Democrats are scrambling to renew a eviction moratorium after Biden urged extension at the last-minute

Sherrod Brown
Sherrod Brown.

  • House and Senate Democrats are scrambling to renew a federal eviction ban after Biden urged them at the last-minute.
  • In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Sen. Sherrod Brown said he was working with Schumer on legislation.
  • Nearly six million people are at risk of eviction starting in two days.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Congressional Democrats are rushing to assemble legislation to renew a federal eviction ban before it expires

Democrats in both chambers are trying to draft a bill and put it to a rapid vote sometime in the next two days. The moratorium expires on July 31. After that, around 6 million people are at risk of getting evicted in the coming months, or 16% of all renters, per Census Pulse Survey Data.

The Biden administration on Thursday said it would not renew a federal eviction ban and the matter was ultimately left up to Congress, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling. The high court’s decision stated that Congress needed to renew it.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said though the administration “strongly supported” renewing the federal eviction ban, the Supreme Court ruling essentially tied its hands. The administration instead called for the quick dispersal of emergency rental aid which has been slow to get to renters. Psaki also said Biden is asking various federal agencies to implement limited eviction bans through September’s end.

Banking and Housing Committee chair Sherrod Brown initially held off pushing for an extension, saying it should be left up to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency intervened and put the moratorium in place last year under President Donald Trump, citing the urgency of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Now Brown is playing a key role assembling a bill to renew it past July 31.

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Brown’s office said he “supports an extension of the eviction moratorium and will work with Leader Schumer to pass legislation that will allow our nation’s renters to stay in their homes during this crisis.”

It was unclear what date House and Senate Democrats would ultimately agree on. A person familiar with the talks in the House said their version would attempt to extend it sometime until the end of the year.

Democrats in recent days had stepped up their calls for the administration to renew the ban. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranked Senate Democrat, were among them.

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College rankings have made school less affordable, less equitable, and more miserable for students. The pandemic exposed just how broken the system is.

Silhouettes of people struggling to hold up a giant U.S. News & World Report logo on a red background
The incentives around college rankings forced universities to take actions during the pandemic that made student experiences worse and more expensive.

  • College rankings don’t measure aspects of universities that are the most beneficial for students.
  • They’re mainly based on factors that are determined by wealth, access, privilege, and selectivity.
  • The pandemic showed how truly broken the system is, yielding worse experiences for students.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Early September is a blisteringly busy time for colleges and universities, with the start of the new semester and a whole new class of students kicking off the year of studies. But while everyone else is celebrating the start of something new, administrators are wracking their nerves over the results of something old, something they devote a considerable amount of prep to – their own big exam, the one that makes up an enormous amount of their grade: Will this be the year they take a big hit on the US News and World Report rankings?

Though circulation was down to 1.1 million in 2010 from 2 million in 2005, the once-powerful newsweekly commands an outsized presence in our popular understanding of universities.

“US News, of course, was the first one to really monetize rankings. They made huge big business out of rankings,” said Susan Paterno, author of the new book, “Game On: Why College Admission Is Rigged and How to Beat the System“.

When US News develops a rating, they select what is valuable in higher education. When they decide what’s valuable, colleges react, and try to get the numbers up. And when getting the numbers are this important, when they’re translated into a zero-sum ranking against their peers, colleges are incentivized to do things that make the college experience worse and more expensive for students, applicants, and faculty in order to appease that algorithm.

The birth of rankings

In the 1980s, two businesses emerged that would change higher education permanently: the test prep business, which was largely forged by Stanley Kaplan, who founded the company bearing his last name, and the beginning of the US News and World Report rankings.

As US News began to assign scores to universities using the test scores of admitted students as a proxy for quality, colleges began to desire more and more applicants who tested high.

The universities offered merit-based scholarships and financial incentives to those students, and as a result affluent parents of college applicants would pay for test prep for their kids to get those incentives.

“Even though that metric had nothing to do with the quality of the education that the particular college or university was providing – it was really just a number that describes kids in high school – that metric became the foundation that US News used to measure quality,” Paterno said. “But it was a bogus measure, really.”

Only 20% of the score on its Best Colleges rankings comes from academic instruction and faculty resources.

Optimizing this 20% may still lead to negative outcomes for students. Paying faculty more can raise the sticker price of colleges. Optimizing class size to appease US News can lead to things like capping classes and thus limiting the number of large, efficient lectures, or constraining the ability of students to get into entry-level courses.

It appears US News has more influence on class size than many professors. In 2014, Northeastern University’s former president Richard Freeland told Boston Magazine in 2014, “You get credit for the number of classes you have under 20 [students], so we lowered our caps on a lot of our classes to 19 just to make sure.”

How the pandemic and college ratings caused a perfect storm

When the pandemic set in, the college experience imploded overnight. All the academic and interpersonal hallmarks of a college education – landscaped verdant campuses, faculty-student mentoring, research opportunities, everything from sports to labs to parties to dorms – was all flattened to the width of an LCD screen.

Everyone was paying full sticker price to go to the same college, Zoom University.

During the pandemic, students needed academic flexibility. Thanks to the rigors of rankings, they did not get it.

professor gestures to students on video call
Associate Professor Carol Dysinger of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts conducts a remote office hour for filmmaking grad students at her Brooklyn apartment on May 29, 2020.

