In Hurricane Ian’s aftermath, the new head of FEMA faces a historic challenge

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(WASHINGTON) — Deanne Criswell was in Florida Friday with Gov. Ron DeSantis, assessing the historic damage from Hurricane Ian and facing her biggest challenge yet as the new head of FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Not only is she the first woman to hold that critical job — the face of FEMA when desperate Americans are demanding help that can never get to them fast enough — the agency, before her time, has been roundly criticized for not delivering on its core mission.

Will Criswell make a difference when FEMA is needed most? Have lessons been learned so it can respond better now?

On Thursday, she voiced confidence when she joined President Joe Biden at FEMA headquarters in Washington to give an update on Ian’s path of destruction, saying her “heart aches” for those whose lives have been devastated.

“As many have said, Hurricane Ian is going to be a storm that we talk about for decades. But from the moment Hurricane Ian became a threat, we already had the right teams in place, who were ready to answer the call of those that need us most,” Criswell said, in a no-nonsense style.

Biden referred to Criswell as the “MVP here these days” and observers have told ABC News that Criswell’s background makes her uniquely qualified for the high-stakes job.

Criswell served in the Colorado Air National Guard for more than two decades, started her emergency management career in Aurora, Colorado and was most recently the commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department before being appointed by Biden to head FEMA.

“She is someone who actually has responded to threats. She has experience in the field, she knows what it’s like to be on the frontlines,” said Daniel Aldrich, the director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University.

But Criswell trails a long list of political appointees who have occupied the high-stakes federal operations post, notorious for its historically difficult nature and outsized prominence during the worst days of calamity around the nation.

Memories are still fresh of the fire and ridicule aimed at Michael Brown, FEMA administrator under George W. Bush, for how critics say he mishandled the Hurricane Katrina response, despite Bush famously telling him, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

FEMA’s past problems

The agency has become nearly synonymous with the federal government’s response to all manner of disasters — floods, fires, pandemics and more. The scale of its work encompasses billions in funding and direct aid, millions of units of food and water and enormous swaths of temporary housing, among other forms of relief.

“Being there to help clear roads, rebuild main streets and so that families can get back to their lives: That’s what FEMA does every single day,” President Biden said last year as he announced $1 billion for a FEMA preparedness project amid extreme weather fueled by climate change.

“As my mother would say, ‘They’re doing God’s work,'” Biden said.

But that work has not been without intense controversy — including with Katrina in 2005, an episode epitomized, to critics, when the agency provided temporary trailers as housing which also included high levels of the carcinogenic formaldehyde. That same issue was later documented in some FEMA trailers provided to victims of wildfires in California in 2007.

Major problems have continued since, though the agency has continued to say it strives to best serve those in need.

FEMA has also been strapped, at various points over the years, both by funding problems and what appears to be an accelerating cycle of weather calamities for which it is called upon to respond.

“They need more people and resources,” Eric Holdeman, the director of the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, told ABC News. “The frequency of disasters, think about wildland fires that we’ve had, the heat emergencies that have been happening, tornadoes — all of those end up as they become presidentially declared, FEMA’s involved.”

In 2020, the president of the union for FEMA employees acknowledged, “The only thing we can liken this to is 2017, which was one of our busiest years in decades. This is far eclipsing 2017.”

That same year, however, a watchdog found that FEMA had misplaced $250 million in food and supplies for Puerto Rico after it was hit by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that FEMA “lost visibility” or failed to fully track nearly 40% of shipments to Puerto Rico with a value of nearly $257 million in meals, water, blankets and other supplies. Of the nearly 10,000 shipping containers sent to Puerto Rico, 19 were never recovered.

Aldrich said a major problem for FEMA after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a lack of pre-positioning resources.

“FEMA did not take advantage of weather forecasting and simulation models to place things like food, water, bulldozers, evacuation shelters, in communities near or on vulnerable sites about being hit by a shock like a hurricane,” he said.

Perhaps recognizing the agency’s past failures to prepare for extreme weather events, Criswell and Biden have gone to great lengths to highlight the agency’s prepositioning ahead of Hurricane Ian.

Speaking at the White House press briefing on Sept. 27, the day before Ian made landfall in Florida, Criswell said they’d already staged hundreds of thousands of gallons of food, millions of liters of water and millions of meals, as well as personnel.

