white house

Feds clamping down on COVID-19 antibody treatments in states like Tenn.

President Joe Biden’s administration is imposing new limits on COVID-19 antibody treatments in states like Tennessee where governors have relied on the drug instead of imposing stricter mitigation efforts, Politico reports.

Until now, the federal government has shipped the monoclonal antibody drugs on an as-needed basis, and seven Southern states — Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama — have accounted for 70% of the orders this month.

Under the new approach, the drugs would be allocated to states on a proportional basis rather than where outbreaks happen to be the worst. Critics say the current demand in states with high per-capita infection rates reflects a political resistance to vaccines and masks.

Tennessee Health Department spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley tells Politico the new scrutiny of state orders has resulted in delays getting the drugs to providers.

Biden declares major disaster following Tennessee flooding

Damage from heavy flooding in seen in Waverly on Aug. 22, 2021. (Image credit: State of Tennessee)

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster following the fatal flooding in Humphreys County over the weekend.

Here’s the release from the White House:

Yesterday, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by a severe storm and flooding on August 21, 2021.

The President’s action makes Federal funding available to affected individuals in Humphreys County.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding is also available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures in Humphreys County.

Lastly, Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Deanne Criswell, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Damage assessments are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance tomorrow by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION MEDIA SHOULD CONTACT THE FEMA NEWS DESK AT (202) 646-3272 OR FEMA-NEWS-DESK@FEMA.DHS.GOV.

U.S. education secretary questions legality of Lee’s mask opt-out order

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt out of universal masking rules at Tennessee public schools may infringe on federal laws requiring districts to adopt policies “to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans,” according to a letter from U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

The letter comes as public schools in Nashville and Shelby County have refused to adopt Lee’s opt-out order as they look into whether he has the legal authority to require the change.

Read the full letter dated Aug. 18 below:

Dear Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn:

As the new school year begins in school districts across Tennessee, it is our shared priority that students return to in-person instruction safely. The safe return to in-person instruction requires that school districts be able to protect the health and safety of students and educators, and that families have confidence that their schools are doing everything possible to keep students healthy. Tennessee’s actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts these goals at risk and may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.

We are aware that Tennessee has adopted an Executive Order prohibiting local educational agencies (LEAs) from adopting requirements for the universal wearing of masks. This State level action against science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 appears to restrict the development of local health and safety policies and is at odds with the school district planning process embodied in the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department’s) interim final requirements. As you know, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP Act) requires each LEA that receives Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds to adopt a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services. (See section 2001(i).) The Department’s interim final requirements clarify that such plan “must describe…how [the LEA] will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff and the extent to which it has adopted policies, and a description of any such policies, on each of the following safety recommendations established by the CDC…” The safety recommendations include “universal and correct wearing of masks.”

The Department is concerned that Tennessee’s actions could limit each LEA’s ability under the ARP Act to adopt a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services that the LEA determines adequately protects students and educators by following CDC guidance. The Department stands with the dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.

The Department also emphasizes that it is within an LEA’s discretion to use ARP ESSER funds for implementing indoor masking policies or other policies aligned with CDC guidance. Section 2001(e)(2)(Q) of the ARP Act explicitly gives LEAs the authority to use ARP ESSER funds (as well as ESSER funds granted through prior relief funding) for “developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff.”

We are eager to partner with Tennessee on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators. In addition, the Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether Tennessee is meeting all of its Federal fiscal requirements. It’s critical that we do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students and staff to thrive.

Sincerely,

Miguel A. Cardona, Ed.D.

White House details how much Tennessee would receive from infrastructure bill

President Joe Biden’s administration is detailing how Tennessee would stand to benefit from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill pending in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s the release from the White House:

— Repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. In Tennessee there are 881 bridges and over 270 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.7% in Tennessee and on average, each driver pays $209 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. Based on formula funding alone, Tennessee would expect to receive $5.8 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. Tennessee can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.

— Improve healthy, sustainable transportation options for millions of Americans. Tennesseans who take public transportation spend an extra 67.9% of their time commuting and non-White households are 5.6 times more likely to commute via public transportation. 21% of transit vehicles are past useful life. Based on formula funding alone, Tennessee would expect to receive $633 million over five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve public transportation options across the state.

— Build a network of EV chargers to facilitate long-distance travel and provide convenient charging options. The U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The President believes that must change. The bill invests $7.5 billion to build out the first-ever national network of EV chargers in the United States and is a critical element in the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to accelerate the adoption of EVs to address the climate crisis and

— Help connect every American to reliable high-speed internet. 5.9% of Tennesseans live in areas where, under the FCC’s benchmark, there is no broadband infrastructure. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 17% of Tennessee households do not have an internet subscription. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Tennessee will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 402,000 Tennesseans who currently lack it. And, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 2,009,000 or 30% of people in Tennessee will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will expect to receive additional data on the impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in Tennessee.

White House details American Families Plan impact in Tennessee

Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration is breaking down how its American Families Plan would affect each state.

