Neb. Gov. Ricketts tangles with MSNBC commentator Maddow re: Covid-19 tests
In Today’s Updates
* Trump: 'I’m having a very hard time with China'
* U.S. hits back at China with new visa restrictions on journalists
* April U.S. deficit soars to monthly record amid pandemic, aid bills
* White House official: CARES 2/Phase 4 talks on pause
* Ag programs and funding will be big part of coming aid package redo
* Another look at the EIDL application portal available for farms
* PPP tax implications a growing concern
* Trump: Will start buying up to $3 bil. in surplus dairy products, meat and fresh produce
* USDA awarded $1.2 bil. in contracts Friday for new commodity purchase program
* U.S. food supply update
* Report: Testing uneven, or nonexistent, at meatpacking plants
* Neb. governor and Rachel Maddow duke it out over Covid-19 testing
* Source: USDA has authority with CCC to help fund depopulating livestock
* Pence congratulates meatpackers for 'miraculous effort' in maintaining supplies
* Pence gets pushback in Iowa from groups representing packing plant workers
* Update on reopening America... and around the world
* Any new wave of Covid-19 won’t require shutdown: Kudlow
* Trudeau warns premature reopening could send Canada 'back into confinement'
* Coronavirus update
* One-third of all U.S. coronavirus deaths are nursing home residents or workers
* Pence’s press secretary tested positive for coronavirus; Pence tests negative
* Coronavirus could disrupt weather forecasting
* IRS sets Wednesday deadline for direct checks
* Tariffs imposed by the European Commission in retaliation for U.S. duties
* Point, counterpoint on RFS waivers
* NCFC concerned about restrictions on H-2A worker movements in Mexico
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow gained 455.43 points, 1.91%, at 24,331.32. The Nasdaq moved up 141.66 points, 1.58%, at 9,121.32. The S&P 500 was up 48.61 points, 1./69%, at 2,929.80.
For the week, the Dow gained 2.5%, the S&P 500 jumped 3.5% and the Nasdaq rallied 6%. The S&P 500 has now rebounded more than 30% from its Covid-19 low and is 13.5% away from its record high, while the Nasdaq Composite has climbed more than 35% off its lows and is now actually up 1.6% for the year.
With first-quarter results in from more than 85% of companies in the S&P 500, earnings are predicted to have fallen 14%, according to FactSet.
At least one in five Americans is out of work, but Friday's headline unemployment rate, at 14.7%, did not reflect that, as it was propped up by a steep drop in labor-force participation, as millions of the newly unemployed can’t search for a new job amid lockdown restrictions. It also doesn’t include those who are now involuntarily working part time. Also, many of those still working have had their hours drastically reduced as businesses operate in restricted ways.
April U.S. deficit soars to monthly record amid pandemic, aid bills. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the deficit last month hit $737 billion, by far the highest tally for any month in four decades of data kept by the Treasury Department. Since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, the agency said in a report issued Friday (link), red ink has stacked up to an estimated $1.48 trillion for the past seven months, or $949 billion more than the deficit for the same period last year. The April shortfall, if confirmed by Treasury's final reading coming soon, would far eclipse the current record of $235 billion in one month, which occurred just a few months ago in February.
CBO predicts the deficit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 will hit $3.7 trillion, which would be more than twice the previous record of $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009, at the height of the Great Recession.
As a share of the U.S. economy, at nearly 18%, the budget gap would dwarf anything seen since World War II.
— Update on U.S./China policy:
- Trump again casts doubt on the future of his Phase 1 trade deal with China, saying that he’s struggling with Beijing in the wake of the pandemic. “I’m having a very hard time with China,” Trump said in an interview on Fox & Friends on Friday. “I made a great trade deal months before this whole thing happened,” Trump said. “And then this happens and it sort of overrides so much.” (Graphic below is from Economist magazine.)
- U.S. hits back at China with new visa restrictions on journalists. The Trump administration is imposing 90-day limits on work visas for Chinese journalists, raising the threat of further retaliation by the Chinese government. The Department of Homeland Security said on Friday that Chinese journalists working for non-American news outlets would be limited to 90-day work visas — a significant reduction from the open-ended, single-entry stays that the agency previously granted to most journalists with Chinese passports and a valid entry visa. They will be allowed to apply for extensions, although those will also be limited to 90 days. In March, the Chinese government expelled almost all American journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the move was “entirely necessary and reciprocal.” Each of those outlets still has at least one full-time correspondent in mainland China, mostly non-Americans. The expulsions in March by China came two weeks after the State Department announced that only 100 Chinese citizens employed by five state-controlled Chinese news organizations would be allowed to work in the U.S., down from 160 at the time.
