Cronkite News Arizona PBS – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 22 Oct 2021 05:51:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 President Biden reverses Trump cuts to national monuments sacred to Native Americans, restores Bears Ears Tue, 12 Oct 2021 04:02:29 +0000 By Diannie Chavez | –

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden restored Bears Ears National Monument to its previous 1.36 million-acres footprint Friday, reversing a Trump-era decision to cut as much as 85% of the southern Utah site valued for its environmental, archeological and tribal treasures.

Bears Ears was one of three national monuments cut by former President Donald Trump that were restored by Biden, along with the 1.87 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument off the coast of New England.

Photo by Josh Ewing/ Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition.

The move was welcomed by environmental and tribal leaders who were on hand for Friday’s signing of the proclamations restoring the public lands, with one calling the restoration of Bears Ears “a victory for our people, our ancestors, and future generations.”

“It’s time to put Trump’s cynical actions in the rearview mirror, restore rightful protections, and restart the Bears Ears co-management arrangement with the tribes who have held this place sacred since time immemorial,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, in a prepared statement.

But Utah officials, who had criticized former President Barack Obama’s decision to create the Bears Ears monument in 2016, were not pleased.

“These decisions clearly demonstrate the administration’s unwillingness to collaborate with and listen to those most impacted by their decisions,” Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox said in a written statement Thursday.

That statement, which was also signed by the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the Senate president and House speaker, charged that Biden’s proclamation “fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcement, research, and other protections which the monuments need and which only Congressional action can offer.”

Bears Ears was created by Obama with a stroke of the pen under the Antiquities Act, a law that allows a president to unilaterally create monuments to protect cultural and natural resources. Obama used the act more than any other president, invoking it 34 times to create 29 new monuments and enlarge five others during his term.

The monuments were an early target for Trump, who ordered a review just months into his term in 2017 and signed a proclamation before the end of that year that slashed Bears Ears from roughly 1.35 million acres to about 200,000. The reduction was welcomed by critics like then-Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who said at the time that the Antiquities Act has “no rules, there is no process in the law for either creation or readjustments, and that’s part of the problem.”

But Biden used the same act Friday to reverse Trump’s decision. Biden’s proclamation will not only bring back the boundaries established by Obama in 2016, but will add protections for 11,200 acres that Trump identified in 2017, for a total protected area of 1.36 million acres.

“The truth is that national monuments and parks are part of … our identity as a people,” Biden said. “They are more than natural wonders, they’re the birthright we passed from generation to generation, a birthright of every American. Preserving them is the fulfillment of a promise to our children.”

Biden on Friday recalled a promise he made while on the campaign trail, to a young girl who asked him to protect the monument as she handed him what he described as a pair of bear’s ears.

“This may be the easiest promise I’ve made in a long time,” Biden said.

Tribal, state and federal leaders who joined Biden at the White House signing ceremony included Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who said he “wholeheartedly supports” the expansion.

“This historic signing of the proclamation and restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument is a victory for our people, our ancestors, and future generations,” Nez said. “Bears Ears is home to many of our historical and cultural sites, plants, water, traditional medicines, and teachings for our people.”

Environmental and tribal groups hoped to have 1.9 million acres around Bears Ears declared a national monument. President Joe Biden designated 1.36 million acres, restoring it to its former size. (Photo by Tim D. Peterson Jr./Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition)

Hopi Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma told Indian Country Today that the president had promised to “listen to Native America and Biden’s actions does prove that it is happening.”

“We do need to protect these sacred sites that not only the Hopi tribe but other tribes find significant within their history,” said Nuvangyaoma, who was also at the signing ceremony.

Grijalva and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, had written Biden about Bears Ears in April, urging him to “strongly consider expanding the boundaries of the monument to the full 1.9 million acres proposed by the Native American Tribes whose ancestral lands the monument aims to protect.”

While the expanded monument falls short of that goal, it was still welcomed by Grijalva as proof of “this administration’s commitment to conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of Indigenous Peoples.”

Randi Spivak, director of the public lands program at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the restoration of the monuments “truly reason to celebrate,”

“This shows Biden understands the importance of these cultural and ecological treasures and the need to act boldly to protect our natural world,” said Spivak, who hopes to see the administration take the next step.

“Now Biden must quickly deliver on his pledge to protect 30% of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030, before other magnificent places are plundered by extractive industries,” she said.

Diannie Chavez is a visual journalist completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Chavez, who interned at Phoenix Magazine, is a visual reporter for the D.C. News Bureau.

Via Cronkite News


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

ABC4 Utah: “Utah Native Americans react to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments restoration”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema angers Progressives, draws support of 40% of Republicans Sat, 02 Oct 2021 04:04:12 +0000 By Diannie Chavez and Brenda Rivas | –

( Cronkite News ) – WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s refusal to back the Biden administration’s $3.5 trillion social and clean-energy spending package has made her a target for Democrats – and possibly “the most powerful person in Washington right now,” one analyst said.

It’s not the first time that Sinema, a Democrat, has bucked her party on high-profile measures that need every Democratic vote to pass in the evenly divided Senate.

(Video by Brenda Rivas): Sinema’s Strategy: Cronkite News


That has brought scorn from Democrats in Washington and Arizona, with the state party this month threatening to formally censure her if she “continues to delay, disrupt or votes to gut” party priorities.

But it has also landed Sinema numerous meetings with the president this week and led to surprisingly high support for her among Arizona Republicans, according to a recent survey.

It’s a balancing act, but one that has “all eyes … on Sen. Sinema,” said Mike Noble, chief of research at OH Predictive Insights.

