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Texas leads U.S. in rent relief disbursal at more than 50% paid out, but hurdles remain
Author: Dom DiFurio, The Dallas Morning News

For Texas renters and landlords struggling amid the ongoing pandemic, rental relief can’t come quickly enough. And the state has now disbursed more than half of its available funds to residents across nearly all Texas counties, according to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The state agency has paid out $755 million of its $1.3 billion in rental assistance as of this week, benefiting more than 124,000 households. About $40 million in funds have also been approved and are in the process of being paid out to applicants.

“The Texas Rent Relief program has cleared major hurdles, and our strong efforts at outreaching to all Texans have been effective, reaching 92% of Texas counties with relief funds,” TDHCA executive director Bobby Wilkinson said in a statement. “We’ve also partnered with other statewide agencies and organizations such as the Texas Apartment Association and Public Utilities Commission to share information about available assistance and outreach resources to ensure those most at risk of eviction or utility disconnection get the help they need.”

Roughly half of the overall funding remains to be distributed, and TDHCA said the most significant delay in getting funds to renters in need is missing documentation that’s required by federal rules. One-third of the applications currently in the review process are missing some form of documentation from the applicant, the agency says.

The housing agency ramped up its program over the first half of this year after Texas’ February winter storm and issues with contractors caused initial confusion and technical problems for renters and landlords. Since mid-May, it has seen a 650% increase in funds disbursed. TDHCA has brought on more than 1,700 staffers during that time to process applications.

In North Texas, a number of organizations are distributing millions in rental relief at the city and county level. Some relief programs will cover past due rent and utility bills as well as some future bills.

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on evictions last month, putting hundreds of thousands of renters at risk of losing their homes.

More than 170,000 Dallas-Fort Worth households are behind on rent or mortgage payments, and 35% of those households report that eviction or foreclosure is very likely or somewhat likely in the next two months, according to U.S. Census Bureau survey data from the second half of August.

Housing advocates and legal experts in Texas expect a flood of eviction filings in the coming months as landlords are once again able to remove tenants from rental units. As rents soar to record highs and pandemic-era benefits lapse, the displacement from evictions could have an outsized impact on Dallas’ Black and Latino neighborhoods, experts have said.

TDHCA said it is prioritizing applications from tenants whose landlords have filed to evict them. Already, 12,700 applicants have had their evictions diverted through the program, according to the agency.

Just under 30% of all emergency rent assistance funding allocated by the federal government has been paid out to U.S. households, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The organization has tracked 495 rental assistance programs around the country overseeing the distribution of $25 billion in pandemic-related funding.

U.S. jobless claims reach a pandemic low as economy recovers
Author: CHRISTOPHER RUGABER, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 310,000, a pandemic low and a sign that the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant has yet to lead to widespread layoffs.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims dropped from a revised total of 345,000 the week before. And at their current pace, weekly applications for benefits are edging toward their pre-pandemic figure of roughly 225,000.

But the spread of the delta variant this summer has put renewed pressure on the economy and the job market. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve reported that U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August, in part because of a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism related to concerns about the delta variant.

Still, the ongoing drop in applications for unemployment aid — six declines in the past seven weeks — indicates that most companies are holding onto their workers despite the slowdown. That trend should help sustain the economic rebound through the current wave of infections.

The pace of hiring, though, has weakened — at least for now. Last week, the government reported that hiring slowed dramatically in August, with employers adding just 235,000 jobs after having added roughly a million in both June and July. Hiring plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retail. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.

“While the August jobs report showed employers may have hit the pause button on hiring amid renewed concerns about the pandemic, the claims data suggest a reluctance to lay off workers amid a record number of job openings,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at the consulting firm Oxford Economics.

The steady fall in weekly applications for unemployment benefits coincides with a scaling-back of aid for jobless Americans. This week, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered gig workers and people who have been jobless for more than six months. Those emergency programs were created in March 2020, when the pandemic first tore through the economy.

That cutoff isn’t yet reflected in the weekly jobless claims report. The report’s data on the emergency programs is delayed by two weeks. As of Aug. 21, 8.8 million people were receiving benefits from these two programs.

An additional 2.6 million people were receiving regular state unemployment aid. These recipients have just lost a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement, which also expired this week.

Those cutoffs could also be a reason why applications for jobless aid are declining, said Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Many of the unemployed may now believe they aren’t eligible for aid.

