Judge to rule on lawsuit seeking refund of St. Louis earnings taxes paid by remote workers during pandemic

A St. Louis circuit court judge is deciding if taxpayers living outside the city and working remotely due to the pandemic can file a lawsuit to reclaim city earnings taxes.

Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh on Wednesday heard arguments by attorneys for St. Louis Collector of Revenue Gregory F.X. Daly. They cited Missouri tax law stating taxpayers must file individual lawsuits to seek any refund. Attorneys representing taxpayers argued the city changed its earnings tax refund forms to exclude teleworkers without any legislative approval.

“They changed the law without a change in the law,” Mark Milton, a lawyer for the taxpayers, told KMOX radio. “The executive branch changed the law without a change by the legislature.”

Milton and attorney Bevis Schock created stlrefund.com , a website to help workers who didn’t live in the city in 2020 but whose employers withheld the city’s 1% earnings tax. They seek refunds based on the days spent teleworking from locations outside the city, not including business travel days.

Prior to the pandemic, if a non-resident worked some days outside the city – whether teleworking from home or traveling for business – the employee could apply for a refund for the amount based on days worked outside St. Louis. But in tax year 2020, the city changed its policy and forms to only allow earnings tax refunds for travel and not allow for refunds for days spent teleworking or working outside the city.

“In short, without any change to the authorizing state statute and/or the earnings tax ordinance,” Schock and Milton’s website states, “the city now refuses to issue refunds for days spent working from locations outside the city of St. Louis, that is, teleworking – even though the work was performed or the services were rendered outside the city.”

David Luce, an attorney for the collector of revenue, said the pandemic forced changes in tax collection.

“The virtual world is not the world that’s surrounding your chair at your office,” Luce told KMOX. “It’s the virtual world that you’re entering into.”

The earnings tax provides about 36% of the city’s general revenue. Earnings tax collections dropped from $184 million in 2019 to $176 million in 2020, according to documents in the city’s fiscal year 2022 budget. Budget documents show a revised estimate of $187 million for 2021 and $178 million for 2022.

“And because people who live outside the city but work for an employer based here also pay the earnings tax, it helps distribute the cost of providing services they use as well as city residents,” St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green wrote on the department’s website as the earnings tax was being renewed by city voters. The Missouri legislature passed a law in 2010 requiring earnings taxes to be renewed by a vote every five years. The tax was renewed in April with 79% of the vote. It also was renewed in 2011 and 2016.

Kansas City is the other Missouri city with a 1% earnings tax. It was renewed in April with 77% of the vote. Media outlets reported Kansas City was processing earnings tax refunds for non-residents working remotely for businesses located in the city.

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Florida leads nation in nursing home resident, staff deaths: AARP

Florida led the nation in nursing home resident and staff deaths in the four weeks ending Aug. 22, the American Association of Retired People (AARP) reported Wednesday in a “four-week snapshot” analysis.

According to the Florida Fact Sheet webpage accessible via AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard , 237 residents and 13 staff in state nursing homes died from the disease during the span, accounting for 21% of all nursing home resident deaths and 17% of all staff deaths due to the virus nationwide.

Meanwhile, Florida’s 73.6% vaccination rate of 160,000 residents in 700-plus nursing homes is third-worst among all states except Nevada and Arizona, and its 48.5% vaccination rate among nursing home employees – up 3% from July – is still the nation’s lowest percentage other than Louisiana’s 47.9% rate.

“It is a frightening, tragic time in our state. The new data released in today’s dashboard is a heartbreaking reminder that the pandemic is not over,” AARP Florida Director Jeff Johnson said in a Wednesday statement. “As vaccination rates have stalled, COVID cases have risen, and Florida nursing home deaths have soared to the highest in the nation.”

Florida’s total number of COVID-19 deaths topped 50,000 Thursday with the seven-day average of new deaths the second-highest pace since the pandemic emerged in March 2020.

According to data reported by Florida to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), at least 3.473 million confirmed cases and 50,811 deaths attributed to the disease have been recorded in the state the last 17 months.

AARP’s analysis states that 4,986 Florida nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 since March 2020 – 12% of the state’s total fatalities – and 109 nursing home workers have been killed by the virus since June 1, 2020.

“These sadly predictable data trends are also preventable,” Johnson said. “Our most vulnerable residents deserve to be protected from this devastating disease. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated.”

The AARP Public Policy Institute and the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio analyzed U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data to compile the analysis. Florida stopped reporting this data publicly in May.