“The preparation for this storm has been extensive and it has been coordinated,” she said. “It has been a coordinated effort between FEMA, our federal, our state, and our nonprofit partners.”

But just as recently as this summer, in aiding Kentucky after flooding there, FEMA was repeatedly criticized by the state’s governor, Andy Beshear, for what he said was a stupefying inability to process aid claims.

“Too many people are being denied,” Beshear told reporters in August. “Not enough people are being approved. And this is the time that FEMA’s got to get it right. To change what has been a history of denying too many people and not providing enough dollars and to get it right here.”

In response, a FEMA spokesman said, in part, according to the Associated Press: “We know these are incredibly difficult times, and we want to help you. We will continue to work to ensure that every eligible applicant receives every dollar of assistance legally possible.”

The spokesman said then — echoing a promise made by FEMA officials through the years of disaster upon disaster in the U.S. — that responders would remain in Kentucky “as long as it takes.”

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‘Start Here’ takes a look at changes to student loan forgiveness plan

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(WASHINGTON) — On Thursday, the Department of Education scaled back President Joe Biden’s federal student loan cancellation program to protect against legal challenges by six states, with new guidelines that excluded at least hundreds of thousands of borrowers initially told they qualified for the program.

The move excludes people who took out federal loans that, while they were guaranteed by the government, were technically handled by private banks.

ABC News’ Senior National Policy Reporter Anne Flaherty spoke with “Start Here” Friday about the surprise move, what prompted it and how it will affect Americans with student loan debt.

START HERE: Anne, is it possible that the government pulls like a take-backsy? What is going on here?

ANNE FLAHERTY: You were asking if the president can do this and he can — up until a point where a judge tells him he can’t. So this is pretty much the story of every presidency. Two things we need to know. One, what he did was absolutely unprecedented. The student loan program has been ramping up since the Lyndon B. Johnson days. Basically, no president ever has looked at students and said, “Wait no, never mind. Let’s just go ahead and not have you pay back this money. In a sense, a judge could look at this and say, “Hey wait, what are you doing?”

The other thing is he’s relying on a lot of what was enacted after 9/11. This was a law that said the president can reduce or erase student loan debt during a national emergency. But he’s also the same president who went on national television recently and said the pandemic is over. That’s the Republican argument on this.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that on the same day Republicans filed this lawsuit we also have the Education Department pull back on aspects of this plan. I think this is legal maneuvering to try and make this stick [and] try to make this work, because we’ve got an election coming up [and] he wants to keep this.

START HERE: So let’s talk about these lawsuits first. I was asking everyone “Can Biden do this?” and everyone said, “Yeah, the Education Department has broad authority.” Who is exactly filing the lawsuits and what are they challenging?

FLAHERTY: We’ve got six states that have filed their case in a federal court in St. Louis. All red states, all conservative, say, “Look, the president is saying the pandemic is over. What’s the emergency here? You can’t erase these loans.” At the same time when you read this complaint in court, it reads like a political statement. It talks about the economy [and] how miserable it is. Why is the president giving a giant stimulus check only to people who went to college?

They say it’s patently unfair. The White House is pushing back. They say we’re going to fight this. They gave me a statement that said Republicans are working against the interests of middle-class and working-class families. So the next move is by the court.

START HERE: At this moment Anne, who is about to get their loans forgiven and who might not?

FLAHERTY: So everybody was supposed to get loan forgiveness up to a certain point. What’s changed here is that we’re talking about these federally backed loans that were guaranteed by the federal government but handled by private banks. So Republicans were saying people can be hurt by this move. It’s the student loan servicers, servicers that are going to be put at a disadvantage.

START HERE: Private businesses essentially.

FLAHERTY: Right. And so the Education Department quietly changes the language on its website. Before they had said, well, if you can consolidate all these loans that are handled by private banks into these federal direct loans — is what they call them — that will qualify for relief. So then they change the website to say, if you have consolidated these loans by Sept. 29 into federal direct loans, then they will qualify.

START HERE: Wait, that was yesterday. They said, like, if you’ve done it by yesterday?

FLAHERTY: Yes, exactly. So it’s a little bit of a wait, what? People are going to be waking up to that and saying, if you have those types of loans. So, you know, overall, the loan relief program is still there. A judge has not blocked it. People should keep moving forward, asking the government for relief on this. They should not stop. We don’t know where this is going next. So TBD.

