FEDERAL STIMULUS AIM IS TO HELP THE NEEDY, NOT ENRICH THE GREEDY: Most basically, the hope is that families in need will spend the $1,200 per adult on making sure, as far as it will go, the basics of life are taken care of – shelter, food and health. There’s plenty of advice for those who may be in a position to share some of their stimulus check with organizations that help those in need. But some North Carolinians and others across the nation are discovering someone else has already decided what will happen to those stimulus funds – and grabbed them within seconds of the funds arriving in a bank account. Banks, lending institutions, debt collectors and others are making claim. Consumer advocates, members of Congress who voted for the legislation and 25 state attorneys general – including North Carolina’s Josh Stein – say that’s wrong. They’re right. This is meant to help wage-earners live – not provide relief to big financial institutions, commercial lenders and debt collection agencies.
CRISIS SHOWS NEED TO STEM NC HUNGER: As this food crisis touches people who previously didn’t worry about finding food, It should drive new thinking about how to end hunger that is widespread in North Carolina even in ordinary times. Among the steps that could help would be a higher state minimum wage, a sharp reduction in food waste, tax incentives to eliminate food deserts, cutting the red tape that makes it hard for small local farmers to sell their products and more generous funding for low-income people to buy food. N.C. State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues presented an online forum last week on the topic “Food and hunger in North Carolina in the time of pandemic.” It presented sobering statistics about how the coronavirus crisis is striking a state where access to food was already a problem for many. According to those statistics, one in seven adults in North Carolina is “food insecure,” meaning they sometimes don’t know where their next meal will come from. For children, it’s worse. One in five are food insecure and one in four children of color. A 2017 analysis of USDA data by Bread for the World listed North Carolina among the nation’s 10 hungriest states.
DAN MCCREADY: ELECTION FRAUD IS PART OF THE REPUBLICAN PLAYBOOK: As I learned, the Republicans take a conveniently uneven approach to fraud. They claim that voters commit fraud, even though it almost never happens, but when one of their own was caught committing fraud against the voters, they weren’t concerned. In fact, it’s important to see their talk of “voter fraud” for what it is: one more page from the Republican Party’s elections playbook, not all that different from its efforts to selectively restrict voting. Right now, at the state level, administration-loyal Republicans are pushing technical changes to election laws that seem small but are big enough to tilt close elections in their favor: for example, purging infrequent voters (who tend to lean Democratic) from the rolls and making it easier to reject absentee ballots (which burdens young people and minorities in the Democratic base). In Wisconsin, it was Republicans who fought against postponing the primary election and extending mail-in voting. And look what happened: In Milwaukee, a coronavirus hot spot, only five of 180 polling sites were open; black and Hispanic voters suffered overwhelmingly. Republicans’ voter suppression should come as no surprise. It’s long been part of the party’s playbook in places like North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled legislature cut back early in-person voting, imposed vicious racial and partisan gerrymandering in districts like mine, and passed a voter ID law that a court found would “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
FAILING TO HELP THOSE WHO NEED IT THE MOST: As the federal government hastens to distribute trillions of dollars to soften the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, a troubling pattern is increasingly clear: Money is not reaching many of those Americans who are in greatest need. Millions of lower-income households are still waiting for the federal stimulus payments that have landed in the bank accounts of middle-class families. Many who lost jobs are struggling to register for unemployment benefits. Only a quarter of small businesses have received federal aid. For the second time since the crisis began, the end of a month is approaching, and bills are coming due. For all the government has done so far, it is starkly clear that more is required. The government’s bailout program for small business suffers similar problems. Congress provided $349 billion in late March, which experts warned was grossly insufficient. Indeed, just 1.6 million companies — or about 26 percent of eligible small businesses — received aid before the money was exhausted. And the winners tended to be larger firms. The program was advertised as first-come, first-served, but larger firms enjoyed a number of important advantages. They were better equipped to complete necessary paperwork. Banks prioritized companies that already numbered among their borrowers. JPMorgan, the nation’s largest bank, created two check-in lines — one reserved for its larger clients. Lawmakers could have addressed the inequities by providing enough money to meet the need. Instead, Congress on Thursday authorized another $310 billion in aid, which analysts say will soon be exhausted, too.