Florida during the four-week span had a COVID-19 death rate for nursing-home residents of 0.36 per 100 residents, tied with Alaska nation’s highest.

Other findings:

  • Only 7% of Florida’s nursing homes meet the industry standard to vaccinate at least 75% of staff.
  • The percent of Florida nursing homes reporting new staff cases of COVID-19 more than doubled since July’s report, increasing from 40.3% to 94%, the nation’s highest and nearly double the national average of 51%.
  • The percent of new resident cases quadrupled during the same time period, from 12.6 to 61%, three times the national average of 20%.
  • Approximately 22% of Florida’s nursing homes suffer from staffing shortages, up from 18% in July.

The Biden administration announced in August that nursing homes that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding must fully vaccinated staffs. The White House last week expanded the mandate to other types of healthcare facilities, including hospitals.

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), which represents about 80% of the state’s nursing homes, expressed fears the mandate would lead to unvaccinated workers on already-thin staffs leaving their jobs, but praised the extension.

“A broadened vaccination policy will help protect our residents who often interact with other healthcare professionals for their care needs,” FHCA CEO Emmett Read said in a statement. “We know the vaccine is the safest way to protect our residents, and we support efforts that will help get more people vaccinated.”

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Judge bars Biden from using COVID-19 as excuse to deport illegal immigrants

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the Biden administration can no longer cite COVID-19 to rapidly deport migrant families — despite record numbers of largely unvaccinated migrants seeking to enter the US as coronavirus patients clog hospitals and deaths mount.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that US officials can no longer cite the CDC’s Title 42 health order to deport families after the rule allowed for the swift deportation of nearly 1 million people.

The judge wrote that “in view of the wide availability of testing, vaccines, and other minimization measures, the Court is not convinced that the transmission of COVID-19 during border processing cannot be significantly mitigated.”

Sullivan added: “Indeed, the government has successfully implemented mitigation measures with regard to processing unaccompanied minors in order to minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

Pro-immigration advocates cheered the ruling. Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told CNN, “President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today.”

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan said government officials can’t use Title 42 to deport immigrants.
John Moore/Getty Images

The Title 42 policy was first adopted by the Trump administration last year, but was continued by Biden administration officials as illegal crossings surged this year. President Biden made an exception for the large number of unaccompanied children coming from Central America.

The order doesn’t prohibit the Biden administration from citing Title 42 to expel single adults.

Sullivan is best-known for refusing the Justice Department’s request last year to stop the prosecution of former national security advisor Mike Flynn after the DOJ said FBI agent Peter Strzok had no valid basis to interview Flynn about calls with Russia’s ambassador. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying about those calls, but later sought to withdraw his plea, saying he did not intentionally lie.

Then-President Trump pardoned Flynn while Sullivan resisted dropping the case.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott seated next to Carlos J. Cardenas M.D. during the announcement of DHR Health's Level 1 Trauma Center designation and ceremonially signed Senate Bill 827 into law in Edinburg, Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott is looking to close paths of entries for migrants as thousands have surged toward the border this year.
Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP

Republicans have urged the Biden administration to keep Title 42 in place and administration attorneys defended the policy in court.

The ruling was announced shortly after Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said he will attempt to close entry points at the Mexican border so the state won’t be overrun — as a crowd of more than 8,200 people, including many fleeing Haiti, amassed under a bridge ​in Del Rio, Texas, waiting to be arrested by Border Patrol agents.

Data released Thursday indicate that for two straight months – July and August – border detentions surpassed 200,000, despite Biden’s insistent that a Spring surge in illegal crossings reflected a seasonal bump.

Republicans argue that Biden administration policies are to blame for the surge in migration — a stance also taken by Guatemala’s president as well as Mexico’s president.

Biden was vice president to President Barack Obama — called the “Deporter in Chief” by immigration advocates — but campaigned on welcoming asylum seekers. Biden has called on Congress to legalize most illegal immigrants and stopped construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall.

Migrants who are part of a caravan heading north, cheer after passing a checkpoint along the Huehuetan highway.
Migrants who are part of a caravan heading north, cheer after passing a checkpoint along the Huehuetan highway.
Marco Ugarte/AP

The Biden administration already eased up on quickly deporting family units. In August, more than 70,000 migrant families were allowed into the US and about 16,000 were expelled, according to US Customs and Border Protection data cited by CNN.

Although the new ruling forbids the use of the COVID-19 policy to deport families, a different federal court ruling may mute its effect. The Supreme Court last month ruled that the Biden administration improperly scrapped Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required most asylum seekers to remain in Mexico and wait for US courts to review their claims of persecution.

