 million from the $25 billion in rental assistance included in the new COVID-19 relief bill that congressional leaders agreed on over the weekend. Part of the estimated $700 million will go to cities in the state with 200,000 or more people. The rest will go to the state government to disburse to more rural parts of North Carolina. Ninety percent of the estimated $700 million must be used for tenants’ past unpaid rent, future rent and utility payments. Payments can be made to the landlord or utility company if the state or municipality chooses to do so. If a landlord refuses the assistance, the money can be sent to the tenant to pay the landlord. Landlords can apply for the assistance on their tenant’s behalf, but the tenant must also sign the application and the funds must be used to pay the tenant’s rent.

WE CAN EXPECT A PRETTY BIG CHRISTMAS SURGE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES: Out of 20,000 people who signed up for a survey with the COVID-19 Community Research Partnership, half said they traveled or gathered with people outside their household at Thanksgiving. Among those, only 51 percent said they observed social distancing guidelines, only 37 percent said they wore masks and just 13 percent got tested for the virus beforehand. The survey, conducted by WakeMed, Campbell University, Vidant Health in Greenville, New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem and Atrium Health in Charlotte, also found that younger people were more likely than older people to disregard the health guidance. White respondents were more likely to get together with people outside their households than people in the Black and Latino communities, according to the survey. Ashley Rubio and her family went to RDU on Monday to pick up a cousin and her family flying in from Houston. "They made the decision; we didn’t," Rubio said. "We’re just trying to take as much precautions as we can." Austin Strickler said he wasn’t able to fly home to Salt Lake City last year because he was deployed to Korea. He said he wasn't worried about the virus. "I think that we’ve gotten it quite handled, compared to what it was in the earlier stages," Strickler said. Really, Austin?

FREE MARKET KILLS OLD PEOPLE, REPUBLICANS BLAME GOVERNOR COOPER: An investment firm has bought more than 20 nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to disruptions at multiple facilities that weakened care for vulnerable residents amid the worst health crisis in generations, interviews and documents show. From April through July, the New Jersey-based Portopiccolo Group — which buys troubled nursing homes and tries to make them profitable — paid hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire facilities in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere. Many of Portopiccolo’s existing facilities were struggling to contain outbreaks of the coronavirus when its leaders went seeking new properties, state health records show. At a Virginia nursing home, staff hosted a hallway dance party for residents in April, weeks after federal guidelines had cautioned against such events. Conditions were so bad at one North Carolina facility that it was placed on a federal watch list even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatched a strike team to help. At its new nursing homes in Maryland, Portopiccolo’s operating companies made major changes to insurance and time-off benefits, failed to buy enough supplies and protective equipment and asked some employees to keep working after testing positive for coronavirus, said 14 current and former employees from four of the eight facilities. Many veteran staffers quit as a result of the changes, said the employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals. Those who remained found themselves tending to dozens of residents at a time, the employees said. “It was hair on fire,” said Katrina Pearthree, a former social worker at two facilities purchased by Portopiccolo over the last 15 months. She resigned from her job after losing health insurance coverage and disagreeing with new managers on patient care.

POSTAL SERVICE IS PARALYZED, UNABLE TO DELIVER MANY XMAS PRESENTS: Competing crises are slamming the U.S. Postal Service just days before Christmas, imperiling the delivery of millions of packages, as the agency contends with spiking coronavirus cases in its workforce, unprecedented volumes of e-commerce orders and the continuing fallout from a hobbled cost-cutting program launched by the postmaster general. Nearly 19,000 of the agency’s 644,000 workers have called in sick or are isolating because of the virus, according to the American Postal Workers Union. Meanwhile, packages have stacked up inside some postal facilities, leading employees to push them aside to create narrow walkways on shop floors. Some processing plants are now refusing to accept new mail shipments. The backlogs are so pronounced that some managers have reached out to colleagues in hopes of diverting mail shipments to nearby facilities. But often, those places are full, too. Meanwhile, packages sit on trucks for days waiting for floor space to open so the loads can be sorted. Through Dec. 12, the start of the Postal Service’s busiest period for package deliveries, parcel volume was up 14 percent compared with the same period in 2019, the agency told mailing industry officials. That surge has employees in some areas working upward of 80 hours a week, including some who have worked every day since Thanksgiving without a weekend. In Philadelphia, people are scheduled to work Christmas Day, said one mail carrier, who like others in this report spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. The agency is receiving as many as 6 million packages a day since FedEx and UPS enacted restrictions on large-volume retail shippers in early December, according to industry tracking firm ShipMatrix.

OVER 20 JOURNALISTS WERE KILLED FOR DOING THEIR JOBS IN 2020: At least 30 journalists were killed worldwide this year, according to the watchdog group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, with 21 of those killings carried out as a direct response to the reporters’ work, compared to 10 in 2019. “It’s appalling that the murders of journalists have more than doubled in the last year, and this escalation represents a failure of the international community to confront the scourge of impunity,” Joel Simon, the C.P.J.’s executive director, said in a statement. While the total number of killings rose in 2020, the number of deaths related to conflict fell to its lowest level since 2000, according to the C.P.J., with waning violence in the Middle East and fewer reporters traveling because of the coronavirus pandemic. “The outlook is bleak,” said Leopoldo Maldonado, regional director for Mexico and Central America at Article 19, a British press freedom organization. “There is a specific intention to censor through violence,” Mr. Maldonado said, “and the subsequent impunity guarantees that these attacks are not punished.” While killings of journalists have rarely resulted in guilty verdicts in Mexico, two high-profile cases did bring convictions this year, including a 50-year prison sentence for the killer of the investigative journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea in 2017, according to the C.P.J. But in both cases, it was the hired guns who were convicted while those suspected of orchestrating the killings remain unpunished.