Child poverty in the US jumped and income declined in 2022 as coronavirus pandemic benefits ended

Child poverty in the US jumped and income declined in 2022 as coronavirus pandemic benefits ended

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

Child poverty in the United States more than doubled and median household income declined last year when coronavirus pandemic-era government benefits expired and inflation kept rising, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

At the same time, the official poverty rate for Black Americans dropped to its lowest level on record and income inequality declined for the first time since 2007 when looking at pre-tax income. However, income inequality increased when using after-tax income, another result of the end of pandemic-era tax credits, according to Census Bureau reports on income, poverty and health insurance.

The reports reflected the sometimes-conflicting factors last year buffeting U.S. households, which faced a robust jobs market, with the number of full-time workers increasing year-over-year, but also rising inflation and the end of pandemic-era stimulus benefits.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government expanded the child tax credit and sent payments to people who had suffered from the pandemic, lowering poverty measures in 2021. The expansion of the child tax credit expired at the end of 2021, and other pandemic-related benefits have expired within the past year.

As a result, the supplemental poverty measure rate for children jumped 7.2 percentage points to 12.4% in 2022, according to the Census Bureau.

“This represents a return to child poverty levels prior to the pandemic,” Liana Fox, an assistant division chief at the Census Bureau, said during a news conference. “We did see the child tax credit had a substantial decrease in child poverty.”

In a statement, President Joe Biden blamed congressional Republicans for failing to extend the enhanced child tax credit and vowed to restore it.

“The rise reported today in child poverty is no accident,” said Biden, a Democrat.

The median household income in 2022 was $74,580, a decline of 2.3% from 2021. Asian Americans had the highest median household income, at almost $109,000, while Black Americans had the lowest, at about $53,000.

The official poverty rate was 11.5%, and for Black Americans it was 17.1%, the lowest on record. The supplemental poverty measure was 12.4%, an increase of 4.6 percentage points from 2021.

The U.S. Census Bureau releases two poverty measures. The official poverty measure is based on cash resources. The supplemental poverty measure includes both cash and noncash benefits and subtracts necessary expenses such as taxes and medical expenses.

The rate of people lacking health insurance dropped almost half a percentage point to 7.9%, and it declined for people in all age groups except those who were age 18 or younger, according to the Census Bureau.

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Follow Mike Schneider on X @MikeSchneiderAP.

US approves updated COVID vaccines to rev up protection this fall

US approves updated COVID vaccines to rev up protection this fall

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The U.S. approved updated COVID-19 vaccines Monday, hoping to rev up protection against the latest coronavirus strains and blunt any surge this fall and winter.

The Food and Drug Administration decision opens the newest shots from Moderna and Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to most Americans even if they’ve never had a coronavirus vaccination. It’s part of a shift to treat fall updates of the COVID-19 vaccine much like getting a yearly flu shot.

There’s still another step: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must sign off. A CDC advisory panel is set to issue recommendations Tuesday on who most needs the updated shots. Vaccinations could begin later this week, and both the COVID-19 and flu shot can be given at the same visit.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have been rising since late summer although –- thanks to some lasting immunity from prior vaccinations and infections –- not nearly as much as this time last year.

But protection wanes over time and the coronavirus continually churns out new variants that can dodge prior immunity. It’s been a year since the last time the vaccines were tweaked.

Just like earlier vaccinations, the fall round is cleared for adults and children as young as age 6 months. FDA said starting at age 5, most people can get a single dose even if they’ve never had a prior COVID-19 shot. Younger children might need additional doses depending on their history of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations.

The newest shots target an omicron variant named XBB.1.5. That specific strain is no longer dominant but it’s close enough to coronavirus strains causing most COVID-19 illnesses today that FDA determined it would offer good cross-protection.

