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getting stimulus

Stimulus Deal Getting Closer, But There’s More Work To Be Done – Forbes

Only in Washington can politicians slowly make progress toward a stimulus deal while pounding the table and accusing the other side of being unreasonable. Yet even with negotiations over the next stimulus package at a standstill, the two sides moved $500 billion closer to a deal last week.

Here’s what happened and what’s left to be done.

Stimulus Deal getting closer

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Stimulus Negotiations Update

Last week the big news on a stimulus package was a telephone call between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Following the 25-minute call, both sides offered little hope. Speaker Pelosi said the parties were at a “tragic impasse.” Mr. Meadows said stalled negotiations were due to Speaker Pelosi’s “fantasy objections” and that she wouldn’t explain what her offer would fund.

Move past the sound bites, however, and one can see real progress toward a deal. Recall that the starting positions were $3.4 trillion in the Heroes Act passed by House Democrats and $1 trillion in the HEALS Act introduced by Senate Republicans. During negotiations in early August, Speaker Pelosi offered to come down to $2.4 trillion if Republicans would come up to $2 trillion. That offer was rejected.

At the same time, Republicans offered to come up on specific issues, such as unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments. Democrats rejected this proposal.

Following the call last week, however, Speaker Pelosi reduced her proposal by $200 billion, down to $2.2 trillion.

“We have said again and again that we are willing to come down [and] meet them in the middle,” Speaker Pelosi said to reporters. “That would be $2.2 trillion. When they’re ready to do that, we’ll be ready to discuss and negotiate. I did not get that impression on that call.”

At the same time, Mr. Meadows came up $300 billion, saying the President would sign a $1.3 trillion package: “The president right now is willing to sign something at $1.3 trillion,” Meadows told reporters. He also said that this number had been offered to Democrats.

So while both sides continue to wage a war of words, they did make meaningful progress toward a deal last week.

Stimulus Deal Negotiations Going Forward

While $500 billion is significant progress, there is one fundamental disagreement over how to approach further negotiations. Republicans want to evaluate and negotiate each major piece of the stimulus package. This was evident in past negotiations where Republican negotiators made offers on specific pieces of the legislation, such as unemployment benefits and state and local government funding.

In contrast, Democrats want to focus on the top line number. They want to reach agreement on the total cost of the package and then fill in the details later. This was evident in their offer to compromise on the overall cost of the next stimulus package.

The different negotiating strategies bubbled to the surface this week. Mr. Meadows described this in an interview following his call with the Speaker. According to Mr. Meadows, he asked the Speaker during the call what was in her $2.2. trillion proposal, and she wouldn’t tell him.

“I had a conversation with Speaker Pelosi. And even on her $2.2 trillion counter offer, she can’t tell the American people, nor me, what is in that,” Meadows said. As reported by The Hill, Meadows added: “I said,’What does the $2.2 trillion represent?’ You know what her response was? ‘I’m not going to tell you. Let me fill in the blanks.’ That’s not a proper negotiation, [nor] is it anything that the American people accept.”

A representative for Speaker Pelosi responded saying that these comments mischaracterized their discussions. They also claimed that Mr. Meadows was unwilling to break down the costs of the Republican proposal.

Resolving the different approaches to further negotiations is critical. If they can get past this hurdle, there’s one element of the stimulus bill that could go a long way to helping the parties reach a final agreement—aid to state and local governments.

How to Bridge the $900 Billion Gap

Aid to state and local governments represents $915 billion of the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act. In contrast, the Republicans have offered $150 billion. Thus, this issue alone represents $765 billion of the $900 billion divide. To date, Speaker Pelosi has been unwilling to reduce this figure, even while proposing that the overall package come down by more than $1 trillion. It’s here, however, that potential compromise may be found. Here’s why.

Simply put, state and local governments don’t need $915 billion, or anything close to that figure. Moody’s Analytics puts the budget shortfall at $500 billion. And that’s not what state and local governments need now, it’s their budget shortfall over the next two years. Even if the federal government covered this entire shortfall, it would close the gap by over $400 billion. An agreement to cover just the next year’s state and local government budget shortfall would narrow the gap even further. Such a deal would require both sides to compromise.

Here it’s worth noting that stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits also help state and local governments. Stimulus checks bolster spending, which generates sales tax for most states. Unemployment benefits, in addition to increasing spending, also represent taxable income, benefiting those states that levy income tax. These benefits also help homeowners pay their mortgage, which in part goes to real estate taxes. And the federal government has already provided over $765 billion in federal coronavirus spending to state and local governments.

