Posts tagged with "Biden Administration"

Biden Administration to launch website for free 500 million COVID-19 testing kits on Wednesday

January 19, 2022

The Biden Administration o is set to launch a website where Americans can order up to four free COVID-19 testing kits per person on Wednesday, January 19, according to a senior administration official, reports USA Today.

The tests—which represent part of the Biden Administration’s purchase of 500 million tests last month to help tackle a record surge in infections—will be delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, according to the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the announcement.

President Joe Biden announced earlier this week that his administration would double its order to 1 billion at-home COVID-19 tests amid a shortage of tests nationwide as U.S. cases spike. The second batch of testing kits will also be distributed for free through the website, officials said. 

The White House is ramping up efforts to make testing more accessible and affordable after facing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over the lack of inventory of COVID-19 tests as the highly transmissible omicron variant ripped across the country—shuttering schools, overwhelming hospitals, and frustrating Americans exhausted by two years of an ongoing pandemic.

Earlier this month, a group of Biden’s former health advisers released a series of articles calling for the administration to change its approach to combatting COVID-19 and urging Americans to learn to live with the virus after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came under fire for issuing confusing guidance on isolation. 

The administration so far has procured more than 420 million of the first order of tests and is working to finalize contracts for the remaining 80 million, according to an official.

The White House also plans to launch a call line to help those unable to access the website to place orders and will work with national and local community organizations to meet requests from the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities, according to officials.

Aside from the free tests available through the website, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight at-home tests per month for people through their insurance plans beginning Saturday, January 22. Americans will be able to either purchase tests for free through their insurance or submit receipts for reimbursement.

The president is also expected to announce next week the steps he’s taking to make high-quality masks available for free, but details of how those would be distributed are still unclear.

The latest White House effort comes as hospitalizations for COVID-19 are setting new records—with some hospitals delaying elective surgeries while states are deploying National Guard members to health care facilities.

The White House is also sending military medical teams to New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New Mexico to help confront a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Roughly one in five hospitals has reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA Today analysis found. One in four anticipated critical shortages within the next week.

Research contact: @USATODAY

Supreme Court blocks Biden’s vaccine-or-test rule for large employers

January 17, 2022

On Thursday, January13, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden Administration from enforcing its emergency rule mandating that workers at large businesses get vaccinated or undergo regular testing for COVID-19—a major setback for the president’s national vaccination effort, reports the HuffPost.

However, the court decided to allow the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally funded facilities.

The justices’ decision to intervene and halt one of the vaccine regulations has major public health implications amid a surge in coronavirus cases due to the omicron variant. The White House hoped the rule, issued through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), would protect workers against COVID-19 transmission and encourage holdouts to get vaccinated.

The justices ruled 6-3 in favor of halting OSHA’s vaccine-or-test rule, with the court’s six conservatives in the majority and the three liberals dissenting. They ruled 5-4 in favor of letting the healthcare rule proceed, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh breaking with their conservative colleagues to join the liberals.

The OSHA regulation requires that employers with at least 100 workers implement programs in which those workers show proof of vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test each week. The administration estimates it would cover 84 million workers, mostly in the private sector.

Enforcement of the testing provision was slated to begin on Febrary 9.

Business groups and state GOP officials filed lawsuits aimed at blocking the rule, arguing that it went beyond OSHA’s legal power and would hurt the economy by prompting workers to quit their jobs. Lower courts disagreed on whether the rule was within OSHA’s authority.

In their ruling, the majority said the opponents of the OSHA rule were likely to prevail in court, and so the justices’ decision prevents the rule from going into effect while the litigation plays out. In an opinion joined by justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that “Congress has nowhere clearly assigned so much power to OSHA” to institute such a requirement for employers.

“Yet that is precisely what the agency seeks to do now—regulate not just what happens inside the workplace but induce individuals to undertake a medical procedure that affects their lives outside the workplace,” Gorsuch wrote.

