Tag Archives: relief

Joe Biden scores first legislative win as House passes $1.9T COVID-19 relief package

U.S. President Joe Biden had his first legislative win as the House of Representatives passed his $ 1.9 trillion US coronavirus relief package early Saturday, though Democrats faced challenges to their hopes of using the bill to raise the minimum wage.

Democrats who control the chamber passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats planned a legislative manoeuvre to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.

The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.

Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

“The American people need to know that their government is there for them,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in debate on the House floor.

Republicans, who have broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending, said much of the current package was not necessary, highlighting elements like a subway near Pelosi’s San Francisco district. Only nine per cent of the total would go directly toward fighting the virus, they said.

“It just throws out money without accountability,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber. Progressives and moderates in the party who are often at odds will face tougher battles ahead on immigration and climate change initiatives that Biden wants to push.

The president has focused his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest U.S. public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.

Democrats aim to get the bill to him to sign into law before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and some other types of aid are due to expire.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is seen during a news conference in Washington on Friday. ‘The American people need to know that their government is there for them,’ she said of the American Rescue Plan. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

The bill’s big-ticket items include $ 1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $ 400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through Aug. 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris may have to cast a tie-breaking vote in a chamber where Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats and their allies control the other 50.

Fate of minimum wage hike unclear

Democrats will have to sort out how to handle a proposed minimum-wage increase, which may have to be stripped from the bill due to the complicated rules that govern the Senate.

The House-passed bill would raise the national hourly minimum wage for the first time since 2009, to $ 15 from $ 7.25. The increase is a top priority for progressive Democrats.

However, the Senate’s rules expert said on Thursday that the wage hike did not qualify for special treatment that allows the rest of the bill to be passed with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Pelosi predicted the relief bill will pass Congress with or without the increase, and said Democrats would not give up on the matter.

WATCH | Trudeau, Biden commit to collaboration on climate, rebuilding the economy:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden held their first bilateral talks on Tuesday, committing to work together on climate change and building the economy back up after the pandemic. 2:36

It is not clear whether the minimum-wage hike would have survived the Senate even if it were to be kept in the bill. At least two Senate Democrats oppose it, along with most Republicans.

Some senators are floating a smaller increase, to the range of $ 10 to $ 12 per hour, while Democrats are considering a penalty for large corporations that do not voluntarily pay a $ 15 wage, according to a Democratic aide.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill fizzled early on, shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020.

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Caught between relief and disbelief, Vlhova claims emotional slalom World Cup win

Shortly after winning the first women’s World Cup slalom of 2021 on Sunday, Petra Vlhova kneeled with her face down, torn between relief and disbelief.

The Slovakian skier’s win came five days after her four-year-long joint winning streak with Mikaela Shiffrin ended.

In tough conditions due to fog and rain, the overall leader from Slovakia beat Katharina Liensberger of Austria by five-hundredths of a second.

Shiffrin was 0.27 behind in fourth, forced to wait for her 100th career World Cup podium, a milestone reached by only four female skiers in the 54-year history of the sport.

Leading after the first run, Vlhova thought she had squandered her chances in a rough final run with several mistakes on the deteriorating course.

“During my run, I thought, `OK, the race is done.’ But I found something inside, I pushed more and more and more until the finish,” she said. “It’s amazing and a really emotional victory.”

At a night race in Semmering last Tuesday, Michelle Gisin became the first skier other than Vlhova or Shiffrin to win a World Cup slalom in 29 races since January 2017, when Frida Hansdotter triumphed in Flachau.

Vlhova and Gisin are 1-2 in both the slalom and the overall standings.

On Sunday, the Swiss skier was 0.22 behind in third as the top four from the first run remained unchanged.

After Vlhova and Shiffrin dominated women’s slalom racing in recent years, Liensberger and Gisin seem to have closed the gap.

Canada’s Mielzynski finishes in top 5

Gisin become the first Swiss slalom winner in 19 years with her victory in Semmering, and Liensberger has been on the podium in all four slaloms this season.

“They are really fast,” Vlhova said. “We are really close, I have to ski always to my limit because they push me a lot.”

In Sunday’s race, the gap between Shiffrin in fourth and Canada’s Erin Mielzynski in fifth was a massive 1.13 seconds. It was the native of Guelph, Ont., first top-five result since November 2015.

Shiffrin led the best showing by the U.S. ski team in a women’s slalom in 14 years, as four American racers qualified for the decisive leg for the first time since 2007.

Paula Moltzan finished 14th, Katie Hensien 18th, and Nina O’Brien failed to finish her final run.