These newest shots replace combination vaccines that mixed protection against the original coronavirus strain and even older omicron variants. Like earlier versions, they’re expected to be most protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, rather than mild infection.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Updated COVID shots are coming. They’re part of a trio of vaccines to block fall viruses

Updated COVID shots are coming. They’re part of a trio of vaccines to block fall viruses

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Updated COVID-19 vaccines are coming soon, just in time to pair them with flu shots. And this fall, the first vaccines for another scary virus called RSV are rolling out to older adults and pregnant women.

Doctors hope enough people get vaccinated to help avert another “tripledemic” like last year when hospitals were overwhelmed with an early flu season, an onslaught of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and yet another winter coronavirus surge.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have been steadily increasing since late summer, although not nearly as much as this time last year, and RSV already is on the rise in parts of the Southeast.

Approval of updated COVID-19 shots is expected within days. They are among the tools the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says will help put the U.S. in “our strongest position yet” to avoid another chaotic respiratory season.

“There will be a lot of virus this winter. That’s why we want to get ahead of it,” CDC chief Dr. Mandy Cohen said.

Here is what you need to know about fall vaccinations:

WHY MORE COVID-19 SHOTS?

The ever-evolving coronavirus isn’t going away. Similar to how flu shots are updated each year, the Food and Drug Administration gave COVID-19 vaccine makers a new recipe for this fall.

The updated shots have a single target, an omicron descendant named XBB.1.5. It’s a big change. The COVID-19 vaccines offered since last year are combination shots targeting the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version, making them very outdated.

Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax all have brewed new supplies.

The FDA will soon decide if each company has met safety, effectiveness and quality standards. Then the CDC must sign off before vaccinations begin. A CDC advisory panel is set to meet Tuesday to make recommendations on how best to use the latest shots.

Earlier this month, European regulators authorized Pfizer’s updated vaccine for this fall, for adults and children as young as 6 months.

WILL THEY BE EFFECTIVE ENOUGH?

Health officials are optimistic, barring a new mutant.

As expected, XBB.1.5 has faded away in the months it took to tweak the vaccine. Today, there is a soup of different coronavirus variants causing illness and the most common ones are fairly close relatives. Recent lab testing from vaccine makers and other research groups suggest the updated shots will offer crossover protection.

Earlier vaccinations or infections have continued to help prevent severe disease and death but protection wanes over time, especially against milder infections as the virus continually evolves. While the FDA did allow seniors and others at high risk to get an extra booster dose last spring, most Americans haven’t had a vaccination in about a year.

“The best thing people can do to maintain a normal way of life is to continue to get their booster shots,” said Duke University vaccine expert David Montefiori.

WHO ALSO NEEDS A FLU VACCINE?

The CDC urges a yearly flu shot for pretty much everyone ages 6 months and up. The best time is by the end of October.

Like with COVID-19, influenza can be especially dangerous to certain groups including the very young, older people and those with weak immune systems and lung or heart disease.

There are multiple kinds of flu vaccines to choose from, including a nasal spray version for certain younger people. More important, there are three shots specifically recommended for seniors to choose from because they are proven to do a better job revving up an older adult’s immune system.

CAN I GET A FLU SHOT AND COVID-19 SHOT AT THE SAME TIME?

Yes.

The CDC says there is no difference in effectiveness or side effects if people get those vaccines simultaneously, although one in each arm might be more comfortable.

WHAT IS THIS NEW RSV VACCINE?

RSV is a cold-like nuisance for most people, and not as well-known as the flu. But RSV packs hospitals every winter and can be deadly for children under 5, the elderly and people with certain high-risk health problems. Most notorious for inflaming babies’ tiny airways, leaving them wheezing, it’s also a common cause of pneumonia in seniors.

RSV vaccines from GSK and Pfizer are approved for adults 60 and older. The CDC is advising seniors to ask their doctor if they should get the one-dose shot.

The FDA also has approved Pfizer’s RSV vaccine to be given late in pregnancy so moms-to-be pass the protection to their newborns. CDC recommendations on that use are expected later this month.