THE COST OF TRUMP'S DEADLY STATE OF DENIAL: President Trump has been stumbling through a year of magical thinking. The consequences of this deadly state of denial have been catastrophic for pandemic victims and the U.S. economy. In January, Trump said the coronavirus threat was “one person coming in from China”: “We have it totally under control . . . it’s going to be just fine.” But the president’s intelligence community had been warning him for weeks about the coming threat when he made that spurious claim. In February, Trump predicted the virus would go away by April. “It’s like a miracle. It will disappear.” That reckless prediction also came weeks after White House staff warned the virus could imperil millions of Americans’ lives while costing the U.S. economy trillions of dollars. In March, the president told worried Republican senators to “just stay calm” because “it will go away.” Trump spent much of that month ignoring Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, by declaring that the untested use of a malaria drug to treat covid-19 could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” This week, the Food and Drug Administration had to warn Americans against the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus because it caused “serious heart rhythm problems.” Throughout April, Trump’s magical thinking continued full force, with the flustered president assuring reporters this week that covid-19 “might not come back at all” this fall. Fauci again had to correct the president’s spurious claims. The next day, Trump publicly peppered his staff and medical team about imagined benefits of ingesting disinfectants and implanting lights for pandemic patients. Once again, Trump’s own administration had to warn the public against believing the president’s ramblings.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
MARGOT LESTER: PANDEMIC HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED TO EXPAND MEDICAID: Over the last decade, thousands of North Carolinians, myself included, have spoken out about the dire need to expand Medicaid in our state. Expansion would provide residents greater access to health insurance, infuse money and resources into our health care system, and support hospitals and job creation in rural communities. As an HIV advocate and AIDS Action Network volunteer, I’ve heard directly from residents living with HIV that Medicaid expansion will improve their overall health, reduce chronic illness and the need for resource-intensive care, and provide increased access to testing. The COVID-19 crisis makes the need for coverage even more urgent. There are more than 1 million uninsured people in North Carolina and that figure will rise dramatically as more people lose their jobs. Regardless of what some legislators felt before, there is now no excuse not to close the gap. As the N.C. General Assembly holds regular virtual meetings to address the pandemic, Medicaid expansion must be part of their response.
KRISTA EARLY: THE EPA'S NEW "DIRTY WATER RULE" NEEDS TO BE STOPPED: The EPA just finalized a rule that leaves N.C. waterways, like the Cape Fear River, more vulnerable to pollution and puts our drinking water at risk. The move strips federal protection from thousands of N.C. wetlands and streams, an unprecedented weakening of the Clean Water Act. We’ve made such progress in cleaning up and protecting our waters. But that progress will be at risk if nearby streams and wetlands become degraded and polluted. The Dirty Water Rule removes Clean Water Act protections for many streams that help provide drinking water to North Carolinians and millions of Americans across the country. The Dirty Water Rule defies common sense, sound science, and 50 years of bipartisan support for clean water. This is just plain wrong. Clean water is vital for our health, our way of life, and for nature itself. We cannot rest until protections for N.C. waterways are restored.
LAURA SHAW: I AM A NURSE, HEAR ME: I’ve been in health care since 2011. As a registered nurse, I’ve watched people die with no one but nurses by their side. I’ve zipped dozens of body bags. Those deaths live with me but don’t break me. To those of you shouting for massive re-openings of society, who question the legality of shutdowns, and who really need a haircut - I hear you. Everyone in health care hears you. For once, the health care industry is being bluntly transparent - we can’t handle a massive surge of extremely sick patients. At best, we want the people we care for to return to their families and live long and healthy lives. At minimum, we want them to have a pain-free death with loved ones by their side. It breaks us when we can’t give our patients enough. Please consider how broken we will collectively be if a large group of people all become gravely ill and we can’t save every one. Imagine that we are so overrun we can’t treat your pain quickly or we have to prioritize the life of another over keeping you comfortable in your moments of suffering. Please help keep us from breaking.