Defending overall champion Federica Brignone skipped the race in order to train for upcoming speed events in Austria.

Relief for Zagreb following quake

Heavy rain on Saturday weakened the surface of the Crveni Spust course just outside Croatia’s capital. Course workers added salt that hardened the top layer but also created a lot of bumps.

Even Croatian great Ivica Kostelic struggled on the course. The 2011 men’s overall champion lost his balance and fell during a pre-race camera run.

The race took place five days after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit central Croatia. Race organizers said they would donate 10 per cent of the prize money to a relief fund for people whose houses have been damaged or destroyed.

The Croatian ski federation matched that donation, raising the total amount to $ 60,000 US. 

The women’s World Cup continues with speed races in St. Anton, Austria, next weekend.

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Mitch McConnell blocks Trump’s demand for quick Senate vote on higher COVID-19 relief

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked Democrats’ push to immediately bring President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger $ 2,000 US COVID-19 relief cheques up for a vote, saying the chamber would “begin a process” to address the issue.

Pressure is mounting on the Republican-led Senate to follow the House, which voted overwhelmingly on Monday to meet the president’s demand to increase the cheques from $ 600 as the virus crisis worsens. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, have said they will support the larger amount. But most Republican senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.

The outcome is highly uncertain heading into the rare holiday-week session.

“We should not adjourn until the Senate holds a vote,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as he made a motion to push it toward a vote.

McConnell, who has said little publicly on Trump’s request, objected but gave almost no indication of his plans ahead.

“The Senate will begin a process,” the Republican leader said. He said he plans to bring the president’s demand for the $ 2,000 cheques and other remaining issues “into focus.”

Republicans divided

The showdown has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year. It’s preventing action on another priority — overturning Trump’s veto on a sweeping defence bill that has been approved every year for 60 years.

The president’s last-minute push for bigger relief cheques deeply divides Republicans, who are split between those who align with Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what had been more traditional conservative views against government spending. Congress had settled on smaller $ 600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.

Liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are blocking action on the defence bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $ 2,000 for most Americans.

The two Republican senators from Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, announced Tuesday they support Trump’s plan for bigger cheques as they face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.

“I’m delighted to support the president,” said Perdue on Fox News. Loeffler said in an interview on Fox that she, too, backs the boosted relief cheques.

Trump tweeted his demands ahead of Tuesday’s Senate session: “$ 2,000 for our great people, not $ 600!”

The House vote late Monday was a stunning turn of events. Just days ago, during a brief Christmas Eve session, Republicans blocked Trump’s sudden demand for bigger cheques as he defiantly refused to sign the broader COVID-19 aid and year-end funding bill into law.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves from his armored vehicle while departing from the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Trump fumes and golfs

As Trump spent days fuming from his private club in Florida, where he is spending the holidays, dozens of Republicans calculated it was better to link with Democrats to increase the pandemic payments rather than buck the outgoing president and constituents counting on the money. Democrats led passage, 275-134, but 44 Republicans joined almost all Democrats in approval.

Together with votes this week to override Trump’s veto of a sweeping defence bill, it’s potentially one last confrontation between the president and the Republican Party he leads as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the presidential election. The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.

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U.S. House approves increased COVID-19 relief cheques, sending bill to Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Monday to increase COVID-19 relief cheques to $ 2,000 US, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the Republican-controlled Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.

Democrats led passage of the bill by a vote of 275-134, their majority favouring additional assistance. They had settled for smaller $ 600 payments in a compromise with Republicans over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.

The vote deeply divided Republicans, who mostly resist more spending. But many House Republicans joined in support, preferring to link with Democrats rather than buck the outgoing president. Senators were set to return to session on Tuesday, forced to consider the measure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people” the assistance she said they need during the pandemic.

The showdown could end up as more symbol than substance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to say publicly how the Senate will handle the bill when Democrats there try to push it forward for a vote on Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters after initial agreement on the COVID-19 aid package in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 20. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

Democrats vote to override Trump veto on defence

Hours later, the Democratic-controlled House also voted to override Trump’s veto of a defence policy bill.

House members voted 322-87 to override the veto, well above the two-thirds needed to override. If approved by two-thirds of the Senate, the override would be the first of Trump’s presidency.

Trump rejected the defence bill last week, saying it failed to limit social media companies he claims were biased against him during his failed re-election campaign. Trump also opposes language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honour Confederate leaders.

The defence bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, affirms three per cent pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $ 740 billion in military programs and construction.