In their dissenting opinion, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said the court should leave such policies to the experts. By acting “outside of its competence and without legal basis,” they argued, the court was substituting its own judgment for that of the government officials tasked with responding to a crisis.

“If OSHA’s Standard is far-reaching—applying to many millions of American workers—it no more than reflects the scope of the crisis,” the justices wrote. “The Standard responds to a workplace health emergency unprecedented in the agency’s history: an infectious disease that has already killed hundreds of thousands and sickened millions.”

The court held a special session to hear oral arguments on the matter on January 7-—expediting the case as enforcement of the rule was about to begin. While the court’s three liberal justices seemed loath to undermine a public health regulation as COVID-19 cases were soaring, most of the conservative justices voiced skepticism of the rule, suggesting it should necessitate an act of Congress.

Alito wondered whether OSHA was trying to legally “squeeze an elephant through a mouse hole” by issuing the rule. Chief Justice John Roberts asked “why Congress doesn’t have a say in this.”

The Biden administration has argued that OSHA has the authority to issue the vaccine-or-test rule under its emergency powers, and that a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates such a sweeping regulation.

such as hepatitis B, influenza, and measles, mumps, and rubella,” they wrote.

Biden said in a statement Thursday that the ruling upholding the health care rule “will save lives,” including those of patients, nurses and doctors. He also said he was “disappointed” that the court blocked the OSHA regulation, saying it included “common-sense life-saving requirements” for employers.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Free and easy: Insurers will have to cover eight at-home virus tests per month

January 13, 2022

Private insurers soon will have to cover the cost of eight at-home coronavirus tests per member per month, the Biden Administration said on Monday, January 10, reports The New York Times.

Americans will be able to get the tests at their health plan’s “preferred” pharmacies and other retailers with no out-of-pocket costs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. They can also buy the tests elsewhere and file claims for reimbursement, just as they often do for medical care.

“Today’s action further removes financial barriers and expands access to COVID-19 tests for millions of people,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the Biden Administration’s Medicare and Medicaid chief, said in a statement about the new guidelines.

Roughly 150 million Americans, or about 45% of the population, are privately insured—mostly through their employers. Each enrolled dependent of the primary insurance holder counts as a member.

At out-of-network facilities, insurers’ responsibility would be capped at $12 per test, meaning people could be responsible for any additional costs.

But if a health plan does not establish a network of “preferred” retailers where patients can get tests covered upfront, it will be responsible for whatever claims its patients submit for their eight monthly rapid tests, with no limit on the price.

Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, said the policy could save families hundreds of dollars a month.

“I would love to see a more comprehensive national testing policy where these tests are free for everybody, regardless of insurance status,” she said. “Will it help everybody? No. It is definitely not the ideal way to lower barriers to COVID testing. But it is helpful.”

Rapid at-home tests are typically sold in packs of two, ranging in cost from about $14 to $34. That can be prohibitively expensive, especially when tests are purchased in bulk.

Some local governments in the United States have invested heavily in rapid testing to counter the latest wave of cases. Washington, D.C., which has experienced a substantial surge in virus cases, now allows residents to pick up four free rapid tests daily at libraries across the city.

The new Biden policy will not apply retroactively to at-home tests that Americans already have purchased. Tests ordered or administered by health providers will continue to be covered by insurance without any co-payment or deductible under a law requiring insurers to fully cover tests at doctor’s offices, public sites, and other facilities.

The Administration is working on other efforts to get coronavirus tests to people regardless of their insurance status—including a plan to deliver 500 million free rapid tests to the homes of Americans who order them, starting later this month.

That plan, along with the new rules for insurers announced Monday, is part of a broader effort by the Biden Administration in recent weeks to catch up to skyrocketing demand for rapid tests, as virus cases have exploded around the nation with the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Research contact: @nytimes

Biden Administration asks SCOTUS for consent to end Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ immigration policy

December 31, 2021

On Wednesday, December 29, the Biden Administration asked the Supreme Court for permission to end the Trump-era Remain in Mexico” program, which requires non-Mexican asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court dates,  reports CNN.

