Four companies have been fined a total of almost $1 million for a liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia that killed six employees, federal officials said Friday.
An investigation by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Foundation Food Group and Messer “failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak, or to equip workers responding to it with the knowledge and equipment that could have saved their lives,” the agency said in a statement.
Foundation Food Group is a poultry processing company based in Gainesville. Messer is an industrial gas company based in Bridgewater, New Jersey, that installed the freezer system at the plant that was the source of the leak.
The leak occurred on January 28 when a freezer at the poultry processing facility malfunctioned, “releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen into the plant’s air, displacing the oxygen in the room,” the statement said.
Three plant maintenance workers entered the freezer and died immediately. OSHA said they had never been trained on the dangers of liquid nitrogen. Two other workers also died immediately, and a sixth died while en route to the hospital. At least a dozen other workers at the facility were injured and transported to hospitals.
“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in the statement. “The Department of Labor is dedicated to upholding the law and using everything in our power to get justice for the workers’ families.”
The victims were identified by the Hall County Sheriff’s office as Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Corey Alan Murphy, 35; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41; Victor Vellez, 38; and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28.
Gainesville is often called the “Poultry Capital of the World” due to its large number of poultry plants. The city has a population of about 40,000 people, about 40% of which are Hispanic.
The OSHA statement said repeatedly that the deaths were avoidable had the proper precautions been taken.
“This horrible tragedy could have been prevented had the employers taken the time to use – and teach their workers the importance of – safety precautions,” Kurt Petermeyer, an OSHA regional administrator in Atlanta, said. “We hope other industry employers learn from this terrible incident and comply with safety and health requirements to prevent similar incidents.”
The companies were cited for 59 violations, totaling $998,673 in fines.
The other two companies implicated were Packers Sanitation Services of Kieler, Wisconsin, which provided cleaning and sanitation services to the plant, and FSGroup of Albertville, Alabama, which manufactures equipment and provides mechanical servicing.
Insider has reached out to all four companies for comment.
Foundation Food Group said in a statement to The New York Times that it would challenge some of the citations that “it believes to be unjustified and unsupported by the facts.” It said it would continue working to address the “root cause,” which it said had to do with a bent tube on the freezer that could not accurately measure the amount of liquid nitrogen. The tube was not addressed in OSHA’s citations.
Packers Sanitation Services told the Times it disagreed with its fines and that its employees “were in no way involved with this tragic incident.”
His mother, Cheryl Bargatze Nuclo, told NBC affiliate WXIA that he was hesitant to get vaccinated ahead of attending an indoor concert in Florida, where he was likely infected.
She said he wanted to wait much longer before getting a shot: “He wanted to wait until it was out for, like, 10 years or so, kind of like a lot of the population wants it to be out longer.”
Georgia and nearby southern states are among the least vaccinated in the US, per CDC data.
Her son got worse in hospital, and struggled to breathe to the extent that he required a double lung transplant. He got the transplant in June, NBC News reported, and took a COVID-19 vaccine days before his surgery.
WXIA broadcast videos of Bargatze hospitalized with tubes in his nose, and using a machine to be able to stand. At one point he seemed to mouth the words “get the vaccine.”
She said people should get the vaccine: “I just don’t want anyone else to go through this. It’s horrific. It’s not worth all the pain it’s going to cause you and your family.”
She said Bargatze’s brother and a cousin got the vaccine after seeing what happened to him.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court signed the death certificate for voting rights. In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Court decided that Arizona could implement restrictions that hamper the ability of Black and brown voters to cast their ballot.
In essence, more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, the federal protections against racially discriminatory voting policies have been stripped away. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court has given new energy to right wing states that want to keep minority voters away from the polls.
Democrats have the Supreme Court and red states against them. So their only choice left is to go local – and out-organize anyone standing in their way.
The big lie on steroids
While Republican-controlled states have passed onerous voting laws for years, the recent spate of voter suppression tactics all stem from former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” The fact that President Joe Biden won the reliably Republican states of Georgia and Arizona sent a shockwave through the GOP. We all know, and perhaps expected, Trump to falsely claim that there was voter “fraud” after his 2020 loss. But now Republicans are falling all over themselves to please the former President by enacting laws to prevent these nonexistent “irregularities” from happening again.
Arizona, where the Supreme Court case originated, prevents friends and neighbors from helping someone turn in absentee ballots. It also allows the state to disqualify voters who accidentally vote in the wrong precinct. Republicans claim they are trying to prevent fraud, but the actual intention is clear when you recognize that local GOP officials routinely shift voting locations in minority neighborhoods – making it easier for these voters to accidentally run afoul of the new law.