COVID bill gives cash to individuals, businesses

The legislative action during the rare holiday week session may do little to change the more than $ 2 trillion COVID-19 relief and federal spending package that Trump signed into law on Sunday, one of the biggest bills of its kind providing relief for millions of Americans.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, ranking member of the House ways and means committee, acknowledged the division and said Congress had already approved ample funds during the COVID-19 crisis. “Nothing in this bill helps anybody get back to work,” he said.

The new bill now goes to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday for a final vote. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

The package the president signed into law includes two parts — $ 900 billion in COVID aid and $ 1.4 trillion to fund government agencies. It will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have started on Tuesday, in the midst of the public health crisis.

Aside from the direct cheques that will go to most Americans, the COVID portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $ 300 through March 14 — as well as a popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It also extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.

Last standoffs of Trump’s final days

The COVID package draws on and expands an earlier effort from Washington, the largest of its kind. It offers billions of dollars for vaccine purchases and distribution, for virus contact tracing, public health departments, schools, universities, farmers, food pantry programs and other institutions and groups facing hardship in the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the government funding portion of the bill keeps federal agencies nationwide running without dramatic changes until Sept. 30.

The attempt to send much higher pandemic-era cheques to people is perhaps the last standoff of the president’s final days in office as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump plays golf at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Resistance in the Senate

The COVID relief bill faces resistance Tuesday from the Republican-led Senate. McConnell, in a rare break with Trump, had urged passage of the defence bill despite Trump’s veto threat. McConnell said it was important for Congress to continue its nearly six-decade-long streak of passing the defence policy bill.

Trump’s sudden decision to sign the COVID bill came as he faced escalating criticism from lawmakers on all sides.

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a conservative who supported Trump’s extraordinary and futile challenge of the election results, counted himself on Monday among the opponents of a more generous relief package and Trump’s call for higher payments.

“It’s money we don’t have, we have to borrow to get and we can’t afford to pay back,” he said on Fox and Friends.

Democrats are promising more aid to come once Democrat president-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signalling a wait-and-see approach.

Biden told reporters at an event in Wilmington, Del., that he supported the $ 2,000 cheques.

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Trump signs COVID-19 relief bill, averts U.S. government shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday signed into law a $ 2.3 trillion US COVID-19 aid and government-funding bill, restoring unemployment benefits to millions in the United States and averting a partial federal government shutdown.

Trump announced the signing in a statement Sunday night. Trump, who leaves office on Jan. 20 after losing November’s election to Democratic rival Joe Biden, backed down from his threat to block the bill, which was approved by Congress last week, after he came under intense pressure from lawmakers on both sides.

The massive bill includes $ 900 billion US in pandemic relief that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals. It also includes $ 1.4 trillion US to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems and an increase in food stamp benefits.

The Republican president, who golfed on Sunday and remained out of public view even as the potential government shutdown loomed, had demanded that Congress change the bill to increase the size of stimulus checks for struggling people in the country to $ 2,000 US from $ 600 US.

It was not immediately clear why Trump changed his mind as his resistance to the massive legislative package promised a chaotic final stretch of his presidency.

White House officials have been tight-lipped about Trump’s thinking, but a source familiar with the situation told Reuters that some advisers had urged him to relent because they did not see the point of refusing.

Democrats are promising more aid to come once president-elect Biden takes office, but Republicans are signalling a wait-and-see approach.

Unemployment benefits being paid out to about 14 million people through pandemic programs lapsed on Saturday, but will be restarted now that Trump has signed the bill.

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U.S. congressional leaders reach deal on COVID-19 relief package

Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal Sunday on an almost $ 1 trillion US COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.

The agreement, announced by Senate leaders, would establish a temporary $ 300 US per week supplemental jobless benefits and $ 600 US direct stimulus payments to most people in the U.S., along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

The Senate voted Sunday evening to extend federal funding through Dec. 21 to avoid a government shutdown and give lawmakers more time to pass the new bill. The extension measure already passed the House of Representatives and now heads to U.S. President Donald Trump to sign into law. Current funding is due to expire at midnight Sunday

The House was expected to vote on the legislation on Monday, said a spokesperson for House majority leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat. The Senate was likely to vote on Monday, too. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

“There will be another major rescue package for the American people,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said in announcing the agreement for a relief bill that would total almost $ 900 billion US. “It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long.”

The final agreement is the largest spending measure yet. It combines the COVID-19 relief with a $ 1.4 trillion US government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education.

Passage is nearing as coronavirus cases and deaths spike and evidence piles up that the economy is struggling.

Late-breaking decisions would limit the $ 300 US per week bonus jobless benefits — one half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the CARES Act in March — to 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks as before. The direct $ 600 US stimulus payment to most people is also half the March payment, subject to the same income limits in which an individual’s payment begins to phase out after $ 75,000 US.

