For The Weekly Pulse (a revisit of an old Ms. column!), we’ve scoured the most trusted journalistic sources—and, of course, our Twitter feeds—to bring you this week’s most important news stories related to health and wellness.
In this week’s edition, we take a look at what the American Rescue Plan Act has in store for those suffering through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; mark one year since the pandemic officially began; discuss President Biden’s latest vaccine timeline; and run down recent attacks on reproductive health.
The American Rescue Plan
+ This week, to the delight and relief of many, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package “designed to stimulate the economy and help people survive the economic crisis caused by the pandemic,” Katie Fleischer and Sophie Dorf-Kamienny reported for Ms.
Before Biden was able to sign, the bill was narrowly approved in the House with a vote of 220 to 211. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and one Democrat joined Republicans in voting against it. The bill passed in the Senate with a 50 to 49 vote. Similarly, all Democrats voted in favor of the bill with all Republicans voting against it. (Sen. Dan Sullivan [R-Arkansas] did not vote).
“The Biden American Rescue Plan is about the children, their health, their education, [and] the economic security of their families,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have an opportunity to support.”
+ Here’s some things you should know about the American Rescue Plan:
- Individual Americans earning up to $80,000 and couples earning up to $160,000 will be receiving direct stimulus checks of $1,400.
- Those who claim dependents will receive an additional $1,400 direct stimulus check per dependent.
- Through September, there will be an extension of the $300/week unemployment boost.
- Over $20 billion has been committed to nationwide vaccine distribution.
- Over $128 billion will go towards K-12 schools to help them reopen quickly and safely. $40 billion will go to the creation of emergency grants and finds for college and university students.
- Employers are being incentivized to provide paid sick and family leave.
- $7.25 billion is going towards the small business loan program (PPP) and will allow more nonprofits to apply.
- For four months, the value of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) vouchers will be increased.
- The child tax credit for children ages 6 to 17 will be increased to $3,000. For children 6 and under, the credit will be increased to $3,600.
- $25 billion is being set aside for rental assistance, $5 billion of which is designated for survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking, as well as unhoused people.
On Wednesday, Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal released a statement commending Congress and the Biden administration, saying:
“The passage of the American Rescue Plan today is a victory for women, especially women of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and low-income and middle-class families. It is the most progressive act passed since Medicare and Social Security, slashing childhood poverty in half by giving money directly to the families that need it most. It recognizes the importance of women in the labor force, many of whom are essential workers, by providing $50 billion in assistance to stabilize childcare providers. It gives child care providers the opportunity to apply for paycheck protection programs. We strongly encourage Congress to make the child tax credit permanent.
Reflecting on the U.S.’s “Deadliest Year in History”
+ One year ago this week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The WHO’s Director-General held a media briefing on March 11, 2021. Reading the remarks now are a chilling reminder that we could have prevented many of the more than 525,000 fatalities in the U.S.
“Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those—China and the Republic of Korea—have significantly declining epidemics. 81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less.
We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.
Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same—it’s whether they will.”— WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, 11 March 2020
+ Last year was the deadliest year in American history, with a 15 percent increase in deaths compared to 2019. In an interview, Dr. Fauci was asked if the total number of pandemic deaths today would have shocked him one year ago.
“It would have shocked me completely. I mean, I knew we were in for trouble… In fact, that day, at a congressional hearing, I made the statement ‘things are going to get much worse before they get better’… But I did not think that in my mind ‘much worse’ was going to be 525,000 deaths.” Dr. Fauci said.
+ Over the past year, activists and academics alike have pointed out how the events of 2020 can act as a catalyst for radical change and creating more equitable societies. For example, the pandemic has pushed many employers toward providing paid sick leave, the option to work from home and more flexible scheduling—improvements to working conditions disability rights advocates have pushed for years.
