Financial catastrophe looms for state and local governments

The impact of the fiscal crisis "will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two," warned one mayor.
Image: Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is deserted as casinos and other business are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, on April 14, 2020.John Locher / AP

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State and municipal governments across the country are clamoring for the federal government to rescue them from what could quickly become a fiscal catastrophe, saying that they may need as much as three quarters of a trillion dollars as the coronavirus pandemic dries up many of their revenue sources.

Without the help, these governments will need to lay off or furlough workers, reduce benefits, cancel projects, defer construction and maintenance and more. The impact of the fiscal crisis "will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two," warned Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio.

But state and local governments like Dayton's will have to wait until at least May before Congress considers further economic relief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated. The House is set to vote Thursday on an interim round of coronavirus aid aimed at small businesses, and while Democrats sought to include roughly $150 billion in funding to shore up state and local budgets, the money didn't make it into the final bill because of objections from Republicans and the Trump administration.

Here's what to know about the coronavirus, plus a timeline of the most critical moments:

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At least 474 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths in New York state

More than 470 New York state residents were reported dead from COVID-19 in the past day, officials said Wednesday, bringing the state's death toll beyond 15,000. 

Of the 474 confirmed fatalities in the past 24 hours, 446 were at hospitals and 28 at nursing homes,  Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his daily briefing on coronavirus.

The confirmed death toll in New York state now stands at 15,302. That total does not included  presumptive deaths.

 "At least it isn’t going up anymore and it seems to be on a gentle decline," Cuomo said.

More Florida Latino immigrant families, amid coronavirus job losses, seek food donations

MIAMI — Sergio Caon was working in aviation maintenance when he was furloughed. His wife was let go from her job at a banquet hall. Now, they're scraping by and eating less to feed their daughter. Caon says sometimes he feels like eating a snack, but he doesn't.

"We are eating less," he said, speaking from inside his car as he waited at a food distribution event in Doral organized by Farm Share, which partners with other groups to distribute food throughout Florida.

Over 65 percent of Latinos across the country are having difficulty buying or finding necessities such as food and medicine, according to a recent survey by the polling firm Latino Decisions.

In Florida, where unemployment claims are processed slower than anywhere else in the country, workers have less to fall back on. The state has only paid six percent of over 1.6 million claimants, according to the online dashboard of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

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House Democrats drop push for vote by proxy

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced on a call with party leadership Wednesday morning that the House would no longer consider remote voting by proxy this week, as initially planned.

Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are instead creating a bipartisan group of lawmakers to review remote voting and how they can reopen the House.

Democrats had proposed a historic rules change earlier in the week that would have allowed for members to designate another member to vote for them on the House floor, allowing lawmakers to go on record without having to leave their districts amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The resolution would also have allowed for virtual committee proceedings and would have created a study to examine the feasibility of remote participation on the House floor.

Republicans, however, were strongly opposed to the resolution and made clear that they were prepared to put up a fight if Democrats moved ahead with the vote this week.

Tooth Fairy is free to move about country and immune to coronavirus, Fauci says

The Tooth Fairy has some wiggle room when it comes to social distancing, according to COVID-19 expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci shared the fact while chatting with a 7-year-old girl named Ava on Will Smith's new Snapchat series "Will From Home."

"When your tooth (falls) out, you stick it under the pillow, and I'll guarantee you that that Tooth Fairy is not going to get infected and is not going to get sick," Fauci explained.

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U.S. death toll could rise by 100,000 if jail populations aren't reduced, ACLU says

The coronavirus could kill 100,000 more Americans than current projections show if its spread in jails is not curbed by freeing more inmates, according to a new model released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and academic research partners.

The group is advocating for a substantial reduction in jail populations across the country following reports of increasing rates of COVID-19 among inmates, and believes that recent models being used by the federal government that show fewer than 100,000 U.S. fatalities don't accurately account for the spread of the virus in jails.

"We are likely facing massive loss of life — both in jails and in communities around the country — if dramatic steps aren't taken to reduce the incarcerated population in this country," Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's Justice Division, said in a statement.

The ACLU's model, done in partnership with university researchers from Washington state, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, also found that states that have begun to reduce jail populations are "quantifiably saving lives."

Tyson Foods suspends its largest pork plant amid Iowa outbreak

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation's pork supply but had been devastated by a growing coronavirus outbreak.

The company said that the indefinite closure of the Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt the nation's meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of the mayor and local elected officials.

More than 180 infections had been linked to the plant earlier this week and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. The company said that mass testing of its 2,800 workers would begin later this week.

Read the full story here.

Protesters hold drive-in rally to voice support for reopening Virginia

Senators call on HHS, FEMA watchdogs to investigate administration's COVID-19 response

A group of 10 Democratic senators is calling on the inspectors general for the Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA to investigate the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This obfuscation underscores the need for clarity as to how decisions regarding the seizure and redistribution of supplies are being made, and whether or not they are tainted with political interference," the senators wrote in a letter to the watchdogs on Tuesday. 

The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. 

Several of the senators also sent a separate letter to the accountability committee established by the last major coronavirus relief package to oversee the pandemic response, calling on it "to investigate the partisan and political nature of the White House's actions."

“Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the President's concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity,” they wrote.

'Health Force' would recruit Americans into careers fighting coronavirus

In the United States' effort to stomp out the spread of the coronavirus, two Democratic senators are taking a cue from a national program launched during the Great Depression to galvanize today's workforce.

Proposed legislation announced Wednesday by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., would create a "Health Force" that would recruit, train and employ Americans — ideally, pulling from among the millions now unemployed during the pandemic — into public health and health care careers.

The senators said the bill is a nod to the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, which was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and put millions of Americans to work building roads, schools, water lines and other infrastructure.

Read more on this story here.

NYC expanding testing, prioritizing residents in public housing, mayor says

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said that as part of a plan to greatly expand testing for the coronavirus in the city, six new test sites will open in the next few days that will prioritize the approximately 400,000 residents in public housing. 

De Blasio said masks will also be provided to residents in the New York City Housing Authority, the nation’s largest public-housing system, and hand sanitizers will be given to those who are elderly.