Trump is supportive, particularly of the push for providing more direct payments. “GET IT DONE,” he said in a tweet late Saturday.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington on Sunday. Lawmakers had hoped to pass the bill this weekend and avoid the need for a stopgap spending bill. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the $ 1.8 trillion US CARES Act passed virtually unanimously in March.

The legislation was held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious last week as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

A breakthrough came late Saturday in a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was resolved by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That led to a final round of negotiations.

Lawmakers had hoped to pass the bill this weekend and avoid the need for a stopgap spending bill, but progress slowed Saturday as Toomey pressed for the inclusion of a provision to close down the Fed’s lending facilities. Democrats and the White House said it was too broadly worded and would have tied the hands of the incoming Biden administration, but Republicans rallied to Toomey’s position.

After the announcement, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, announced additional details, including $ 25 billion US in rental assistance; $ 15 billion US for theatres and other live venues; $ 82 billion US for local schools, colleges and universities; and $ 10 billion US for child care.

The government-wide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $ 1.4 billion US instalment for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.

The bill was an engine to carry much of Capitol Hill’s unfinished business, including an almost 400-page water resources bill that targets $ 10 billion US for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental and coastal protection projects. Another addition would extend a batch of soon-to-expire tax breaks, including one for craft brewers, wineries and distillers.

The end-of-session rush also promised relief for victims of shockingly steep surprise medical bills, a phenomenon that often occurs when providers drop out of insurance company networks. 

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U.S. coronavirus bill unemployment relief runs out today

Negotiations over another coronavirus relief bill continue, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said as a federal jobless benefit was set to expire on Friday with no sign of a deal between the White House and Democrats.

“We’re going to be negotiating every minute that is possible,” despite the Republican-led Senate’s adjournment for the weekend, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told MSNBC in an interview.

Lawmakers and the White House are at odds over efforts to further shore up the economy and manage the novel coronavirus pandemic that has left tens of millions of Americans out of work and killed at least 152,384 people in the United States.

The CARES Act in March included a provision for an additional $ 600 US in jobless benefits for those eligible, with an expiry date of July 31.

The White House on Friday sought to put the onus on Democrats in Congress for a failure to renew the benefits, saying they had rejected four offers put forward by the Trump administration without countering.

“What we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters. “The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side and they’re willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.”

But several Democrats took to social media urging Republicans to act, as well as criticizing leading Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, who late Thursday sent the chamber home for the weekend without reaching a deal to extend the extra cash.

“Senate Republicans are letting the $ 600 federal unemployment insurance benefit expire today,” tweeted New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “This is the only thing keeping many American workers afloat during this crisis. We need to rectify this and pass an extension, now.”

Virginia congressman Don Beyer posted tweets from constituents who have contacted him to communicate how vital the relief has been.

“Without that money, I cannot cover the mortgage and keep food on the table,” one Virgnia woman said.

In a meeting on Thursday night between top White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders, negotiations focused on an extension of the expiring unemployment benefit.

According to a person familiar with the closed-door negotiations, the White House proposed reducing the $ 600 weekly payment to $ 400 for the next four months. While that was a move toward the demands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the source said they rejected it as insufficient.

Republicans seek to reduce top-up amount

On Thursday, Senate Republicans tried, without success, to pass a bill reducing the jobless benefit to $ 200 per week.

For weeks, McConnell has said that any deal with Democrats would require a shield for companies and schools from liability lawsuits as they reopen during the pandemic.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said the White House hinted that it could embrace a deal without that provision.

Besides the $ 600 “enhanced” payment, Democrats are seeking a wide-ranging economic stimulus bill that would include about $ 1 trillion in aid to state and local governments experiencing plunging revenues during the economic downturn.

In mid-May, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $ 3 trillion bill that the Republican Senate has ignored.

“We’re here, we’re on the phone. We will be negotiating with those who want to get to a reasonable place,” Hoyer told MSNBC.

Also set to end, unless lawmakers intervene, is a federal moratorium on evictions that has shielded millions of renters, although some Americans remain protected by similar state and local actions.

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U.S. government struggling to approve latest coronavirus relief bill

The latest:

  • White House, Senate GOP try again on $ 1 trillion US coronavirus aid.
  • Hong Kong bans public gatherings of more than two people.
  • WHO cites doubling of cases over the past six weeks as a sign the pandemic “continues to accelerate.”
  • Anti-masking groups are employing anti-vaccination tactics to misinform the public.
  • Families reunite in N.W.T. seniors’ homes after months of COVID-19 seclusion.
  • The world’s biggest coronavirus vaccine test began Monday, with first of 30,000 volunteers.