Likewise, feminist activists have highlighted the lack of government support for women during the crisis. MADRE, an organization committed to progressing global women’s rights, released a list of “feminist policy reccomendations to address the pandemic.” MADRE calls on legislatures around the world to enact policies that would place economic value on care work, protect survivors of gender-based violence, pass a feminist green new deal, protect the rights of immigrants and refugees, guarantee reproductive rights, work towards disability justice and advance peace-building efforts.
Additionally, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—and far too many other Black Americans—at the hands of police officers made calls for racial justice salient to many white Americans for the first time. The overlap of the pandemic and protests for Black lives in 2020 highlighted the need for a pandemic response centered on racial justice. As we reflect on the past year, let us be reminded that the opportunity for advancing an intersectional feminist agenda is now.
President Biden Calls For Every Adult to Be Made Eligible for Vaccine by May 1
+ In an address to the nation, President Biden called on the states to make everyone eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1. Notably, this does not mean all American adults will be able to access the vaccine by that date, but the funding for vaccine distribution in the American Rescue Plan is a step towards making the president’s timeline a reality. Additionally, President Biden was optimistic that his vaccine timelines means Americans could be celebrating the fourth of July together this year.
“If we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” he said.
+ The CDC released updated guidance for those who’ve been vaccinated. Those who’ve been fully vaccinated can gather indoors—without masks—with others who are either vaccinated or are unvaccinated but considered low-risk for COVID-19.
The CDC still recommends vaccinated people wear a mask and practicing social distancing in public because the CDC is “still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines keep people from spreading the disease.” Therefore, vaccinated people should still avoid gathering in medium to large crowds, and should delay travel when possible.
+ Former President Donald Trump was notably absent from a vaccine PSA that included all living former presidents and first ladies. You’d think a guy who wants to take all of the credit for the development of a vaccine would encourage people to get that vaccine, but alas.
+ This week, Arkansas passed one of the nation’s most aggressive and restrictive abortion bans to date, which criminalizes the procedure unless the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Senate Bill 6 (Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act) does not include exceptions for rape or incest.
The bill states that, “Performing or attempting to perform an abortion is an unclassified felony with a fine not to exceed one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) or imprisonment not to exceed ten (10) years, or both.”
+ The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates millions of menstruating people around the world lost access to family planning measures and services—like birth control or other contraceptives—due to the coronavirus pandemic.
UNFPA researchers estimated that 12 million menstruating people across 115 low-to middle-income countries were “unable to access family planning services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” In 2020, these disruptions lasted an average of 3.6 months and resulted in an estimated 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies.
+ A high proportion of transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive (TGE) people have attempted an abortion without clinical supervision, according to a new study published in the BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health Journal. Researchers concluded that results “could reflect formidable barriers to facility-based abortion care as well as a strong desire for privacy and autonomy in the abortion process. Efforts are needed to connect TGE people with information on safe and effective methods of self-managed abortion and to dismantle barriers to clinical abortion care so that TGE people may freely choose a safe, effective abortion in either setting.”
+ On Tuesday, Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton filed a bill that would ban and criminalize abortions. House Bill 3326 does not include exceptions for rape or incest and criminal charges for homicide have the potential to carry the death penalty.
+ On Wednesday, a Texas court ruled that the state can remove Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program. Now, low-income patients who rely on Medicaid for their health care will no longer be able to use Medicaid at Planned Parenthood—even for non-abortion related health services.
“Gov. Abbott is focused on taking away health care access for the most vulnerable Texans,” said Dyana Limon-Mercaro, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “The 8,000 Planned Parenthood patients who rely on Medicaid should be able to access care at the provider they know and trust. Without access to the comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care Planned Parenthood provides, thousands of lives are now at even greater risk.”
+ A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study found one-in-three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence within their lifetimes.
“The results paint a horrifying picture. An estimated 736 million women—almost one in three women globally—have suffered intimate partner violence, sexual violence from a non-partner—or both—at least once in their lives,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is an old problem, but we can change it. We can all speak up to say the violence against women is never acceptable.”