When graduation and retention is 35% of their score, colleges simply could not afford to have students transfer out, or defer their graduation, or pause their enrollment, because that could have a disastrous impact on their completion rate.

One-fifth of the score comes from a survey sent out to admissions offices asking for assessments of peer universities, and another fifth is an implicit reckoning of institutional wealth – per-student spending, alumni giving, admitted student selectivity. Improving per-student spending also has the knock-on effect of pushing colleges to spend more, which has to be paid for by tuition.

“If you look at how US News ranks, they had no definition of academic excellence, so they created one,” Paterno said. “And how did they create that? They didn’t measure actual learning at all. Instead, they measured students’ selectivity, test scores and grades, institutional resources.”

“And that’s: how wealthy are you?”

Robert Morse, chief data strategist at US News, disputed the incentives Paterno described.

“It’s an incorrect premise to say that our methodology only incentivizes colleges to enroll affluent students. Schools will do better in the U.S. News Best Colleges ranking if they enroll and graduate high proportions of Pell Grant students vs those that only enroll very small percentages of Pell Grant students,” Morse said in an email.

Five percent of the US News score is related to Pell Grant student performance.

“It is also an incorrect assertion to imply that graduation rates only represent institutional wealth,” Morse said. “Graduation rates are highly important to students and their parents. When a student enrolls in a school their intent is to graduate with a diploma. If a school is only graduating half their students, that is an important indicator of poor outcomes and is independent of the type of students and their economic background.”

girl adjusts graduation cap at college wearing a sash that says zoom university
Katherine Koeppel, 22, a psychology major who graduated from USC in May, on campus in Los Angeles on July 2, 2020. She had a Zoom logo embroidered onto her sash, a reminder of how she attended class her last semester because of the pandemic.

Bad for students, worse for applicants

The rankings make life even worse for applicants. The incentives are obvious, Paterno says: If you have two applicants of equal academic merit, and one comes from difficult circumstances and the other is affluent, who is more likely to graduate in four years? With 35% of the university’s score at stake, this isn’t hypothetical.

“Graduation rates are a very controversial metric,” Paterno said, “because it it gives colleges incentives to reject students they think won’t complete.”

During a pandemic – and especially during a year in which the number of college applications are through the roof – which applicants stood to gain and which stood to lose?

Another 5% is a newer figure that discerns how much money graduates owe. Making this a factor is an excellent way to push universities into accepting more wealthy or affluent people who don’t need to take loans.

“They don’t really want to accept students with hardships that might cause them to drop out,” Paterno said.

The pandemic turned the college application process from a merely Kafkaesque nightmare to an abattoir of despair.

Having dropped their testing requirements, universities received an onslaught of applications. One survey of applicants from consulting firm Art & Science Group found 20% were on some kind of wait list. While just 18% of middle- or lower-income kids were on a wait list, 32% of applicants from higher-income households were.

Some wait lists are still active today: the Applying to College subreddit inventories this anxiety, with applicants venting about “extended waitlists” in the University of California system, at Johns Hopkins, Duke, and more.

The US News applicant performance rating, worth 7%, doesn’t measure the quality of the instruction at the college but rather the standardized testing and class ranking of the people who are admitted. Even that, Paterno said, is a proxy for finances, namely the budget to recruit and advertise and offer scholarships to desirable high performers.

student with a face mask attends a college class in their dorm on zoom
Freshman Kyalynn Moore-Wilson sits at a desk in her dorm room before joining a Zoom meeting for an Introduction to Psychology course as classes begin amid the coronavirus pandemic at the University of New Mexico on August 17, 2020.

The incentives for colleges and universities are clear: with 35% of the score derived from the fraction who stick around, make it incredibly financially painful for students to take a break during the pandemic and don’t gamble on students who are financially precarious. With 20% derived from money, don’t cut tuition or offer breaks. With 5% from graduate indebtedness, only take the richest applicants. Remember, you’ve got a reputation to maintain: that’s 20% of your score, after all.

Is there a good rating system out there?

The current rating system that Paterno argues is fundamentally broken is, even still, the result of years of improvements.

This includes the removal of the acceptance rate, which was responsible for lots of applicant misery and a heap of third-party mailers going out to applicants the universities knew would likely fail to make the grade. In order to get their acceptance rate down, colleges and universities would mount colossal ad campaigns and direct mail to drive the applicant counts up.

Developing a new and improved rating system is fraught, as the Obama administration learned during a 2013 rollout of a federal college rating system that was eventually scrapped.

Even the best-intentioned arbiters face an uphill battle in trying to assign an arbitrary rating and ranking to a college, probably because the idea of reducing a colossal institution to a fragmentary rank completely misunderstands what a university actually is, and further sets up incentives that undermine their abilities to accomplish their actual mission.

There’s no indication that the market for ratings is slowing down. Following the outstanding commercial success of their college rankings, US News has since expanded to medical schools, law schools, and even high schools.

If anything, the market for ratings is only growing – their database now includes preschools and elementary schools, too.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Catholic bishops’ effort to deny Biden communion risks alienating church members, a majority of whom support abortion rights

An image of the interior of a colorful, elaborate cathedral beside a close-up image of President Joe Biden.
Some Catholic bishops have expressed interest in denying President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, Communion over his abortion stance.