Suggesting a narrower pandemic relief package may be all that’s possible, the White House pushed ahead with Monday’s planned rollout of the Senate Republicans’ $ 1 trillion US effort, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assailed the GOP “disarray” as time-wasting during the crisis.

The administration’s chief negotiators — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — spent the weekend on Capitol Hill to put what Meadows described as “final touches” on the relief bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to bring forward Monday afternoon.

“We’re done,” Mnuchin said as he and Meadows left Capitol Hill on Sunday after meeting with GOP staff.

But looming deadlines may force them to consider other options. By Friday, millions of out-of-work Americans will lose a $ 600 federal unemployment benefit that is expiring and federal eviction protections for many renters are also coming to an end. U.S. President Donald Trump’s standing is at one of the lowest points of his term, according to a new AP-NORC poll.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks off Marine One, on the South Lawn of the White House, on Sunday. Trump’s standing is currently at one of the lowest points of his term. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

“They’re in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America’s families,” Pelosi said.

Meanwhile, the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccine study got underway Monday with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots created by the U.S. government — one of several candidates in the global vaccine race.

Other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University earlier this month began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries. 

But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country and has set a high bar: every month through fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate — each one with 30,000 newly recruited volunteers. 

Also Monday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said people “stepping up to the plate” is the reason for some of the “plateauing” in cases being seen in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

White House coronavirus task force co-ordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said last week that “we already are starting to see some plateauing,” or levelling off of cases, in these hard-hit states.

In an interview Monday on Fox News’ Fox and Friends, Azar said officials think “it’s due to the fact that people are actually wearing their masks.” He said they’re also physical distancing and practising good hygiene, and he complimented governors for closing bars, where it’s difficult to be physically distant and wear a mask.

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 9:45 a.m. ET on Monday, Canada had 113,911 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 99,355 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting indicates that 8,919 Canadians have died.

Some anti-masking groups are joining forces with anti-vaccination proponents and adopting their techniques to spread misinformation and amplify their message.

At least one anti-masking group, Hugs Over Masks, actively partners with Vaccine Choice Canada, one of the country’s most prominent anti-vaccination organizations. 

Although many Canadians who don’t want to wear masks aren’t opposed to vaccines, the fact that anti-vaccination groups are involved in the relatively new anti-masking movement is concerning to many health experts.  

Despite well-established evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, anti-vaccination groups have become savvy at spreading misinformation that leads people to distrust medical guidance  — something that can have dire consequences during a pandemic. 

WATCHTensions rise over COVID-19 outbreak in Haida Gwaii:

A COVID-19 outbreak in Haida Gwaii has led to at least 13 new cases as well as a spike in tensions over how the virus got into the isolated First Nations community. 2:11

What’s happening in the rest of the world

The coronavirus pandemic “continues to accelerate,” with a doubling of cases over the last six weeks, the World Health Organization chief said Monday.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly 16 million cases have now been reported to the UN health agency, with more than 640,000 deaths worldwide.

Tedros will convene WHO’s emergency committee on Thursday, a procedural requirement six months after the agency’s declaration of a public health emergency of international concern. 

“We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference,” he told reporters from WHO’s Geneva headquarters on Monday. “The future is in our hands.”

People wearing masks walk on a street in Quiberon, western France. The World Health Organization said Monday that the pandemic ‘continues to accelerate,’ citing a doubling of cases over the last six weeks. (Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images)

Hong Kong will ban dining at restaurants completely and mandate masks in all public places, as the region battles a worsening coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 1,000 people in the last two weeks.

The tightened measures will be effective for one week from Wednesday. They are an extension of a previous ban on eating at restaurants and eateries after 6 p.m., as well as making it mandatory by law to wear masks on public transport.

A ban on public gatherings of more than four people has also been further tightened, with gatherings limited to two people.

Hong Kong will ban dining in at restaurants completely and make it mandatory to wear masks in all public places, as the region battles its worst coronavirus outbreak to date. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The airport in the central Vietnamese tourism hotspot of Danang was packed on Monday after three residents tested positive for the coronavirus and the evacuation of 80,000 people began.

The Southeast Asian country is back on high alert after authorities on Saturday confirmed the first community infections since April, and another three cases on Sunday, all in or around Danang. The evacuations of mostly local tourists will take at least four days with domestic airlines operating approximately 100 flights daily from Danang to 11 Vietnamese cities, the government said.

Morocco is banning all travel to and from some of its major cities to try to stem a small spike in coronavirus cases, even though the North African country has remained less impacted than its European neighbours to the north.

