National News Content

Energy Secretary Granholm: Texas Outages Show Need For Changes To U.S. Power Systems

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 3:19pm
Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm seized on the bruising winter weather that left millions of Texans without heat and electricity last week to press for reform of the state's power systems, arguing that pivoting to a clean energy economy can ensure a dependable grid and help create jobs. In her first interview with NPR since taking office, the former Michigan governor made the case for sweeping changes to the nation's energy markets in order to help meet President Biden's pledge to make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050 . Granholm, who won confirmation in the Senate by a vote of 64 to 35 on Thursday, said "there may have to be public-private partnerships to get initiatives off the ground," and pledged that for any jobs lost in the fossil fuel industry, there would be "more than a one-to-one replacement" in clean energy. Addressing the disaster in Texas, Granholm told Morning Edition host Noel King on Friday that one big lesson from last week's outages is that Texas needs

Excellus sees sharp drop in net income during pandemic year

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 3:17pm
Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield is reporting a sharp decline in net income last year, as the health insurance company grappled with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But the organization’s leaders say it continues to be financially stable. Excellus, which is headquartered in Rochester and has operations across upstate New York saw earnings of $97.2 million in 2020, which is 43% less than the $170.8 million in net income in 2019. “No one has ever faced a year like 2020,” said Chris Booth, the chief executive officer of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “The COVID-19 crisis required a strong and comprehensive response to assure our members were able to receive the care they needed and to help assure the health care system itself would survive. The pandemic devastated the economy and sickened tens of thousands of upstate residents.” Booth said that Excellus took steps to help members, provider partners and others cope with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the

Explosion Damages Israeli-Owned Ship In Gulf Of Oman

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 3:04pm
An explosion ripped through the hull of an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman, reportedly leaving holes in each side of the vessel. Officials said the crew and vessel are safe, but there was no immediate explanation for the blast in a waterway that has a history of attacks on shipping blamed on Iran. In an advisory dated Thursday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said it had been informed of the explosion, that investigations are ongoing and that the crew and vessel are safe and proceeding to their next port of call. Dryad Global, a maritime security risk-management firm, identified the ship as the MV Helios Ray. It said the vessel was inbound from Singapore and that the explosion occurred about 44 nautical miles (50 miles) from Muscat, Oman's capital. The company further speculated in a tweet that it was "a realistic possibility" that the explosion "was the result of asymmetric activity by #Iranian military." The International Maritime Organization says the

Connections: The Disability EmpowHer Network

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 2:37pm
Research finds that girls with disabilities have significantly lower high school graduation rates and higher unemployment rates than their nondisabled peers. An organization called the Disability EmpowHer Network aims to provide mentoring and guidance to girls with disabilities. The goal is to "empower disabled young women to live to their fullest potential and have the confidence to lead." Our guests share their stories of mentoring and overcoming the various obstacles facing young women with disabilities: Stephanie Woodward , co-founder of the Disability EmpowHer Network Jill Moore White, inclusive play specialist Maddie Kasten, 14-year-old mentee This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk .

Connections: Brian Quijada, star of "Where Did We Sit on the Bus?"

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 2:36pm
During a lesson on the civil rights movement and Rosa Parks, a young Latino boy asks, "Where did we sit on the bus?" His teacher couldn't answer the question. That boy is now an adult, and he's performing a one-man show about his experience as a first generation American. Brian Quijada's performance, available through Geva Theatre, is a remarkable and entertaining blend of music, dance, storytelling and truth. We preview his performance and talk about growing up in two cultures. Our guest: Brian Quijada , star of "Where Did We Sit on the Bus?"

Hurricane Forecasts Will Start Earlier In 2021

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 2:26pm
The National Hurricane Center says it will begin issuing Tropical Weather Outlooks in May, weeks before the June 1 beginning of hurricane season. The federal agency is also considering moving up the official start date of the Atlantic hurricane season. Named systems have formed in the Atlantic prior to the official start of the season in each of the last six years. In 2020, there were two named systems before June 1, tropical storms Arthur and Bertha. Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Center, says many of the systems that develop in May are short-lived, but are now being identified because of better monitoring and policies that now give names to subtropical storms. Last year, because of the early storms, the Hurricane Center issued 36 special tropical weather outlooks before June 1. In order to be better prepared, this year forecasters will begin issuing outlooks on May 15. A team of meteorologists from the National Hurricane Center and other parts of the National

KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Staffing Up at HHS

Latest Updates From Kaiser Health News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 2:00pm

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on SoundCloud.