Some business owners had complained that the federal supplement made it harder to fill open jobs. Those pleas led governors in about 25 states to cancel the $300 payment early and to shut off the two emergency programs in most of those states as well. But academic research has found that so far, the early cut-offs in jobless benefits have led to only a small increase in hiring in those states.

Many economists express concern that the cut-off will lead to financial hardship because the resurgence of the pandemic will make it harder for some of the unemployed to find work. After previous recessions, emergency expansions of jobless aid ended at a time when far fewer people were still receiving benefits.

California takes on Amazon, advancing a bill that regulates tough warehouse work metrics
Author: Suhauna Hussain, Los Angeles Times

The California Senate voted to regulate warehouse performance metrics, approving the first legislation in the nation that will require companies such as Amazon to disclose productivity quotas at their logistics facilities, among other standards meant to make warehouse work safer.

AB 701, which faced fierce opposition from business interests, passed the Senate on a 26-11 vote. The proposal seeks to address safety concerns in Amazon fulfillment centers across the state, where workers experience high injury rates related to closely tracked productivity goals.

The bill will face a final “concurrence” vote in the Assembly, usually a procedural step, before heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature.

“Today’s vote is a step forward in our efforts to empower warehouse workers to have a voice in their workplace, even when their supervisor is an algorithm,” Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the bill’s author, said in a statement.

Caitlin Vega, a lobbyist who supported the bill, called the vote a “historic victory” for Amazon workers, with national implications because California often sets the precedent for other states with major legislative efforts.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The California Chamber of Commerce, representing retailers and other industries, spent months lobbying against AB 701. It initially placed the bill on its “job killer” list, a tool relatively effective at hindering or killing legislation. But the chamber backed down and removed AB 701 from the list after proponents of the bill clarified or cut some of its provisions.

As amended, the bill would require warehouse employers such as Amazon to disclose productivity quotas for workers. It would prohibit any quota that prevents workers from taking state-mandated breaks or using the bathroom when needed, or that keeps employers from complying with health and safety laws.

In negotiations, backers of the bill agreed to cut a provision that would require Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency, to create a rule that would help to minimize musculoskeletal injuries among warehouse workers.

“We gave up a good amount to get moderates to agree this was something we would all need,” said Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a foundation-funded nonprofit in Ontario that is backing AB 701. “We think it’s a really good bill, but injury rates indicate that there’s a lot we need to do to protect workers. This is a good first step, but we won’t rest until warehouses are much, much safer.”

The bill, if signed by the governor, would give current or former workers alleging illegal labor practices the ability to pursue injunctive relief. That means instead of simply suing a company to secure penalties or damages, workers who lost their jobs could file suit to try to reverse their termination.

Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Assn., warned in a statement after the Wednesday vote that consumers will “pay the price” if AB 701 becomes law and increases manufacturing, storage and distribution costs.

The effort behind the bill came as Amazon has faced heightened scrutiny for its treatment of workers during the pandemic.

Labor advocates, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, also backed the legislation. The Teamsters union has been quietly laying the groundwork for such an effort over the last few years. It recently passed a resolution committing the union to providing “all resources necessary” for a nationwide push to organize hundreds of thousands of Amazon warehouse and delivery workers.

Newsom’s office declined to comment on whether the governor plans to sign or veto the bill if it lands on his desk.

New Seattle law requires third-party delivery apps to get restaurants’ consent to list their menus. Why this matters.
Author: Tan Vinh, The Seattle Times

During the pandemic, restaurants around Seattle started to notice they were getting more food orders from different versions of their menus that sometimes dated as far back as 2014. Worse, when the kitchens couldn’t fulfill orders from such outdated menus, those angry customers posted negative reviews about the restaurants online or called the restaurants to complain.

Last year, Art of the Table owner and chef Dustin Ronspies said he received to-go requests for stuffed quail and other small plate items from a menu he wrote eight years ago. His staff had to tell the delivery drivers that the kitchen didn’t have those ingredients on hand.

Nearby, the seafood restaurant Manolin recently received a request for “black rice with squid,” a menu item that’s so outdated that the cooks couldn’t recall when Manolin last served it in the dining room, let alone make it on the spot.

Unbeknown to these restaurants, the third-party delivery-app Grubhub was hawking these gourmet to-go items, and then putting the onus on the restaurants when the chefs could not reproduce these dishes for delivery, said several restaurateurs who spoke to The Seattle Times. Grubhub did not return a request for comment.