As of Monday morning, a joint statement from the Moroccan health and interior ministries quoted by the MAP state news agency said that there is a “ban” on travel affecting the cities of Tangier, Tetouan, Fez, Meknes, Casablanca, Berrechid, Settat, as well as the popular tourist destination of Marrakech.

Passengers and luggage are screened for travel at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. The country is banning all travel to some major cities after a spike in coronavirus cases. (Abdeljalil Bounhar/The Associated Press)

The ministries said the decision was made because many Moroccans were not complying with measures encouraged by the government to fight the spread of the coronavirus, such as physical distancing, the wearing of masks and the use of disinfectants.

As India recorded nearly 50,000 fresh cases of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepared to launch facilities in three major cities to significantly ramp up testing capacity.

The 49,931 cases reported on Monday brought India’s tally to beyond 1.4 million. India has the world’s third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil. The 32,771 reported deaths from the disease in India, however, mark a far lower fatality rate than in the other two countries.

A resident prepares for a nasal swab at a medical screening facility in Mumbai on Monday. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

Modi’s office says the testing facilities that will begin operating on Monday will help authorities track the virus. They will be put in Noida, a suburb of the capital New Delhi, and in the cities of Mumbai and Kolkata. Each is capable of analyzing as many as 10,000 tests per day.

South Africa is reporting more than 11,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases as the country now has more than 445,000 in all, including more than 6,700 deaths. 

South Africa has the world’s fifth-largest caseload and makes up more than half the cases across the African continent. President Cyril Ramaphosa says the recovery from the pandemic will be “long and difficult,” but experts say the worst is yet to come. 

A growing concern is poorly resourced Eastern Cape province, which makes up 16 per cent of the country’s cases but more than 20 per cent of deaths. South Africa’s public labs continue to face testing delays, with the average turnaround time for results at just over a week.

Relatives and an undertaker wearing personal protective equipment escort a coffin with the remains of a man who died from COVID-19 at a funeral home in Johannesburg on Sunday. South Africa has the highest numbers of diagnosed infections in Africa and ranks fifth in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Russia. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia‘s hard-hit Victoria state on Monday posted a new daily record of 532 new coronavirus cases, and the government leader warned that a lockdown in the city of Melbourne would continue while infected people continue to go to work.

Melbourne is almost halfway through a six-week lockdown aimed at curbing community spread of coronavirus. Mask-wearing in Australia’s second-largest city became compulsory last week.

Professor Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, looks on during a press conference on Monday in Melbourne, Australia. Victoria has recorded 532 new cases of coronavirus and six more deaths. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the biggest driver of the new infections was people continuing to go to work after showing symptoms.

“This is what is driving these numbers up and the lockdown will not end until people stop going to work with symptoms and instead go and get tested,” Andrews said.

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McIlroy, Johnson win ‘Driving Relief’ exhibition as live golf returns to TV

Rory McIlroy delivered the money shot Sunday as live golf returned to television for a Skins game that revealed plenty of rust and raised more than $ 5 million US for COVID-19 relief funds.

McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, who had not won a skin since the sixth hole, had a chance to win the final six skins worth $ 1.1 million on the final hole at Seminole in the TaylorMade Driving Relief exhibition. Both missed and they returned to the par-3 17th for a closest-to-the-pin contest.

From a forward tee at 120 yards, Matthew Wolff was 18 feet below the hole. His partner, Rickie Fowler, missed the green. Johnson found a bunker. Down to the last shot, McIlroy barely stayed on the shelf left of the pin, measured at 13 feet.

“Air five,” McIlroy said, alluding to the social distancing in place at Juno Beach, Florida.

WATCH | McIlroy, Johnson win Driving Relief skins match:

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy’s closest to the pin shot secures a victory with partner Dustin Johnson over Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in the Driving Relief skins match to go towards COVID-19 relief efforts. 2:20

The final carryover gave McIlroy and Johnson $ 1.85 million for the American Nurses Foundation. Fowler, who made seven birdies, and Wolff made $ 1.15 million for the CDC Foundation.

“I’m proud to be part of an event to entertain people at home on a Sunday afternoon and to raise money for people who need it,” McIlroy said as he played the 18th hole.

Wolff, the 21-year-old Californian with big game and plenty of swagger, earned $ 450,000 toward relief funds by having the longest drives on two par 5s — 356 yards on No. 2 and 368 yards on No. 14.

Fowler’s seven birdies were worth $ 270,000 in a separate fund from Farmers Insurance, while McIlroy made four birdies worth $ 175,000 and Wolff had three birdies for $ 135,000. Johnson, who showed the most rust, had two birdies for $ 75,000.