More than a month into President Joe Biden’s term, nominees to fill some of the top posts at the Department of Health and Human Services are finally getting confirmation hearings in the Senate, starting with the nominee for secretary, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Barring something unexpected, it appears that Becerra, along with the surgeon general nominee, Vivek Murthy, and the nominee for assistant secretary for health, Rachel Levine, will all be confirmed, despite criticisms raised by some Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the Trump administration’s rules for the federal family planning program that effectively evicted Planned Parenthood from participation. And the Biden administration asked the court to cancel oral arguments scheduled for late March about work requirements approved by the Trump administration for adult Medicaid recipients in some states.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Tami Luhby of CNN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Republican complaints that Becerra may not be qualified for the job of HHS secretary because he’s not a medical doctor were surprising to many. Since HHS was separated from the Department of Education, there have been 12 secretaries and only three have been physicians.
  • Democrats seem confident that Becerra weathered Republican criticism about his qualifications and his support for reproductive rights and that he will be confirmed.
  • The Republican arguments about Becerra’s positions on abortion may signal a shift away from the GOP’s emphasis on repealing the Affordable Care Act and back to traditional issues that galvanize conservative voters.
  • The people Biden has chosen to work on health policy by and large have strong backgrounds in management and many were in the Obama administration working on the implementation of the ACA. They are likely coming in with a mission to make changes and do so quickly.
  • The Biden administration is expected to seek to reverse the Title X rule at issue in a case just accepted by the Supreme Court before the justices hear the matter. But even if the administration can do that, conservatives may still ask the court to proceed.
  • The covid relief bill moving through Congress includes several measures that would make health insurance plans sold on the ACA marketplace more affordable, but those changes would last only two years. ACA advocates reason it would be hard, however, for future lawmakers to take those benefits away.

Also this week, Rovner interviews HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn, whose new book, “The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage,” is out this week.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post’s “The Joy of Vax: The People Giving the Shots Are Seeing Hope, and It’s Contagious,” by Maura Judkis

Margot Sanger-Katz:’s “Path to Normality: 2021 Outlook of COVID-19 in the US,” by Youyang Gu

Tami Luhby: The Guardian and KHN’s “’It Doesn’t Feel Worth It’: Covid Is Pushing New York’s EMTs to the Brink,” by Martha Pskowski

Alice Miranda Ollstein: KHN’s “Covid Vaccine Websites Violate Disability Laws, Create Inequity for the Blind,” by Lauren Weber and Hannah Recht

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlaySpotify, or Pocket Casts.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


This story can be republished for free (details).

Categories: National News Content

Biden Arrives In Houston To Check On Recovery From Deadly Winter Storms

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 1:38pm
Updated at 3 p.m. ET President Biden arrived in Texas on Friday to inspect the damage from a sequence of strong winter storms and intense cold. The system thrust much of Texas into record low temperatures, knocking out power and bursting pipes. Dozens of people died, including several who were reportedly killed by hypothermia in their homes. Biden met with Gov. Greg Abbott immediately after arriving in Houston, as the governor greeted the president and first lady on the tarmac. The president and first lady Jill Biden left the White House on Friday morning and arrived in Houston before noon local time, landing at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. The itinerary called for Biden to tour the Harris County Emergency Operations Center, before joining the first lady on a visit to the Houston Food Bank. Biden is visiting Texas one week after he officially declared a major disaster in the state. He said last week that he wanted to see the situation firsthand — but not until he was sure a

Who Is The Senate Parliamentarian Who Ruled Against A Minimum Wage Increase?

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 1:37pm
The Senate parliamentarian, a critical but often low-profile arbiter of the chamber's procedural actions, is the subject of frustration from some liberals after a crucial blow to Democrats' agenda late Thursday. Elizabeth MacDonough is the unelected, nonpartisan interpreter of chamber rules, commonly referred to as the Senate referee. She nixed a Democratic push to add a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage increase to President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan. The reason? She said it did not meet the strict requirements of reconciliation , a fast-track process that allows the majority party to pass big-ticket legislation with a simple 51-vote majority. MacDonough's decision has thrust her into the spotlight, especially as some progressives have called for her decision to be ignored , and for Vice President Harris, who serves as the president of the Senate, to overrule her . Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called for MacDonough to be replaced .

