Joe Biden’s first full day in office has begun with more depressing news on the jobs front. Another 900,000 people filed for unemployment benefits last week – more people than live in San Francisco.
Another 424,000 claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for gig workers, freelancers and others normally ineligible for state jobless benefits.
The 900,000 figure was 26,000 lower than the previous week but remains extraordinarily high. Before the pandemic weekly filings typically totaled around 200,000. New restrictions imposed after the latest surges in coronavirus infections have led to a rise in layoffs and until the virus is under control these historically high numbers look set to continue.
The Biden administration will repeal anti-abortion restrictions on American aid and join the international vaccine-sharing scheme Covax, Anthony Fauci has announced in remarks signalling a major turnaround in US global health policy.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced the changes in a speech to the World Health Organization on Thursday morning after being chosen to head the US delegation to the global health group in one of the first acts of Joe Biden’s presidency.
“President Biden will be revoking the ‘Mexico City policy’ in the coming days as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world,” Fauci told the group’s annual executive board meeting.
The Mexico City policy, also known as the “global gag rule”, bans foreign NGOs from performing or promoting abortions as a condition of receiving US family planning aid. Introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1984, it has been repealed by every Democratic president and reinstated by every Republican one since.
Donald Trump implemented a more stringent version of the ban, under which organisations that refused to sign on were cut off from receiving any health aid, including for HIV, nutrition, tuberculosis and malaria programmes.
One family planning group that refused to sign the agreement, MSI Reproductive Choices, lost $30m a year in funding, money it says would have helped to prevent an estimated 6m unwanted pregnancies, 1.8m unsafe abortions and 20,000 maternal deaths.
In warm remarks intended to turn the page on the hostile attitude of the Trump administration to the global health body, Fauci paid tribute to the WHO’s “relentless” work and to his “dear friend”, the director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in fighting the pandemic. Tedros, in turn, called him “my brother Tony”.
Read more of Mchael Safi’s report here: Fauci – US to repeal anti-abortion rule on aid and join Covax vaccine scheme
Lauren Aratani reports for us today on the pressure on the Biden administration to cancel student loan debt:
Thousands of student debtors have launched a campaign urging Joe Biden to enact full student loan cancellation within the first 100 days of his presidency.
The Debt Collective, which has more than 9,300 members, has tapped 100 debtors to be a part of the “the Biden Jubilee 100” – 100 people going on a debt strike, one representing each day during Biden’s first 100 days. Many have over $100,000 of student debt.
“It’s the right thing to do as the first step to ensuring a fairer higher education system,” said the collective in a petition to Biden. “Even before Covid-19, one million new student debtors were defaulting on their student loans every year. Student loans defaults are hitting women, Black, Indigenous and brown borrowers the hardest.”
Biden campaigned on promises to make higher education more affordable for middle-class families, including debt-free community college and making tuition at public institutions free for families who earn under $125,000 a year.
While Biden fell short of promising to cancel student debt, as the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren had pushed for during her campaign, he promised to halve student loan payments by implementing a program where anyone making over $25,000 will pay 5% of their discretionary income – which does not count taxes or necessary spending like housing and food – to pay for their loans. Anyone who has paid loans for more than 20 years will have their loans forgiven.
About 45 million Americans have student debt worth over $1.5tn. The Federal Reserve has reported that 43% of adults who went to college, about 30% of all adults in the country, took on debt to pay for their education. Race also plays a big role in who has debt: Black and Hispanic Americans with student debt are more likely to be behind on their loans than their white peers.
Last week Biden officials pledged to extend the nearly year-long pause on federal student loan payments on “day one” but the administration’s plans for tackling the debt mountain remain unclear.
Read more of Lauren Aratani’s report here: ‘It’s the right thing to do’: Biden urged to cancel student loans in first 100 days