Eyes are currently on Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., two centrists who have said the $3.5 trillion price tag is too high for President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, a domestic spending plan that calls for everything from free community college and child care to clean-energy and housing projects. The White House insists the plan will be paid for in full by tax increases on high earners and corporations.

The House has already approved the plan, but with the Senate evenly divided and Republicans dead-set against the measure, Democrats cannot afford to lose any votes. Which makes Manchin, a senator from a small state, and Sinema, a relatively junior member of the Senate, suddenly more important.

Biden has met one-on-one with both Manchin and Sinema repeatedly in recent days, trying to broker a deal.

“The president’s role and work in communicating with Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema to help get that done is probably one of the most constructive roles he can play,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “And that’s what he’s been focused on over the last few days.”

That has done little to calm progressives in the House, who have threatened to block a popular $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that would fund roads, ports, transit and other projects, unless they get assurances that Manchin and Sinema will get on board with the Build Back Better plan.

Several accused Sinema in news reports this week of refusing to negotiate in good faith, charging that she has not told Biden or Senate leaders exactly what she wants.

That led to a testy statement Thursday from Sinema’s office, which said she had “shared detailed concerns and priorities” in August with the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, including a statement that she could not go along with the $3.5 trillion price tag. Claims that she has not shared her views with Schumer and Biden “are false,” the statement said.

“While we do not negotiate through the press … (Sinema) continues to engage directly in good-faith discussions with both President Biden and Sen. Schumer to find common ground,” the statement said.

But her positions – including a refusal to do away with the Senate filibuster and a vote earlier this year against a federal $15-an-hour minimum wage – have made her increasingly unpopular with progressives back home.

A recent poll by OH Predictive Insights found that 46% of Arizona voters had a favorable opinion of Sinema, compared to 47% for Arizona Democrat, Sen. Mark Kelly. The survey of 882 Arizona voters was taken from Sept. 7 to 12 and had a 3.3% margin of error.

But while Kelly was viewed favorably by 80% of Democrats surveyed, just 56% of Democrats felt the same way about Sinema. And 40% of Republicans viewed Sinema favorably to 20% for Kelly, more of what the survey called her “quite interesting” numbers.

“Republicans haven’t had an excuse to not like her so far,” Noble said. “But if she were to vote for this (Build Back Better) bill, it would be very hard for her to get back to the current level she’s at.”

Despite pushback from her party, Sinema is not under the same pressure as other Democrats who are up for re-election next year. Her term runs through 2024, giving her plenty of time to turn her numbers around, Noble said.

That was echoed by Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher for Inside Elections.

“Democrats feel a sense of urgency to not just help the American people, but to have something tangible to show voters what they have done with the power voters gave them,” Gonzales said, urgency that is not present for Sinema.

Related story

Biden, senators tentatively agree on $1.2 trillion infrastrusture plan

“Ultimately, the political impact of her maneuvering won’t be known for another few years since she’s not going to face voters until 2024,” Gonzales said. “That’s the ultimate test of how voters view her actions during this negotiation process.”

Sinema did not respond to requests for comment for this article. And while Manchin has spoken and written in the media on his concerns about the bill, Sinema has been mostly silent with the public.

But Laura Rodriguez, legislative director for the Center for American Progress, said, “That’s just the way that she functions.”

“She is very clear that she doesn’t like to negotiate in the press. She negotiates with her colleagues,” Rodriguez said.

While Sinema “shouldn’t have to give every single detail of every single thought,” a little more communication could be helpful, Rodriguez said. But she said Sinema’s reticence also keeps her from painting herself into a corner.

The fact that she has continued to talk with the president is a good sign, Rodriguez said.

“This is a really complicated issue that has been made a lot more complicated by a lot of the negotiating in public,” Rodriguez said.

In two decades of working in and around Congress, Rodriguez said she “has never seen anything like this,” and that the “second-by-second twist and turns have heightened the temperature.” But it’s important to remember, she said, that legislating can be a long, drawn-out process.

“If the vote were to happen today and it were to fail, it’s important to realize that will only be another step in the journey of getting the bill done,” she said.

Diannie Chavez is a visual journalist completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Chavez, who interned at Phoenix Magazine, is a visual reporter for the D.C. News Bureau.

Brenda Rivas expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in business. Rivas, who has interned with Voyage Productions, is working in the Phoenix News Bureau.

Via Cronkite News

From farm to table, immigrants feed America Thu, 19 Aug 2021 04:07:32 +0000 By Lauren Irwin, Natalie Saenz and Priya Bhat/News21

( Cronkite News ) – As the sun beats down on a family farm in McFarland, California, immigrant workers duck under a leafy canopy of cotton-candy grapes for a moment of relief. It’s 5:56 a.m., and temperatures are quickly rising.

Draped in cotton from fingers to toes, with only their eyes exposed to the sun, the workers plant, pick and prune six days a week, row after dusty row, year after year. Norteño music beats a country tune in the background as they talk with each other over breakfast tacos.

“Pruning the vineyard is harder for a woman, but we all do it,” Consuelo Álvarez de Medina, 52, said in Spanish. She has picked grapes for nearly two decades. “This is the life for us Latinos here. Work to live, day to day.”

Immigrants are the foundation of farm to table, especially during a pandemic. Immigrant workers in America are the people who work in fields, cook and package takeout orders in restaurants, and mop the floors and stock shelves at grocery stores.

Among the nation’s 50 million immigrants from more than 150 countries, most are more likely to be service, construction and transportation employees than native-born workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They include refugees who become small business owners, like the corner Middle Eastern restaurant or the Indian grocery store. Even before the pandemic, they were considered essential employees but, advocates say, were often overlooked.