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New York AG seeking to expedite fraud suit against Trump and company

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(WASHINGTON) — New York Attorney General Letitia James wants to accelerate her $250 million fraud lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, his children, his company, and two of its executives.

James, in a letter to the state’s chief administrative judge, signaled her intention to push for a trial before 2024 and asked him to keep the civil case before Judge Arthur Engoron, who had presided over disputes between the attorney general and the Trump legal team during the investigation.

The Office of the Attorney General “intends to seek an expedited preliminary conference to set a trial date before the end of 2023,” James’ letter said. “Allowing for an expedited trial schedule on an enforcement proceeding after extensive litigation over subpoena enforcement is precisely the circumstance that warrants keeping this case before Justice Engoron in the interests of judicial economy.”

Trump had asked for the case to be assigned to someone other than Engoron, who earlier held him in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena during the probe.

Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, accused the attorney general’s office of trying to keep the case before a friendly judge.

“OAG’s actions appear to be nothing less than a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules of the Individual Assignment System and to ‘judge shop,'” Habba said in a letter asking for the case to be reassigned to the Commercial Division of New York State Supreme Court. The AG, in contrast, argues that Engoron is already familiar with the material so for expediency’s sake the case should stay with him.

James has accused Trump of “staggering” fraud and alleges that the former president, with the help of his three eldest children and two corporate executives, “grossly inflated” his net worth by billions of dollars.

The lawsuit accuses them of preparing hundreds of fraudulent and misleading financial statements that overstated the values of nearly every major property in the Trump portfolio, thereby convincing banks and insurers to giving Trump better terms than he otherwise would have received.

All of the defendants have denied wrongdoing.

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Biden says Hurricane Ian may rank ‘among the worst’ in US history

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(WASHINGTON) — With Hurricane Ian lashing the southeast U.S. after leaving a path of destruction in Florida, President Joe Biden provided a detailed update Friday on his administration’s response to the devastating storm, calling it now “an American crisis.”

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, breaking rainfall and storm surge records as it left Fort Myers, Naples and other coastal cities underwater. Ian on Friday made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm just after 2:00 p.m.

“I’ve directed that every possible action be taken to save lives and get help for the survivors,” Biden said as he spoke from the White House Roosevelt Room. “Every single minute counts. It’s not just a crisis for Florida. It’s an American crisis. We’re all in this together.”

The president said he continued his talks with Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday morning, reiterating the federal government’s commitment to help his state recover from the storm.

“We’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction,” Biden said. “It is likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history. You have all seen on television, homes and property wiped out. It is going to take months, years to rebuild.”

Biden didn’t paint as grim a picture on the death toll as he did on Thursday, when he said early reports indicated “substantial loss of life” and said Hurricane Ian could be the “deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”

DeSantis said Friday morning the number of dead from Ian is at least 21, and that it’s expected to grow. For now, the governor said 20 of those deaths are unconfirmed because they were spotted during search and rescue operations and crews were told to prioritize those found alive and still trapped.

Biden emphasized the work of search and rescue teams, stating he deployed the largest team in recent history along with the U.S. Coast Guard’s six fixed-wing aircrafts, 18 rescue boats and 16 rescue helicopters.

“Working with the Defense Department, National Guard, state and local first responders, they’ve rescued 117 people in southwest Florida coast, in Fort Myers and Naples so far,” Biden said.

Among the missions, Biden said, was rescuing a 94-year-old woman who was hoisted up into a helicopter. The rescue teams also reported saving a 1-month-old baby.

Four more Florida counties will be covered by disaster assistance to cover 100% of the cost to clear the debris left by the hurricane, bringing the total number of counties receiving the aid to 13.

Biden also spoke about the effort to restore power to the millions of Floridians still without electricity on Friday morning. He said 44,000 utility workers and restoration personnel from 33 states are “working around the clock to help get power back on.”

Biden also spoke with South Carolina GOP Gov. Henry McMaster as the storm approached, again offering support as Ian brings potentially “life-threatening” storm surge to the state. Biden approved an emergency declaration for South Carolina late Thursday evening.

During his update Friday, Biden spoke about the need for unity when responding to these extreme weather events.

Biden and DeSantis have appeared to bury the hatchet as they’ve coordinated this week to respond to Hurricane Ian. The two leaders are political opponents on a number of issues, most recently sparring over DeSantis’ migrant flights.