These laws aren’t just in swing states, either. States like Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have all passed laws making it harder to vote by mail, on top of many other voting restrictions. This is an epidemic, and Democrats must use every means at their disposal to fight back before it’s too late.
Filibustering the filibuster
The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ most effective response to voter suppression is to pass a new federal voter protection law. Indeed, some of the very first bills put forth in the US House and Senate this year were to protect voting rights, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The bills have not seen much success because of Republican intransigence.
The most common solution to move past the GOP is changing the filibuster, which prevents any bill from moving forward in the Senate unless it has 60 supporters. Given the 50-50 split in the chamber, this effectively gives the Republican minority veto power over almost every bill brought to the Senate floor.
After the Supreme Court decision, Democrats are calling again for an end to the filibuster so that the voting rights law can pass. But that ship has sailed. The Democrats in the ideological center of the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have not moved on changing the filibuster. And with their stubbornness on the filibuster goes any chance of a new federal voting law.
Democrats across the country need to stop hoping that Congress or the courts will fix this problem. They won’t. Democrats need to take charge themselves.
Voter suppression boomerang
While efforts may be stymied at the federal level, Democrats do have a chance to harness the energy and outrage around voter suppression to increase voter turnout at the state and local level.
In Arizona, where casting a ballot in the wrong place can lead to disqualification, voter education campaigns are essential. The GOP technique only works to suppress the vote when voters don’t know their polling location. With solid organizing, Democrats can ensure every single voter knows where to cast their ballot.
In Georgia, ground zero for many false claims of election fraud, Democrats have already shown what it takes to fight back. Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight has been on the front lines of combating voter suppression. As a result, Georgia Democrats helped flip the White House and Senate in 2020. If Democrats are serious about combating voter suppression, they should set up a Fair Fight in every single state.
Perhaps the single largest step that Democrats can take to fight suppression and increase turnout is to invest in year-round organizing. In too many places, young Democratic staffers parachute in for one campaign cycle and then leave, forgoing the ability to forge the deep connections it takes to win over and help voters.
For the time being, Democrats can’t do anything about the Supreme Court. But the right to vote is precious, and we can use the threat of these new laws to inspire people to hold onto what’s theirs and fight back against Republican attempts to subvert democracy.
Jena Griswold was 34 years old when, in her first run for office back in 2018, she defeated a Republican incumbent to become the top elections official in Colorado, the first Democrat to hold the position in six decades and the youngest secretary of state in the nation.
Two years later, Griswold helped administer a presidential election – in a place where all voters receive a ballot in the mail – that state and national officials deemed “the most secure in American history.”
Joe Biden won Colorado by more than 439,000 votes and, with it, the presidency. But the groundwork for discrediting his victory had been laid months before. When voters made their choice, the lying hit a fever pitch: about widespread fraud; about fake ballots, maybe from China, being added to the tally in the middle of the night; about officials, left and right, rigging the vote against an incumbent.
In an interview, Griswold said she now fears for her safety.
“I’m not alone in that,” she said. Across the country, “Democratic secretaries of state have received all types of death threats.” Republicans, too.
In Arizona, Katie Hobbs, that state’s Democratic elections official, was recently provided a state security detail after being threatened over her criticism of the partisan “audit” taking place in Maricopa County, where a private third party, Cyber Ninjas, has been given free rein by the GOP-led state senate over 2.1 million ballots – a majority of them cast for President Biden – in an apparent effort, dismissed by a bipartisan group of experts as not credible, to fit the facts to the pro-Trump conspiracy theories.
Griswold is part of a bipartisan group of elections officials urging Congress to provide billions of dollars to shore up state and local voting infrastructure (“elections cost money”). But the biggest threat to the security of democracy, she said, is something else: disinformation.
In 2016, the Russian government worked to tilt the election in Donald Trump’s favor, as well as to sow doubt about the integrity of any vote he lost. It did so again in 2020.
But stateside, “elected officials really embraced the use of lies to try to manipulate Americans voters,” Griswold said.
“The lies are creating violence. The lies are creating threats,” she said. It is those elected officials, more than any foreign adversary, that she sees as threatening the integrity of the US political system. The push for “fraudulent audits,” in Arizona and elsewhere, is to Griswold perhaps the most glaring example of officials who know better engaging in bad faith to better position themselves for the next GOP primary.