Immigrants take the riskiest jobs, are paid low wages and have been the most vulnerable to health complications throughout the pandemic, while often not qualifying for the government benefits handed out to other Americans.

“We do a great disservice to the families … we set up a system that is hard to break free from,” said Elliot Lepe, a Georgia resident and a paralegal at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s hard to have savings. It’s hard to have retirement. Their bodies break down. It just solidifies poverty … poverty that is hard to escape.”

Msemewa Mchidewa, left, Hamadi Ali, center, and Safi Anzuruni, right, farm at the Congolese community farm at Providence Farm Collective in the outskirts of Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Lauren Irwin/News21)

From farm to table

From the Appalachian Trail in Georgia to the Central Valley in California, immigrant farm work accounts for nearly 75% of the country’s agricultural production, from basics like potatoes and almonds to high-end products like cotton-candy grapes found at upscale grocers.

Margarita Ortega, who spent eight years as a grape picker in the farming community of Delano, California, described the obstacles that kept coming during the pandemic. First, the fear of COVID-19 hovered over the fields.

Her husband, Juan Lozano, who is diabetic, had his right foot amputated. Both quit to protect the family’s health. They weren’t aware of organizations offering rent relief, so they were left to accumulate loans. In effect, Margarita became the sole caregiver of their five children.

“I have raised my children from the grapes,” she said in Spanish, shaded under the grape vines to be exported to Australia and China. “Everything is from this job, even if it is hard work.”

Ortega gazes at her fellow workers, reaching high to snip the produce from its root in a vineyard that stretches for 1,500 acres.

“Nobody is going to do these jobs,” she said. “Nobody.”

Last March, as Americans rushed to buy groceries, grabbing toilet paper, produce and canned goods from nearly empty shelves, immigrant farm workers absorbed the repercussions.

According to Álvarez de Medina, farm owners would not pay their employees overtime, opting instead to pay a bonus.

“Right now the minimum is $14.25 an hour, but when we pick the grapes, it is 50 cents of bonus per box. So the more boxes we fill, we earn a little more,” Álvarez de Medina said about the 20-pound grape boxes. “They gave us an extra $20 to come every day, because people are very scarce.”

Hernan Hernandez, the executive director of the California Farmworker Foundation, said Central Valley pickers are “harvesting the fresh fruit to the world but don’t have access to it themselves.”

Hernandez has watched as health issues, low wages and a housing crisis unfolded in rural Delano over many years, exposed further by the pandemic. The California Public Health Department said it required local health jurisdictions to request COVID-19 tests and vaccines, but Hernandez said the eight counties in the Central Valley were last in line for them.

“There’s no reason why L.A. and the Bay should always get all the resources,” he said. “I think the Central Valley has always been that area in the state where it always gets left behind.”

The public health department looked at factors such as “existing resources, local disease spread and local testing rates,” a public health spokesperson said in an email. It was up to each county to request aid, he wrote. Gov. Gavin Newsom sent additional aid to the Central Valley once infection rates were on the rise in July 2020.

On the other side of the country, Matt Tice, who oversees an immigrant shelter in Buffalo, New York, said the city fell in the shadow of New York City’s boroughs in pandemic-relief efforts.

“Needing to remind them is often the job of local officials … and other nonprofits and community groups (to) make sure (the governments) remember the rest of us,” Tice said.

Back on the West Coast, Hernandez agreed.

“I think there were systematic government failures that we should learn from, especially when it comes to the Hispanic population and the way we interacted with them,” Hernandez said. “I do still believe that the most vulnerable populations were the ones that were most severely affected from this pandemic.”

Female immigrant farmworkers in Kern County, California are filling many roles as they raise children, manage families and lead crews who are cultivating grapes to satisfy America’s need for food during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Video by Natalie Saenz and Priya Bhat/News21)

Low wages and large risks

Undocumented workers are particularly at risk of low wages and benefits — receiving little to no government relief over the past 17 months.

Pablo Bautista, a 40-year-old undocumented janitor in Phoenix, Arizona, was laid off in early March 2020 and couldn’t find another job. Since he didn’t qualify for a stimulus check or unemployment benefits, it was difficult to provide for his wife and five children.

He now works the night shift — six hours a day, for $12 an hour — at a supermarket chain.

“I’m still scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bautistsa said in Spanish, explaining he is worried about his family, his work and the virus.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2020, foreign-born workers earned $885 for every $1,000 paid to native-born workers. Hispanics account for nearly half of the immigrant labor force, yet their salaries were 86.7% of those of native-born workers.

“If this country really respected and really was cognizant of their compensation for the most essential … workers … you can’t help but think, how much better would my parents be off?” Lepe asked. “Paying a few extra cents at the grocery store for people to have dignified lives is a price that we should all be willing to pay.”

As the son of blueberry pickers, Lepe watched his father pay the price over 30 years of work, his body crippling after decades bent over. He never made enough money to build up savings. He developed heart disease, and other ailments, then died of a heart attack three years ago.

Immigrants and refugees have revitalized storefronts along once-empty Grant Street in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Lauren Irwin/News21)

Revitalizing the west side

Buffalo — a factory town that borders Lake Erie and Canada — is divided among racial and ethnic neighborhoods, except for the west side. There, shop owners from across the world, including people from Somalia, Ethiopia and Myanmar, are building businesses to prop up the Rust Belt city. The Pew Research Center found that a majority of immigrants are moving to urban areas, reshaping the landscape and the economy.

“There used to be many more just stripped blocks of nothingness — shovel-ready sites, they called them,” said Erin St. John Kelly, spokesperson for Wedi, a Buffalo organization that provides microloans to business owners in Erie and Niagara Counties. “Immigrants who come to Buffalo … are really part of what’s economically driving the health of the city. It’s not top-down money from the government.”