“At times like these, Americans come together, they put aside politics, they put aside division and we come together to help each other,” Biden said.

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How Natural Disasters Can Change A Politician

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(WASHINGTON) — In September 2017, Hurricane Irma swept across the southern tip of Florida, swamping what was then the state’s 26th Congressional District. The following July, that district’s Republican representative, Carlos Curbelo, introduced a bill that would tax greenhouse-gas emissions to help reduce the impact of climate change on his hurricane-prone constituency. Curbelo’s party affiliation raised eyebrows at the time, but for him, the threat of recurrent disasters sent political partisanship out the window. “This is not an academic discussion for those of us who live in South Florida. This is a local issue,” he told Audubon magazine in 2018.

And he’s not alone. Today, although some one-quarter of elected officials walking the halls of Congress don’t believe human-caused climate change is even real, research suggests that politicians can be persuaded to take action on climate change and other environmental issues. Unfortunately, it might take a headline-grabbing hurricane to do it. In the past decade, several studies have suggested that lawmakers are more likely to take action on climate change when they — and their constituents — have had to deal with the disastrous consequences of previously doing nothing. 

From the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to the 1990 Oil Pollution Act that was born out of a series of oil spills, most notably from the Exxon Valdez, a long history of environmental disasters have inspired improvements in environmental policy, said M. Daniele Paserman, an economist at Boston University. 

“Disasters make environmental problems more salient,” he said. Paserman’s research has found that, between 1989 and 2014, congresspeople from districts hit by a hurricane were more likely to sponsor or co-sponsor environmental regulatory bills in the following year. And he’s not the only one who has noticed similar correlations. According to another study, which looked at abnormal temperature and precipitation trends between 2004 and 2011, members of Congress whose home states were experiencing weird weather were more likely to vote for all kinds of environmental legislation. More broadly, international research from 34 countries found that nuclear disasters increased the number of renewable-energy policies implemented for as long as seven years after the event. 

This line of research is relatively new and the number of studies relatively thin. But all of this builds on a larger question that has been studied more in depth: how personally experiencing the effects of climate change shape belief and behavior in the general public. 

A 2021 review of existing literature discovered ample evidence that living through a natural disaster is associated with higher levels of self-reported belief that climate change is a problem and a greater concern about what this might do to you and your family. Our own polling with Ipsos earlier this month showed something similar. Even among Republicans, nearly half of those who had experienced an extreme weather event in the past five years told us they were worried about climate change, compared with only 17 percent who hadn’t experienced a natural disaster.

But there are limits to the ability of a disaster to prevent future calamities. For one thing, the same review paper that showed increased belief in climate change didn’t find a corresponding increase in behaviors that would deal with that issue. And changes in belief are still heavily moderated by what people already think. For example, in a 2019 survey of people who experienced severe flooding in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2013-14, the ones who walked away with the highest levels of concern about climate change were those who had already attributed floods to global warming. 

So, it probably shouldn’t be a shock that the much smaller number of papers looking at how politicians might change their behavior in the face of climate change comes with its own set of caveats and complications. Studies have indicated that only countries with strong democracies see an increase in climate policy following climate disasters. And Paserman’s study found that the effects were tightly linked to proximity to the disaster. Even lawmakers who served in the same state where a hurricane occurred but whose districts were unaffected weren’t as likely to step up for political change. 

And while that paper found that politicians who experienced climate disasters were more likely to push for climate policies regardless of party, a different study — the one that showed abnormal temperature and precipitation trends were correlated with representatives’ environmental votes — found that party did matter. Moderate Democrats made the biggest shift toward more environmental-policy support, said Erich Muehlegger, an economist at the University of California, Davis, and an author on that paper. “We didn’t find much of a result for Republicans, nor did we find much of a result for the more strident Democrats, though that might be due to the fact that they were always voting for environmental regulations,” he said. “You can’t become more pro-environment if you were already on top of all those issues.” 

It’s going to take a lot more research to fully understand why politicians sometimes change their policy in the face of climate disaster and sometimes don’t. Meanwhile, just because lawmakers are responding to natural disasters with environmental votes doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing other, seedier kinds of legislative opportunities from the same event. Ethan Kaplan, an economist at University of Maryland, College Park, and his colleagues found that politicians are likely to use the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster to push through votes favoring the concerns of special-interest donors when nobody is paying attention. That’s not a contradiction to the idea that disaster could prompt politicians to take action on climate change. Instead, Kaplan said, the two things can run parallel. A disaster can create a distraction for donors’ goals in the short term, even as it prompts greater environmental policies in the long run. 

