White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that if they’re hearing from any Americans stuck in Afghanistan, they should pass the individuals’ contact information directly to her.
Psaki said the administration remains “committed to bringing Americans home who want to leave” Afghanistan, but added the government doesn’t know exactly how many US citizens remain in the now-Taliban controlled country. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said on Sunday that “roughly a few thousand” Americans were still trying to get out of Afghanistan.
“Anyone who has an American citizen who they are looking to help get out, any of you – send them to me directly and I will get it to the right place,” Psaki told reporters at Tuesday’s press briefing. “We are absolutely committed to this. This is an across-the-government commitment.”
Psaki said that the State Department has been advising Americans to leave Afghanistan “for months” because of the US military’s impending withdrawal from the country. President Joe Biden has refused to extend the US’s August 31 deadline for full withdrawal, despite mounting pressure from members of his own party.
Psaki said the government might not have contact information for Americans who didn’t register with the State Department when they entered Afghanistan.
“We are reaching out via phone, via text, via email, any way we can. And we are giving them instructions on how to get to the airport, when to come to the airport,” she said. “We have an entire apparatus and operation set up on the ground, we’re advertising, and this is a 24/7 operation of reaching out to these individuals.”
The press secretary called the count of Americans a “dynamic number,” in part because US citizens aren’t required to register or “de-register” with the State Department when they enter or exit any country, including Afghanistan.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said on Tuesday that it’s “very unlikely” the US can complete evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies by the end of the month.
“That deadline has to be extended to get the job done,” said Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat and veteran of the war in Afghanistan. “There shouldn’t be a date on the calendar that dictates when the mission ends. The mission should end when our people are out.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on Fox News reporter Peter Doocy after he claimed that Americans are “stranded” in Afghanistan during a press briefing on Monday.
“First of all, I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not,” Psaki responded. “We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home. We are in touch with them via phone, via text, via email, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return home.”
Doocy continued to press Psaki, asking: “There are no Americans stranded is the White House’s official position on what’s happening in Afghanistan right now?”
“I’m just calling you out for saying that we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home,” Psaki said. “We are going to bring them home. And I think that’s important for the American public to hear and understand.”
The tense exchange in the White House briefing room comes as the US faces a looming August 31 deadline to evacuate thousands more Americans and Afghan refugees.
Since August 14, the US has evacuated more than 37,000 people out of Afghanistan, according to the White House. On Sunday alone, approximately 10,400 people were evacuated, the White House said.
President Joe Biden has considered staying longer in Afghanistan to facilitate the transport of American and Afghan evacuees. The US military has advised him to decide by Tuesday whether to extend the deadline, CNN reported Monday.
Hours after the Taliban encroached on Kabul on August 15, Salim was in a taxi en route to the capital’s airport with his wife and 19-month-old son, praying they would safely leave Afghanistan.
He’d finally received notice the night before that his Special Immigrant Visa, for his four-and-a-half years as a translator with US forces, was processed. An international migration agency told him it would be another two weeks until he could book his flight out of the city.
But Salim, 32, couldn’t wait. He was one of thousands who flooded the airport that Sunday evening, desperate to flee the country in fear of a future Taliban government. The scene was mayhem: crowds overwhelmed security agents and airline workers couldn’t find any pilots. Salim, hearing gunfire echoes and seeing throngs of people run toward the tarmac, made a quick decision.
“This is the time to save your life,” Salim, whose real name Insider is not using for his safety, said he thought to himself.
He lifted his wife, who was holding their son and had injured her feet during the long sprint across the tarmac, onto a C-17 American military aircraft, then climbed on board himself. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small bag for their toddler.
American soldiers instructed the hundreds of Afghans who scrambled aboard to step away from the back of the jet and sit down. After a tense and uncertain wait, the crew shut the aircraft’s door.
“Everyone got hope,” Salim said. “People were happy, they were clapping for the Americans, because they said they’re not leaving us behind.”
Over 37,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul in the past eight days, according to White House chief of staff Ron Klain. Thousands more still hope to leave Afghanistan. The US has deployed numerous planes to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees to bases across the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe, where they will then be transported to their next destination, including the US for some.
Insider spoke with Salim a few days after he arrived at an accommodation near the Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC, where he’s staying temporarily.
Transit in Qatar and arrival to the US
The American C-17 aircraft landed in an air base in Qatar. Doctors immediately attended to the refugees, including Salim’s wife.
The crowd was provided with food, water, medication, diapers and milk for babies, among other supplies. The area was small, Salim said, but had air-conditioning and bathrooms. They got tested for COVID-19.
Hours went by with little information on the next steps. Nerves set in as Salim wondered whether he and his family would leave Qatar, so he spoke up.
“Everyone was worried that maybe they’ll send us back [to Afghanistan],” Salim said of the American troops.
But the troops, relieved to learn Salim knew English, asked him to translate to the rest of the Afghans that they would start the visa process for those without documents, and those who already had their American visas could get on a plane to the US, after being screened and vetted.
Salim felt reassured. After five hours in Qatar, he, his wife and son were on a flight for Dulles.
Salim was seven years old in 1996 when the Taliban first seized control of the country and imposed a strict interpretation of sharia law, including forbidding women’s education, banning music and television, and other harsh restrictions.
“The Taliban was not good for the people. Everyone lost jobs. No security. Killing,” Salim said. “Still, people are dying right now.”
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with Sky News.
Salim remains concerned for the lives of his parents and brother, a former Afghan special forces officer, who are in Kabul and face an unlikely path out.
“I was the lucky person,” he said. “It’s really impossible. We don’t know how to bring them [here].”
Those new guidelines stated that people who are vaccinated are able to go maskless in most settings, including indoor gatherings among other maskless people.