In 2019, the foreign-born population generated 6.6% of Buffalo’s gross domestic product — meaning the more than 2,000 immigrant businesses contributed $4.9 billion to the metro area’s total $73.8 billion GDP, New American Economy said. Immigrants are twice as likely to start their own businesses as native-born Americans, the National Immigration Forum found.

A decade ago, boarded-up storefronts, broken windows and trash littered Grant Street, a strip on the west side of Buffalo. Over the years, shops owned by immigrants from across the globe moved in to revitalize the area. But the streets went silent during the pandemic.

One day in June, the street was buzzing again. People walked into the Indian grocery store to buy Thai chiles, curry powder, garam masala and other spices, and buy a bedroom set at the boutique furniture and clothing store. They stopped by the halal market for canned goods and picked up hair care products and face wash at the local Sudanese-owned cosmetic supply store.

Zelalem Gemmeda, a refugee from Ethiopia, brought her sourdough flatbread and pita plates to the West Side Bazaar food court on Grant Street, opening Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine eight years ago. She tried to keep it open for as long as she could during the pandemic, but eventually she had to pivot to takeout only. She reopened fully in early June.

“I’m so blessed and thankful for being here because I could … get my dreams in America,” she said.

The opportunity to be her own boss has allowed Gemmeda to put both of her children through university programs and to visit her family in Ethiopia, she said.

“Surrounded by other refugees, we have become like a family now,” Gemmeda said, adding that the nearness of other refugees makes her feel at home in Buffalo.

But the city’s diversity also led to language and cultural barriers in the pandemic. Immigrant business owners in Buffalo had less access to government funding and were often misinformed about how to handle COVID-19 precautions, said Michael Moretti, the operations manager of the West Side Bazaar.

He said in the absence of communication from the government, he had to provide answers to their questions, even when those answers might not make sense — Why were major retailers like Target allowed to remain open while their merchandise gathered dust behind their storefronts?

“They see me as, like, a trusted American person that they can come to with basically anything,” Moretti said. “There’s no local Burmese news sources … so people are going based on what their friends said, people are going based on what loose translations they had.”

Storefronts mostly owned by refugees offer a diverse range of food and goods along Grant Street in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Lauren Irwin/News21)

Anna Mongo, the former director at Vive, a north Buffalo immigrant shelter, also saw the disparities of language and cultural barriers. Without a trusted source or translated information, many immigrants often were left wondering what to believe about the pandemic.

“I think they got the information later than the rest of us,” she said. “I think they have more reason to not trust government information than the rest of us.”

Looking ahead

Wage reform, government benefits and accessibility to public health information for immigrants have gained national attention during the pandemic. Advocates are working to garner more support from the federal and state governments, but nothing has been promised.

Discussions sparked the Raise the Wage Act and revitalized the Fight for $15 movement in January 2021, after the pandemic highlighted the disparities in workplaces. The Economic Policy Institute reported that Hispanic workers — specifically Hispanic women — would disproportionately benefit from a wage raise, lifting many essential workers out of poverty.

The National Immigration Forum, an organization that aims to educate and advocate for bipartisan immigration reform, created the “All of Us” campaign to show the value of immigrant labor in America.

“We made a point of saying, look, it’s going to take … everyone who … lives here, who resides here, to get us through,” said Dan Gordon, a spokesperson for the organization. “That includes native-born Americans and immigrants working shoulder to shoulder.”

Another advocacy group,, wants lawmakers to open a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, so they can get benefits such as stimulus money, business loans and the relief of knowing they have a safety net.

“Lawmakers recognize that we have an enormous opportunity ahead of us to really reform our broken immigration system into something that serves our families and something that can improve our economy,” spokesperson Leezia Dhalla said.

Ortega, the former farmworker, said the Biden administration needs to step up.

“I hope the president sees the … importance of giving immigration reform now for all farmworkers,” Ortega said. “Because, actually, they are very valuable to the field.”


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBS News: “Homeland Security asks U.S. immigration officials to assist with relocating at-risk Afghans”

Only $3 Bn. of Federal $46 Bn rental assistance dollars reach renters, as eviction moratorium ends Tue, 03 Aug 2021 04:03:49 +0000 By Brooke Newman | –

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – The federal government’s COVID-19 moratorium on renter evictions ended Saturday, leaving thousands of Arizona renters vulnerable while state and local officials have distributed just a fraction of the funding aimed at keeping people in their homes.

Government agencies in Arizona received almost $495 million for emergency rental assistance from the federal government this year but had distributed just $86.2 million, or 17% of the total, as of this week, according to data from the Arizona Multihousing Association.

The rest of the nation was in no better shape: The Treasury Department said that through June, the most recent month for which it had figures available, just $3 billion had been disbursed of the $46 billion Congress approved for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program this year.

The Census Bureau reported earlier this month that as many as 3.6 million people nationwide said they faced evictions in the next two months. It is unclear how many in Arizona are at risk, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that as of July 5 there were an estimated 253,000 adult renters in the state who reported being behind on their rent.

“Over the past 12 months we have answered over 40,000 calls for housing and shelter, and 20,000 of those were for rental assistance,” said Tyler Rosensteel of data from the 211 Eviction Prevention app developed by Solari, the Arizona-based nonprofit he works for.

And renters were not the only ones feeling the pinch. Landlords have been hurt, too, with just “pennies on the dollar” of aid being distributed, said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association.

“This federal moratorium has pushed many Arizona mom-and-pop rental owners and apartment community owners to the brink of bankruptcy after 16 months receiving no rent or reduced rent,” LeVinus said.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security said that as of Friday it had approved assistance to 6,134 households, either in the form of rental assistance, or help paying utility bills, or both. That did not include renter assistance data from Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties, which was not immediately available.