Also still to come: advice on whether RSV vaccines should be given together with flu and COVID-19 shots.

WHAT ABOUT BABIES AND RSV?

There is one more new shot parents may hear about this fall: an injection of lab-made antibodies to guard babies from RSV.

That is different than a vaccine, which teaches the body to make its own infection-fighting antibodies, but is similarly protective.

The FDA recently approved Beyfortus, from Sanofi and AstraZeneca. The one-dose drug is recommended for all infants younger than 8 months before their first RSV season.

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AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Florida abortion rights at stake as state Supreme Court takes up challenge to GOP-led restrictions

Florida abortion rights at stake as state Supreme Court takes up challenge to GOP-led restrictions

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The fate of abortion rights in Florida will be at stake Friday morning when the state Supreme Court is expected to take up a challenge to a law banning the procedure in most cases after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which will determine whether an even stricter six-week ban signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis can take effect.

The seven justices — including five conservatives appointed by DeSantis, a GOP candidate for president — are set to hear oral arguments in Tallahassee in the lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

They claim the Florida Constitution’s privacy clause for more than 40 years has explicitly protected a right to abortion in the state.

“Plain text and historical context place beyond doubt that Florida’s Privacy Clause protects against governmental interference in all aspects of a person’s private life, including decisions about pregnancy,” the plaintiffs say in court papers.

Florida officials contend the Supreme Court has in the past erroneously concluded the privacy clause covers abortion rights when it was actually intended more as a guard for “informational privacy, like the disclosure of private facts.”

The privacy clause does not extend “beyond informational privacy and personal decisions that do not harm others to a right to destroy unborn life,” the officials claim.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking enforcement of the 15-week abortion ban known as HB5, which includes potential jail time of up to five years and $5,000 in fines for violations and remains in effect as the court case plays out.

The six-week ban DeSantis signed into law earlier this year would take effect 30 days after a Supreme Court decision to affirm the current ban.

The privacy clause was put into the Florida Constitution by a voter referendum in 1980 and later affirmed as including abortion rights by the state Supreme Court. Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in 2012 that would have undone those decisions.

Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Dobbs, which overturned the Roe vs. Wade ruling and allows states to determine their own abortion rights policies, does not undermine the Florida privacy protections, the plaintiffs contend.

“To the contrary, the Dobbs opinion expressly recognized that states remain free to protect abortion under state law,” they say in court papers.

Florida’s position is backed by a variety of anti-abortion groups and at least 19 Republican-led states that have filed “friend of the court” briefs claiming, in part, that state legislatures should decide the issue rather than courts.

“It imposes on the people a regime that they never embraced, puts courts at the center of a political and moral issue that they can never resolve, and undermines our democratic tradition,” the states say in the brief.

The challengers also have a number of groups filing briefs on their behalf, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and Floridians for Reproductive Freedom.

The text of Florida’s privacy clause reads: “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.”

The 15-week ban before the court Friday includes exceptions allowing an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent serious physical harm and in cases in which a fetus has a terminal medical condition “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

The six-week ban measure was sponsored in the state Legislature by GOP Rep. Jennifer Canady, wife of Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady. He has made no move to recuse himself because of the relationship and no motions have been filed requesting recusal.

As a congressman in the 1990s, Charles Canady sponsored bills to ban so-called “partial-birth abortion.”

A Leon County judge earlier this year agreed the 15-week ban violates the Florida Constitution and blocked its enforcement with a temporary injunction. An appeals court overturned the injunction, bringing the case before the state Supreme Court.

Several groups also are gathering petition signatures in an effort to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot to guarantee abortion rights in Florida up to about 24 weeks of pregnancy, generally when a fetus is considered viable.