— Update on likely next aid package — Phase 4/CARES 2:
- White House official: CARES 2/Phase 4 talks on pause. The Trump administration and top Capitol Hill Democrats are not yet negotiating another bipartisan coronavirus relief package, according to a key White House economic adviser who suggested an eventual deal may not emerge for a month. "We've kind of paused as far as formal negotiations go. Let's have a look at what the latest round produces. You need a month or so to evaluate that,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said outside the White House on Friday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her Democratic committee leaders have been putting together another package that is expected to exceed $1 trillion. "We had, in all of the negotiations that we have had, a list of things that we wanted to see," Pelosi said. "So, a part of this is the things that they never agreed to before and kept saying, ‘In the next bill,’ ‘In the next bill,’ ‘In the next bill.’ So, these are a part of those negotiations. In the next bill, we are doing these things."
Pelosi acknowledged that with a Republican majority in the Senate and President Donald Trump in the White House, there will need to be further negotiations. "But we have to start someplace, and, rather than starting in a way that does not meet the needs of the American people, we want to set a standard," Pelosi said. "And, again, we need a presidential signature, so at some point we'll have to come to agreement."
Topics pushed by Democrats include aid to state and local governments, regulations to protect health care workers from virus exposure, nutrition assistance for low-income families, extending jobless benefits and providing more cash payments to individuals, and more.
Kudlow said the Trump administration was continuing to speak regularly with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. "The president, as you know, has put out a number of his own policy ideas — payroll tax cuts being one of them, and some kind of liability restrictions, Covid-19 liability restrictions for businesses," Kudlow said. While a payroll tax reduction or holiday has garnered a tepid reception from key Republican senators, limited coronavirus liability protection for health care entities and businesses is a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Kudlow also highlighted proposals to promote restaurant and travel spending, as well as allowing businesses to quickly write off their expenses as they reopen. "They will incur a lot of expenses to deal with the virus and, you know, prevent a recurrence," Kudlow said. "And that'll cost money, and I think every nickel of that should be expensed 100%, immediately."
- Agriculture programs and funding will be big part of coming aid package redo. Not only will there be more funding available for food stamps and other nutrition programs, but it looks like a big boost is possible for USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation beyond its current borrowing cap of $30 billion. USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) were previously nixed by Senate Democrats (and lack of support from farm-state Democratic House members) who wanted a boost to $50 billion. Now a bigger boost to around $68 billion is being pushed by
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) wants to provide USDA more direction from Congress on how to spend new dollars allocated to the CCC. Senate Republicans prefer giving the Ag secretary maximum flexibility to meet the urgent and serious needs of agriculture right now.
Comments: Relative to the choices made by USDA relative to the CFAP, whose details are still not totally known pending release of a rule, Congress, in this case the House and Ag Committees, should have more say in the general direction or signing off on future expenditures. Should the CCC cap be extended to the $68 billion level, the CCC could serve as a pseudo Federal Reserve (Ag Reserve) that some say would be far better than waiting every four to six years for a new farm bill that can't be effective in an ever-changing world.
Further comments on the coming CARES 2/Phase 4 package: Ag industry lobbyists and their staffers are very good at quickly finding glitches in announced programs, as evidenced by the plethora of letters sounding various alarms on SBA programs and CFAP. Would you not think lawmakers would vet some of their initial ideas with these stakeholders? If not, the current elitist attitude in Congress that they have enough staff to think through proposals will again find gaping holes in whatever they announce.
— Update on implementation of Phase 3/CARES 1, including CFAP:
- Another look at the EIDL application portal available for farms. The Small Business Administration (SBA) opened the application portal for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program for farms. Previously, agricultural operations were not eligible for EIDL. The Phase 3 CARES package passed by Congress replenished funds for the EIDL and made farms eligible. Due to a backlog in applications, currently only farms are eligible to apply for the EIDL. Approved applicants are eligible for up to a $10,000 grant and subsequent loan. The loan is deferred for the first year at 3.75% interest. Link to documents. Link to SBA enrollment portal.