“They are ordering things we have not had in over a year. … It’s insane. It’s a blatant misuse of our business,” said Manolin co-owner Joe Sundberg.

The city of Seattle will soon start cracking down on such practices. In one of the strictest measures in the United States, a new Seattle law, effective Sept. 15, will require third-party meal-delivery apps to get written consent from restaurants before listing their menus or taking orders without permission. A delivery service that refuses to “remove the restaurant from its listing within 72 hours of receiving the request” could be fined $250 per violation.

Revenues generated from those fines will go toward supporting small restaurants with fewer than five employees, city officials said.

Seattle has been one of the most aggressive metropolitan cities in trying to rein in the practices of food delivery services. Last year, after small businesses and customers around Seattle complained that delivery services were “price gouging” during the pandemic, the city imposed a 15% cap on commission that third-party, app-based services can charge to deliver food.

The latest delivery mandate has the backing of two influential restaurant organizations; the Washington Hospitality Association and the Seattle Restaurant Alliance. Anthony Anton, the president of the WHA, said delivery apps are hurting restaurants because it’s the small-business owners, and not the delivery services, that are getting the brunt of the negative online reviews for not being able to fulfill delivery orders from outdated menus.

Linda Di Lello Morton, a board member of the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and the co-owner of Terra Plata bistro on Capitol Hill, agreed. “It really hurts when we get a bad review when it had nothing to do with us,” Morton said.

Two years ago, Grubhub, Postmates and other delivery app services were not household names around Seattle. But after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all restaurants to temporarily shut their dining rooms during the pandemic, many chefs pivoted to takeout and delivery, relying on multiple app-based services to handle their orders.

Even restaurants that didn’t contract with these third-party apps were unwillingly forced into the delivery ecosystem as their menus were posted on apps without the restaurant’s consent.

To gain market share in the cutthroat delivery-services realm, many third-party apps try to list as many restaurants as possible, even using old menus from Google searches to give customers more variety to choose from.

Problems often arise when delivery sites post old menus without the knowledge or consent of restaurants: seasonal menus and pricing are outdated. Many chefs also don’t do to-go orders or offer only a limited menu because many entrees don’t travel well.

When a customer orders from an old menu that the kitchen can’t fill, that’s when restaurateurs, delivery drivers and customers start the finger pointing at each other over the unfilled deliveries, several owners said.

Matt Storm, owner of the pizzeria The Masonry in Uptown and in Fremont, said his Neapolitan-style pie doesn’t hold up well sitting in a pizza box for 30 minutes, so he doesn’t offer delivery and discourages customers from ordering pizza for takeout. Yet, delivery services continue to advertise his pizza on their platforms, he said.

He recalled one courier who demanded he make a duck egg pizza since a customer had already paid for it with a credit card after seeing that outdated menu item on the delivery app.

“There is literally no duck egg here. I can’t magically pull one out of my [expletive],” Storm recalled telling the angry delivery driver.

Sundberg, the owner of two critically acclaimed restaurants, Manolin and Rupee Bar in Ballard, said for a year he used his own employees to do food deliveries to keep his staff employed during the pandemic. He didn’t realize he had a competitor: Grubhub and other delivery services, which posted old menus from his two restaurants without his consent.

“We had one customer [who] ordered six items, five of which are things we haven’t had for about a year,” said Sundberg. “I have reached out to these companies in the past to get our names and logos and menus off the sites because there were three to four of these [to-go orders] a week. … We can’t fill these orders.”

Every time he contacted the delivery services to take his businesses off their sites, his menus would be “back up in six or eight months,” he said.

Other restaurants that signed an agreement with delivery services say it’s difficult to end the partnership. Uttam Mukherjee, co-owner of the popular street Indian food counter Spice Waala on Capitol Hill and in Ballard, originally signed with Grubhub to handle its delivery. But in February, when drivers repeatedly showed up 90 minutes late to deliver fries and wraps that had turned cold and mushy, Mukherjee demanded Grubhub stop delivering his food because it was hurting his restaurant’s reputation.

“I called them twice to take us down [and said] ‘You do not have permission to use our menus without our knowledge,’ “ he recalled. “They would say, ‘sorry, we didn’t know.’ And a couple of weeks later we would get another order from Grubhub.”