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Pregnant Florida woman drives through Hurricane Ian to give birth

Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center

(MELBOURNE, FL) — A pregnant Florida woman braved strong winds and potentially dangerous flooding to get to a hospital after she went into labor during Hurricane Ian.

Hanna-Kay Williams, from Melbourne — about 70 miles southeast of Orlando — started to experience contractions late Tuesday evening.

The area was already experiencing signs of the hurricane to come with fierce wind gusts and rain already coming down. Williams said she knew she was going to go into labor soon, so she, her fiancé and her mother drove through the treacherous conditions to Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center.

“I don’t even remember driving through the storm because I was in my own mental hurricane,” she said in a news release.

They arrived at the hospital in the early hours of Wednesday morning, but Williams’ delivery would not come quickly.

According to the release, Williams was in labor for more than 20 hours as Ian unleashed heavy rain and winds of more than 40 mph in the central part of the state.

Doctors decided a C-section was needed because Williams wasn’t fully dilated and there were signs of fetal distress, which occurs when a fetus experiences changes in heart rate or shows signs of oxygen deprivation before or during labor.

Thanks to the medical care, Williams had a healthy baby girl named Wajiha at 10:11 p.m. ET, weighing 7 pounds 13 ounces and measuring 20 inches, after the C-section.

“Her name means beautiful woman, glorious, and she was phenomenal throughout the birthing process,” Williams said.

After the difficult labor and severe weather, she said she and her family feel grateful Wajiha is doing well.

“We came out on top, we definitely did,” Williams said in the release. “I felt when she first arrived and they sat her on my lap, the first thing I said was, ‘That’s a big baby’ and then I looked at her and thought, ‘That’s my twin,’ even though I already have a fraternal twin.”

Williams said she thanks the nursing staff and everyone on the medical team for keeping her calm during the challenging childbirth.

“They made me feel like everything was going to be fine even through the hardest parts,” she said. “They gave me so much love and care and for someone who works in the medical field, I know how important that is for patients.”

After battering the southwestern coast, Hurricane Ian moved towards central Florida, bringing heavy flooding, resulting in people being rescued from homes, cars and even nursing homes.

In Orlando, a record rainfall of 12.5 inches was recorded in 24 hours. In New Smyrna Beach, about 50 miles northwest of Florida, 28.60 inches of rain fell in 27 hours.

During a news conference Thursday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Central Florida was experiencing “a 500-year flood event.”

As of Friday afternoon, nearly 2 million people are without power in the state, including more than 600,000 across Central Florida, according to poweroutage.us.

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988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline sees 45% increase in contacts, but funding concerns remain

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(NEW YORK) — Since the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launched on July 16, call centers have seen a 45% increase in contacts — primarily in people texting or sending messages seeking help — compared to last year, according to new data from the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“What we’ve seen is a big increase in text and chat, and some increase in phone calls,” said Tim Jansen, chief executive officer for Community Crisis Services, Inc., in Hyattsville, Maryland. “Fortunately, [CCSI was] prepared. Answer rates have been really good nationally. The national waiting time has been reduced … It’s still not where it needs to be, but it’s significantly better.”

988 is the new three-digit number for the service previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which had been operating with a ten-digit number since 2005. Prior to the launch of the new number — touted as making the service more accessible — advocates worried whether the system was appropriately funded and staffed to handle the anticipated spike in contacts from people in need.

The Lifeline has historically been underfunded and understaffed, the government has acknowledged. Ahead of the 988 launch and an anticipated increase in calls, $432 million in federal funding was invested in shoring up the system, enabling call centers across the nation to hire additional staff. But Jansen told ABC News that whether additional state funding is appropriated for the partner call centers in local areas across the country makes a difference.

“SAMHSA put some money in on the front end,” Jansen said. “I think the SAMHSA funds have gotten everybody sort of off the mark and got everybody into the race. But it’s got to be continued in order for things to move forward. Some states are going to do that easier than others.”