Yet the same poll found that most vaccinated Americans are keeping their masks on: 90% of fully vaccinated people said that they had worn a mask in the last seven days.
Notably, the question lacked specificity as to how those vaccinated people were masking.
While some national chains like Walmart, Starbucks, and Best Buy are allowing vaccinated customers to go maskless, many private businesses are still requiring all customers to wear a mask. And hospitals, public transportation, and airlines are all still asking everyone to wear a mask, vaccinated or not.
About 61% of the eligible American population has received at least one dose of the available COVID vaccines, according to the CDC, and President Biden has set a goal to hit 70% by July 4.
The poll results highlight a stark contrast between people who don’t plan to get vaccinated and those who either plan to get vaccinated, are partially vaccinated, or already are fully vaccinated: Less than half of the former group has used a mask in the last seven days, while 80 to 90% of the latter group have.
Masking quickly became a political issue, with far-right politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene most recently comparing mask mandates to the Holocaust.
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday made clear that President Joe Biden’s signature will not be printed on the $1,400 direct payments expected to be delivered to millions of Americans this month.
“We’re doing everything in our power to expedite the payments and not delay them, which is why the president’s name will not appear on the memo line of this round of stimulus checks,” Psaki said.
“This is not about him,” Psaki said, referring to Biden. “This is about the American people getting relief.”
Former President Donald Trump’s name previously appeared on the stimulus checks sent out under his administration. The step was unprecedented, marking the first time a president’s name was linked to a reimbursement from the Internal Revenue Service, according to The Washington Post. Critics had slammed the move as an attempt to tie the checks directly to Trump and grant him political clout, though the agencies should remain apolitical.
Senior IRS officials told The Post at the time that the addition would likely slow down payments to Americans by a few days, but later walked back the comments and said the checks are going out as scheduled.
Trump had denied playing any role in his name being put on the checks, but praised the move last April as the first massive coronavirus relief package was enacted. “I’m sure people will be very happy to get a big, fat, beautiful check and my name is on it,” he said. Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed that he had pitched the idea.
Biden didn’t think adding his name to the checks “was a priority or a necessary step,” according to Psaki. “His focus was on getting them out as quickly as possible.”
Psaki added that the stimulus checks will be signed by a career official at the Bureau of Fiscal Service, the Treasury agency responsible for sending the direct payments.
The $1,400 stimulus checks are part of Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion economic relief package, which also includes an extension of unemployment benefits, an expanded child tax credit, funding for vaccinations, among several other provisions to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate approved the bill on Saturday. The Democratic-controlled House is scheduled to vote and likely pass the bill this week, and will then send it to Biden’s desk for his signature.
54 million or one in six Americans are projected to be food insecure by the end of the year, according to an analysis by Feeding America.
Feeding America, the largest anti-hunger organization in the United States, distributed 4.2 billion meals between March and October, with around 20% of its 200 food banks in danger of running out of supplies. This represents a 57% increase from last year, with around 4 in 10 visitors being first-timers, the Associated Press reported.
Almost 26 million people, or one in eight Americans, did not have enough food as of mid-November, the US Census Bureau found. A report commissioned by the Food Research & Action Center noted that 1 in 4 of those in food poverty typically had incomes above $50,000 a year before COVID-19, the Associated Press added.
The largest increases were seen among communities of color after they were disproportionately affected by high unemployment, infection, and death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in five Black and Hispanic adults were struggling to find enough food while a third were behind on their rent, according to Forbes.
Several initiatives from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which received a $450m boost, are set to expire on December 31. The $4.5bn Farmers to Families Food Box program, which has provided over 120 million food boxes, is the largest and has already run out in some areas, The Washington Post reported.
The program has already gone through four rounds of funding; $1.2bn was awarded in the first, $1.76bn in the second, $1bn in the third, and only $500m in the fourth. In a statement, the USDA said that the $500m had “resulted in some non-profits being unable to participate and fewer box deliveries,” The Washington Post added.
Various organizations have lobbied Congress for a 15% increase in food stamp benefits as was implemented during the 2008 recession. Still, it has not yet led to any action, according to the Digital Journal.
Children have also been acutely affected, with Feeding America estimating that 18 million or one in four have gone hungry by the end of this year, a 63% increase from 2018, The Guardian noted.
Both the Supplementary Nutritional Program (SNAP) and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) help parents who no longer get free or subsidized school lunches. However, most P-EBTs expired at the end of September and some as early as July, Truthout reported. States can reapply but only Massachusetts has done this so far.
Meanwhile, if the SNAP increases currently under discussion in Congress are implemented, then each four-person family would receive less than a dollar per day as a maximum benefit. The House of Representatives passed a stimulus bill earlier this year to provide for an increase in SNAP benefits. Still, it has been bogged down in partisan squabbling, the Digital Journal added.
Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of No Kid Hungry, told Business Insider: “One of the things that is very frustrating is that so much of the discussion in Congress has been around the cost of legislation. There’s no discussion about the cost of not taking action.
“There’s a very robust body of evidence that shows that when kids miss meals, it affects their physical health, how they perform in school or don’t perform, their graduation rates, and even their lifetime earnings, so the cost of doing nothing is very high. I worry a lot that we are looking at a lost generation of American kids.
“It’s very frustrating that we’re nine months into this pandemic and the last legislation to help families was back in April. Congress needs to take action immediately. Families that are struggling now can’t wait and unfortunately for millions of families across the US, this is going to be the hungriest holiday season they will ever face.”
Experts believe that there is likely “more hunger in the US today than at any point since 1998,” when the US Census Bureau first began tracking food poverty, according to The Washington Post.