Related: $300 Unemployment Benefit Update

Some Democrats Getting Impatient

The question remains what, if anything, will incentivize either side to compromise further. Some House Democrats have urged Speaker Pelosi to reach an agreement. More than 100 House Democrats have signed public letters imploring her to find a solution to the impasse and to move forward on certain components of a stimulus deal.

For the Republicans, a stimulus deal could help some Senators at risk of losing their seats. Some believe the Republicans could lose the Senate, and a continued stalemate on another round of stimulus wouldn’t help their cause.

There’s clearly more work to be done on both sides. The $500 billion progress we saw last week was a positive step toward a stimulus deal. It remains to be seen how and when the parties make further progress.

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Coronavirus getting

Getting a coronavirus vaccine in record time is hard. Distributing it to tens of millions may be equally daunting. – The Washington Post

Getting shots into the arms of millions of Americans is a massive undertaking, they say, requiring extraordinary coordination, planning and communication. But with only six months to the government’s target date for approving a vaccine, the administration has shared limited and often confusing information about its plans for distribution, making it difficult for overwhelmed state and local officials, including those who run immunization programs, to prepare.

“It’s probably the hardest thing they’re going to do,” Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of a federal vaccine advisory group, said of the effort to distribute vaccines to every corner of America and immunize as many people as quickly as possible.

At a recent briefing for the advisory group by Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s effort to fast-track development of coronavirus countermeasures, Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, who oversees logistics, said the military would move vaccines onto trucks for distribution “the day after” the drugs received regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Offit recalled.

But Offit said that, based on the administration’s inability to develop a national testing strategy, secure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and deliver a consistent message about wearing face masks, the question he wanted to ask Ostrowski but didn’t have the chance was basic: “Given that the administration efforts have largely been failures, what makes you think this will work?”

Other experts expressed similar worries.

“This is a slow-motion train wreck,” said one state official who has been involved in planning efforts and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The official pointed in particular to the administration’s botched rollout of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that is one of the only approved treatments for covid-19 patients. “There’s certainly a lot of concern, and not being able to plan creates a significant amount of confusion,” the official said.

The National Governors Association, a policy group representing both Republican and Democratic executives, urged governors Monday to start planning for the vaccine effort now, noting the “high degree of uncertainty as to the exact processes and procedures that will be used for operations, administration, and logistics,” according to a policy memo.

“Immunizing the U.S. population against covid-19 will likely require the single largest vaccination campaign ever undertaken,” the memo said.

Administration officials said coordination efforts are underway to address these concerns.

“Our team is working relentlessly and deliberately to deliver substantial quantities of a safe and effective vaccine to Americans,” a senior administration official said at a briefing Thursday organized by the Health and Human Services department, the lead agency for the pandemic response. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, part of the ground rules set by HHS officials.

HHS and the Defense Department have a “synergistic teamwork” in logistics and planning that allow officials to assess risk and potential delays, and “address them accordingly,” the official said.

Trump administration officials have repeatedly stressed the military’s role in vaccine distribution. But they have offered few specifics, and the military has never been significantly involved in a modern civilian vaccination campaign, experts said. Public health officials worry that the lack of clarity about the plan, or the military’s role, could undermine the increasingly tenuous confidence in vaccines and the public health authorities that tout them. That is especially true among underserved African American communities and other communities of color, where trust in medical and political systems is already strained, and where people are most at risk of getting severe illness and dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

About 7 in 10 Americans say they would get a vaccine to protect against the novel coronavirus if immunizations were free and available to everyone, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll in late May. But 1 in 7 Americans said they would not get it because they distrust vaccines in general.

Even if one or more vaccines are approved later this year or early next, as many hope, the logistics surrounding their distribution are formidable.

Multiple vaccines may be available at the same time, with different requirements for use and storage. Some may require two shots. Health-care providers and officials will need to make sure that someone getting the first dose of vaccine A gets the appropriate second dose of the same vaccine.

Until recently, federal officials had not spelled out whether they planned to create a new system for distributing coronavirus vaccines, or stick with the existing infrastructure. The traditional vaccination programs, operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the states, routinely distribute millions of doses of childhood vaccines every year.

During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the CDC scaled up the system to distribute H1N1 vaccine to states. But overly optimistic projections of supply during the second wave of the pandemic in October 2009 resulted in high demand and only limited vaccine doses. By the time an adequate supply of vaccine arrived, demand had fallen.

Whatever systems are ultimately deployed, they will need to “track the supply, manage the allocation equitably around the country, deal with concerns with vaccine that arise, track adverse events, and communicate clearly and transparently,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which has released a report about enhancing public trust in coronavirus vaccination.