Stocks higher in early trading, still lower for the week
Author: Associated Press

Stocks were slightly higher Thursday morning on Wall Street, as the market continues to wobble between gains and losses in this holiday-shortened week.

The S&P 500 index rose 0.2% as of 10 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.2% and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.3%. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are on track to end the week lower, the first down week after two previous weeks of gains.

GameStop plunged 11% after the video game retailer reported a worse-than-expected loss for the quarter. The company has been at the center of a battle between a group of online investors and Wall Street hedge funds since late last year, causing the stock to be extremely volatile.

Lululemon rose 10% after the athletic apparel seller’s quarterly results came in well above analysts’ expectations.

Investors continue to monitor the progress of the economy and what the Federal Reserve plans to do as the economy continues to recover. The Federal Reserve’s latest survey of the nation’s business conditions, dubbed the “Beige Book,” said Wednesday that U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August.

The Fed said the slowdown was largely attributable to a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism in most parts of the country, reflecting concerns about the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Fed officials have indicated they expect to dial back on stimulus measures by year’s end, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress that she will run out of maneuvering room to prevent the U.S. from breaching the government’s borrowing limit in October unless the debt ceiling is raised.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 310,000. At their current pace, weekly applications for benefits are edging toward their pre-pandemic figure of roughly 225,000.

U.S. crude oil prices fell about 1% and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 1.33%.

Franklin County officials investigating 2 likely drownings
Author: Associated Press

PASCO — The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating two potential drownings after finding the body of an 80-year-old man. Authorities say a 35-year-old man is still missing.

The sheriff’s office responded to the report of a capsized boat on Chance Lake. The lake is located near Hendricks Road, east of State Route 17, KOMO-TV reported.

Deputies with the sheriff’s office reported finding a submerged boat. During their investigation, the body of an 80-year-old Grandview man was located. He is believed to have drowned.

Authorities say they have reason to believe that a 35-year-old Grandview man is still missing. The sheriff’s office says there is nothing suspicious with this incident and it appears to be a tragic accident. Authorities are not releasing the identities of the individuals at this time.

‘We should not be overly concerned’ about mu variant of coronavirus, Washington state and local health officials say
Author: Elise Takahama, The Seattle Times

While the mu variant of the coronavirus has continued to slowly spread throughout the world over the last several months — including in 49 U.S. states — local and state health officials say Washingtonians shouldn’t be too concerned at this point.

The variant was first identified in Colombia in January and has since caused isolated outbreaks in South America, Europe and the United States. Last month, the World Health Organization listed mu as a “variant of interest” because of concerns that it could make vaccines and treatments less effective. However, more evidence is needed, the WHO said.

In Washington, the variant was first detected in April. A month later, King County public health officials also confirmed they’d identified the variant.

Since then, King County has counted 39 total mu cases, fewer than four cases per week, county public health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Wednesday.

“There’s no indication for an increasing trend,” Duchin said. “Mu looks very bad in a test tube, and it might have the potential to evade vaccine-based immunity, but whether a virus has any real human health significance depends on a lot more than how it looks in a test tube.”

A virus must be able to survive in the “real world” and outcompete other variants, such as the delta variant, in order to have a large impact on community health, he added.

“The course of the outbreak has been fraught with uncertainty and it will continue to be. … We should expect to see an ongoing evolution of viruses that may appear to have potential concerning features, many of which will never pan out to be significant human health concerns,” Duchin said.

He added, “It’s very important not to assume anything. … We should not be overly concerned about mu at this point.”

Coronavirus cases involving the mu variant also haven’t increased much statewide, though experts are continuing to monitor its spread, according to Teresa McCallion, spokesperson for the state Department of Health.

In August, there were 3,442 specimens sequenced from Washington residents, with mu representing about 0.4% of sequenced cases — compared to 98.2% of cases represented by the delta variant, McCallion said.

More data is needed to better analyze the variant, but Duchin said Wednesday mu may “never become a contender” among other coronavirus variants.

Globally, the delta variant remains more dominant in almost all of the 174 countries where it’s been detected. According to The Associated Press, mu accounts for fewer than 1% of coronavirus cases throughout the world, though it could be responsible for about 39% of cases in Colombia.

Scientists generally monitor emerging coronavirus variants based on suspicious genetic changes and then look for evidence to determine whether the new version is more infectious or causes more severe illness. Viruses evolve constantly and many new variants often fade away.

The mu variant “is of interest to us because of the combination of mutations it has,” said the WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove. “But it doesn’t seem to be circulating.”