Answer rate data from SAMHSA for the month of August, the first full month of implementation for 988, shows an 84% answer rate for calls, 97% for chats and 98% for texts. The answer rates for chats and texts represent a major increase compared to numbers released by SAMHSA in an appropriations report late last year, which showed a 30% answer rate for chats and 56% rate for texts through December 2020.

Jansen told ABC News that funding from the state of Maryland, in addition to the federal investments, made sure his facility was prepared. Many states, however, have offered no form of financial support for the system, though they were empowered by Congress in 2020 to enact cell phone taxes to fund the call centers, similar to how 911 call centers are funded.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has been traveling across the country as part of HHS’ National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health.

Earlier this month, he touted the Biden administration’s investment in 988, saying in a statement: “Our nation’s transition to 988 moves us closer to better serving the crisis care needs of people across America.”

“988 is more than a number, it’s a message: we’re there for you,” he added. “The transition to 988 is just the beginning. We will continue working towards comprehensive, responsive crisis care services nationwide to save lives.”

Advocates for those in crisis, however, worry about the long-term of funding for the system given the uncertainty of future federal investment — with shifting politics and shifting priorities — and, so far, a lack of widespread monetary backing from states.

“We’re going to need continued investment,” said Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “One of my fears is that people are gonna think, ‘OK, [the launch], came and went, our work is done.’ There’s so much more work to do. I keep saying we’re closer to the starting line than the finish. But I think this is something that has a lot of momentum, but also is going to help millions of people and we can’t lose sight of that.”

Jansen, with the crisis center in Maryland, said that while “so far, [it’s] been beautiful,” a designated fund via a cell phone tax would also “make a huge difference.”

That scenario would allow his facility to “focus a little less on the fundraising and a whole lot more on service delivery,” he said.

Four states have passed cell phone taxes that would fund the 988 call centers year over year.

“There’s only so much money, and folks prioritize what they see as important,” Jansen said. “Hopefully everybody sees saving lives from suicide is important. I think they do. But you know, it always comes down to ‘where does money get spent?'”

Since the launch of the new number, advocates cite another worry: Misinformation spreading online about 988 using personal information to track callers or send police without cause to the homes of those contacting the service — which those involved say is an exaggeration.

“My biggest concern is that people will lose trust in the system just as it’s getting off the ground and has the potential to help millions of people,” said Wesolowski with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “I am really fearful that somebody who could use that support and help is going to hesitate to call. We want every life saved. We want every person who’s in emotional distress helped.”

Call centers do have “imminent risk” standards by which they are required to send assistance to people who have contacted 988, though most calls do not reach that level, according to SAMHSA.

“It is important to note that fewer than 2% of calls to the 988 Lifeline require an emergency response, and most of those are done with the consent and cooperation of the caller,” Dr. John Palmieri, acting director of SAMHSA’s 988 and Behavioral Health Crisis Coordination Office, said in a statement. “We want anyone who calls, texts, or chats 988 to know that they are not required to provide any personal information to talk to a trained counselor.”

Jansen noted that “every imminent risk policy underscores least invasive intervention as is possible. So you do the things that are the least invasive.”

“Ninety-nine times out of 100, people are ready, willing and able to participate [with emergency personnel],” he said. “They don’t call, they don’t start a text or chat unless some part of them wants to live. So you have a little bit of an advantage.”

Wesolowski noted that the concerns online of excessive intervention from 988 disproportionately impact marginalized communities, particularly communities of color.

“A lot of communities that are marginalized by our public systems and have seen kind of the worst results from this type of response when it’s been available are skeptical, and it is completely reasonable that they are, given their past experience,” Wesolowski said. “The exact people who can be best helped by 988 and and the system being built around it may not trust it enough to call, and I think that’s incredibly concerning. That means more people aren’t going to get the help they need and potentially many more lives lost.”

Jansen also noted that making sure the 988 system works for everyone is important going forward.

“We’ve really got to look at suicide as sort of a more comprehensive or global issue. We’ve really got to be able to market in a way that we’re getting into communities of color,” he said. “And we’ve got to be getting in touch with them and making sure everybody can use 988 in a way that’s culturally appropriate and appropriate to their community and all that sort of stuff. So there’s some work to be done there in terms of outreach.”

Jansen said the most important part of what his Maryland call center does is meet people “where they are” and start there to help them.