PGA Tour Charities allowed for online donations during the telecast, raising more than $ 1 million. The donations will continue until Tuesday. When the exhibition ended, more than $ 5.5 million had been pledged, starting with the $ 3 million guarantee from UnitedHeath Group.

Players carried their own bags.

‘Nice to get back on the golf course’

Television had a skeleton crew on the grounds — the play-by-play and analysts were 200 miles away in St. Augustine, Florida, while host Mike Tirico was at his home office in Michigan. The match went over four hours, primarily because players were at times held in place to give the six TV cameras time to get in position on the next hole.

Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vice-president of of rules and competition, was the only one to handle the flagstick. Bunkers didn’t need to be raked because they were the only match on the course, which closed for the summer last week.

“It was an awesome day,” McIlroy said. “It was nice to get back on the golf course and get back to some sort of normalcy.”

The players wore microphones, though the banter was limited and ended early.

Most of it came from McIlroy, who had to make a short birdie putt on the second hole to match Wolff’s birdie. He rolled it in and said to Wolff, “I think you forget I’ve won two FedEx Cups that total $ 25 million. That doesn’t faze me, youngster.”

Fowler played the best golf and staked his side to the lead with four birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn, including a 20-footer on No. 11 that was worth two skins at $ 200,000. He raised his finger and McIlroy said, “Did you hear all those cheers?” There were no fans, and fewer than 50 people were at Seminole. All were tested for the new coronavirus.

That was the start of golf’s return.

The last live competition on TV was March 12, the first round of The Players Championship. It was cancelled the next day, along with other tournaments that either were scrapped or postponed.

Next up is another exhibition match on May 24 down the road at Medalist, where Tiger Woods plays when home. Woods and Peyton Manning will face Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a match billed as “Champions for Charity” that will raise $ 10 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.

The real show is to return on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. The tour has said it will not allow fans for at least a month, and perhaps longer depending on it goes. Players will have access to charter flights and a designated hotel.

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Rent relief is key to restarting economy, say business advocates

While provinces ease into reopening their economies, questions swirl around the federal government’s commercial rent relief program and whether it will work.

This week, small businesses and landlords are expecting more information on the Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan last month, he said it was expected to be operational by mid-May.

“We’re all struggling to figure this out,” said Laura MacNutt, owner of Kingspier, a vintage clothing shop in downtown Halifax, who is desperate for help on rent.

With surveys showing a large number of small businesses can’t make rent payments and widespread concerns about how the program is set up, the pressure to launch CECRA is intensifying.

Fear of eviction and closure is spiking as some tenants worry landlords won’t participate in the program. Meanwhile, landlords are concerned about being left exposed on mortgages or supporting tenants who are destined for failure.

Both sides see the program as complicated, and there’s a consensus among those interviewed by CBC News that rent relief should cover more than the costs of pandemic closures to help restart the economy.

Laura MacNutt owns a vintage clothing store in Halifax. She said without long-term rent relief there will be a ‘bloodletting’ for many small businesses. (Ryann Farmer/Kingspier)

‘Need to fix the rent problem’

Fear and physical distancing will hurt sales for months, MacNutt believes. Without longer-term rent relief and protection for tenants “it’s going to be a bloodletting” for many small businesses, she said.

Laura Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), agreed.

If we want to see a successful reopening of main street, we’re going to need to fix the rent problem.– Laura Jones, vice-president of Canadian Federation of Independent Business

“If we want to see a successful reopening of main street, we’re going to need to fix the rent problem.”

For Jones, rent relief must evolve alongside the recovery because safety practices in the new normal will be “very, very challenging” for businesses. 

WATCH | How Taiwan is beating COVID-19. Can Canada do the same?

Both Taiwan and Canada reported their first presumptive cases of COVID-19 within days of each other, but their experience of life with the pandemic has been quite different. Children in Taiwan are still in school, restaurants are open and there’s no shortage of protective supplies. Watch what Canada can learn from Taiwan’s approach to fight the spread of the coronavirus. 5:42

Tenants in trouble

CECRA is for small businesses that were forced to close or have lost at least 70 per cent of their revenue when provinces issued lockdowns due to the pandemic. Under the program, the government will pay 50 per cent of April, May and June rent, while the landlord and tenant are supposed to pay 25 per cent each.

For MacNutt, CECRA is a possible lifeline.

She moved close to Halifax’s harbour last June and had big plans for this summer.

“Downtown tourism, cruise ships, all of that stuff. So I had an ambitious target,” she said.