  • Some US Catholic bishops expressed interest in denying Biden communion over his abortion stance.
  • But polls show a majority of Catholics share Biden’s view in support of abortion rights.
  • The bishops could push Catholics further away at a time when church membership is already declining.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The faith of the US’s second-ever Catholic president became the subject of heated debate last month.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the go-ahead on the drafting of a document that could bar President Joe Biden from receiving communion, because of his stance on abortion.

Biden, one of the most religiously observant presidents in recent decades, has been denied communion before, in 2019 at a church in South Carolina. The priest told the Florence Morning News at the time that he denied Biden communion because “any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.”

But that pro-abortion stance would also include a majority of US Catholics.

A 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center found 56% of Catholic respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In fact, many US Catholics’ views on abortion are similar to Biden’s, according to Dr. Patrick Whelan, a doctor and professor at the Institute of Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.

“The vast majority of Catholics are pro-life and pro-choice,” Whelan told Insider. “It’s a moral issue but they don’t think the government should be making that decision.”

Biden has personally expressed reservations about abortion in the past, but now supports a woman’s right to choose. Whelan said conservative bishops’ decision to target Biden places them at odds with church members who hold similar views.

The clash could be particularly harmful to the Catholic church, where mass attendance has been declining for decades and divisions between leadership and members are already prevalent.

A ‘long train of usurpations’

The National Catholic Reporter, a progressive publication, ran a snarky editorial last month in support of the bishops’ plan to deny Biden communion.

“Just do it, so that if there happens to be a Catholic remaining who is not convinced that the bishops’ conference, as it stands today, has become completely irrelevant and ineffectual, they will be crystal clear about that reality after the conference leaders move forward with this patently bad idea,” the editorial said.

Insider spoke with three US Catholics who support abortion rights, all of whom echoed that sentiment.

“I find it horrific that the bishops would abuse their authority in this way,” said Rebecca Houston, who taught at a Catholic high school in Chicago for more than two decades.

She said it was “shocking” that bishops would potentially deny Biden, a “devout” Catholic, the Eucharist over a political matter, but that to her it’s just the latest example of church leadership’s failures.

Houston said she found Catholic support for former President Donald Trump “egregious.” Catholic voters were split in 2020, with 50% voting Trump and 49% voting Biden, according to AP VoteCast. Meanwhile, Catholic leaders in the US, including the same bishops that could deny Biden Communion, have praised Trump, particularly on issues like abortion and religious freedom.

“It was really the culmination of a ‘long train of usurpations,’ to quote the founding fathers,” Houston said, adding that although she believes “the Church is comprised of many different viewpoints” she “cannot just sit with this anymore.”

‘I would support the church more openly if things like that weren’t happening’

A Gallup poll published in 2019 found many others have had their faith in church leadership shaken as well. The percentage of Catholic respondents who rated highly the honesty and ethical standards of clergy fell from 49% to 31% from 2017 to 2018, when more sexual abuse allegations and questions about the church’s response arose.

That percentage was down from 66% in 2004. Gallup said major drops in trust over the years have clearly coincided with church scandals.

Sean, a 28-year-old Catholic from Chicago, told Insider the church’s response to sex abuse scandals particularly affected him.

“The big open secret of how things are behind the scenes has taken the wind out of my sails,” Sean, who asked Insider not to use his real name, said.

Sean went to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school and still considers his faith a big part of his life, but he doesn’t talk about it much.

He said the bishops targeting Biden over abortion is just another factor making him hesitant to support the Church openly. He was opposed to abortion for a long time, but said his change on the issue was probably the biggest one he’s ever had.

“I get where the Church would be hard and firm on that,” he said. “But I can’t justify making somebody else suffer because of my own personal beliefs.”

Still, Sean said if the bishops were to deny communion to Biden, it wouldn’t greatly affect his relationship to his faith, as he already feels disconnected from church leadership. But it would be another factor deterring him from being more vocal about his religion.

“I think I would support the Church more openly if things like that weren’t happening,” he said.

With church membership on the decline it’s a ‘terrible time’ to focus on this

Church membership in the US has been steadily declining for decades, but the Catholic church has seen an especially sharp decline, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. The percentage of self-identifying Catholics who belonged to a specific church fell from 76% around the year 2000 to 58% today.

“This is a terrible time to try and make this a preeminent issue,” Whelan, who wrote an essay criticizing the bishops over the Biden-communion issue, said. “When people have gotten out of the habit of going to church and they risk insulting a majority of Catholics.”

A much better approach, according to Whelan, would be for the bishops to embrace the country’s second Catholic president and his personal concerns with abortion to find ways to actually reduce the number of abortions. He points to the drop in abortions that occurred under former President Barack Obama, when the Affordable Care Act made contraceptives and other reproductive healthcare available to women who couldn’t get it before.

“Biden has moral concerns about this, like most other Catholics,” he said. “Let’s work together to find common-sense solutions.”

Are you a Catholic who would like to share your thoughts? Do you have a news tip or question about this topic? We want to hear from you! Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Bernie Sanders says he wants over $3.5 trillion for a Democrat-only infrastructure package. Senate Democrats aren’t ready to commit.