New Jersey failed veterans in state-run homes hit by dozens of COVID-19 deaths, federal report says

New Jersey failed veterans in state-run homes hit by dozens of COVID-19 deaths, federal report says

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Widespread dysfunction at New Jersey’s two state-run veterans homes left them unprepared to keep residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, violating their constitutional rights to reasonable care while in state custody, a scathing report by the U.S Justice Department found Thursday.

The 43-page document paints a disturbing picture of failures at the homes in Menlo Park and Paramus where dozens of deaths occurred early in the outbreak. It said poor communication, lack of staff competency and other issues led to the coronavirus spreading “virtually unchecked throughout the facilities.”

Among the findings: The homes failed to group residents into cohorts according to their exposure to COVID-19, resulting in the commingling of infected and uninfected people; they didn’t properly use personal protective gear; they failed to communicate effectively internally and did not maintain improvements achieved after the U.S. Veterans Affairs Departments came in to help, among other issues.

“Even by the standards of the pandemic’s difficult early days, the facilities were unprepared to keep their residents safe,” the report said.

The facilities are operated by the state’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, each with just over 300 beds. The state reached a $53 million agreement in 2021 to settle claims that it was negligent and contributed to more than 100 deaths at the two VA homes.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy called the report a “deeply disturbing reminder” that the treatment veterans received was unacceptable. He said his administration made policy changes to improve conditions, including hiring private management for the two homes.

“However, it is clear that we have significantly more work to do,” he said in a statement.

Murphy’s administration came under harsh criticism for his handling of the pandemic in veterans homes, with Republicans calling for investigations into his management of the outbreak.

The report, noting the state’s attempts to remedy the situation, criticized it for what it called the lack of independent oversight.

“The past several years indicate that the Veterans Homes, even with the assistance of paid, outside consultants, cannot implement systematic changes to end the ongoing violations of the constitutional rights of the individuals in their care without external accountability,” the report said

The Justice Department also described the facilities’ cooperation with their investigation as “inadequate.”

While investigators were talking to witnesses, they were followed by state staff attorneys and facilities managers, the report noted, and officials discouraged staff from talking to the Justice Department. After the first visit, the CEO of the Paramus site told department heads that DOJ could shut them down and they should be mindful of what they say.

The governor has previously pledged a comprehensive study into his administration’s handling of the virus, launching a review last year. A report was expected by the end of this year. Murphy was reelected in 2021.

The report included a particularly tragic account of a former Marine, identified as Resident C.

Early in 2020, he was alert, talked to his family every day and led an art class. He was known to be polite and sociable. On April 4, 2020, soon after the first cases were identified in the state, his roommate was hospitalized for potentially having COVID-19. The roommate died two days later after testing positive.

“There is no evidence that Menlo Park monitored Resident C for COVID, even as his condition declined in the days after his roommate’s positive test,” the report said.

Facility staff took Resident C’s scooter from him on April 5, without explanation, according to the report, then shut the door to his room, leaving him unable to reach his buzzer to call for help or his cell phone. A day later he was noted to be confused and was administered antibiotics for pneumonia. The same day, he was yelling for help and soon developed a fever. He died April 16 of that year, the report said, with no mention of COVID-19 in his chart.

“Resident C’s family later asked the facility if Resident C’s roommate had COVID; they were told ‘no,’” the report said.

The report found that it’s clear that the number of deaths during the early months of the outbreak was much higher than the numbers publicly disclosed.

In April of 2020 alone, 98 Menlo Park residents and 92 Paramus residents died of all causes — roughly equal to the number of people who die in a year at the homes.

As of July 2020, the state published data showing 81 deaths at Paramus and 65 at Menlo Park. But the actual number of residents who died of COVID-19 was much higher, the report said. The reported deaths were based on the cause of death listed on a death certificate, but because COVID-19 tests were not readily available early in the pandemic, residents often died without a positive tests. Universal testing didn’t start until April 20, 2020.

“It is clear that the number of deaths during COVID’s early months was substantially higher than the numbers publicly disclosed, and substantially higher than at other facilities,” the report found.