U.S. Coronavirus Cases Dropped Dramatically Since January, But Can We Keep Them Down?

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 12:46pm
Updated 2:12 p.m. ET With coronavirus infections on a steady, six weeks long descent in the U.S., it's clear the worst days of the brutal winter surge have waned. Yet researchers are still not sure how sustainable the decline is. And a small but concerning uptick in cases in the last three days has health officials on edge. So what caused the massive decline since January, and what can the U.S. do to ensure that it lasts? New infections have fallen close to 70% nationwide in just over six weeks, bringing the average number of cases to levels last seen in early fall. The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 has plummeted by nearly 60% since the peak in January. The rate of tests coming back positive in the U.S. is far below what it was during the January peak, down from over 13% to now less than 5%. Loading... And the trend holds true nearly everywhere. "It's hard to find a county that has me concerned, and that's pretty striking," says Dr. David Rubin who directs PolicyLab at the

Advocates: Even with federal relief, taxes on wealthy still needed

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 12:15pm
Democrats in the State Legislature support new, higher taxes on New York’s richest residents as part of the new state budget, saying that a newly released study that shows the state’s 120 billionaires increased their wealth by $88 billion during the pandemic bolsters that claim. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to resist raising their taxes. The study, by the left-leaning groups Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now, calculates that the state’s billionaires, including Michael Bloomberg, the Lauder family, David Koch and Rupert Murdoch, saw their earnings and investments rise by 16.8% during the first 10 months of the pandemic. At the same time, over 1.3 million New Yorkers fell ill with COVID-19, more than 43,000 died, and 4.6 million lost their jobs. Ivette Alfonso heads Citizen Action New York, a reform advocacy group. She said while New York’s financial industry took a hit during the last economic downturn -- the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 -- this time,

British Airways Owner Calls For Digital Health Passes For Passengers

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 12:15pm
The owner of British Airways is calling for digital health passes for passengers as a step toward getting airlines back in the sky after devastating losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. International Airlines Group, which also owns carriers such as Iberia and Aer Lingus, announced Friday a total annual loss of £6.4 billion ($9.8 billion) for the group after passenger traffic plunged by one third in 2020 compared to the previous year. The group's CEO, Luis Gallego, said the company was looking for "a clear roadmap" for scaling back restrictions on travel "when the time is right." "We're calling for international common testing standards and the introduction of digital health passes to reopen our skies safely," Gallego said. The International Air Transport Association recently said its "IATA Travel Pass" — a smartphone app that verifies that a passenger has had a negative coronavirus test or has been vaccinated — should be ready "within weeks." "The key issue is one of confidence," said

Nigerian Authorities Searching For 317 Schoolgirls Kidnapped By 'Armed Bandits'

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 12:07pm
Nigerian authorities are searching for hundreds of schoolgirls who were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in a raid early Friday morning, according to police in the northwestern state of Zamfara. Police Commissioner Abutu Yaro told reporters that 317 girls had been kidnapped from Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe, according to its principal. He said efforts to trace the kidnappers and retrieve the students are underway, and that authorities were looking into information that they had been moved to neighboring forests. "All of us are angry, and all of us are sad," he said. "Despite that we need to have a coordinated response in order to [save lives] and bring the children back home." Yaro emphasized the importance of exercising caution and care, and urged people to remain calm. According to local media reports , scores of residents incensed by the abduction stormed the streets of Jangebe, creating roadblocks and using sticks and stones to attack vehicles

Hyatt Regency Rochester reopens downtown

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 11:21am
A key downtown Rochester hotel that closed because of the pandemic has reopened. The Hyatt Regency temporarily closed in the fall, partly due to lack of conventions which was impacted by the pandemic. The hotel operators said in January they would push their reopening date from February to late March, but they changed their decision and had a 'soft' reopening earlier this week with guests in rooms and their in-house restaurant, according to hotel general manager Jason Fulton. He says the Hyatt is already booking reservations and expects some leisure travelers this summer, but it may take longer for convention business to rebound. "We know that we’ll see conventions in the late fall, early winter season, but not expecting too much convention-wise in the summer, mostly leisure travelers." Fulton said. "People who are now remotely working, that can travel with their families and still work on the road, we’ll see a lot of that this summer." Fulton is glad the Hyatt is booking rooms again,