- PPP tax implications a growing concern. Agricultural and business associations jointly sent a letter (link) to the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee regarding the tax implications of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is administered by the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department.
Background: On April 30, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-32 which clarified that “no deduction is allowed under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) for an expense that is otherwise deductible if the payment of the expense results in forgiveness of a covered loan pursuant to section 1106(b) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)." The coalition letter said, "This is at odds with the legislative text of the CARES Act, specifically Section 1106(i), which says that, with regard to the "taxability" of the loan forgiveness available to PPP recipients, any amounts forgiven by a PPP loan "shall be excluded from gross income."
Stakeholders say the IRS ruling impact is significant because it will substantially increase the tax liability of PPP loan recipients at the worst possible time. For C-Corporations, it means an increase in the net after tax liability of PPP loan forgiveness by as much as 21%. For passthrough businesses, such as S Corporations, the marginal increase could be as high as 37%.
The coalition encourages Congress to “amend the CARES Act in future legislation that would explicitly waive Code Section 265 from applying to PPP loan forgiveness."
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging the department “to change its flawed interpretation of the CARES Act” preventing businesses from deducting expenses associated with PPP loans that are ultimately forgiven. “Providing assistance to small businesses, only to disallow their business deductions as provided in Notice 2020-32, reverses the benefit that Congress specifically granted by exempting PPP loan forgiveness from income. This interpretation means that whatever income a small business is able to produce will be taxed on a gross basis to the extent of the loan forgiveness, leaving substantially less after-tax capital for the swift economic recovery we hope is on the horizon,” the lawmakers wrote. Grassley, Wyden and Neal specifically argue that the determination adopted by IRS and Treasury runs contrary to congressional intent underlying the PPP program and the CARES Act overall. Link to full text of the letter.
Perspective: A source emailed: “SBA needs to clarify what it requires under PPP when it says borrowers must certify the loan is necessary. As is, there is zero safe harbor for borrowers and nobody will want to use the program for fear of criminal and civil penalties. If the goal is to rejuvenate the economy and retain jobs and businesses, sowing such confusion is not the way to do it. Congress would have been much better off putting all of the money into PPP rather than UI and ensuring SBA administered the program properly. Had that been the case, we might not have 14.7% unemployment.”
— U.S. food supply/industry update:
- President Trump said in a tweet Saturday that the country will start buying up to $3 billion in surplus dairy products, meat and fresh produce from U.S. farmers starting next week. The program is part of the $2.3 trillion aid package passed by Congress in March (CARES 1/Phase 3) and signed by Trump to support the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. The program will procure about $100 million a month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million a month in dairy products and $100 million in meat products, USDA previously detailed. The department plans to partner with regional and local distributors to buy the items, which will be packaged into “family sized” boxes and given to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits. (See next item for more details.)
- USDA awarded $1.2 billion in contracts Friday for a new commodity purchase program designed to aid produce, dairy and meat industries grappling with Covid-19 bottlenecks in the U.S. food supply chain. The awards account for 40% of a $3 billion food purchase plan announced on April 17 to move surplus foods out of the market and to food banks, community and faith-based organizations and other nonprofit groups that have seen demand escalate.
Under the Farmers to Families Food Box program, the contract winners will take orders from nonprofit groups for fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and pre-cooked meat products, pack those custom orders in boxes with portions for families and deliver them to the organizations that placed the orders. The contracts cover deliveries from May 15 to June 30.
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) said the program will spend:
• $461 million to make fresh fruit and vegetable boxes,
• $317 million for dairy boxes,
• $258 million for meat boxes and
• $175 million for combination boxes of fresh produce, dairy or meat products.
- Despite the optimistic comments from USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue, others say to expect higher prices, purchasing limits and intermittent meat shortages across the country at least through May.
- The Sioux City Journal reports Tyson’s giant beef plant in Dakota City, Nebraska has postponed its reopening as the company awaits complete results of Covid-19 tests for its workers. The plant had been scheduled to restart production.
New data released Friday indicates that Dakota County likely has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the state of Nebraska. The county experienced a record surge in virus diagnoses Friday, with an additional 361 new positives. The county's report comes on the heels of a round of testing for all workers at Tyson’s Dakota City plant. That brings the county's total Covid-19 tally to 1,407, the Dakota County Health Department noted in a press release.