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UN says world won’t meet climate targets despite COVID pause

ZURICH, Sept 16 – The pace of climate change has not been slowed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the world remains behind in its battle to cut carbon emissions, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The virus-related economic downturn caused only a temporary downturn in CO2 emissions last year and it was not enough to reverse rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

“There was some thinking that the COVID lockdowns would have had a positive impact on the (…) atmosphere, which is not the case,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said at a news briefing.

The world in 2021 was missing the mark of building back sustainably from the COVID-19 crisis and “not going in the right direction,” Taalas said.

Reduction targets for emissions are not being met and there is a rising likelihood the world will miss its Paris Agreement aim of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the WMO said in its United in Science 2021 Report.

The World Meteorological Organization claims lockdowns did not effectively reduce global carbon emissions.
Christopher Sadowski

“This is a critical year for climate action,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, and the results were an “alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are.”

“This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives and livelihoods on every continent,” he said.

Concentrations in the atmosphere of the major greenhouse gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021, the U.N. said.

The average global temperature for the past five years was among the highest on record, estimated at 1.06C to 1.26C above pre-industrial levels.

There is now a 40% chance that the average global temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5C warmer than pre-industrial levels, the report said.

“Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend,” Guterres said.

The United in Science 2021 report presents the latest scientific data and findings related to climate change.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns more “human-enhanced weather events” will come if global carbon emissions aren’t reduced.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File

WMO’s Taalas compared the dramatic upsets to daily life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the more moderate changes required to mitigate climate change and stave off much more dire consequences.

“If we fail at climate mitigation, we would have a permanent problem for at least hundreds or even thousands of years,” he said. “The…economic, human wellbeing effects would be much more dramatic than this COVID pandemic.”

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Hearing delves into what went wrong in Illinois nursing homes during pandemic

The Illinois Department of Public Health was in the hot seat Wednesday during a House committee hearing on nursing home reform.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities house a small part of the U.S. population, but are estimated to account for about 3 in 10 deaths from COVID-19. IDPH reported 46% of all deaths from COVID-19 in Illinois occurred in long-term care facilities.

Lawmakers had questions for IDPH representative Becky Dragoo, including the number of deaths in long-term care facilities during the pandemic, and the number of nursing homes that were cited by the state for a lack of protocols.

State Rep. Lakeshia Collins, D-Chicago, was not happy that Dragoo did not provide the number of deaths in Illinois nursing homes during the pandemic.

“If there’s no numbers that you can present to us when we get on these calls and you have to give us a follow-up, that’s a problem because you know we are going to ask these questions,” Collins said.

Collins said she believes a lack of staff is the cause of many problems in facilities. She said residents have been experiencing issues during the pandemic, but facilities aren’t reporting those issues to the state.

“The physical restraints, the dehydration, the bed sores, the workers injuries, all of that is related to one root cause and that is short staffing,” Collins said.

In August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order requiring health care workers, including in nursing homes, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He also signed into law legislation that addresses the lack of personal connection brought on by the pandemic by requiring long-term care facilities to ensure virtual communication is facilitated among residents and family during a public health emergency.

As for accountability by nursing home facilities, Dragoo said IDPH is aware of problem operations around the state.

“Our databases allow us to look at a nursing home all of their previous annual inspections, all of the complaint inspections to determine what deficiencies they have,” she said.

The agency has been criticized for the outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home, which killed 36 residents. A scathing Illinois Department of Human Services Inspector General report said a lack of COVID-19 plans and failures in leadership contributed to the deadly outbreak.

State Rep. Mary E. Flowers, D-Chicago, said officials at IDPH have played a role in the state’s long-term care facilities.

“You knew COVID was there and your agency didn’t do anything to isolate or protect those patients, and so they didn’t have a choice but to die,” Flowers said.

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Doddering White House Resident Rants About GOP Governors and Spins Conspiracy Theories – RedState

The local White House resident emerged today to give a short speech about something or another. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the occasion was, but the result was more ranting about the evils of Republican governors mixed with conspiracy theories about gas prices. You see, nothing that is transpiring is Joe Biden’s fault. Rather, it’s the fault of shadowy partisans purposely trying to kneecap his presidency.

Yeah, that’s it.