Bernie Sanders White House
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks to reporters outside the White House.

  • Sanders wants a Democrat-only infrastructure bill that’s larger than $3.5 trillion.
  • “I’m going to fight to make that proposal as robust as it can be,” he said outside the White House.
  • Talks are in their early stages, and Insider spoke to several Democrats who weren’t ready to commit.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday said he’s pushing Democrat-only infrastructure package larger than $3.5 trillion, as Senate Democrats kicked off a frenzied legislative period.

“I’m going to fight to make that proposal as robust as it can be,” Sanders told reporters outside the White House after an afternoon meeting with President Joe Biden. He’s pushed for $6 trillion in new spending and shot down a $3.5 trillion price tag that has been floated.

The price tag was pitched by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, according to two people familiar with the talks. Both were granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about the negotiations.

Sanders also said the legislation was a way to show average Americans that the government was capable of improving their lives.

“We want to see a reconciliation bill which shows the working families of this country that government can and must work for them,” Sanders said, referring to the legislative pathway Democrats will use to approve a bill with only a simple majority, skirting Republicans.

He added that the package Democrats are drafting could be among the most transformative since the New Deal era.

“What we are trying to do is transformative,” he said. ‘The legislation that the president and I are supporting will go further to improve the lives of working people than any legislation since the 1930s.”

It comes as Sanders starts deploying a substantial amount of influence as chair of the Senate Budget Committee over the reconciliation process. The Vermont senator has a big role shaping the size and scope of Biden’s tax-and-spending plans, and his committee is tasked with writing instructions on federal spending and taxes to other Congressional committees.

Over the weekend, Sanders told The New York Times he’s pressing for a party-line infrastructure package topping $3 trillion that includes housing, climate, childcare, and paid leave among other new initiatives. That could set up a clash with moderate Senate Democrats like Warner and Joe Manchin of West Virginia who favor a slimmer party-line bill. Manchin has expressed support in the past for a $2 trillion party-line bill that’s fully paid for.

Given talks appear to be in their early stages, several Senate Democrats said they weren’t ready to back Sanders’ large price tag. They are racing to kick off the reconciliation process within the month, but a final bill wouldn’t be passed until sometime in the fall.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, deflected when asked if he could support a package of that size. The panel is in charge of drafting the tax components that generate revenue for eventual infrastructure legislation.

“My colleagues and I have been talking all through the break,” Wyden told Insider, referring to the two-week July 4 recess. “We’re going to do some more talking.”

Other Democrats also weren’t ready to throw their support behind the hefty price tag pitched by Sanders.

“Depends on what it’s spent for and how it’s paid for,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a member of the bipartisan group that struck a $1 trillion bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans, told Insider.

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Biden ally, demurred as well. “I’m very focused on getting to text on the infrastructure bill,’ he said. “What matters more than the price tag to me is the contents and the details.”

“To me, it’s much more important to try to determine what’s in the package than to start at a topline and work backwards,” Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in an interview. “I’d rather say these are the things the country needs and that’s the way I’m going to approach it.”

Democrats hold a 50-50 Senate that relies on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. Every Senate Democrat must be onboard the party-line bill or else the effort collapses.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Congress passed a $16 billion program to save entertainment venues rocked by the pandemic. It became a mismanaged fiasco, with thousands of businesses still waiting for relief.

A theater announces one year of closure.
The Paramount Theatre, which is operated by the non-profit Seattle Theatre Group arts organization, displays a sign on March 15, 2021 to mark the one-year anniversary of the date it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Congress passed a $16 billion bipartisan relief package for venues months ago.
  • The rollout has been a slow, bug-ridden disaster, and thousands of venues don’t have their money.
  • “Each day these venues don’t get their money they’re going out of business,” Rep. Roger Williams said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Walter Kinzie, the owner of Austin-based concert promoter Encore Live, was loading in for a 28-band festival at SXSW in Austin in early March 2020 when the pandemic hit. Kinzie has a Texan unflappability and an aura of capability, the kind of guy who can fly halfway across the world with two employees and orchestrate a multi-night event juggling dozens of contractors.

His company, based out of the rustic Stockyards neighborhood of Ft. Worth, was among the first to shut down. In the months that followed, the live music, theater, and venue industry would have to buckle down, and starve out a pandemic that made the very fundamentals of their business unworkable.

“I lost 92.5% of my business in four days,” Kinzie told Insider. “A business I built over a decade was gone in four days. I lost my house, I lost my cars, I lost my office building, I lost all of my investments and my savings account, just to keep my employees working. It cost me everything.”

“But it will be worth it.”

In December, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a bill allocating $16 billion in emergency relief grants to the venues and stages decimated by the pandemic. The bipartisan bill ensured that the money would be allocated by the Small Business Administration to venues that had lost a large amount of their business owing to the pandemic.

Seven months later, after what operators described as a fiasco of an implementation, only a fifth of that money has actually been awarded, and more than 10,000 applicants are still waiting for their money.

Eris in Brooklyn on a Friday Night
Eris in Brooklyn on June 25, 2021. Forced to close by the pandemic, many venues have begun to re-open.

