FDA panel backs COVID-19 booster shots only for elderly and high-risk Americans

Studies highlight childcare affordability and compensation problems.

The economics of childcare don’t work for parents or for providers, a U.S. Treasury Department reported this week.

Parents of children younger than five years old often pay more than they can comfortably afford. Child care costs are highest in the five years after the birth of the family’s first child, when family savings are at their lowest.

Pay for childcare workers is low and leads to high turnover. For-profit childcare businesses operate on “razor-thin profit margins,” the study said, quoting a Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis analysis from 2011.  For-profit centers count on maintaining full enrollment to make money.

A wage study of North Carolina childcare centers by the Child Care Services Association found that the median wage in 2019 was $10 an hour for starting assistant teachers and $14.52 an hour for assistant directors.  Workers can make more working in fast food or retail, Marsha Basloe and Amy Cubbage wrote in a blog post last month. Basloe is president of the Child Care Services Association and Cubbage is president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children.

The Treasury report comes as the Biden administration seeks support for elements of its economic plan such as universal pre-kindergarten and expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

In a separate survey results released in July, more than one in five North Carolina childcare providers who responded said pandemic enrollment declines put them at risk of closing permanently within six months.

The Zogby Analytics survey for the NC Child Care Resource & Referral Council found that majorities of family care homes and childcare centers of all sizes lost money the pandemic. For-profit and non-profit childcare centers and NC Pre-K programs fared the worst, according to the report, while the impacts were less severe for faith-based centers and family childcare homes.

“Health and safety of children, families, and staff; keeping enrollment high enough to break even; maintaining staff during and beyond the pandemic; recruiting staff; and paying staff or paying themselves as a solo provider are providers’ biggest concerns regarding sustainability of their programs,” the report said.

Zogby contacted 4,810 licensed programs with accurate email addresses for the online survey, and 1,825 answered the questions.

Fourteen percent of businesses applied for and received federal Economic Injury Disaster loans. Fifty-two percent applied for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, and 42% who applied received them, according to the survey report.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the state Department of Health and Human Services gave bonuses to centers serving children of first responders. This year,  DHHS offered childcare providers operational grants using federal COVID-19 economic relief money.

The Treasury Department study said many parents don’t have childcare options convenient to their work sites and, quoting a Center for American Progress report, said that half of Americans live in “child care deserts” with low-income families and those in rural areas the most likely to be underserved.

Families pay for childcare on their own or with the help of government subsidies.

Only a fraction of the children nationwide who are eligible for subsidized care get it. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported this year that 1.9 million children, or 14% who are eligible under federal rules, receive Federal Child Care and Development Fund Subsidies, based on 2017 information.

Finding reliable childcare is critical to some parents’ getting jobs.  In the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey from Aug. 18-30, more than 300,000 North Carolinians said they were not working because they were caring for children not in school or daycare.

Superior Court permanently enjoins 2018 NC voter ID law

A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 Friday that the state voter ID law enacted by the General Assembly in 2018 is unconstitutional. The law required voters to present a photo ID when casting their ballots, including provisional ones.

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 824 by overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the legislation during a lame duck session  in December 2018.

Represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice as well as pro bono counsel from the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, five North Carolina voters sued legislative defendants, including House Speaker Tim Moore in Wake County Superior Court.

Signed by Democratic Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier, Jr., the majority opinion held that the law was passed with discriminatory purpose or intent. Plaintiffs’ expert Kevin Quinn, a University of Michigan professor, performed an analysis in which he matched voter files to databases that track the rates at which various groups possess the required ID and unearthed disparities between voters of different races.

According to the ruling, “When restricting [Quinn’s] analysis to active voters—those who voted in the 2016 and 2018 elections—African American voters were over twice as likely to lack qualifying ID than white voters.”

Therefore, the majority opinion said, the burden of obtaining qualifying ID, including free ID, would fall more heavily on Black voters, who more often lack a form of qualifying ID required under SB 824 and encounter more barriers to obtaining such IDs compared to white voters.

In his dissenting opinion, Republican Judge Nathaniel Poovey wrote that plaintiffs failed to prove that legislative defendants acted with discriminatory intent.

“Senate Bill 824 was a bipartisan bill that was supported along the way by multiple African American legislators and enacted after the people of our State approved a constitutional amendment calling for voter-photo-ID requirements,” Poovey wrote. He said that SB 824 should not be declared unconstitutional.

Three-judge panels, composed of three superior court judges from different judicial districts, are a common form of arbitration for constitutional challenges to state laws. The Holmes v. Moore decision came after a three-week trial in April.

In 2019, the Wake County Superior Court denied plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, which was granted later by a Court of Appeals panel in 2020.

In response to today’s ruling, Southern Coalition for Social Justice co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights Allison Riggs issued a statement lauding the judges’ action:

Southern Coalition for Social Justice co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights Allison Riggs

“We applaud the three-judge panel’s decision and hope it sends a strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated. Should legislative defendants appeal today’s ruling, we’ll be prepared to remind them of what this court and the state’s constitution mandate: every vote matters.”