For once, Biden’s shot wasn’t really aimed at Ron DeSantis, though, he’s no doubt on Biden’s mind here. Instead, he was likely aiming at Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who recently hit Biden’s order as tyrannical (fact-check: true). Further, the mention of children here is, as has been shown many times, nonsensical. One, there’s not even a vaccine approved for use in children yet (12 and under), so how does not having a federal vaccine mandate affect them? Two, if the worry is about exposing children to COVID-19 via unvaccinated adults, the science says healthy children are at essentially no risk, and that includes developing so-called “long COVID.” In short, Biden just wanted to mention children because he thinks he can emotionally manipulate people.

Regardless, I would define the worst kind of politics as being those that use the federal government to stomp on individual rights under the guise of a crisis. Given that, Biden is projecting enough here to operate a movie theater. Everything he’s doing or is responsible for, he puts onto others.

That theme continued when he suggested high gas prices were the result of a conspiracy.

What evidence is Biden speaking of? Oil prices are hanging around their highest point in the last year. Are we to believe there’s some secret agreement to keep gas prices high to hurt Biden’s presidency? Or is the more logical explanation that canceling pipelines and federal leases actually have an impact? I’m going to go with the latter.

Finally, the president whined about billionaires.

If you’ve followed my prior articles, you know my thoughts on this. If major corporations don’t want to pay higher tax rates, they should stop bankrolling Democrat candidates. Wall Street overwhelmingly supported Joe Biden. Now, he’s trying to raise the capital gains tax to 25%. I’m not personally in favor of that, but I also think the electoral dynamics will never change until these woke corporations and financial firmers feel the pain of their choices a bit. Hopefully, it’s a lesson they only have to learn once.

Past that, Biden seems to be suggesting that major corporations got rich during the pandemic by sheer chance or some form of corruption. No, they got rich during the pandemic because politicians like Joe Biden supported pointless lockdowns and strangled small businesses. That’s why Amazon is thriving while Main Street is dying.

I’m old enough to remember when Biden used to brag about the buck stopping with him. He was going to be a president who took responsibility, unlike that dirty orange man. Yet, here we are, with yet another embarrassing performance in which the president pretends his policies have no effect on the country. They do, and those effects have been terrible.

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The Death of Science | RealClearPolitics

The scientific method used to govern much of popular American thinking.

In empirical fashion, scientists advised us to examine evidence and data, and then by induction come to rational hypotheses. The enemies of “science” were politics, superstition, bias and deduction.

Yet we are now returning to our version of medieval alchemy and astrology in rejecting a millennium of the scientific method.

Take the superstitions that now surround COVID-19.

We now know from data that a prior case of COVID-19 offers immunity as robust as vaccination. Why, then, are Joe Biden’s proposed vaccination mandates ignoring that scientific fact? Dr. Anthony Fauci, when asked, seemed at a loss for words.

Is this yet another of the scientific community’s Platonic “noble lies,” as when Fauci assured the public last year that there was no need for masks? He later claimed he had lied so that medical professionals would not run out of needed supplies.

Fauci also threw out mythical percentages needed for herd immunity, apparently in an attempt to convince the public that it will never be safe until every American is protected from COVID-19 by vaccination only.

And why was it that hard for the scientific community to postulate a likely origin of COVID-19 Some of the very scientists engaged in gain-of-function research oversaw an investigation with Chinese authorities. They confirmed the predetermined conclusion that the virus likely had little to do with gain-of-function engineering. And they saw little proof it was birthed in a Wuhan virology lab. Yet scientific opinion, emerging evidence and basic logic have suggested the opposite.

How can the government hector citizens that they have a moral duty — and soon a legal obligation — to be vaccinated when it does not mandate vaccinations for unvetted refugees flying in from Afghanistan?

How can the government medical community remain largely silent when an anticipated 2 million foreign nationals will cross into the United States in the current fiscal year — almost none of whom are vaccinated or tested for COVID-19?

Why do the media and government blame particular races for the delta variant outbreak on grounds that they were insufficiently vaccinated? Why wouldn’t officials simply urge the Latino and Black communities to be vaccinated as quickly as possible? Data shows that both groups have lower vaccination rates than white and Asian populations.

Are woke political agendas discrediting science and losing public health?

We saw just that in June 2020, when more than 1,200 “health care professionals” signed a petition demanding exemptions from lockdowns and quarantines for Black Lives Matter protesters marching en masse. And they concocted medical excuses such as “vital to the national public health” to insist that violating quarantines was less unhealthy than not pouring into the streets.

Why did presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, warn the American people on the eve of vaccination rollouts that an inoculation under the Trump administration could be unsafe, thereby undermining confidence in vaccines?