While other businesses like restaurants and office workers were able to adjust, by serving customers outside or having staff work from home, the live events industry was gutted nearly completely. The independent and fragmented nature of the live events business – where a single event can require the work of dozens of contractor companies, from ticketing to lighting to performers to catering to security and more – may make the industry a significant employer, but also made less able to seek out the aid it needed, compared to industries where just a few large corporations control a substantial amount of the business.

“I talk to friends who run arts organizations in other countries, and they’re just horrified,” said Angela Buccinni Butch, who owns The Muse, a venue where performers in acrobatic circus events train and perform.

“Every penny makes a difference in how these venues will emerge from this, because the fact is we cannot rely on our government.”

Venues are going for broke

Ben Lillie, who owns Caveat, a New York venue for comedy and music that put on 60 shows a month pre-pandemic, was looking at the best month of business in March 2020. “I was talking to a bankruptcy lawyer six months ago just to see about our options if we did have to shut it down, but luckily we didn’t.”

At The Muse, Broadway shows would rehearse there before they hit the road, and if you’ve ever watched a television commercial with an acrobatic element, there’s a pretty solid chance The Muse had a hand in it. Prior to the pandemic, the space was bustling.

“You’d always find people flying through the air,” Butch said . “Now we’re a warehouse that mostly sits empty all the time, because we’re waiting on funding to come through.”

Jonathan Corbett, who owns performing arts venue Eris in Brooklyn, went so far as to build a kitchen in his nightclub, just to be able to reopen when outdoor dining came back.

“I never expected to find myself as a restaurateur, and there I was,” Corbett said.

movie theater empty

The federal government rolled out three programs to help out venues. The first was PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans that, for venues bound to be closed for over a year, functioned mostly as a helpful stopgap. Next were Economic Impact Disaster Loans, or EIDL. Those were larger, but they weren’t forgivable, and for a typical venue were signed over to landlords or creditors pretty quickly.

That’s where SVOG, or the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program, was supposed to come in.

“This was a business that was devastated by COVID,” said Rep. Roger Williams, the House GOP architect of the SVOG bill. “It was the first to shut down and the last to open. Thousands and thousands of jobs were affected.”

The lack of capital for the venues is stymieing the recovery of the US’s entire entertainment sector. Prior to the pandemic, The Muse had between 50 and 100 people on payroll each month.

“We’ve lost half our staff because we can’t put offers on the table,” Butch said. “It’s prevented us from doing realistic negotiations with the landlords to resolve back rent. It’s prevented a lot of things. We are aiming to re-open in September and we are just praying this funding comes through.”

“The truth is, we have a bankruptcy meeting next week because if it doesn’t come through, that is what we’re looking at.”

Jonathan Corbett standing outside of performing arts venue Eris in Brooklyn
Jonathan Corbett, outside his Brooklyn performing arts venue, Eris.

The difficulties

Following the passage of the bill in December, operators expected a speedy response on par with the PPP program.

“I was hopeful it would follow the PPP and the EIDL timeline, which was probably two months,” Corbett said. “I was expecting February, March. They didn’t even have the application out until the end of April.”

The venue operators, who had been desperate for the money in December, would have to wait months in order to even apply. By February, 1,500 small operators had flocked to a Facebook group Kinzie organized, sensing an issue.

On April 7, an Inspector General report sounded the alarm on the SVOG program: “Currently, the program office has one designated official and its staff are on temporary detail. At this time, SBA has not formalized a plan for staffing this office relative to the volume of applications expected.”

“To put it simply, it has just been a complete mishandling of the program by SBA,” said a congressional aide familiar with the program. “They were able to roll out PPP on a timeline, but were vastly underprepared for this even though they had the resources.”

SVOG was turning into a disaster. “The restaurant revitalization fund was passed later and paid out earlier,” Corbett said.

A red tape nightmare

The FAQ document the SBA produced in early January identifying how to apply was eight pages in length. After 10 revisions, by April the document was a sprawling 41 pages.

“They kept on changing these manuals and what they were going to ask for and how to present things,” Butch said. “They made it clear if you made any mistakes on your application it would be dismissed right away.”

When the portal to apply opened on April 8, the system was taken down within an hour due to fundamental problems in the construction of the application form. According to an aide familiar with the program, SBA didn’t conduct appropriate stress tests for the portal.

Operators cited a document upload field as a key bug. When applicants attempted to upload a floor plan or other mandatory document, the system would crash and send the applicant to a Salesforce landing page. Later reports would identify contractor Salesforce as a source of the trouble, and the bug was related to an unregistered license. That, among other issues, delayed the portal launch two weeks, to April 24.

Neither the Small Business Administration nor the Office of Disaster assistance replied to a request for comment. A Salesforce spokesperson referred questions to the SBA.

A perfect storm

A marquee at the Hollywood Bowl concert venue bears a coronavirus-related message, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Los Angeles.
A marquee at the Hollywood Bowl concert venue bears a coronavirus-related message in Los Angeles on March 27, 2020.

The first thing that operators heard was silence, often for a month. When the SBA did reach out, it was often with problems with the applications.

“It required some IRS forms that had to be filled out in a pretty specific manner, in a manner that was inconsistent with the SBA’s instructions,” Corbett said. “There were people who were told they were dead. Not just a couple – that was a problem that was pretty broad. There were other people who were told they were on some kind of government do-not-pay list.”