The moratorium comes despite a surge in assistance approvals by state and local governments in June, and advocates argue that more time is needed to get money to those who need it.

“There’s $46.5 billion in rental assistance but that money hasn’t reached tenants yet, so more time is needed to get that money to people to keep them stable in their homes,” said Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

But time has run out for the program after 11 months.

Originally put in place last year by the Centers and Disease Control and Prevention to prevent homelessness that it said could worsen the spread of COVID-19, the program was set to expire on June 30 before getting a one-month extension from the Biden administration.

But White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Thursday that President Joe Biden “would have strongly supported” another extension by the CDC, in the face of the rising number of COVID-19 Delta variant cases, but courts have ruled that out.

“In June, when CDC extended the eviction moratorium until July 31, the Supreme Court’s ruling stated that ‘clear and specific congressional authorization’ (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31,” Psaki said in a prepared statement.

The end of the program comes just as it appeared to be picking up steam.

“More than $1.5 billion in assistance was delivered to eligible households in the month of June, more than the assistance provided all three previous reporting periods combined,” the Treasury Department said in a report last week.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysts predicted that the latest extension would “protect the 10-million-plus adult renters who live in a household not caught up on rent while giving states additional time to implement emergency rental assistance.” But advocates said the extension was “merely a Band-Aid,” and that further action is needed.

“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and many communities have not even begun to ‘recover,’” said Jaboa Lake, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “The federal government has shown that it can take swift action to prevent evictions, and it must continue to provide these protections.”

Even with the Emergency Rental Assistance program in place, evictions have not stopped entirely. Rosensteel said that in metro Phoenix alone, almost 30,000 evictions have been filed during the pandemic.

“As courts do not track enforcements of eviction, we lack the data to know exactly how many households were locked out,” he said. “However, anecdotal evidence tells us that thousands still lost their homes.”

But Yentel estimated that the eviction moratorium and its extension prevented as many as 2 million eviction filings nationwide during the pandemic.

With the moratorium ending, meanwhile, agencies are scrambling to offer what assistance they can to renters. DES said it is “committed to ensuring rental and utility assistance continues” for those who need it, and Pima County cited its Emergency Eviction Legal Services program to help people facing eviction.

LeVinus said that AMA is encouraging its members to continue working with renters to help them get assistance that will keep them in their homes.

“Property owners across the state have worked with their residents to keep a roof over their heads, to keep them safe during the pandemic, and to help them qualify for eviction relief that has been slow to arrive for nearly a year and a half,” she said. “Even as they helped their residents, these property owners struggled to pay their own mortgages, property taxes, maintenance and payroll costs.”

Yentel said the problems will continue unless the federal government takes on the bigger problem in a “holistic” way.

“We have never had a holistic, full-government response to the level needed to protect renters and people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic,” she said. “There’s been a major undertaking, it’s slower than it should be.”

Brooke Newman completed her bachelor’s degree in spring 2021 and expects to graduate next spring with a master’s degree in mass communication. Newman has written for The Arizona Republic, the State Press and AZBigMedia.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

“Phoenix shelter prepares as eviction moratorium expires”

Migrant deaths in the desert at record levels as heat wave pounds West Sat, 17 Jul 2021 04:02:54 +0000 By Alyssa Marksz | –

( Cronkite News ) – WASHINGTON – The number of migrant deaths recorded in the Arizona desert so far this year is on pace to break the record set just last year, as migrants attempt the crossing in the face of a record-breaking heat wave.

Humane Borders and the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office reported finding the remains of 127 migrants in the first half of 2021. That was ahead of the 96 deaths recorded at the same point in 2020, which set a record of 226 deaths for the year.

The deaths come as migrant apprehensions at the Southwest border have surged to their highest level in years, with almost 930,000 Southwest border encounters through the first eight months of fiscal 2021, more than twice the number for all of the year before.

They also come as the West is in the grip of a historic drought and a blistering heat wave. In June, Phoenix saw high temperatures above 115 degrees for a record-setting six days in a row, while Tucson set daily record highs in that same six-day period.

“It’s so hot that even having water isn’t necessarily going to save somebody’s life,” said Doug Roupp, board chair for Humane Borders. “Some of the people who were found dead had water on them – that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

While groups such as Humane Borders, Tucson Samaritans and No More Deaths work to provide water for migrants crossing the desert, they are also encouraging people not to cross the border now, when conditions are so harsh.

“If you’re going to cross, don’t do it now,” Roupp said, before adding that some people have “just given up waiting.”

“Anybody who is willing to try to cross the desert has to have pretty good reasons to not want to stay where they are,” Roupp said. “Obviously we need a much better overall response to migration, to people seeking asylum, to our immigration policy in general.”

The remains do not necessarily belong to people who died this year, but merely reflect when the bodies were found.

Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess said that some deaths are categorized as “undetermined” when bodies are not found soon enough to definitively state a cause of death. But in most cases, officials suspect those deaths can be attributed to the desert’s harsh elements.

While a majority of border deaths are attributed to exposure to the elements, Hess said that can mean a number of things.

Related story

‘It hasn’t stopped’: Arizona volunteers try to stem the tide of migrant deaths in the desert

“It can involve dehydration, it can involve being too hot, hyperthermia; it can even be people that are cold, hypothermia,” Hess said. “We just lump it into one category as exposure.”

Roupp said that in addition to the heat and the surge in migrants, another possible factor behind the rise in deaths is the federal response to COVID-19 under Title 42. The policy allows authorities to cite health concerns to simply turn back anyone they stop at the border.