The report is based on interviews with dozens of witnesses, current and former staff, family members of residents, visits to the facilities and the review of thousands of documents.

To mask or not to mask? Biden goes both ways after first lady tests positive for COVID-19

To mask or not to mask? Biden goes both ways after first lady tests positive for COVID-19

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President Joe Biden turned up in a mask for the first time in months on Tuesday, a day after his wife tested positive for COVID-19. But the president quickly ditched it during a ceremony honoring an 81-year-old Vietnam veteran, and the two unmasked octogenarians shared a hearty handshake before they parted.

The White House had said earlier that Biden, who had tested negative for the virus earlier in the day, would wear a mask indoors, but that he might remove it when standing at a distance from others.

The reality looked somewhat different from the promised protocol, a reflection of how messy coronavirus precautions can become at a time when the national emergency has ended and so have mask mandates, but the virus keeps spreading. Hospitalizations are up, but not like they were before, and doctors are hoping to get more shots in arms next month when a new booster becomes available.

Biden and Capt. Larry Taylor, who both took off their masks after entering the East Room, stood side by side as a commendation was read aloud, and then Biden reached around the vet’s body to place the medal around his neck. The two then stood face-to-face and shook hands heartily.

People who are exposed to the coronavirus should wear a mask and monitor for symptoms for 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden and his wife had traveled together to Florida on Saturday to inspect damage from Hurricane Idalia. The Bidens then spent part of the Labor Day weekend at their Delaware beach house before the president traveled without his wife on Monday to a union event in Philadelphia and then back to the White House.

First lady Jill Biden planned to remain at the Rehoboth Beach home for the week and was arranging substitute teachers for her classes at a community college in northern Virginia. The president is set to depart for the Group of 20 summit in India on Thursday, and the White House said he would test again before departure.

Biden was at Tuesday’s Medal of Honor event for less than 15 minutes. CDC officials have used 15 minutes as a rough guideline for how long casual contact between two people can be for COVID-19 to spread, although it is possible for the virus to spread in less time.

COVID hospitalizations have been increasing, from about 6,000 a week at the beginning of the summer to more than 15,000 the week of Aug. 19, the most recent week of federal data. But in 96% of the country, COVID hospitalizations are considered low, according to the CDC.

The percentage of U.S. deaths attributed to COVID in late August – 2% — was up from 1.7% the week before.

The CDC recommends that people infected with COVID stay home and away from others for at least five days and to wear a high-quality mask when indoors around others. The CDC also says that people who are not infected should avoid being around the infected person until their home isolation period ends. If they must be near an infected family member, it’s important to consistently wear a high-quality mask, practice good hand hygiene and take other infection-prevention measures, the CDC says.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would be following CDC protocols and would mask indoors unless he was far enough away from someone.

“They recommend a combination of things, which is masking, testing and monitoring for symptoms — he has no symptoms — so we’re going to follow those guidelines,” she said. She wouldn’t say whether Biden would be tested every day until he left for India.

If the president were to come down with the virus again — he had it last summer — he’d have to skip the trip, which also includes a stop in Vietnam and at a military base in Alaska to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

White House officials wouldn’t speculate about contingency plans if Biden could not make the trip. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration had “long experience from the early days of the administration in managing for situations in which COVID plays a role in summits.”

“As you know, we’ve seen various leaders at various times participate virtually in events,” Sullivan said.

The Bidens had COVID-19 last summer, which is about the last time the president wore a mask in public. He also said recently that he is planning to request more money from Congress to develop a new coronavirus vaccine.

Officials already are expecting updated COVID-19 vaccines that contain one version of the omicron strain, called XBB.1.5. It’s an important change from today’s combination shots, which mix the original coronavirus strain with last year’s most common omicron variants. But there will always be a need for updated vaccines as the virus continues to mutate.

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AP writer Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this report.