“The blatant abuse of political seats for these elected officials’ personal gain is incredibly dangerous to our democracy, but also to election workers,” she said. “That is, hands down, my number one concern.”
It has included misleading the public over the very right to vote. In Georgia, when Republicans passed a new elections law that requires mail-in voters to provide an ID every time they cast a ballot – citing the need to address fraud that was never uncovered – they pointed to Colorado as if it were a model they were following. But Colorado only requires proof of identification once, at registration, the standard Republicans embraced in the early 2000s, and it accepts utility bills, not just government forms of ID. And, as of 2019, residents are now automatically registered to vote anytime they get a driver’s license.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous to compare Colorado’s gold-standard voter model to Georgia’s voter suppression model,” Griswold told Insider. Even before the new restrictions, some voters in Georgia, particularly in urban areas, could expect to wait hours in line; in Colorado, the average wait time is seven minutes – and there’s no prohibition on giving them water.
But false claims of voter fraud are being used around the country to impose such new restrictions. The threat to democracy, again, is coming from within.
“What we’re seeing is insider political actors use voter suppression as a tool to steal future elections,” Griswold said. “And that is the most un-American and corrupting thing you can do.”
On July 7, former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary, where they will reflect on a remarkable life has taken them from rural Georgia and locales across the globe as a Naval family to the Governor’s Mansion and ultimately the White House.
Despite the whirlwind of their nearly eight decade long marriage, some things remain the same.
Former President Carter, 96, and the former first lady, 93, still live in Plains, the small southwestern Georgia city where they were both born. And they often give each other the kind of loving gaze that so many spend years trying to find.
“It’s a full partnership,” the 39th president told The Associated Press during a joint interview ahead of the couple’s anniversary date.
When Carter was a young midshipman in the US Naval Academy, spending some time at home from the venerable institution, a first date with Rosalynn set the spark that blossomed into a lifetime of memories.
In his interview, Carter said that the most important decision that he’s ever made wasn’t as the leader of the free world or even as the executive officer of a nuclear submarine early in the Cold War – it was his courtship of Eleanor Rosalynn Smith, which began in 1945 and led to their marriage the next year.
“My biggest secret is to marry the right person if you want to have a long-lasting marriage,” the former president told The Associated Press.
The first couple offered advice in how to maintain a lasting bond.
“Every day there needs to be reconciliation and communication between the two spouses,” the former president said, explaining that the deeply religious couple reads the Bible together each night. “We don’t go to sleep with some remaining differences between us.
Rosalynn Carter said that finding common interests is key – with some boundaries in mind.
“Jimmy and I are always looking for things to do together,” she told The Associated Press. “Each (person) should have some space. That’s really important.”
During her days in the White House, the former first lady was a reliable support system for her husband, while also engaging in her own causes, which included health care and mental health awareness.
The couple plans to mark their milestone a few days after the anniversary with a party in their hometown.
Rosalynn Carter joked about the size of the crowd that was slated to attend the event.
“We have too many people invited,” she said laughingly. “I’m actually praying for some turndowns and regrets.”
Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that former NFL player Herschel Walker informed him that he planned to run in the 2022 Georgia Senate race against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
During an interview on the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, Trump, who for months has encouraged Walker to jump into the race, called the University of Georgia standout and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner a “patriot.”
“He told me he’s going to, and I think he will,” Trump said. “I had dinner with him a week ago. He’s a great guy. He’s a patriot. He’s a very loyal person.”
If Walker ultimately joins the race, he would likely enter the contest as a frontrunner in the Republican primary given the enduring power of the former president’s endorsements within the GOP base.
The other Republicans currently in the race include state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and two military veterans – Latham Saddler and Kelvin King.
Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, was a first-time candidate who became one of the Democratic Party’s strongest recruits in the 2020 Senate cycle, defeating appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a high-stakes January 2021 runoff election.
A contest between Warnock and Walker would feature a rare Senate election between two prominent Black candidates in a Southern swing state where the Black electorate will play a decisive role in the outcome of the election.
With the Senate currently split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, the race is also expected to rank as one of the most competitive contests, especially with Republicans eager to defeat Warnock and possibly regain their majority in the upper chamber.
Georgia, once a deeply conservative GOP stronghold, has morphed into a purple state.
In the 2020 presidential election, now-President Joe Biden defeated Trump in the state by roughly 12,000 votes out of nearly 5 million votes cast, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 28 years.
In the January 2021 Senate runoff elections, Warnock’s electoral win was augmented by the victory of Democrat Jon Ossoff, who beat incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue in a separate runoff election for a full term.