That policy – started in 2020 under President Donald Trump but continued under President Joe Biden – results in fewer apprehensions and more migrants “crossing again and again,” Roupp said.

“One of the problems with that is each time they cross, they probably have less resources than the first time they did it,” he said.

With 127 deaths recorded through the end of June, Hess expressed concern that “we might have a record year for recoveries and deaths” this year. And those are “only the peoples’ bodies that people have found,” Roupp said.

The desert is “a huge area, much of which is unpopulated,” said Roupp, who expressed concern that the death toll may be even higher than what has been reported.

“When remains are found, they’re found by people who are traveling through the environment. The desert has very remote areas; clearly there’s going to be remains out there that have not been recovered,” Hess said.

Alyssa Marksz expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and minors in Spanish and voice performance. Marksz is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Via Cronkite News

Arizona goes for Electric Cars, Big Time, despite being a Red State: “We get Clear Skies” Wed, 07 Jul 2021 04:02:33 +0000 By Brooke Newman | –

( Cronkite News ) – WASHINGTON – For a mostly red state, Arizona has a lot of blue-state company when it comes to states ranked by electric vehicle ownership, according to recent government data.

Arizona had 28,770 registered electric vehicles as of June, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, the seventh-highest number among states. When ownership is measured per 1,000 residents, Arizona inches up a notch to sixth place, with just over four electric vehicles per 1,000 people.

That rate put Arizona just behind Oregon and Colorado and just ahead of Nevada and Vermont. California was in the lead by far, with 425,300 registered electric vehicles, or one for every 10.7 residents.

Arizona EV enthusiasts welcomed the ranking, which they said they have seen reflected in steady increases in group membership, but said the state can do better.

“Arizona is growing by leaps and bounds in major areas, but still struggling out there in the hinterlands,” said Jerry Asher, vice president of the Tucson Electric Vehicle Association.

He and others said the biggest challenge in Arizona, as in much of the country, is the lack of readily available charging stations for electric vehicles.

On Arizona Horizon: Electric car manufacturers move to Arizona

Currently, there are 385 public fast-charging plugs and 1,448 non-fast-charging plugs in the state, said Diane Brown, executive director with the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. And many of those “are not available 24 hours a day, often making EV charging less convenient to the public,” she said.

And in order for the state to hit 10% EV ownership by 2030, one scenario outlined by Arizona PIRG, the number of charging stations would need to grow significantly.

“According to the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, to support a future in which 10% of Arizona’s vehicles are EVs – a conservative target for 2030 – Arizona will need more than 1,098 fast-charging plugs and 14,888 Level 2 plugs,” Brown said.

This will require local, state and federal policies to make “EV charging accessible, affordable, and easy,” she said.

But advocates said there are several things working in their favor. Jim Stack, president of the Phoenix Electric Auto Association, said many of the current plug-ins charging stations are at stores and libraries, places “where you would stop anyway.”

“We have a good charging infrastructure and it keeps getting better,” Stack said.

One way Asher said Arizona could be more EV-friendly would be to add charging stations at hotels, RV parks and shopping centers. In Tucson, he said, the Culinary Dropout and Jersey Mike’s restaurants have already begun offering free electric vehicle charging to customers, Asher said.

While they push for more charging infrastructure, advocates said improving technology and lower vehicle expenses are on their side, helping to sway more Arizonans to purchase an electric vehicle in recent years.

“The batteries are getting better and lower in cost as well as longer-lasting,” Stack said. He said an EV uses about 50 cents of electricity to cover the same number of miles a gas-burning car gets from a gallon of gas – currently selling for $3.12 a gallon in Arizona, according to AAA.

In addition, the state is offering incentives to electric vehicle buyers.

“In AZ we get reduced registration on electric vehicles,” Stack said. “It’s about $15 a year compared to $300-700 a year for gas and diesel cars.”

Electric vehicle owners also “get 24/7 access to HOV lanes, even with one person,” he said. And utilities like Tucson Electric Power offer rebates and incentives for home charging stations, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Stack also noted that Arizona is now home to three electric vehicle manufacturers: Lucid, which makes cars in Casa Grande, Nikola, which will make trucks in Phoenix and Coolidge, and Electra Meccanica, which plans to build the three-wheeled SOLO commuter in Mesa.

“We get clear skies. No oil changes, no muffler work, no transmission, faster acceleration. No smog or smog tests,” Stack said. “It’s priceless.”

Brooke Newman brooke rae noo-mun (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Brooke Newman completed her bachelor’s degree in spring 2021 and expects to graduate next spring with a master’s degree in mass communication. Newman has written for The Arizona Republic, the State Press and AZBigMedia.

The Navajo and Hopi are Abandoning Coal, but need help with Clean-Up and Transition to Renewables Tue, 22 Jun 2021 04:01:08 +0000 By Alyssa Marksz | –

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – Navajo and Hopi witnesses agreed the region needs to move away from its economic dependence on coal, but specific proposals on how to get there remained elusive after a House hearing Tuesday.

The tribal representatives joined witnesses from across coal country at a House hearing on “supporting communities through the energy transition” – a transition that has been particularly hard on northeastern Arizona. The recent closure of mines there has left hundreds unemployed in an area with chronically high jobless rates.

“Our Navajo Nation government’s gross income from coal revenue severely decreased and we still have not found a way to replace the revenue in future fiscal years,” said Navajo Council Member Rickie Nez.

Nez said that while the transition away from coal has been “very painful,” tribal communities such as his are built on “a wealth of natural resources, including the critical minerals and rare earth elements necessary for achieving a renewable energy transition.” The area has the natural resources to rebound if the federal government stops throwing up hurdles to development, he said.