The complex nature of the live events business, where 20 different independent contractors can have skin in the game on a single live event, made it all the more difficult for the federal government to actually understand who should qualify.

“The industry had limited resources to begin with, inadequate folks to advise the federal government, and a change in administration, I think it created this perfect storm,” Kinzie said.

The boiling point

When the first decisions went out on June 1, just 31 grants out of 13,619 were awarded. A week later, on June 9, that rose to a mere 90 grants out of the then-14,020 submitted, or 0.64% of grants.

“I don’t think there was any urgency created with the Biden administration to get this money out, and that was a big problem,” said Rep. Williams. “Like I was telling everybody at the SBA – this isn’t political, it doesn’t matter if I’m a Democrat or a Republican, this is a job creator, it’s a law, we need to get it going.”

The venue operators then began pushing the SBA publicly. Following scrutiny from the House and Senate architects of SVOG, which included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the administrator overseeing the program was swapped out, and Katie Frost, who had worked to implement the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, was placed in charge. Venue operators said the pace of decisions increased substantially thereafter.

“This legislation’s got Roger Williams and Chuck Schumer on it for crying out loud, we ought to be doing better than this,” Williams said. “We’re going to keep fighting to get this money, because each day these venues don’t get their money they’re going out of business. Jobs are being lost. I want to get these people paid rather than infighting with the agency.”

An open sign listing upcoming shows at a venue
Thousands of venues are still waiting for the relief they applied for.

The current status

Now, the money is starting to flow.

As of Tuesday, $3.2 billion of the $11.7 billion requested has been awarded. While just 28% of applicants have received their money, another 43% have had their application reach a decision.

But thousands of applicants are still in a state of limbo, unable to plan.

“Does it hamper the recovery? Absolutely,” Corbett said. “I would love to put money into a lot of different things.”

When Insider spoke to Kinzie, he was in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, a conference for the digital communications industry that usually attracts more than 100,000 attendees. A few hours earlier, the band Bon Jovi exited the stage following a performance Kinzie had organized. It’s his first live in-person event since March of 2020.

“Frick, it feels good,” Kinzie said. “I’m kind of emotional thinking about it. It feels good to be working again.”

Butch, who had been meeting with a bankruptcy attorney as recently as two weeks ago, got notified that The Muse had their grant application approved last Friday.

“We do not have a sense of when the funding will come through but have been awarded,” she said in an email. “We know of many others who have had trouble receiving the money so we are waiting to make sure it hits the account before we cheer too much.”

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The US resettled more than 1,500 refugees in June, the most since Joe Biden became president

GettyImages 1168294448
‘Immigrants and Refugees Welcome’ signage outside Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia on July 27, 2019.

  • The United States resettled 1,530 refugees in June.
  • President Joe Biden has set a goal of resettling as many as 62,500 refugees by this fall.
  • For contrast, in 1980, the US resettled more than 200,000 refugees.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More refugees were resettled in the United States last month than at any other point in the current fiscal year, a sign President Joe Biden and his administration are rebuilding a program that was decimated by the previous administration.

In June, according to new data from the US State Department, 1,530 refugees were provided new homes within the country, more than the previous three months combined. It is also the highest number since September 2020, and the second-highest total since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

That comes after refugee admissions tripled in May, to 915, after resettlements had nearly ground to a halt. Just one refugee was resettled in October 2020, the start of the current fiscal year – and until Biden issued a new order in April this year, none were allowed to come from Syria and other countries subject to the last White House’s ban on travel from several Muslim-majority nations.

The Biden administration has a stated goal of resettling as many as 62,500 refugees by the end of September. It is, however, extremely unlikely to reach that: just 4,780 people have been resettled thus far.

But officials at refugee resettlement agencies have told Insider the White House is indeed working behind the scenes to rebuild the capacity to provide new homes, in the next fiscal year, to as many as 125,000 people fleeing war and repression.

In a break with past administrations, the US government is now providing funds up front to resettlement agencies so they can rebuild their capacity. Many of those agencies closed offices during the Trump administration, which had consistently slashed the number of people who could be admitted to the US.

The last White House had set a cap of just 15,000 resettlements, an historic low. By contrast, more than 200,000 refugees were admitted in 1980, when the modern resettlement program began.

The bottleneck, according to experts, is the application process for resettlement candidates. Not only do such candidates need to first be identified by US officials, but they need to submit to multiple interviews and background checks abroad, a process that takes several months, at a minimum.

Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization and advocacy at the resettlement agency World Relief, told Insider the 1,530 refugees admitted last month “is still far, far below the historic norms.” But, he said, “it does represent a significant increase over the past several months, and we celebrate this progress.”

“The Biden administration will need to continue to prioritize re-building the pipeline for refugee resettlement that starts with overseas processing,” he added.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been terminated as the director of one of Trump’s golf courses in Scotland

donald trump allen weisselberg
Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg looks on as then-U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, on May 31, 2016.

  • Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was terminated from one of Trump’s Scotland golf courses.
  • It follows a 15-count indictment against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization.
  • Weisselberg’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been terminated as the director and controller of one of ex-President Donald Trump’s Scotland golf courses. The news comes after the executive and company were charged in a 15-count indictment.