In August, a federal judge in Texas ordered the revival of the policy after the Department of Homeland Security attempted to end the program. An appeals court also ruled against the Administration, which began to re-implement the program earlier this month.

Under former President Donald Trump, thousands of migrants were subject to the program, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, which has resulted in migrants living in makeshift camps along Mexico’s northern border, often in squalor and dangerous conditions.

“In short, the lower courts have commanded DHS to implement and enforce the short-lived and controversial MPP program in perpetuity. And they have done so despite determinations by the politically accountable Executive Branch that MPP is not the best tool for deterring unlawful migration; that MPP exposes migrants to unacceptable risks; and that MPP detracts from the Executive’s foreign-relations efforts to manage regional migration,” the Administration wrote to the justices.

According to CNN, the filing also requests that the Supreme Court review the case this term, arguing that the appeals court ruling threatens to disrupt other cases where the government’s policies on issues like immigration detention and parole are challenged.

“Delaying review until next Term would likely postpone resolution of those critical issues until sometime in 2023. In the meantime, the government would be forced to continue negotiating with Mexico to maintain a controversial program that it has already twice determined is no longer in the best interests of the United States,” the filing reads.

The Supreme Court previously denied a request from the Administration that the program’s revival remain on hold while the case was appealed.

When the federal appeals court blocked President Joe Biden’s attempt to end the immigration program, it said the Administration’s efforts did not comply with the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets out specific processes that agencies must go through in unveiling new policies.

The court also said that the effort violated an immigration law that says noncitizens “shall” be detained or returned to the countries from which they arrived while their immigration proceedings move forward.

Research contact: @CNN

Biden Administration sets a January 4 vaccination deadline for 84M private sector workers

November 5, 2021

The Biden Administration said on Thursday, November 4, that large companies have until January 4 to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated under a sweeping new coronavirus health measure that will cover 84 million private sector wage earners, The New York Times reports.

The plan was first announced in September by President Joe Biden, who directed the Labor Department to invoke its emergency powers over the safety of workplaces to require businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations for all employees. Workers who refuse to get vaccinated must undergo weekly testing.

Also on Thursday, the administration unveiled new emergency regulations for healthcare workers—including those at nursing homes caring for elderly and sick residents who are at high risk for infection. All 17 million workers at healthcare facilities receiving either Medicare or Medicaid funding must be vaccinated by January 4.

Biden previously had imposed vaccine requirements on federal workers and companies that receive federal contracts.

But the new rule covering employees of all large private businesses is a more dramatic use of his executive power, prompting some state officials to criticize the move and threaten to try to stop it.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), an industry trade group that represents American retailers, including major chains; said on Thursday that a vaccine mandate from the Biden administration for large private employers would “impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season.”

“Retailers have consistently requested that the administration take public comment on this new vaccine mandate,” David French, the group’s senior vice president for government relations, said in a statement. “It is critical that the rule not cause unnecessary disruption to the economy, exacerbate the pre-existing work force shortage, or saddle retailers; who are already taking considerable steps to keep their employees and customers safe, with needless additional requirements and regulatory burdens.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Washington Post publisher asks White House to help evacuate 204 journalists, staff, families from Kabul

August 18, 2021

Three top U.S. newspapers—The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal— are seeking help from the Biden Administration in getting their staffs and their families out of Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover of the capital of Afghanistan, CNN reports.

The Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan emailed White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday, August 16, with an “urgent request on behalf of” his paper, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

Ryan asked to have the publications’ “204 journalists, support staff and families transported by U.S. Military from the civilian side of the Kabul airport to the military side of the airport where they can be safe as they await evacuation flights.”

“They are currently in danger and need the US government to get them to safety,” Ryan wrote. “Please advise as to how best to proceed.”