Why was the medical community largely silent about such dangerous sabotaging of new vaccines, but months later became vociferous in warning the public that any doubts about the safety of these Operation Warp Speed vaccinations were scientifically misplaced? Was there a medical breakthrough on Jan. 20, 2020, to alter their consensus?

From rewarding wokeness in medical school admissions to the peer reviewing of scientific papers, the anti-scientific mania has polluted scientific endeavors.

“Critical race theory” would preposterously tell us that we need racism to fight racism.

“Critical legal theory” ludicrously claims that laws have no rational basis but simply reflect power inequities.

“Modern monetary theory” defies millennia of evidence and basic logic in stating that governments can simply print money without worrying about balancing expenditures with revenues or inflating the currency to ruination.

Corporations are now asked to substitute a new woke agenda theory — “Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG)” — in lieu of market realities, rules of investment and economic data.

Science is dying; superstition disguised as morality is returning. And we’ll all soon become poorer, angrier and more divided.

(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com.


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Another Hysterical Claim Involving Kids and COVID-19 Bites the Dust – RedState

The argument over how to handle COVID-19 regarding children has been perhaps the most absurd aspect of our response to the coronavirus. Many districts kept kids out of the classroom for over a year in response to a virus that statistically isn’t dangerous to them. Then there are the insane masking requirements, which studies have repeatedly disproven as necessary.

But they were “doing something,” and that’s what really matters when one’s entire existence centers around the signaling of virtue. Yet, to justify their actions, another talking point arose over the last several months. You see, even though children are obviously at extremely low risk from death regarding COVD-19, they are at significant risk of getting “long COVID” the hysterics have asserted. And if you don’t care about “long COVID,” then you don’t care about kids.

So is that true? A new study out of the United Kingdom provides a definitive answer: Nope.

Here’s the most incredible statistic, though. Children in the control group of children who hadn’t been infected had a higher rate of symptoms than children who actually had COVID at certain points in the reporting period (4 and 12 weeks).

What that does is expose the original fallacy that so many were operating under, i.e. taking symptoms present in children and giving them the label of “long COVID” when those symptoms were never proven to be caused by COVID-19 at all. Now, this extremely detailed study shows that many of the symptoms in question are common among children with or without a prior coronavirus infection.

This is the same mistake people make with masks. Despite the fact that data sets continually show mask-mandates don’t work, every time someone who is anti-mask gets infected, there is a rush to blame the lack of a mask for said infection. Yet, what science tells us is that people who do and don’t wear masks get infected at essentially the same rates. In short, the mask is largely irrelevant to the question of spread just like “long COVID” is largely irrelevant to the question of risk for children.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for a child, especially one with pre-existing conditions, to develop long-term symptoms due to COVID. Anything is possible at some infinitesimal level, including death. Yet, the hysterical claim that one in seven children are developing “long COVID” appears to be completely false.

This is great news for people that care about developing policy based on facts and data. It’s not good news for those who seemingly need children to be at high risk in order to justify their nonsensical measures.

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David Orr: The pandemic has shown that now is the time to bring England’s homes up to scratch

David Orr CBE chaired the Good Home Inquiry, an independent inquiry to determine solutions to the poor quality of England’s housing.

We have known for a long time that the quality of England’s existing housing stock simply isn’t fit for purpose. Today, four million homes don’t meet basic standards of decency – and half of these (one in ten homes overall) contain a category one hazard, meaning they pose a serious risk to their inhabitants’ health or safety.

Successive governments have tried, through various interventions, to tackle the problem – but none has taken the action needed to address the scale of the challenge. Now, we face a unique set of circumstances which make this the time for action.

First, the pandemic has highlighted the profound impact that poor-quality housing can have on our physical and mental wellbeing. Our research with the King’s Fund last year found that those most at risk of Covid, including older people, those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and people with pre-existing conditions, were also more likely to be living in non-decent homes.

During the lockdowns, when our homes became our refuge, we discovered that for millions of us they were not only unsafe but could even harm our prospects of survival. The link between our health and our home is undeniable. To narrow health inequalities, we need to look to the state of our homes.

At the same time, we are reaching a crunch point for driving down our carbon emissions – and it is becoming increasingly clear that our energy-inefficient homes are a major stumbling block in doing this. Without decarbonising our homes, we simply will not be able to fulfil our commitments to reaching net zero.

There is huge potential for job creation here. The Construction Industry Leadership Council have suggested thousands of skilled jobs could be created in retrofit and the opportunity of related home improvement work.