“There is so much planning to do, and not much time,” he said. “That preparation needs to be happening right now.”

State officials say they also don’t have a clear picture of how much responsibility they will have to shoulder at a time when the federal government has shifted virtually every aspect of the pandemic response to them.

“I feel like there’s an assumption they need to solve all these problems at the federal level, then communicate to the states, when that’s really not what needs to happen,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, which represents directors of public health immunization programs in the states and territories. “We’re not asking for answers. We’re asking to sit down at the table and work them out. … There’s just an assumption that we’ll get some contracts, and ‘yeah, everything will be great.’ ”

Kristen Ehresmann, director of the infectious-disease epidemiology division at the Minnesota Department of Health, likened the existing infrastructure to a dirt road “that got us to where we need to go.” For the coronavirus vaccine, the government can build on that, “pave the road, make it better,” she said. “But it doesn’t make sense to clear trees and create a new road.”

In its policy memo, the NGA called mass dispensing of a vaccine a “major undertaking.” State officials may need to lease warehouse space and secure freezers or refrigerators for vaccine storage, said Lauren Stienstra, a program director at the governors’ group.

“We would hate, after all the development for a vaccine, to have it expire or be mishandled somehow or become wasted as result of lack of planning,” she said.

State officials are also concerned about shortages of needles and vials, she said, noting an uptick in purchase of those items by some states. Given that states competed with each other for personal protective equipment, “our worry going into this scenario is that you will have state-on-state competition for things like syringes,” Stienstra said.

The administration’s plan has become somewhat clearer in recent days. Late last week, CDC outlined a distribution plan in a meeting with immunization groups that uses a model similar to the public health infrastructure used for the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic, according to participants and the NGA memo.

In that plan, manufacturers would deliver vaccine to a central distributor, and states and territories would receive weekly allocations. Places that administer the shots — including private providers and clinics — would send requests for vaccine to state officials, who would prioritize and approve them.

The vaccine would then be sent directly from the central distributor to the receiving location “via contracts arranged by the Defense Logistics Agency,” according to the NGA memo.

Additional supplies of vaccine will be made to “select private partners (likely major retail clinics such as CVS and Walgreens) to expand access,” the memo said.

But the same day as the CDC meeting, senior administration officials described to reporters a process that seemed to give the Defense Department a more prominent role. Vaccine distribution would be a “joint venture” between the Defense Department and CDC that would “combine the best of both agencies,” one senior official said.

The official added: “The DoD is handling all the logistics of getting the vaccines to the right place, at the right time, in the right conditions.” When initial limited doses become available, officials aren’t going to wait for vaccine orders to arrive. “We are going to be pushing the vaccines out to, hopefully, to nursing homes, to seniors who are not ambulatory,” the official said, referring to priority groups at high-risk for covid-19.

Defense would also prepare kits of needles and syringes. He noted that in some cases, when suppliers have said it would take six weeks to get necessary metal to make needles, the government has sent a plane to pick up metal “and have it there in 48 hours.”

In this hybrid model, the CDC, which maintains a vaccine ordering and distribution system for routine immunizations, would be involved in tracking patients after vaccination, the official said. The government is also planning to award additional contracts to help “bring together both the CDC IT capabilities, as well as some new applications that we’re going to need that the CDC never had,” he said.

Jim Blumenstock, who oversees health security for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said the confusion stems from lack of information. What he knows comes from two telephone calls with Warp Speed’s Ostrowski and two webinars with CDC officials.

Information needs to be formally documented and shared so it won’t be misinterpreted or misunderstood, he said.

“We’re assuming at the end of the day, the delineation of lines of authority will be coordinated and transparent, and those of us in the field will have a clear understanding of how it’s going to play out,” he said. “Every day we have more confidence, but we still have a ways to go.”

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getting Starbucks

Starbucks is getting rid of the most annoying thing about Starbucks Rewards – CNN

New York (CNN Business)This fall, you’ll be able to pay for Starbucks drinks on your app using — get this — a credit card, Apple Pay, Google Pay or even cash. And yes, you’ll still be able to collect stars for rewards.