A notice filed on Thursday at Companies House, the UK registry of private companies, showed that Weisselberg had been terminated as a director of Trump International Golf Club Scotland, a holding company that owns Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf resort, Trump International Golf Links.

He was also terminated as a “person with significant control,” which gives an individual influence over how a company is run.

Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. remain directors of the company, while Donald Jr. is now the sole person with significant control. Donald Trump himself resigned as a director from the company in January 2017, when he became president, Companies House records show.

Allen Weisselberg was terminated as the director of Donald Trump's Scottish golf company.
Allen Weisselberg was terminated as the director of Donald Trump’s Scottish golf company.

Weisselberg was initially appointed as one of four directors of the company in 2006, when Trump first purchased the land in Aberdeenshire, which he subsequently turned into a luxury golf resort.

Eric remains the sole director of Trump’s other Scottish golf company, Golf Recreation Scotland.

The termination follows a spate of criminal charges against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization in New York. On July 1, prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced a 15-count indictment alleging he participated in a wide-ranging tax fraud scheme that involved dodging taxes on $1.7 million of personal income.

Weisselberg and attorneys for the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty to the charges. The special grand jury investigation into the Trump Organization’s finances is ongoing. Prosecutors are seeking to “flip” Weisselberg into cooperating in the investigation, which is also examining whether the company misrepresented its finances in order to pay little in taxes while obtaining favorable rates for insurance and bank loans.

Attorneys for Weisselberg and a representative for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment about the CFO’s termination from his role at Trump International Golf Club Scotland.

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Hundreds of songbirds are dying from a mysterious illness that causes strange neurological behavior and experts have no idea why

A small brown bird with a crusty layer over its eyes.
A bird found in Washington DC with swollen, crusty eyes, a common symptom of the strange illness.

  • A mystery illness has killed hundreds of songbirds in several US states.
  • It also causes the birds to act strangely, and lose some control of their limbs.
  • Scientists are testing for viruses, bacteria, and chemicals, but the cause is still unknown.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hundreds of songbirds across at least eight US states are dying from a mysterious illness with strange symptoms, but experts have no idea what’s causing it.

The US Geological Survey said on June 9 that sick and dying birds were being reported in several US states, with neurological symptoms and some physical complications that include eye swelling and crusty discharge.

Birds with these symptoms have now been reported in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Allisyn Gillet, an ornithologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said a large variety of songbirds are dying from the unknown illness.

“We need to figure out what makes this disease be able to affect all these different species,” she told Insider, “and why is it in all these different states.”

The affected species include those that are typically seen in backyards – common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, American robins, and cardinals, among others.

It’s ‘as if they didn’t have any control over their head’

Gillet said they realized something was going on when a local wildlife rehabilitation center in the state started taking in birds with the same combination of peculiar symptoms. The birds had eye swelling, crustiness, and discharge, to the extent that it hindered their ability to see.

The birds were also disoriented and exhibiting unusual behaviors, including walking in strange ways and stumbling around. They had little control of their limbs and would do things like kick their legs up while on their backs.

“They would sway their heads in strange ways, as if they didn’t have any control over their head,” Gillet said.

People were reporting the birds seemed oddly unafraid of people, but Gillet said they were likely just too blinded or disoriented to react. She said the mortality rate of the illness appears high, as most of the birds are dead shortly after they are reported to officials. There have been 280 confirmed bird deaths with these symptoms in Indiana alone, according to Gillet.

Diagnostic labs are testing the bird specimens for viruses and bacteria, and are conducting toxicology testing for chemicals. They have been able to rule out avian influenza and West Nile virus, but not much else.

“They haven’t come to any conclusion. There are no definitive results right now,” Gillet said.

One possible factor being explored is the recent brood of cicadas throughout the eastern US. The emergence of the cicadas aligns with the timing and range of the bird illness. Gillet said there’s a correlation there, but a link has not yet been established.

Taking down bird feeders and baths helps the birds ‘socially distance’

In the meantime, officials in the impacted states are recommending citizens take down their bird feeders and bird baths, things that encourage birds to congregate.

“We want them to socially distance,” Gillet explained. “We don’t know enough, so we have to take the proper precautions.”

She also recommended reporting instances of birds displaying these symptoms to local wildlife authorities. Some states, like Kentucky and Indiana, have online wildlife disease reporting systems where citizens can upload photos or videos of the afflicted bird.

Gillet said the illness is especially unfortunate given that birds in North America already face many threats, such as habitat loss, window collisions, and natural predators with inflated populations.

A study published in the journal Science in 2019 found 3 billion birds have vanished from North America since 1970, and that even common species are experiencing declines.

“It’s unfortunate that there has to be another thing that is affecting their populations negatively,” Gillet said.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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The Republican National Committee said a third-party Microsoft IT contractor was breached in cyber attack last week, but no GOP data stolen

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Signs for the 2020 Republican National Convention outside of the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on August 22, 2020.

  • Russian hackers breached Synnex, a third-party IT contractor that works with Microsoft accounts, last week.
  • The attack took place around the same time a major ransomware attack was executed by a Russian-linked criminal group.
  • Bloomberg News reported the hackers belonged to a group known as APT 29 or Cozy Bear.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Russian government hackers breached Synnex, a third-party IT contractor that works with Microsoft last week, around the same time a major ransomware attack was tied to a Russian-linked criminal group.