Later in the day, The Times published a separate group statement—signed by the publishers of each of the three papers and addressed specifically to Biden. The statement asks the President for protected access for their Afghan colleagues to a US-controlled airport, safe passage through a protected access gate and facilitated air movement out of Afghanistan.

Satellite images have shown significant crowds of people and traffic jams near the Kabul International Airport and at the tarmac. Witnesses at Hamid Karzai International Airport told CNN that thousands of people were there hoping to board flights out of the country.

Almar Latour, CEO of Dow Jones and Company and publisher of The Journal, echoed the urgency of Ryan’s plea for help in a statement to CNN.

“We can’t overemphasize the urgency of the situation,” Latour said. “Right now we are focused on seeking safe passage for our Afghan colleagues and their families who even now are bearing witness to events on the ground. We need the immediate support of the US government in bringing them to safety.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Executive Director Joel Simon recently made a case for helping the Afghan journalists “who do the lion’s share of the reporting for international news organizations, which have shrunk their bureaus as the American presence has diminished.”

“[U]nless the U.S. government intervenes to bring them to safety, an entire generation of reporters will be lost,” Simon wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post last week.

Last month, the CPJ and US media organizations asked the Biden Administration for humanitarian assistance and emergency visas for Afghan journalists. Signers of that July 20 letter included The Post, The Journal’s parent company Dow Jones; and The Times, as well as CNN.

The National Security Council and the White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment. Biden said in a speech from the White House East Room Monday that the United States is “expanding refugee access to cover other vulnerable Afghans who worked for our embassy, US non-government agencies, or US non-governmental organizations and Afghans who otherwise are at great risk in US news agencies.

Research contact: @CNN

Biden doubles FEMA funding for extreme weather preparations

May 25, 2021

The Biden Administration announced on May 24 that it will direct $1 billion toward the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s fund for extreme weather preparations—representing a 100 percent increase over existing funding levels, The Hill reports.

The budget increase will go to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which provides support for local, state, and tribal government preparation efforts.

The increase, and the program in general, are part of an effort to “categorically shift the federal focus” from responding to individual disasters on a case-by-case basis to “research-supported, proactive investment in community resilience,” the White House said.

“As climate change threatens to bring more extreme events like increased floods, sea level rise, and intensifying droughts and wildfires, it is our responsibility to better prepare and support communities, families, and businesses before disaster—not just after,” the administration said in a statement. “This includes investing in climate research to improve our understanding of these extreme weather events; [as well as] our decision-making on climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation. It also means ensuring that communities have the resources they need to build resilience prior to these crises.”

The additional funding comes after a sharp increase in major hurricanes in 2020, with a record high of 30 named storms and a dozen hurricanes or tropical storms that made landfall in the United States.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is projecting a heavier-than-average hurricane season in 2021. Between 13 and 20 named storms are likely—with six to 10 becoming full hurricanes and three to five becoming major hurricanes, according to the NOAA. These numbers would constitute the sixth above-average storm season in a row.

“Now is the time for communities along the coastline as well as inland to get prepared for the dangers that hurricanes can bring,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement last week.

Research contact: @thehill

Move to tax ultra-rich Americans gathers steam, as states and Biden Administration float plans

Narch 17, 2021

Several states are unveiling new tax proposals—adding to a wave of interest in taxing ultra-rich Americans and corporations being led by the Biden Administration and Senate Democrats, reports YahooFinance.

Lawmakers in California are considering a tax on extreme wealth that would impose an annual excise tax of 1% on those who have wealth exceeding $50 million per taxpayer and a 1.5% tax on those with wealth above $1 billion. The tax would raise an estimated $22.3 billion starting in 2023.

New York and Washington State also are looking at new taxation targeting ultra-wealthy individuals, notes Yahoo.