Former President Donald Trump still has Georgia on his mind.
After now-President Joe Biden narrowly won the state in last year’s presidential race, Trump prodded Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to convene the conservative-led state legislature in order to overturn the results and pressured GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” additional votes to ensure a statewide win.
Trump’s entreaties were rejected, but he has continued to attack both men for what he says was an unfair election process in the state, withholding an endorsement of Kemp in his 2022 reelection campaign and backing Rep. Jody Hice in a Republican secretary of state primary over Raffensperger.
During his first post-presidential rally in Ohio on Saturday, the former president suggested that Abrams might have been a more preferable choice for the GOP than Kemp.
“By the way, we might have been better if she did win for governor of Georgia if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “We might have had a better governor if she did win.”
Trump has not endorsed any of the lesser-known candidates running against Kemp in the GOP gubernatorial primary, but the former president will likely play a decisive role in the immediate future of the state party.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Monday that the state was halting its participation in federal unemployment benefits starting June 19.
Those include the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program for gig workers and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the long-term unemployed.
“We have announced the end date of our state of emergency, there are no industry shutdowns, and daycares are operating with no restrictions. Vaccinations are available for all adults. Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work,” Ivey said in a press release.
Experts say other factors are keeping workers from jumping back into the labor force, such as a lack of childcare access and fear of COVID-19 infection.
Alaska will end its participation in the extra $300 in weekly benefits effective June 12.
“As Alaska’s economy opens up, employers are posting a wide range of job opportunities and workers are needed,” labor and workforce development commissioner, Dr. Tamika L. Ledbetter, said in a statement.
Extensions for the state benefit will continue through September 6.
Arizona, however, is setting aside some federal funds to provide a one-time $2,000 bonus for people who return to work by Sept. 6. There are some strings attached.
People qualify for the measure if they are already receiving jobless aid — and they must earn less than $25 hourly at their next job. That amounts to a yearly salary of $52,000. Individuals must also work 10 weeks with a new employer to get the cash.
The state last recorded an unemployment rate of 6.7%, higher than the 4.9% it had immediately before the pandemic in February 2020.
Arizona’s average jobless payout is $238.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on May 7 that the state would no longer participate in federal unemployment after June 26.
“The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed,” Hutchinson said in a press release, which cited South Carolina’s and Montana’s separate decisions to opt out of the federal assistance program.
Its unemployment rate is 4.4%, slightly higher than the 3.8% level of February 2020. The average weekly benefit in the state is $248.
Florida will end its participation in the $300 in additional weekly benefits effective June 26. However, other federal programs, including PUA, “will continue for the time being as DEO [Department of Economic Opportunity] continues to carefully monitor job posting and industry hiring trends.”
In a press release, DEO Secretary Dane Eagle said “transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce.” Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.7% in March 2021, 1.9% higher than 2.8% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $235.22.
Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that the state will end its participation in federal unemployment benefit programs effective June 26.
“Even in the middle of a global pandemic, job growth and economic development in Georgia remained strong — including an unemployment rate below the national average,” Kemp said in a statement. “To build on our momentum, accelerate a full economic recovery, and get more Georgians back to work in good-paying jobs, our state will end its participation in the federal COVID-19 unemployment programs, effective June 26th.”
Gov. Brad Little said Idaho would no longer draw federal money to fund enhanced unemployment insurance, and the state will cancel its program on June 19.
It’s time to get back to work,” Little said in a Tuesday statement. “My decision is based on a fundamental conservative principle — we do not want people on unemployment. We want people working.”
The state was among those that recently reimposed a job-seeking requirement for people receiving jobless aid.
Idaho’s unemployment rate stands at 3.2%, a higher level compared to 2.6% in February 2020. The average weekly unemployment benefit in the state is $355, per the Labor Department.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said the state is terminating all federal unemployment programs effective June 19.
“There are help wanted signs posted all over Indiana, and while our economy took a hit last year, it is roaring like an Indy 500 race car engine now,” Holcomb said in the news release. “I am hearing from multiple sector employers that they want and need to hire more Hoosiers to grow.”
The state is also among those now requiring people to actively seek work while on unemployment.
Indiana’s unemployment rate is 3.9%, higher than the 3.2% it had in February 2020. The average weekly benefit is $254.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state would cancel federal jobless benefits on June 12.
“Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs initially provided displaced Iowans with crucial assistance when the pandemic began,” Reynolds said in a statement. “But now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work.”