Starbucks (SBUX) regulars are familiar with reload panic. For years, customers have been required to load money onto a Starbucks card to buy food and drinks through the app and collect rewards. Although the app lets customers reload funds automatically when their balance is too low, they can’t currently opt to pay for the transaction directly from a credit or debit card — or cash.
That’s going to change in a few months, when Starbucks tweaks its Rewards program this fall. But wait — there’s a catch!
Customers in the United States and Canada will be able to pay Starbucks for the amount of their order directly from whatever payment method they choose. They’ll also be able to order from the app and choose to pay by handing a barista a physical credit card or cash.
But they’ll receive only half the number of stars by using these new “alternative” payment methods.
Starbucks customers get two stars per dollar for purchasing items on the app using a Starbucks card or gift card. That will continue in the fall. But paying directly with cash, a credit card or other payment methods will give customers just one star per dollar.
The company said the new options are in response to customer feedback, and it hopes to widen its customer base by expanding payment choices.
“Our customers have shared with us that they would like more options to pay and earn Stars in the app as a Starbucks Rewards member, in addition to the Starbucks Card,” said Brady Brewer, Starbucks chief marketing officer, in a statement.
The Starbucks app was among the first and most successful rewards apps. It drives loyalty by giving customers deals and free food for purchases. Starbucks collects purchase data and determines which beverages are popular where — and when. The company can use this information to drive sales in off hours: For example, Starbucks has begun introducing “happy hours” some afternoons, using the app to push notifications to customers.
Curing the coronavirus pandemic, some Starbucks stores have gone mobile-only, restricting purchases to customers who purchased their orders in advance on the app.

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getting NASA's

Getting NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover to Launch During the COVID-19 Pandemic – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Getting NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover to Launch During the COVID-19 Pandemic – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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getting humid

It’s already getting too hot and humid in some places for humans to survive – The Verge

A combination of heat and humidity so extreme that it’s unendurable isn’t just a problem for the future — those conditions are already here, a new study finds. Off-the-chart readings that were previously thought to be nearly nonexistent on the planet today have popped up around the globe, and unyielding temperatures are becoming more common.

Extreme conditions reaching roughly 115 degrees Fahrenheit on the heat-index scale — a measurement of both heat and humidity that’s often referred to as what the temperature “feels like” — doubled between 1979 and 2017, the study found. Humidity and heat are a particularly deadly combination, since humidity messes with the body’s ability to cool itself off by sweating. The findings imply that harsh conditions that scientists foresaw as an impending result of climate change are becoming reality sooner than expected.

“We may be closer to a real tipping point on this than we think,” Radley Horton, co-author of the new study published today in the journal Science Advances, said in a statement. His previous research had projected that the world wouldn’t experience heat and humidity beyond human tolerance for decades.

More intense and frequent heat events are one of the symptoms of climate change, a lot of research has shown. But most of those studies were based on readings that looked at averages over a wide area over a long period of time. Instead, Horton and his co-authors looked closely at hourly data from 7,877 weather stations around the world. They used the “wet bulb” centigrade scale, which measures other factors such as wind speed and solar radiation on top of heat and humidity.

That’s how they found more than a thousand readings of severe heat and humidity, reaching wet bulb readings of 31 degrees Celsius, that were previously thought to be very rare. Along the Persian Gulf, they saw more than a dozen readings above what’s thought to be the human tolerance limit of 35 degrees Celsius on the wet bulb scale. That’s the highest wet bulb reading that scientific literature has ever documented. In 2015, the city of Bandar Mahshahr in Iran experienced a wet bulb reading just under 35 degrees Celsius. At more than 160 degrees Fahrenheit on the heat-index scale, that’s about 30 degrees higher than where the National Weather Service’s heat-index range ends — and it’s a scenario that climate models hadn’t forecast to happen until the middle of the century.

Spells of extreme humid heat were also witnessed across Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America and were generally clustered along the coasts. The US Gulf Coast was particularly hard-hit. The region saw dozens of instances of conditions reaching levels not expected to take place for decades. Severe conditions only lasted hours and were often only in small areas, but these bouts are becoming more frequent and more intense, the researchers say.

They make the case that future studies ought to take a similarly localized look to get a better understanding of how climate change is playing out in communities that will feel the crunch ahead of the rest of the world. A Pulitzer prize-winning series by The Washington Post took this sort of approach in a series about places where average temperatures have already risen 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold at which the Paris climate accord aims to keep the globe from surpassing.

“If you zoom in you see things that you don’t see at a larger scale,” says Colin Raymond, lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “At the smallest scale, it’s more intense.” One of the limitations to their study, according to Raymond, is that there are places across the globe that simply lack weather stations. So what they were able to document could be happening at an even wider scale, there just aren’t tools in place yet to make those measurements everywhere.

Extreme heat already kills more people in the US than any other weather-related event.

In 50 years, between 1 to 3 billion people could find themselves living in temperatures so hot that they’re outside the range in which humans have been able to thrive, found another study published this week. Just how many billions will face that future depends on what action is taken now to stop the planet from dangerously overheating.

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