Here is the White House report on Tennessee:

The Need for Action in Tennessee

The American Families Plan is an investment in Tennessee’s children and families – because when American families do well, our nation thrives. The American Families Plan is a once-in-a-generation investment in the foundations of middle-class prosperity: education, health care, and child care. It will help families cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with now, lower health insurance premiums, and continue the American Rescue Plan’s historic reductions in child poverty. It will yield significant economic returns – boosting productivity and economic growth, supporting a larger, more productive, and healthier workforce on a sustained basis, and generating savings to states and the federal government.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Higher education is key to unlocking opportunity in the new economy, but the average cost of a 2-year degree in Tennessee is $4,600 per year. High costs are part of the reason just 60 percent of students in Tennessee are able to complete a postsecondary degree of any kind within 6 years of enrolling, and across the United States, high-minority and high-poverty high schools have seen 9 percent and 11 percent declines in college enrollment, respectively. To make higher education more accessible, the American Families Plan will provide at least two years of free community college to all students, including DREAMers. It will also increase the maximum Pell Grant awards by approximately $1,400 to support the 124,000 students in Tennessee who rely on Pell for their education, and provide grants to increase college retention and completion. In addition, the American Families Plan will provide support to
minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and the students they serve across the country, like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). This includes 12 MSIs in Tennessee.

UNIVERSAL PRE-SCHOOL: Pre-school is critical to ensuring that children start kindergarten with the skills and supports that set them up for success in school. But today, only 40,900 or 25 percent of the 166,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee are enrolled in publicly-funded pre-school. The American Families Plan will provide access to free, high-quality pre-school to all 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee, boosting their educational outcomes and allowing more parents to go back to work. In addition, the American Families Plan will ensure that all employees in funded pre-school programs are paid a $15 minimum wage and provide compensation and benefits comparable to kindergarten educators to those with similar qualifications.

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White House declares major disaster in TN counties affected by February storms

The White House has declared a major disaster in 13 Tennessee counties rocked by a winter storm in February.

Here’s the release:

Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms from February 11 to February 19, 2021.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms in the counties of Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Moore, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Shelby, and Smith.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Robert J. Fenton, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments. 

Tennessee among 24 states on White House ‘red zone’ list

Tennessee is among 24 states on the White House’s coronavirus “red zone” list, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The state is among 13 where officials have refused to share details about the findings.

Here’s the article originally published by Liz Essley Whyte of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C.:

Twenty-four states are in the “red zone” for new coronavirus cases, according to documents the White House Coronavirus Task Force distributes to governors every week but does not publish. States in the middle of the country — North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana and Utah — topped the list.

The Center for Public Integrity obtained the weekly reports, the existence of which it first revealed in July. The Trump administration has been withholding them from the public. In July, 18 states were in the red zone, with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. 

The task force in its most recent reports emphasized the need for masks and testing. “Masks must be worn indoors in all public settings and group gathering sizes should be limited,” the task force told red-zone Kansas, where most counties have opted out of a statewide mask mandate. 

The Oct. 4 report to Idaho appears to be the first time the task force has explicitly recommended closing schools: “Recommend change to online K-12 classes in counties and metro areas with elevated test positivity and incidence among schoolage children and increasing hospital utilization,” the White House advised, noting that outbreaks in 10 Idaho counties may be related to school openings. The Trump administration championed opening schools this summer, and the task force reports previously generally avoided the topic of K-12 education. The Oct. 4 reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force included a ranking of states based on their rates of new cases. States with more than 100 new cases last week per 100,000 residents were in the red zone. (Screenshot of report)

But the task force didn’t recommend the steps it advised for red zone states earlier in the pandemic, such as closing bars and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The Democrat-led House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis last month criticized the task force for watering down its recommendations over time.

Only one state, Vermont, was in the green zone for cases in the most recent report, with just six new cases per 100,000 residents in the last week.

The White House earlier told Public Integrity that it was not releasing the reports because the pandemic response should be state-led and federally supported. “The United States will not be shut down again,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in August.

Since then, Public Integrity has contacted officials in all 50 states weekly to obtain the reports. Governors and health officials in 13 states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia — have refused to share any so far or have not responded to repeated inquiries to multiple officials. The White House has said that states are free to share the reports if they want to do so.

The 24 states in the red zone are:
1. North Dakota
2. South Dakota
3. Wisconsin
4. Montana
5. Utah
6. Iowa
7. Nebraska
8. Idaho
9. Arkansas
10. Oklahoma
11. Missouri
12. Kansas
13. Wyoming
14. Tennessee
15. Minnesota
16. Kentucky
17. Alabama
18. Mississippi
19. Alaska
20. Nevada
21. Illinois
22. Indiana
23. Texas
24. South Carolina

Vandy baseball team declines White House visit

The Vanderbilt baseball team declined a White House visit to celebrate its 2019 NCAA championship, The Washington Post reports.

A spokesman told the paper the invitation was “respectfully declined [because of] long-standing travel plans for our student-athletes to return home for the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Last year’s winner, Oregon State, visited President Donald Trump in the White House instead.

The White House event was to celebrate 22 champions from non-revenue sports. NCAA football and basketball champions have visited on their own.