A separate federal lawsuit on the voter ID law is ongoing. As Policy Watch previously reported, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore sought to intervene in that suit, but were rebuffed in that effort by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Berger and Moore are seeking review of that issue by the U.S. Supreme Court. In response to today’s ruling, Moore’s attorney promised an appeal, saying in  a statement “We look forward to appealing this partisan ruling on behalf of the people of North Carolina.”

This is not the first time North Carolina pushed for a stricter photo ID requirement. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Shelby County v. Holder ruling, the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly voted to pass HB 589, which only allowed one of eight forms of voter ID for in-person voters. That bill also included other restrictive measures such as ending pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and forbidding voters from casting ballots outside of their precincts.

The Fourth Circuit of Appeals said in the decision striking down the law, that the General Assembly was “eager to rush through the legislative process the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has ever seen since the era of Jim Crow.”

Quinn’s analysis shows that though SB 324 added a few eligible IDs to the eight types of acceptable IDs under HB 589, it added only a “minuscule number” of voters.

Policy Watch will publish additional updates on this case as they become available.

Republican AGs urge Biden administration to give up on vaccine requirements

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — More than 20 Republican state attorneys general are threatening to sue the Biden administration over its mandate that large employers require their employees to either be vaccinated against the coronavirus vaccine or undergo weekly testing.

In a Thursday letter, the 24 AGs pushed the administration to remove the requirement that would affect nearly 80 million Americans and instead let employees make their own decisions on vaccinations.

“There are many less intrusive means to combat the spread of COVID-19 other than requiring vaccinations or COVID-19 testing,” they wrote. “The risks of COVID-19 spread also vary widely depending on the nature of the business in question, many of which can have their employees, for example, work remotely.”

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden instructed the Department of Labor to issue a temporary emergency rule under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to mandate that employers either put in place a vaccine requirement, mandate weekly COVID-19 testing or fire employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

He later met with business leaders “who champion vaccine mandates that will. . .make sure that we keep businesses open and workers safe,” he said, underlining the mandate support from a traditionally Republican group.

The state attorneys general argue that Biden’s mandate is not legal.

“If your Administration does not alter its course, the undersigned state Attorneys General will seek every available legal option to hold you accountable and uphold the rule of law,” they wrote.

Those states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

They argue that to justify OSHA’s emergency standard, the administration needs to prove that employees are exposed to grave danger.

“Moreover, many Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 have obtained a level of natural immunity, and the statistics are clear that young people without co-morbidities have a low risk of hospitalization from COVID-19,” they said. “You thus cannot plausibly meet the high burden of showing that employees in general are in grave danger.”

However, some studies have shown that COVID-19 infections are rapidly increasing in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that as of Sept. 9, nearly 5.3 million children have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic and 243,000 cases were added in one week in September, the second-highest number in a week since the pandemic began.

The academy says that “at this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children. However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”

Nearly 700,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and there have been more than 44 million cases of the virus. Some of those who have recovered from the virus have suffered from long-haul COVID-19 symptoms, as reported by the Atlantic.    

The state AGs also argue that putting in place vaccine requirements is “likely to increase skepticism of vaccines.”

More than 180 million Americans, or at least half the U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Waccamaw Siouan tribal members are sick, and they want to know why

The Waccamaw Siouan, one of eight state-recognized Native American tribes in North Carolina, are known as  “The People of the Falling Star.”

Tribal history says their homeland was formed when a meteor struck the earth thousands of years ago. Water from nearby lakes and rivers then flowed toward the crater, forming Lake Waccamaw, now a state park in southeastern N.C.

Members of the community pass down this story as one way to preserve a culture and identity that colonizers and the U.S. government systematically erased throughout history.

The Chief of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe, Michael Jacobs, retells this history in a voice both deep and captivating, a quality that aids in his success as both a preacher and activist.

“I’m not afraid to make some noise,” Jacobs said. “God gave me a big mouth, and I’m going to use it.”

But Jacobs’s voice begins to falter as he recalls moments in life when his mouth wasn’t big enough— when his two uncles died from a rare form of cancer when he was 16; when his father died from prostate cancer five years ago; when two young children in his tribe died just as they were beginning to read; when several Waccamaw Siouan women died of breast cancer.

Everyone knows someone who is sick, but nobody knows why.

The biggest threat to the tribe today is also what has sustained them— the local water. An estimated 1,200 members of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe live just 10 minutes from the Cape Fear River, one of the most PFAS-contaminated rivers in the country.

PFAS chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are associated with birth defects, cancer, high cholesterol, obesity and an array of adverse health concerns. They are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily, with the ability to survive for thousands of years. GenX is one of 5,000-plus types of PFAS.

The main source of the river’s GenX pollution is identified as DuPont de Nemours, Inc., owner of the Fayetteville Chemours plant. The massive chemical company is located about 42 miles upstream of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe. Read more