- Testing uneven, or nonexistent, at meatpacking plants with Covid-19 outbreaks, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (link). The only guidance from the federal government has been that meat processors should "consider" tests.
“It really is a death march going into those facilities until workers can be tested,” said Joe Enriquez Henry of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a group that’s communicating with meatpacking workers in Iowa and fighting for their protection. “We can’t solve this until everyone is tested,” he said. “That’s the clear thing that needs to happen, and it’s not happening.”
The article notes that USDA Secretary “Sonny Perdue wrote a letter to governors last week urging that meat plants remain open, but he didn’t mention testing workers. That’s left meat processors with no obligation to test for Covid-19, even as many thousands of workers have been infected and the death toll among and around them is rising.”
Last week, at least 10,000 hogs a day were being euthanized in Minnesota because of a lack of slaughterhouse capacity. Some of the plants that remain open are running at reduced capacity because of absenteeism.
Two-thirds of the workers at the JBS plant in Worthington, Minnesota, were tested when the facility was idled two weeks ago, but that was at Gov. Tim Walz’s insistence, the article revealed. “The governor wanted everyone in the plant to be tested,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director for the Minnesota Department of Health. “JBS was reluctant to test everyone. They had reservations.” The Health Department ended up testing about 1,400 of the plant’s 2,200 workers, coordinating with local public health authorities and Sanford Health. Minnesota taxpayers will foot the bill.
- One area where USDA action has been stymied is in regard to helping producers who have been forced to depopulate their herds due to plant closures, with USDA reportedly of the view that it lacks authority to help under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act. Naysayers of this point to section 5 of the CCC Charter Act “(7 U.S.C. 714(c)): (d) Remove and dispose of or aid in the removal or disposition of surplus agricultural commodities.”
Comments: I have reported on USDA for over four decades and can say this: Department lawyers usually can okay policy wherever the Secretary wants it to go.
- Packing it in. Farmers “are becoming unhinged” as livestock gluts — exacerbated by a wave of slaughterhouse disruptions — are coinciding with record-high wholesale beef prices, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said Friday. He spoke at a round-table that included Iowa GOP Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, Vice President Mike Pence and senior meatpacker executives. The senators echoed calls to close the cattle-beef pricing gap.
Background: The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) is investigating meatpacking companies for possible antitrust violations, as the industry comes under scrutiny over the plant shutdowns that have disrupted supply. President Trump on Wednesday said he would ask the Justice Department to investigate. His remark came after attorneys general from 11 states called for the DOJ to investigate the industry for possible antitrust infractions and said they were ready to work with federal enforcers. Packer margins have surged in the last month as beef prices rose and cattle prices stayed low. “We do have serious concerns about the potential market manipulation,” Duvall said. Ranchers are “frustrated by this disparity between the rock-bottom prices that we’re receiving and some of the sky-high wholesale prices that we’re seeing being charge.”
Grassley said hog farmers are stressed economically and emotionally from having to cull animals. Farmers ask why they’re losing hundreds on each of their cattle while prices for consumers are going up, he said.
Pence congratulated meatpackers for their “miraculous effort” in maintaining supplies during the pandemic.
As Pence touted the Trump administration's announcement of the reopening of 14 meatpacking plants Friday including two of the worst hit by coronavirus infections in Perry and Waterloo in Iowa, the union representing workers called for safer working conditions. “Iowa’s meatpacking workers are not sacrificial lambs. They have been working tirelessly during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure families here and across the country have access to the food they need,” said the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in a statement. The union called on the administration to immediately provide the highest level of protective equipment, ensure daily testing is available for all meatpacking workers, enforce physical distancing at all plants, provide full paid sick leave for any workers who are infected, and establish constant monitoring by federal inspectors to ensure these safety standards are enforced.”
- S.D. GOP Governor Kristi Noem held calls with Smithfield employees on Thursday and Friday as the pork plant where hundreds of employees were infected reopens after being shuttered for more than three weeks. Noem's spokesman Ian Fury said she spent about two hours speaking with employees in total and that the governor's office had reached out to every employee at the plant. But an organization advocating for Smithfield employees disagreed. South Dakota Voices for Justice said in a statement that employees who were invited to the call were "handpicked by corporate HR."