The state’s unemployment rate stood at 3.7%, still slightly higher than the 2.9% it recorded in February 2020. Iowa’s average weekly jobless benefit is $430.
Louisiana is the first Democrat-led state to prematurely cut off its participation in $300 weekly benefits. Those benefits will end July 31.
Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill that would increase the state’s regular weekly benefits by $28. One of the bill’s stipulations was that supplemental unemployment benefits had to end on July 31.
Local news outlet WWLTV reported that, prior to the bill’s passage, the governor had already said he planned on ending benefits in early August, when school begins.
Maryland will end its participation in all federal unemployment programs effective July 3.
Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that the state has vaccinated 70% of its adults, hitting the goal set by President Joe Biden, and that Maryland’s “health and economic recovery continues to outpace the nation.”
“While these federal programs provided important temporary relief, vaccines and jobs are now in good supply,” Hogan said. “And we have a critical problem where businesses across our state are trying to hire more people, but many are facing severe worker shortages.”
Mississippi is among the seven states that have not lifted hourly pay for workers since the last increase to the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.
Gov. Mike Parson announced on Tuesday that Missouri would be ending its participation in federal unemployment on June 12.
“While these benefits provided supplementary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19, they were intended to be temporary, and their continuation has instead worsened the workforce issues we are facing,” Parson said in a statement. “It’s time that we end these programs that have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.”
Missouri raised its minimum wage to $10.30 on January 1, 2021.
Gov. Greg Gianforte announced the state was ending federal benefits on June 27.
“Incentives matter, and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good,” Gianforte said in a statement. “We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce.”
Taking its place will be a $1,200 return-to-work bonus, an amount equivalent to four weeks of receiving federal jobless aid. Workers will be eligible for the cash after a month on the job. The measure enjoys support among some congressional Republicans.
The average weekly benefit in the state is $468 without the federal supplement. The state’s unemployment rate has reached pre-pandemic levels, at 3.8% in April.
Nebraska will end its participation in all federal unemployment programs effective June 19.
According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Gov. Pete Ricketts said the benefits are a “disincentive for some people” in returning to work. The curtailing of benefits come as part of the state’s initiative to reopen and “return to normalcy.”
Gov. Chris Sununu said on Thursday that he was planning on ending the additional $300 weekly benefit before it’s due to expire, NECN reports. However, the date that benefits will be discontinued in the state remains unclear.
The state will also begin work search requirements for those on UI beginning May 23.
The New Hampshire unemployment rate was 3.0% in March 2021, above the February 2020 rate of 2.6%. The state’s average weekly benefit is $277.26.
Gov. Doug Burgum said the state would pull out of federal unemployment benefit programs on June 19.
“Safe, effective vaccines have been available to every adult in North Dakota for months now, and we have an abundance of job openings with employers who are eager to hire,” Burgum said in a news release, noting the state had its highest number of online job postings since July 2015.
The state’s unemployment rate is 4.4%, still almost double its level of 2.3% in February 2020. North Dakota’s average weekly unemployment payment is $480.
Gov. Mike Dewine said the state will scrap the federal unemployment benefit programs on June 26.
“This assistance was always intended to be temporary,” DeWine said in a statement.
The state’s unemployment rate stands at 4.7%, the same level it had in February 2020. The average weekly benefit in Ohio is $383.
Gov. Kevin Stitt is dropping all federal unemployment programs starting on June 26.
“That gives people six weeks to get off the sidelines and get back into the game,” he said in a news release.
Stitt also announced that the first 20,000 laid-off workers now receiving benefits that are rehired will get a $1,200 “incentive using funds from the American Rescue Plan.”
People are eligible if they receive some form of federal unemployment aid between May 2 through 15, and keep their new job for at least six weeks. Individuals must also have a 32-hour workweek.
The Oklahoma unemployment rate stands at 5.2%, higher than the 3.1% it had before the pandemic broke out in February last year. The average weekly benefit is $310.
Even before the jobs report hit, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said the state would stop its participation in federal unemployment effective June 30.
“This labor shortage is being created in large part by the supplemental unemployment payments that the federal government provides claimants on top of their state unemployment benefits,” McMaster wrote in a letter to the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce.
McMaster spoke with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson about the expanded unemployment program, saying he believed it’s a “counterproductive policy.”
The average weekly benefit in the state stands at $228. South Carolina’s unemployment rate is 5.1%, still nearly double its pre-pandemic rate of 2.8% in February 2020.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, 76.7% of the unemployment insurance that South Carolina disbursed came from federal funds, according to the report from the Economic Policy Institute. The minimum wage in South Carolina was last raised in 2009, when the federal minimum wage as a whole was increased to $7.25.