Court Says Shamima Begum, Who Left U.K. To Join ISIS, Cannot Return

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 10:46am
Shamima Begum, who left London in 2015 to join ISIS, cannot return to Britain while she fights to restore her citizenship, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled on Friday. Begum was 15 when she ran away to Syria with two friends; she's now being held in a detention camp in northern Syria. Begum was born in the U.K., but the country revoked her British citizenship two years ago, citing security concerns. She then asked for permission to enter the U.K. to appeal that move, but the government denied her application. Soon after joining the Islamic State, Begum married a Dutch fighter in the terrorist group. Now 21 years old, she has given birth to three children, all of whom have died due to illness or poor conditions. Her husband, Yago Riedijk, is in a Kurdish-run detention center elsewhere in northern Syria, according to the BBC . Begum's flight from the U.K. to join the terrorist group triggered an international search. Four years later, a journalist found her in a detention camp . At the time,

Coming up on Connections: Friday, February 26

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 10:41am
First hour: Brian Quijada, star of "Where Did We Sit on the Bus?" Second hour: The Disability EmpowHer Network

Black History Month Playlist

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 10:13am
About the Playlist February is Black History Month — a time to remember more than 400 years of Black heritage. To celebrate the achievements of the community, we created a playlist of our favorite conversations. Featured Speakers LaToya Ruby Frazier: What Is The Human Cost Of Toxic Water And Environmental Racism? Flint, Michigan is the site of one of the worst ongoing water crises in recent U.S. history. Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier has spent years capturing the stories of life living with toxic water. A version of this segment was originally heard in the episode Water . Colette Pichon Battle: How Can We Prepare For The Next Hurricane Katrina? Sea level rise will displace millions by 2100 — and the Louisiana bayous, where Colette Pichon Battle lives, may disappear entirely. She describes how we can avert the worst when disaster strikes. A version of this segment was originally heard in the episode Water . Stacey Abrams: How Can Your Response to a Setback Influence Your Future? Stacey

No, those RPD officers were not wearing neo-Nazi symbols

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 10:07am
Within hours of demonstrators taking to the streets Tuesday to protest that Daniel Prude's arresting officers would not face criminal charges, social media posts alleging that some officers at the demonstration were wearing neo-Nazi symbols on their uniforms began to circulate. Over the next two days, they would gain traction, particularly in Rochester's social activist circles. The posts, accompanied by photos, mainly focused on an insignia emblazoned on neck gaiters worn by some officers at the protest. The insignia depicted an armored gloved hand, known as a gauntlet, clutching lightning bolts. The number "8" appears prominently on the wrist of the glove. "When we say RPD are Nazis, it's not a joke or exaggeration," read one steadily circulated Instagram post of an image of a young female protester posing with an officer wearing one of the neck gaiters in question. The post, which has since been deleted, suggested that the photo was taken outside of the Rochester Police Department's

North Korea's Network Of Prison Camps Funds Weapons Programs, Rights Group Says

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 9:00am
North Korea is using forced labor from its network of prison camps to mine coal and other minerals to boost exports and earn foreign currency, using the cash to support its nuclear weapons programs, according to a South Korean human rights group. A report by the Seoul-based Citizens' Alliance for North Korea Human Rights said an intricate network of government ministries and other entities relies on prison labor and other illicit operations to bring in money to the isolated Asian country. Pyongyang continues to operate "a large financial pyramid fraud" relying on "mafia-type operations" to get people held in prisons camps to mine large quantities of coal, lead, zinc, magnesite and other materials, the report said. Satellite images and testimony from witnesses shed light on North Korea's expansion of its prison camp network to overlap with the location of several mines, according to the report, which is titled "Blood Coal Export from North Korea: Pyramid scheme of earnings maintaining

'Granny flats' could be answer for many family caregivers

WXXI US News - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 8:12am
A year ago, Vorng Thep’s parents lived in an apartment they couldn’t afford, in an area at least 15 minutes from their closest adult child. As a couple in their 80s, they increasingly needed more care when it came to cooking, cleaning and transportation to appointments. Apartments like theirs in San Jose, California, cost between $1,800 and $3,000 a month, and leasing at an assisted living facility or buying a small home closer to their children was even more expensive. But thanks to recent changes in California state law, the family had an unconventional option that started with an empty garage. Between 2017 and 2019, California passed a series of laws that legalized accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in all California cities, and removed most barriers to their development. Other states and communities, including Rochester, are weighing doing the same. Often called “granny units” or “granny flats,” ADUs are an accessible, lower-cost housing option for older parents or relatives who
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