After the Department of Health held a mass testing for Smithfield employees and their family members this week in Sioux Falls, officials reported a spike in confirmed cases of coronavirus on Friday with 239 new infections.
- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday fired back at MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, who said the Republican governor wasn't "letting anyone know what’s happening” with the coronavirus in meatpacking plants, nursing homes and prisons. Ricketts, during his daily coronavirus briefing, said Maddow’s claim was “factually wrong” because he had released aggregate information earlier Thursday about the number of infections involving meatpacking workers and residents and staff at nursing homes. “She has her own agenda,” the governor said.
Ricketts’ spokesman, Taylor Gage, later tweeted that Maddow was spreading “fake news” and engaging in “totally blind partisan gamesmanship.”
Details. Thursday, Ricketts said 1,005 of the state’s 6,771 positive cases reported at that time involved meatpacking plant workers, and that 267 nursing home residents and 188 staffers at those facilities have tested positive. Fifty-seven of the state’s 86 Covid-19 deaths as of Wednesday evening involved nursing home residents. He said he would provide only “aggregate” state numbers on such infections and would not specifically identify how many infections came from a specific plant or nursing home — figures that some people who live near such facilities are seeking. The number is roughly one-sixth of all cases in Nebraska, he said. He would not, however, provide the numbers at particular plants. Ricketts claimed that specific statistics from individual plants are prohibited by the federal law protecting individuals’ privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. But reported Covid-19 cases don’t reveal the identities of the people who have tested positive, only the numbers. And other states have reported infection rates at particular plants.
The Omaha World-Herald noted, “Maddow, in recent nightly shows, has harshly criticized both Nebraska and Iowa for not ordering the closing of meatpacking plants, where infections have spiked in recent weeks. About 1 in 6 infections in Nebraska, for instance, have come so far from the state’s hog- and beef-processing facilities, and the per-capita growth in positive cases in counties with meatpacking facilities has been among the highest in the country. “This is the kind of thing you go down in the history books for, Gov. Ricketts,” Maddow said. “You’re going to be famous for this, long after you’re gone.”
Ricketts did not discuss the number of infections within state prisons, which so far have seen five workers — but no inmates — test positive. Maddow pointed out on her show that Nebraska hasn’t tested any prison inmates. “What do you think the odds are that no prisoners in Nebraska have coronavirus?” she asked.
- How China kept getting its kiwi. This week's Economist as an article (link) that includes this interesting insight: ...”As airlines started grounding planes, the [Chinese] government engineered a deal with Air New Zealand; the airline would get a loan if it kept routes to China, Singapore and America open, thus allowing kiwi fruits and other delicacies out into the world even when the cabins above the hold were empty.”
— Update on reopening America... and around the world:
- A new Pew Research Center survey (link) shows 68% of Americans are concerned about states reopening too early. But public health experts say that there isn't a clear cut answer to the question of how soon is too soon.
- Denver will lift its stay-home restrictions this weekend. Ocean City, Maryland, plans to reopen its Boardwalk, Inlet parking lot and beaches to the general public. And in Nevada, restaurants, retail stores, barbershops, hair salons and some brewpubs can resume limited operations Saturday.
- Any new wave of Covid-19 won’t require shutdown: Kudlow. The U.S. won’t have to shut down its economy again if there’s a resurgence of the coronavirus as the nation starts to reopen, Trump’s top economic adviser said. National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said in an interview on Bloomberg Television that he’s been told by a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force that he didn’t name that a second wave of the outbreak wouldn’t require a shutdown.
- Amtrak to restore Acela service. Amtrak said it will resume high-speed Acela service in the Northeast Corridor on June 1 on a modified schedule of three weekday roundtrips to meet an anticipated demand boost.
- Trudeau warns premature reopening could send Canada 'back into confinement.' Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned on Saturday that if provinces move too quickly to reopen their economies, a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic could send Canada “back into confinement this summer.” Trudeau told reporters in a daily briefing that he is concerned about the virus’ spread in Montreal, Quebec parliamentary district, the country’s epicenter. He said any reopening should be gradual. Although health officials have pointed to a flattening rate of daily cases in many provinces, Trudeau said Canada was “not in the recovery phase yet... We are still in the emergency phase... The vast majority of Canadians continue to need to be very careful.” Canada’s death toll rose 3.5% to 4,628 from a day earlier, while cases approached 67,000. Nearly 60% of Canada’s deaths have occurred in Quebec, where there are numerous outbreaks in nursing homes.
