A new survey by the Economic Policy Institute finds millions of U.S. workers who’ve lost their jobs have been unable to file for unemployment benefits, with state agencies unable to keep up with the sheer volume of new claims. This comes as the official U.S. unemployment rate is set to reach 16% or higher this month — levels not seen since the Great Depression. In Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz says residents of the U.S. territory have yet to receive promised relief during an island-wide coronavirus lockdown. She spoke with MSNBC on Saturday.
Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz: “No one in Puerto Rico has received the $1,200 from the federal government. We are having problems with the local $500 that the governor said that it was going to distribute. There’s more than 130,000 unemployment requests that have not been filled. The same thing with people getting food stamps.”
Workers at some of the biggest corporations in the United States are planning an unprecedented wave of strikes on May 1, International Workers’ Day. Employees of Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, FedEx, Target and Instacart will walk off the job demanding compensation for unpaid time off work, hazard pay, sick leave, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies at workplaces. Many of the workers are part of a growing coalition that will join a May 1 People’s Strike launched by worker cooperatives in Mississippi. This is Kali Akuno, co-director of Cooperation Jackson.
Kali Akuno: “We’re asking everybody to start with these basics: no work, no shopping, no rent, no mortgage, no school, no borders, no prisons. Right? Let us all take joint action together.”
Tenants around the U.S. are organizing rent strikes, as rent comes due on May Day for millions of newly unemployed workers. And some homeowners are planning to withhold mortgage payments. New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling on state and federal officials to cancel housing payments nationwide during the pandemic.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “People can’t pay. You cannot coerce someone into doing something that they cannot do. There is no money in the bank. People need to feed their kids. We cannot be evicting. We need to be making sure that we are passing policy that allows people to stay in their homes.”
Criticism is growing over a new government program that was supposed to help small business owners receive low-interest loans to stay afloat during the economic crisis. The New York Times recently revealed more than 200 publicly traded companies received over $750 million in small business loans before the initial funding ran out. The Intercept reports many of the biggest beneficiaries have been major Trump donors, including the owners of the Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas.
Meanwhile, the Center for Responsible Lending is estimating that up to 90% of businesses owned by people of color have been, or will likely be, shut out of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
A handful of large companies who benefited from the small business loan program have agreed to return the loans after facing public backlash. The list includes the Los Angeles Lakers, Potbelly and Shake Shack.
The House of Representatives has abruptly canceled plans to reconvene on May 4, after the Capitol physician warned Washington, D.C., remains a coronavirus hot spot, with the rate of infections continuing to rise. The decision threatens to further delay work on a massive new coronavirus relief bill.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, says the Senate will convene on Monday as scheduled. McConnell says he wants the next coronavirus stimulus bill to include liability protections for companies whose workers become ill or die after they’re ordered back to the job once states reopen their economies.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, refused to wear a mask Tuesday as he met with doctors and patients at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. After the tour, Pence was asked by reporters why he violated a Mayo Clinic policy requiring everyone in the hospital to wear a face covering or mask.
Vice President Mike Pence: “Let me say, as vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus. … And since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible healthcare personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.”
On Tuesday, the Mayo Clinic tweeted that it had informed Vice President Pence of the masking policy prior to his arrival. Later in the day, the tweet was deleted without explanation.
Attorneys and advocates are raising concerns for the due process of immigrant children as the Trump administration continues deportation hearings for unaccompanied minors during the pandemic. Due to social distancing guidelines, judges appear on a TV screen or connect via telephone, and there are no attorneys physically present.
Public universities in California are issuing emergency grants to students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, as they cope with the financial devastation triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. This comes as over two dozen Democratic congressmembers are condemning Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s exclusion of college students with DACA from receiving coronavirus emergency federal aid to cover expenses like food, housing and child care.
In related news, ProPublica reports internal emails show Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has access to a database containing the personal information of DACA recipients — despite promises from the Trump administration that information from DACA applications would not be sent to deportation agents.
In Brazil, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths has surpassed the death toll figure the World Health Organization is reporting for China. On Tuesday, the Brazilian Health Ministry reported over 470 more deaths than the previous day, bringing the total to just over 5,000.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s Supreme Court has given the green light to an investigation of alleged corruption and obstruction of justice by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. The high court’s decision comes after former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro resigned Friday, accusing Bolsonaro of illegally firing the federal police chief, who was at the time investigating Bolsonaro’s political allies and two of his sons. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro appointed a family friend as the new federal police chief.
The World Health Organization says it’s preparing to slash humanitarian aid to Yemen’s healthcare system by as much as 80%, after the Trump administration cut off funding to the U.N. global health body. Some 24 million people in Yemen — about 80% of the population — are reliant on humanitarian aid. Millions of Yemenis are on the brink of starvation. Yemen, which has been devastated by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led military campaign since 2015, already has an ongoing cholera epidemic. It confirmed its first coronavirus case on April 10.
In Lebanon, massive protests continued in Beirut and cities across the country for a second consecutive night Tuesday as people are angered by the deteriorating economy and alarming food shortages during the pandemic.
Hassan Obeid: “We are daily workers. If we work, we eat; if we don’t work, we don’t eat. May God change the situation for the better.”
The largest and most violent protest was reported in Tripoli, triggered by the death of a 26-year-old man, who was reportedly shot by the Lebanese Army during a protest the previous night. Protesters in Tripoli torched several banks in response, as clashes with soldiers continued into the early hours of Wednesday.
In climate news, parts of the U.S. Southwest are poised to shatter April heat records, with Las Vegas expected to reach triple digits today for the first time ever before May 1. Highs in Phoenix could reach 106 degrees, also a record. In Russia, new wildfires have erupted in central Siberia, with temperatures soaring by as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 2020 is on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, topping 2016.
In Alberta, Canada, severe flooding on the Athabasca River has submerged homes and buildings in the city of Fort McMurray, forcing the evacuation of 13,000 people despite the coronavirus lockdown. With local hotels nearing capacity, local officials are housing some evacuees in nearby work camps for tar sands oil workers — camps that have been left idled by historically low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.
A group of climate scientists and environmentalists, including filmmaker Josh Fox and professor Michael Mann, are calling for a new movie, executive produced by Michael Moore, to be taken offline, claiming it is “dangerous, misleading and destructive.” The film, “Planet of the Humans,” describes renewable energies like wind and solar as useless and accuses the environmental movement of selling out to corporate America. Michael Moore and the film’s director, Jeff Gibbs, have described the documentary as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows.”
The online film website Films for Action briefly took down the documentary, claiming it was “full of misinformation,” but later added it back to its site with a lengthy note.
The author and activist Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “It is truly demoralizing how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change. There are important critiques of an environmentalism that refuses to reckon with unlimited consumption + growth. But this film ain’t it.”