“We believe we have the right and responsibility to develop and manage these resources,” said Nez, who is also chairman of the council’s Resources and Development Committee. “Unfortunately, an estimated 86% of Indian lands that have this mineral wealth potential remain underdeveloped because of the federal government’s often heavy-handed regulation of Indian property.”

But other witnesses said that before moving forward, the government needs to make sure that mining companies clean up what they left behind.

“We Hopi people are very concerned that there is virtually nothing being done to repair and rehabilitate our lands that have been damaged and destroyed by over half a century of coal mining at Black Mesa,” said Ben Nuvamsa, executive director of the KIVA Institute and a former chairman of the Hopi tribe.

Related story

Navajo Generating Station, coal mine face years of breakdown, cleanup

Nuvamsa, in joint testimony with Tó Nizhóní Ání Executive Director Nicole Horseherder, said the federal government’s focus should be on repairing the environmental damage that coal mines left behind.

“A half-century of coal mining and water withdrawals by Peabody have left considerable damage across the two mine sites that still remains unaddressed years after closure,” said Horseherder, founder of the grassroots Navajo group.

Peabody, which operated the Kayenta mine, declined a request for comment.

The Kayenta mine closed when its only customer, the nearby coal-burning Navajo Generating Station, ceased operations in 2019. Most of the workers there were Navajo or Hopi.

The Salt River Project, which owned the Navajo Generating Station, said in 2017 that it was no longer economically feasible to run the coal-burning plant in the face of competition from cheaper, natural gas-fired generating stations.

But Republicans on the committee repeatedly pointed to Kayenta as proof of failed Democratic environmental policy.

“We’re here today to hear various witnesses complain about job losses in the coal industry in Arizona and New Mexico that are the direct result of the Obama administration’s war on coal,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said Tuesday.

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., said Republicans have been talking about the issue since before the closure of Kayenta and the Navajo Generating Station.

“They rightfully warned that the economic impacts would be long-lasting and the jobs would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace in the short term,” Stauber said. “They were correct.”

Whatever the cause, Horseherder and Nuvamsa said the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is “failing miserably” at its job of holding Peabody responsible for returning land to the tribes in “as good condition as received,” as required under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

The Navajo Generating Station, once the largest coal-burning plant in the West, closed in 2019 when coal was no longer economically feasible fuel. It was the only client of the nearby Kayenta mine, which also closed. (Photo by Bill Morrow/Creative Commons)

Joseph Pizarchik, former director of OSMRE, acknowledged these shortcomings, but said no one could have anticipated the collapse of coal mining when the act was written decades ago.

“Some parts of SMCRA do not provide OSMRE and states with the tools they need to effectively manage the current industry crisis,” Pizarchik said. “We have issues to address. Some states fail to effectively implement the law.”

Horseherder and Nuvamsa testified that communication from OSMRE has fallen short, making tribal participation in and monitoring of the reclamation process “incredibly difficult.” Their groups had to hire someone to go to Denver to scan paper copies of OSMRE documents that are supposed to be online, they said.

They called on the government to require that Peabody “allow full participation and involvement of our tribes in helping determine the scope and direction of reclamation,” a move they said could mean jobs for laid-off miners.

Mary Cromer, deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, agreed that mine “reclamation work is often completed by individuals that were previously employed mining the coal. By requiring timely reclamation, OSMRE will also be preserving much-needed jobs in coal communities.”

Whatever happens, tribal representatives said they need to be included in the decision-making.

“Indian Country and the Navajo Nation need to be at the table when discussing the energy future and transition of the United States,” Nez said.

In the meantime, he said, the Navajo Nation will push to keep the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant plan operating through 2031.

“We have just 10 years to transition our economy and jobs to a new energy future responsibly,” Nez said.


Alyssa Marksz expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and minors in Spanish and voice performance. Marksz is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Via Cronkite News


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

12 News: “Drone video captures the demolition of the smokestacks at the Navajo Generating Station”

Why the Current Historic Drought in the Southwest May be the New Normal Sun, 06 Jun 2021 04:01:59 +0000 By Alyssa Marksz | –

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – Arizona and other Western states just lived through the driest year in more than a century, with no drought relief in sight in the near future, experts told a House panel Tuesday.

The period from last April to this March was the driest in the last 126 years for Arizona and other Western states, witnesses said. It caps a two-decade stretch that was the driest in more than 100 years that records have been kept – and one of the driest in the past 1,200 years based on paleohydrology evidence, one official said.

“We have never seen drought at the scale and intensity that we see right now, and it is possible that this may be the baseline for the future,” Elizabeth Klein, a senior counselor to the secretary of Interior, said in her testimony.

More than half of Arizona is currently experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions, the most severe level of drought, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. The Arizona Department of Water Resources said most of the state got less than 25% of average precipitation for April.

(Audio by Rachel Johnson/Cronkite News)

The water shortage can affect everything from the amount of power generated by hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River to the risk of wildfire.

Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, said that this year’s drought is much more severe than what Arizona saw at this time last year.

“Vegetation is stricken across the state; there isn’t one area that isn’t impacted by the drought,” Davila said. “It’s pretty much kindling at this point.”

Low water levels are also likely to trigger reductions in water agreements with agencies like the Central Arizona Project and the Salt River Project. But SRP officials said Tuesday that they have long been taking steps to mitigate the immediate impact of those reductions.

“It’s important to understand this is not a crisis but a drought that is expected when you live in the desert,” said SRP spokesperson Patty Garcia-Likens. “Salt River Project, Arizona cities and Central Arizona Project have planned for times like this.”

Charlie Ester, SRP’s manager of watershed management, said that from the agency’s perspective, Arizona has been in drought conditions since 1995.