And finally, we must prepare for the reality of an ageing population. By 2041, one in four people in England will be aged 65 or over with the fastest increase in the 85+ group. We know that the vast majority of older people live in mainstream houses and flats – and would prefer to stay living independently in our homes and communities.

We need a transformation of our housing stock so that more people are able to stay safe and independent in their homes for longer, and to avoid placing additional strain on the NHS and social care system – poor housing currently costs the NHS an estimated £1.4 billion a year. With government grappling with the question of funding social care, we should not overlook this huge opportunity to make savings.

There is a great deal to be gained by tackling the crisis in poor-quality housing. Over the past year, the Good Home Inquiry has gathered evidence and examined the problem, looking at the causes of the crisis, what interventions have and haven’t worked, and what policies could make a real difference.

This isn’t an issue that national government can or should try and fix alone but it is an area where national leadership is needed. We recommend that government set out a cross-government housing strategy with a ministerial champion to implement it, and empowers Homes England with a clear mission to improve existing homes. And we need to see low-cost government-backed lending and grants to improve homes.

At a local level, Good Home Agencies should bring together in one place information and advice including on trusted traders, finance, home repairs, adaptations, and energy retrofit services.

The last 18 months have taught us that we can no longer stand back and do nothing. We have both an opportunity and an obligation to come up with a plan of action which gives the best possible chance for us all to live in homes that are safe, warm, affordable and energy efficient. By doing so, we can improve the quality of life for millions while reducing demands on our health service and helping to tackle the existential threat of global warming.

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Most states have cut back public health powers amid pandemic

Republican legislators in more than half of US states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers that state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases.

A Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In Arkansas, legislators banned mask mandates except in private businesses or state-run health care settings, calling them “a burden on the public peace, health, and safety of the citizens of this state.” In Idaho, county commissioners, who typically have no public health expertise, can veto countywide public health orders. In Kansas and Tennessee, school boards, rather than health officials, have the power to close schools.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called a special legislative session in early August 2021, asking lawmakers to carve out an exception for schools in a bill to ban mask mandates.
AP Photo/Andrew Demillo

President Joe Biden last week announced sweeping vaccination mandates and other COVID-19 measures, saying he was forced to act partly because of such legislation. “My plan also takes on elected officials in states that are undermining you and these lifesaving actions,” he said.

The KHN review showed that:

  • In at least 16 states, legislators have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, or quarantines or isolation. In some cases, they gave themselves or local elected politicians the authority to prevent the spread of infectious disease.
  • At least 17 states passed laws banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates or passports or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements.
  • At least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. Executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements in five more.
students with signs ride in the back of a pickup truck around Flathead High School to protest the Kalispell School District's face mask requirement in Kalispell, Mont.
Students with signs ride in the back of a pickup truck around Flathead High School to protest the Kalispell School District’s face mask requirement in Kalispell, Mont.
Hunter D’Antuono/Flathead Beacon via AP, File

Much of this legislation takes effect as COVID-19 hospitalizations in some areas are climbing to the highest numbers at any point in the pandemic, and children are back in school.

“We really could see more people sick, hurt, hospitalized or even die, depending on the extremity of the legislation and curtailing of the authority,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, head of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Public health academics and officials are frustrated that they, instead of the virus, have become the enemy. They argue this will have consequences that last long beyond this pandemic, diminishing their ability to fight the latest COVID-19 surge and future disease outbreaks, such as being able to quarantine people during a measles outbreak.

“It’s kind of like having your hands tied in the middle of a boxing match,” said Kelley Vollmar, executive director of the Jefferson County Health Department in Missouri.

people celebrate after the Salt Lake County Council voted to overturn a school mask order for kids under the age of 12
People celebrate after the Salt Lake County Council voted to overturn a school mask order for kids under the age of 12.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

But proponents of the new limits say they are a necessary check on executive powers and give lawmakers a voice in prolonged emergencies. Arkansas state Sen. Trent Garner, a Republican who co-sponsored his state’s successful bill to ban mask mandates, said he was trying to reflect the will of the people.

“What the people of Arkansas want is the decision to be left in their hands, to them and their family,” Garner said. “It’s time to take the power away from the so-called experts, whose ideas have been woefully inadequate.”

After initially signing the bill, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., expressed regret, calling a special legislative session in early August to ask lawmakers to carve out an exception for schools. Lawmakers declined. The law is currently blocked by an Arkansas judge who deemed it unconstitutional. Legal battles are ongoing in other states as well.

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