Now, she said she’ll be lucky to make half the revenue she forecast.

After closing in mid-March and paying her sole employee, MacNutt had enough to give her landlord roughly 10 per cent of March rent and hasn’t paid anything since.

The way CECRA is set up, it is landlords who must apply for the program, and MacNutt’s landlord said it doesn’t know enough about the terms or if it’s eligible.

The landlord owns several properties in the city. It has cited its own financial issues and told MacNutt to pay her full rent for March and April.

The situation leaves MacNutt unsure about her future.

Her prospects for hanging on to the store long term are not good without rent relief.

“It’s all overwhelming for sure.” 

Jonathan Kolber in what should be a full classroom at one of his language schools in Toronto. He has nine locations and is worried some of his landlords won’t wait for rent relief. (Yusuf Baykal Bozkurt/ILAC)

‘Bleeding money’

Jonathan Kolber is a numbers man, holding both an MBA and a degree in actuarial science. But the founder of the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC) can’t calculate when his business will be back on track.

What he can tally is the rent for nine ILAC schools in Vancouver and Toronto.

“We are bleeding money,” said Kolber.

Half of his landlords are supportive. The other half “are taking a very aggressive position on this issue.” Kolber has received letters demanding payment and threatened with eviction.

Looking past the short-term pain of his schools having no revenue, Kolber is thinking about a long-term strain of classrooms hosting just four students instead of 15 or more.

That scenario convinced him rent relief needs to be phased out gradually as his restrictions are lifted and attendance returns to normal.

“If it’s gonna last three months, it’d be one thing. If it’s gonna last six months, it’d be another thing. If it’s gonna last nine months, it’s an entirely different story.”

Harmel Rayat in the foyer of his historic office and retail building in downtown Vancouver. Rayat believes three months of rent relief will not be enough. (Tindi Chohan/Talia Jevan Properties )

Harmel Rayat, one of ILAC’s Vancouver landlords, said many of the 17 tenants in his 10-storey historic building have asked for help.

Rayat currently has a rent deferral agreement with Kolber, but said he’s interested in applying for CECRA on behalf of ILAC and other tenants who need it.

He also said the program will have to be extended.

“There has to be additional breathing room for small businesses,” he said. 

Rayat suggested that after 90 days, the subsidy could be continued but reduced.

Landlords say program has problems

Some landlords are leary about the CECRA program.

Chad Griffiths is a commercial landlord and commercial real estate broker in Edmonton.

He said most landlords are eager to keep tenants and believe rent relief is a good idea, but many see significant problems with CECRA.

Chad Griffiths is a landlord and commercial real estate broker in Edmonton. He says landlords support rent relief but have issues with the CECRA program. (Lauren Griffiths)

One issue he identified is that while tenants and landlords suffer, mortgage-holding banks aren’t losing any money.

“It almost appears that this is a way to make the bank whole,” said Griffiths.

He also criticized the program as too complicated.

In fact, there was also confusion about CECRA because the government’s initial statements implied that only landlords with mortgages could access CECRA.

Even Liberal MPs questioned officials from the Ministry of Finance about this last Monday.

It appears the problem is being addressed because the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), which is administering the program, now says on its website that “for those property owners who do not have a mortgage, an alternative mechanism will be implemented.”

Griffith also is worried CECRA is “creating a wedge between tenant and landlord.”

The landlord’s power to decide whether or not a tenant can access CECRA has also inflamed advocates, such as CFIB and Save Small Business, which have called for that to be changed.

Protecting tenants, persuading landlords

Store owner MacNutt is candid about rent relief and the pandemic’s impact on small businesses like hers.

“Some of us are not going to succeed, and I may be one of those.”

‘Reopening and rent relief are very closely tied. If you don’t get the rent relief you need, how are you going to reopen? says Laura Jones, vice-president of CFIB. (CFIB)

A CFIB survey found that 40 per cent of its landlord members are not interested in the CECRA program, while a third are unsure and only a quarter plan to apply.

Advocates say protecting small businesses from evictions related to pandemic closures and losses would compel more landlords to accept CECRA.

Recently, the City of Toronto and several provincial Chambers of Commerce joined the CFIB, Restaurants Canada and Save Small Business in urging all provinces and territories to ban commercial evictions, an order New Brunswick has in place.

Another approach would be to make CECRA mandatory.

The CFIB wants more businesses to have access to CECRA and says if it doesn’t work, restarting the economy will stall.

“Reopening and rent relief are very closely tied. If you don’t get the rent relief you need, how are you going to reopen?” said Jones.

WATCH | Trudeau government announces rent relief for some businesses:

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