“This is the way that we get back to a California where everybody has an opportunity, and I don’t know a single business leader or moderate who doesn’t believe in that,” Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said during a press conference on Tuesday, March 16. “It’s time to do something about it and quit bitching, quite honestly.”

On a national level, the Biden Administration and Democratic lawmakers are floating several different tax measures related to higher taxes for wealthy Americans and corporations. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) recently reintroduced her proposal on taxing the ultra-rich.

“I know Senator Warren has put forward a wealth tax, and the president shares her view that middle-class families are paying more than their fair share and those at the top are not doing their part,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference on Monday, March 15. “Certainly he has that shared objective.”

The proposed wealth taxes in California and Washington State are similar to Warren’s plan and would impose an annual tax rate on income above certain thresholds.

“Since the start of the pandemic, billionaires have accumulated an additional $1.1 trillion in wealth,” Assembly Member Alex Lee (D-San Jose) said. “In order for California to really come back roaring, we need sizable investments in our communities… we’re proposing a modest 1% tax on households with net worths of over $15 million, and 1.5% on wealth over $1 billion.”

Critics of the wealth tax say it may be difficult to calculate and be enforced. The revenue generated might not be as much as expected while the costs of administering the tax could be higher than calculated.

“Taxing wealth is something we’ve never done in the United States and that most countries have not done,” Jared Walczak, the Tax Foundation’s vice president of state projects, told Yahoo Money. “They’re complex and they create a lot of economic harm because they’re paid on your assets — which often have to be liquidated to pay them.”

While wealth taxes reached their peak in OECD countries in the 1990s, the number of OECD countries that currently have a wealth tax dropped to five from 12 by 2019 because of the challenges those taxes create.

The proposed plan in New York—which includes raising income taxes, imposing new capital gains taxes, and increasing the estate tax among other measures — is similar to President Joe Biden’s campaign plan to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%, require a true minimum tax of 21% on all foreign earnings on U.S. companies, raise the top individual income tax rate to 39.6% (the current maximum is 37%), and require those who make more than $1 million annually pay the same rate on investment income as they do on their wages.

Research contact: @YahooFinance

Biden to allow migrant families separated under Trump to reunite in the USA

March 3, 2021

Families separated at the border during former President Donald Trump’s time in office will be allowed to reunite and settle in the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on March 1.

“[The Biden Administration is] hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin,” Mayorkas said at the White House press briefing, according to a report by Politico.

He added, “We hope to be in a position to give them the [option] and, if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the U.S., we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States—and to address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible.”

According to Politico, This represents “a significant step for the Biden Administration; as it seeks to undo the damage done by Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, which allowed U.S. officials to forcibly separate children from their parents at the border.”

More than 5,500 families were separated under the Trump administration, and Biden entered office with the parents of more than 600 children still having not been located.

So far, the task force has made headway in reuniting those families. Mayorkas said approximately 105 families have been recently reunited.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero was quick to welcome Mayorkas’ announcement, but cautioned that “the devil is in the details and Secretary Mayorkas has to shed all the caveats and qualifications around his announcement and follow through with everything that’s necessary to right the wrong.”

“These separated families suffered unfathomably because of what our government did, and we owe them restitution. This includes a permanent pathway to citizenship, care, and resources to help them,” Romero said.

The task force involves a coordinated effort between the U.S., governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as various non-governmental organizations, immigration attorneys and community groups. Michelle Brané, formerly with the Women’s Refugee Commission, has been selected to serve as executive director of the task force, Mayorkas said.

“This is not only an all-of-government but an all-of-society effort to do what is right,” Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas also used his turn at the White House briefing to outline why it will take time for the Biden Administration to create a new system for handling migrant arrivals at the border. Currently, the vast majority of migrants arriving at the border are being immediately expelled under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule.

“We are not saying: ‘Don’t come.’ We are saying: ‘Don’t come now,’ because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process as quickly as possible,” Mayorkas said, adding that “we are working around the clock seven days a week.”

Research contact: @politico