Bloomberg News reported that hackers breached the Republican National Committee’s computer systems, but an RNC spokesperson denied that allegation to Insider, saying the group’s team worked with Microsoft to immediately confirm that no RNC data was accessed in the Synnex breach.

Two people familiar with the incident told the outlet that the hackers are part of a group known as APT 29 or Cozy Bear, which has been linked to Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The hackers were previously accused of breaching the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and infiltrating nine US government agencies during a supply-chair cyberattack that was disclosed in December, Bloomberg reported.

The breach comes less than a month after President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about cyberattacks at a June 16 summit.

A representative for the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters confirmed to Insider that no RNC data was accessed in the breach.

“Over the weekend, we were informed that Synnex, a third party provider, had been breached. We immediately blocked all access from Synnex accounts to our cloud environment,” Walters said. “Our team worked with Microsoft to conduct a review of our systems and after a thorough investigation, no RNC data was accessed. We will continue to work with Microsoft, as well as federal law enforcement officials on this matter.”

The IT corporation, Synnex, said it was aware of a “few instances where outside actors have attempted to gain access, through Synnex, to customer applications within the Microsoft cloud environment,” in a press release.

A representative for Synnex did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Michael Urban, president of worldwide technology solutions distribution at Synnex told Bloomberg the company was unable to provide specifics while it conducts a full review.

It was unclear if the Synnex breach was in any way tied to the ransomware attacks that took place around the same time, which targeted 200 American businesses using vulnerabilities in Kaseya, a Miami-based IT firm.

Cybersecurity experts have tied the massive attack to Russian-based criminal ransomware-as-a-service organization, REvil, which most recently attacked meat supplier JBS.

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Depression and mass detention: What’s happening with asylum-seeking children being held at Fort Bliss

FILE PHOTO: Activists defending the rights of migrants hold a protest near Fort Bliss to call for the end of the detention of unaccompanied minors at the facility in El Paso, Texas, U.S, June 8, 2021.
FILE PHOTO: Activists defending the rights of migrants hold a protest near Fort Bliss to call for the end of the detention of unaccompanied minors at the facility in El Paso, Texas, U.S, June 8, 2021.

  • Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, is being used to hold hundreds of child asylum-seekers.
  • Detainees have complained of inhumane conditions.
  • The ACLU’s Shaw Drake told Insider he saw hundreds of kids sleeping under the same tent.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At a military base in El Paso, Texas, hundreds of unaccompanied children who crossed the US-Mexico border to seek asylum are sleeping under one big tent. Some have been there for weeks – others were held there for months – as authorities worked to track down a relative who could take them out of government custody.

In recent court filings, children complained of insomnia, inedible food, and depression. One US lawmaker who visited the site, known as Fort Bliss, described the conditions as “absolutely unacceptable.”

It was not supposed to be like this. President Joe Biden and his administration pledged to create a “humane asylum system” – one that abandoned images of kids in cages in favor of recognizing the legal right to seek protection from violence and repression.

Shaw Drake, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, has twice visited the military base that now doubles as an emergency shelter. What he saw is too many children in one confined space, conditions that make it difficult for staff to keep track of what’s even happening.

“Children shouldn’t be held in those mass, dormitory-like situations,” he said. “We certainly observed firsthand the challenges and concerns about the lack of case management and the amount of time children were spending at the facility.”

Those conditions have led some children to attempt suicide and other forms of self-harm, according to testimony filed this month.

The Biden administration insists it is doing better – and in many ways it has, having reduced the number of kids in its custody and placing them in the care of family and friends. At one point, Fort Bliss housed around 5,000 children. This week, that number fell to fewer than 800, a product of the federal government ramping up efforts to place them with relatives and legal guardians.

By contrast, Drake said, the Trump administration allowed children to languish in Border Patrol facilities that were never intended to host them. At least five children died in them between 2018 and 2019.

“Border Patrol has a long history of holding people in inhumane conditions and abusing people in their custody, so it’s certainly not an environment that is conducive for unaccompanied children to spend any time in,” Drake said.

Emergency intake shelters like the one at Fort Bliss are an improvement, a fact that could have led to some complacency under the Biden administration – or at least a confidence that progress, amid a new surge in child asylum-seekers, was sufficient in the wake of the Trump administration, which itself had hollowed out the infrastructure for dealing with them.

“I think a big piece of it is a lack of commitment to the follow-through,” Drake said. “It’s very important to stand up these facilities and get kids out of Border Patrol, but the administration needed to move more quickly past to ‘how can we actually reunite these children with their loved ones?'”

There is a need to provide shelter. “The government does have to do its due diligence to ensure that they’re releasing the child to someone who is a bonafide relative or sponsor who’s going to take care for that child appropriately,” Drake said. But right now, that process can take days or weeks to even get started.

Beyond improving conditions at Fort Bliss and elsewhere, Drake said the search should begin as soon as a child is received by Border Patrol. On-site staff from the Department of Health and Human Services could even help some avoid further detention altogether.

“When children have – and many children do – direct parents or other immediate relatives waiting for them, they could be released directly without having to be transferred to an HHS facility,” he said. “And that’s something that, to this point, this administration and past administrations have failed to do.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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