Court records detail Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s arrest for DUI
Author: Nico Portuondo, The Spokesman-Review

A Coeur d’Alene police report gave additional details about Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few’s Monday night DUI arrest, including that Few was driving erratically, smelled of alcohol and later went to a hospital for a blood draw.

Few issued a statement about the incident Tuesday evening, apologizing and saying that his decisions that night “do not exemplify” the actions of a role model.

While driving his SUV on Monday night, Few was initially followed by Kootenai County fire engine captain Seth Hohenstreet who saw Few’s vehicle swerving across the road. The captain told police he thought Few was going to hit a traffic sign three separate times.

When a police officer eventually pulled him over, the officer reported that Few smelled of alcohol and had difficulty following instructions. The officer reported that Few would begin a sentence and trail off.

Few initially refused to leave the vehicle when ordered by the officer and refused to perform field sobriety tests, the report said. Few said he had previous ankle and knee injuries that prevented him from performing field sobriety tests, according to the report.

Few eventually complied with orders to exit the SUV, but had to lean on the vehicle when he eventually stood up, according to the report.

Few initially told the officer he did not have any alcohol on Monday, but later said he had a couple of beers, according to the report. Few told police he was returning from his vacation home in Hayden Lake and driving to Spokane.

Due to the officer’s determination that Few was impaired, the officer put Few under arrest and in the back of his police car.

The officer then conducted breath tests, which showed blood alcohol levels of 0.119 and 0.120, the report said. The legal limit for blood alcohol level when driving in Idaho is 0.08.

The officer took Few to Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene after Few requested that an independent blood draw be done. The officer was later instructed by supervisors to release Few from custody and issue him a citation at the hospital, according to the report.

“While at the hospital, I was directed by my supervisors to release Mark from custody and issue a citation,” said Coeur d’Alene officer Matthew Lovingier in the report. “I took Mark out of handcuffs and issued him a citation for driving under the influence.”

The additional details come after a Tuesday report that police had issued Few a citation on suspicion of drunken driving on Monday night in North Idaho.

Few was stopped by police at North Fourth Street and East Hanley Avenue in Dalton Gardens, a town immediately north of Coeur D’Alene, at around 8 p.m. Monday.

Police said in the initial report that Few showed “several signs of intoxication” and refused to perform field sobriety tests.

Few issued an apology statement late Tuesday evening.

“I recognize that operating a motor vehicle after consuming any amount of alcohol exhibits poor judgment,” Few said. “Regardless of the outcome of the pending investigation, I will never allow such a lapse in judgment to occur again. Please know that I am committed to learning from this mistake and will work to earn back your trust in me.

“I deeply regret disappointing any of the members of the community, the young men and women who comprise my campus community, and the University as a whole,” he continued.

“In particular, I am sorry for the hurt that I have caused to those most important to me — my family, my players, and my program. I am exceedingly grateful to those who continue to offer support to me, especially my wife and children. Thank you.”

Few has coached Gonzaga for 22 seasons, shepherding the once-modest men’s basketball program to national prominence. Few led his team to the national championship game last year. He has a 630-125 record at Gonzaga.

Boyfriend arrested in death of shooting victim left at Puyallup hospital
Author: Craig Sailor, The News Tribune

TACOMA — He allegedly left his girlfriend at a Puyallup hospital with a gunshot wound in July and now he’s been arrested in connection with her death.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department took the 23-year-old boyfriend of Kayla Kulow into custody Wednesday afternoon, according to sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Darren Moss.

Kulow, 21, was left at Good Samaritan Hospital July 3. She died July 4 at Tacoma General Hospital. The Pierce County Medical Examiner has not yet determined the cause or manner of her death.

The boyfriend, who The News Tribune is not identifying because he has not yet been formally charged, was booked into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of murder.

He was a suspect from the beginning, Moss said.

“We didn’t have enough to arrest him,” Moss said. “But our detectives have been working for the past two months, piecing together all the evidence they could get, along with statements.”

A warrant for the boyfriend’s arrest was issued Tuesday.

Kulow and the boyfriend lived together in Parkland, Moss said.

NYT Politics

White House to Withdraw David Chipman's Nomination to Lead A.T.F.
Author: Glenn Thrush
Two senators who caucus with the Democratic party, Angus King and Joe Manchin III, soured on Mr. Chipman’s nomination.