— Coronavirus update:
- Summary: Nearly 1.3 million people have tested positive for the virus in the U.S., and more than 77,000 have died. The world is nearing 4 million cases of the coronavirus.
- One-third of all U.S. coronavirus deaths are nursing home residents or workers. At least 25,600 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the U.S., according to a New York Times database. The virus so far has infected more than 143,000 at some 7,500 facilities. Link for details.
- An aide to Vice President Mike Pence has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House confirmed. Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for coronavirus, Trump said, delaying Pence’s departure for a trip to Iowa on Friday, which he eventually made. Though Pence’s press secretary was not on the plane, White House physicians through contact tracing identified six other aides who had been near her who were aboard and pulled them from the flight. The White House later said the six had tested negative, as did Pence. The vice president and 10 members of his staff are given rapid coronavirus tests daily, and the president is also tested regularly.
At least 11 U.S. Secret Service employees were also reported to be infected with the coronavirus and about 60 other staffers were in self-quarantine.
- New York State ‘ahead of the virus.' New York is “finally ahead of the virus,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said. Total hospitalizations are down to 8,196, from more than 18,000 at the peak. The daily death toll is at about 200, down from a high of nearly 800. New York “would have hoped to see a steady sharp decline” in new hospitalizations, which are still around 600 a day, Cuomo said at a press briefing in Poughkeepsie. “We haven’t killed the beast, but we’re ahead of it,” he said. “We are ahead of it, and we are in control of our own destiny.”
- Coronavirus could disrupt weather forecasting. The drop in airline travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic has sharply reduced the amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners, the World Meteorological Organization said, adding that it was “concerned about the increasing impact” on weather forecasts worldwide. The agency said data on temperature, wind and humidity from airplane flights, collected by sensors on the planes and transmitted in real time to forecasting organizations around the world, has been cut by nearly 90 percent in some regions. In the U.S., data declined by 75% during the pandemic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Under the observational program, established in the 1960s, data from 3,500 aircraft operated by Delta, United, American and Southwest, and by the cargo carriers United Parcel Service and FedEx, is transmitted directly to National Weather Service forecasting operations.
- The federal government is sending supplies of remdesivir, the first drug that appears to help speed up recovery for COVID-19 patients, to six states to be distributed.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
- IRS sets Wednesday deadline for direct checks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said it will accept bank account information until noon Wednesday for people who want to receive stimulus payments by direct deposit. After that, the IRS will send the money by check to the address on file, with those payments expected to arrive in late May and June, according to a statement from the agency. Taxpayers can submit their information and check on the status of their money at the IRS’s website.
- Tariffs imposed by the European Commission in retaliation for U.S. duties on goods made of steel and aluminum, the so-called derivative tariffs, entered into force on Friday. A tariff of 20% will be levied on certain cigarette lighters, and 7% on certain plastic furniture fittings.
- Point, counterpoint on RFS waivers. Earlier this week, 24 farm-state senators in a letter to President Trump called on him to reject five governors' request for Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) waivers. “Waiving the RFS would cause further harm to the U.S. economy, especially our most vulnerable rural communities," the letter said. "It would also exacerbate the effects experienced by the biofuel sector as a result of Covid-19, causing far-reaching detrimental impacts on employment, farmers, food security, fuel prices, and the environment."
Counterpoint: Oil refiners say the letter from corn state lawmakers to President Trump proves why the EPA should grant the governors’ waiver requests. “The letter concedes that 46% of capacity has been idled during the current crisis,” the Fueling American Jobs Coalition, which includes oil refiners and labor unions, said in a statement. If the biofuels requirements are still held steady, “the RFS will simply be converted into an import mandate,” the coalition added.
- NCFC concerned about restrictions on H-2A worker movements in Mexico. National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) President and CEO Chuck Conner wrote USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue (link) that U.S. farmers are worried that the arrival of H-2A workers from Mexico is being slowed by quarantine policies related to Covid-19 in Mexican states. Conner asked Perdue “to encourage the State Department to reiterate with the Mexican government the importance of finding a resolution to this H-2A situation and the impact of this workforce has on our food supply.”