“One of the things that we do at SRP is we always plan for drought conditions,” Ester said. “That sounds very simple, but it was not always the case.”

Ester said areas of the state that are not served by SRP or CAP could be hit hardest.

“They don’t have an abundant surface water supply that they can rely on, many areas are dependent upon groundwater,” he said. “As the water levels decline, it becomes harder and harder to pump their water supplies, and sometimes wells will even dry up.”

Ester said there is no obvious precipitation trend in Arizona, but higher temperatures contribute to more severe drought conditions due to increased levels of evaporation. While he believes that droughts are a natural occurrence, he also said that factors such as greenhouse gases have significantly aggravated the situation.

“I think even if humans were not here, the Southwest would be in a drought right now, but I think it has become worse because of anthropogenic causes,” Ester said.

More than half of Arizona shown in dark red was in the “exceptional” drought category, the most severe, on May 18, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. (Map courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor)

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, acknowledged the importance of the issue, saying, “There is no simplistic response to the droughts that we are confronting out West, it is a comprehensive response that’s needed.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and chairman of the Subcommittee for Water, Oceans and Wildlife that held the hearing, said it was about “continuing our work to identify the most critical drought response needs, and to help connect those in need with available resources to get them through a crippling drought.”

Possible solutions cited at the hearing included tools to monitor and predict droughts while collecting data on water resources, programs to increase funding for infrastructure improvements, and programs to recycle water and restore aquatic ecosystems.

In Arizona, preparations for drought include reducing water waste by maintaining systems to run at peak efficiency, and introducing a two-way connection between SRP and CAP that Ester says will allow the two agencies to “share water supplies with each other.” The state has also been “banking” water in its groundwater reserve.

“SRP has … put nearly 3 million acre-feet of water into the groundwater reserve to use during severe drought conditions,” Ester said. “It’s roughly four years worth of water that we have banked for future use. Conditions have not gotten bad enough yet to use that water.”

Via Cronkite News

Alyssa Marksz expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and minors in Spanish and voice performance. Marksz is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Featured photo: Soybeans show the affect of a 2013 drought in Texas, near Navasota, in this USDA file photo. Officials say Western states remain locked in the grip of a historically severe drought, with the past year being one of the driest in more than a century.. (Photo by Bob Nichols/U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Advocates call on Biden to ‘tear down this wall,’ repair border damage Sun, 04 Apr 2021 04:01:28 +0000 By Sarah Oven ( Cronkite News ) – WASHINGTON – Advocates called on President Joe Biden to “tear down this wall” Tuesday and fulfill his campaign promise of stopping the border wall construction that he put on hold in January.

The meeting of border-state lawmakers, advocates and tribal members came 70 days after Biden, in one of his first acts as president, halted construction and gave the secretaries of Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security 60 days to study next steps on the wall.

That deadline has come and gone with no plan, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. But the advocates said it’s past time for the administration to act.

“We need to stop that wall from being built anymore,” said Verlon Jose, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation who joined the news conference.

Then-President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the border that allowed construction to proceed with less oversight of environmental and archeological concerns. The wall not only divided the Tohono O’odham reservation, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, but critics say it also destroyed ancient graveyards and sacred sites.

“When it cut through the land, it was like a knife crossed through my heart,” Jose said. “That’s what happened to America when they put up the wall and blew up the sacred sites and burial grounds and so forth.”

Related story

DHS chief defends Biden border polity at time of ‘historic’ challenge

The halt on border wall construction is just one of several Trump-era policies that were halted or reversed by Biden during his first days in office. Those included renewed support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an end to the ban on travel from come Muslim-majority countries, and an end to the Migrant Protection Protocols – the so-called “remain in Mexico” policy that forced asylum seekers to wait on the other side of the border while their appeals were processed.

Republicans have seized on a surge in immigrant apprehensions at the southwest border for what they are calling Biden’s “border crisis.”

Close to 400,000 people had been apprehended at the border in the first five months of fiscal 2021, compared to 458,000 for all of the previous year. And an increasing number of them have been unaccompanied minors, who have overflowed detention facilities forcing the administration to scramble for alternatives.

Critics blame Biden’s immigration moves, which they claim have acted as an incentive for immigrants to come north.

But border advocates on Tuesday pushed back – hard. They noted that the current increase in immigration began last April, long before Trump left office, and that surges in migration typically move in cycles.

Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke said the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the border wall ultimately led to the hate that drove the 2019 shooting in an El Paso Walmart that targeted Hispanics, killing 23.

“When we look at the border as a security problem, as a military threat, not only do we get $15 billion in wasteful spending that is the border wall, we harm those in our communities who are most vulnerable to racist attacks inspired by this kind of militarized thinking about our border,” O’Rourke said.

The White House has repeatedly tried to send a message to potential migrants, particularly those from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, that the border is closed and that they should not try to come to the U.S.

The administration has also pledged to invest in Northern Triangle countries to improve conditions there in hopes of reducing violence and economic problems that can drive people north.

Tricia Cortez, founder of the #NoBorderWall coalition, said simply that there “ain’t no crisis here,” citing DHS data that showed migrant apprehensions are “nowhere near historic highs.”

“We’re tired of being used and having our day-to-day reality distorted,” Cortez said. “We are thriving and dynamic communities that contribute so much to this country, and we want to be treated, portrayed and respected as such.”

Sarah Oven, News Reporter, Washington, D.C — Sarah Oven expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in political science. Oven, who has interned at the Cronkite Journal and The Arizona Republic, is working for Cronkite News in Washington this spring.

Via Cronkite News .

Photo by George F. Sosens, US Army.