Gov. Kristi Noem announced Wednesday that the state will end its participation in federal unemployment benefit programs effective the week of June 26. In a related statement, the state’s Labor and Regulation Secretary Marcia Hultman noted that “help wanted signs line our streets.”
“South Dakota is, and has been, ‘Open for Business.’ Ending these programs is a necessary step towards recovery, growth, and getting people back to work,” Hultman added.
The South Dakota unemployment rate was 2.9% in March 2021, unchanged from 2.9% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $369.
Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that federal unemployment benefits would end in the state effective July 3.
“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee said in a statement. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”
The state’s unemployment rate in March 2021 was 5%, a 0.1% increase from the month before and 1% higher than the March 2020 rate. Tennessee’s average weekly unemployment payment is $219.45. Tennessee is one of seven states where the minimum wage remains at the federal level of $7.25.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he was scrapping all federal unemployment programs on June 26.
“The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said in a statement.
Nearly 1.3 million people in the state will experience a sharp cut in their unemployment aid, per an estimate from Andrew Stettner at the liberal-leaning Century Foundation. It’s the largest state yet to eliminate the programs, with the eliminated aid coming to an estimated $8.8 billion.
The average weekly benefit in Texas is $405. The state’s current 6.9% unemployment rate is still nearly double what it used to be in February 2020.
Utah is withdrawing from federal unemployment aid programs effective June 26.
“This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement. “The market should not be competing with the government for workers.”
The state has a 2.9% unemployment rate, slightly higher than the 2.5% pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The average weekly benefit in Utah is $428.
West Virginia will end its participation in federal unemployment benefit programs effective June 19 at midnight.
“We need everyone back to work,” Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement. “Our small businesses and West Virginia’s economy depend on it.”
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that more than 100,000 names will be removed from the state’s voter registration records.
This mass removal, or voter “purge,” mainly targeted those who filled out a change of address form (about 67,000) or had election mail returned (about 34,000), the AP reported. Voters can also be purged if they are declared “inactive” meaning they have not participated in an election in a certain number of years.
“Making sure Georgia’s voter rolls are up to date is key to ensuring the integrity of our elections,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “That is why I fought and beat Stacey Abrams in court in 2019 to remove nearly 300,000 obsolete voter files before the November election, and will do so again this year. Bottom line, there is no legitimate reason to keep ineligible voters on the rolls.”
Abrams was the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate who lost to Kemp. After that election, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization.
The state has also been a battleground over the results of the 2020 election. President Joe Biden won the state of Georgia, and two Democratic senators were also elected in a run-off election in January. The state voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016. Trump and his team had made repeated efforts to try to dispute the state’s election results, and Raffensperger was censured by his own party for stating Biden won the state.
Raffensperger said this is the first “major cleaning of the voter rolls” since 2019, and he’s “made it a priority to continue with the list maintenance process” since the 2020 presidential election.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the previous purge of 300,000 voters was not a complete victory. While a federal judge at the time agreed to have those who had been inactive for over eight years removed from the voter records, Raffensperger had to reinstate 22,000 voters who had voted a little while before the cutoff date.
“The last time Secretary Raffensperger conducted a massive voter purge, he was forced to admit 22,000 errors – 22,000 Georgia voters who would have been kicked off the rolls were it not for Fair Fight Action’s diligence. We’ll be reviewing the list thoroughly and reaching out to impacted voters,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action.
During a discussion with Bannon about COVID-19 origin theories, Greene peddled the unproven claim that the virus had been created in a lab and disseminated out into the public on purpose. Scientists haven’t ruled out the possibility that the coronavirus leaked from a lab.
Greene alluded to gain-of-function research, in which scientists deliberately enhance pathogens in a lab to study their spreadability and prepare for future pandemics. This kind of research can also help scientists create vaccines and treatments in response to the pathogen.
Opponents to this research method say scientists are unnecessarily exposing humans to more dangerous viruses this way.
“Why is there any need to create a virus that could spread rapidly through a population, make people sick and kill them? That’s a bioweapon,” Greene said. “So we need to very clear about what was the intent of COVID-19 and these viruses that they experiment with like some sort of Dr. Frankenstein experiments.”
Bannon then interrupted Greene, asking if she believed in gain-of-function research. Greene said didn’t believe in this method of research because “I don’t believe in evolution,” she told Bannon.