“988 is your three-digit dialing to mental health and crisis care systems,” he said. “You are going to reach somebody who can help you right now that’s going to be kind and educated enough to connect you appropriately, and most importantly, listen to you in terms of what your situation is.”

If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.

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Government shutdown averted after House, Senate pass funding bill

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(WASHINGTON) — A bill to avert a federal government shutdown passed the House on Friday, just hours before the midnight deadline.

The House voted 230-201 to pass the stopgap legislation, which will keep the government funded through mid-December — past the midterm elections.

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. He’ll need to sign it before the end of the day Friday to avert a shutdown.

The Senate voted 72-25 to advance the legislation on Thursday afternoon after some stumbles earlier this week over energy permitting reform.

The legislation moved forward after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., agreed to drop the provision — which was opposed by some progressives and most Republicans — from the continuing resolution. All 25 “no” votes came from the GOP side of the aisle.

The bill includes an additional $12 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine, $1 billion in heating and utility assistance for low-income families, $20 million in response to the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and includes a five-year reauthorization for Food and Drug Administration user fees.

The measure also includes money for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s main disaster relief fund, an infusion that comes amid Hurricane Ian’s leveling of southwest Florida and after Hurricane Fiona’s devastation on Puerto Rico.

In floor remarks just before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., highlighted some of the emergency appropriations included on the bill, including aid for Ukraine and to assist with the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. She also highlighted a relatively small amount of funding that could be immediately deployed to assist with Hurricane Ian recovery effort, but noted that even more funds will likely be needed.

“This legislation is a package for the people. I urge a strong bipartisan yes on the continuing resolution so that we may swiftly send this bill to the President’s desk,” Pelosi said on the floor.

What’s not included in the legislation is the billions of dollars the White House requested to continue its COVID-19 response. The Biden administration requested $22.4 billion for vaccines, treatments and next-generation research.

“This legislation avoids a very bad thing — shutting down the government — and does a lot of good things: money for the people of Ukraine, funding for communities reeling from natural disasters, aid to families with their heating bills, just to name a few,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said just before the vote.

“Millions and millions of people can breathe easy,” Schumer added.

Republicans tried to get the continuing resolution to lapse early next year, rather than mid-December, in the hopes that the GOP will gain control of the House after the November midterm elections.

Sen. Schumer announced Thursday that the Senate will not return for its next vote until Nov. 14, giving members time to campaign in their home states from now until Election Day.

When the Senate returns for the lame duck session, it will have a hefty to-do list to tackle. Members will have to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, fund the government, confirm nominees and potentially take up legislation to protect same sex marriage.

Schumer warned of an “extremely busy” final two months of the calendar year.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson appears with John Roberts after Supreme Court investiture

Grant Faint/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Ketanji Brown Jackson descended the Supreme Court’s marble steps for the first time as justice on Friday morning, flanked by Chief Justice John Roberts and with a smile on her face, appearing to soak up her momentous, history-making installation as the 116th member of the court.

Jackson has already been sworn in and begun participating in cases, but on Friday she was feted with the investiture celebration in the historic courtroom, alongside her peer justices and a gallery full of friends, family and supporters, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Jackson sat in the same chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 19th century as she was formally introduced to the court.

For the first time in the Supreme Court’s 233-year history, a majority of the justices are not white men and it’s the first time four women are serving together on the court. Jackson is the first Black woman to serve as a justice on the court.

Nearly every seat in the courtroom on Friday was filled, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and past Supreme Court justices, including Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, also in attendance, as well as Jackson’s husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and two daughters, Leila and Talia.

After the ceremony, Jackson and Roberts were photographed together on the marble steps of the court. Four months after the same courthouse plaza was wrapped in steel security fencing and buffeted with angry protestors, Jackson and Roberts stood together quietly looking out at the horizon and a new day for this embattled court.

Jackson was tapped by Biden to fill the seat vacated by Breyer. After nearly 24 hours of questioning from senators in, at times contentious and emotional, Senate hearings, she was confirmed by the chamber in a 53-47 vote in early April.

Speaking at the White House the day after her confirmation, Jackson highlighted the historic nature of her appointment, noting the thousands of notes she received from people after her nomination.

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” she said. “But we’ve made it. We’ve made it, all of us. All of us.”

Jackson was officially sworn in on June 30. Her husband held two Bibles as she repeated constitutional and judicial oaths in a brief ceremony at the Supreme Court.

“With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and administering justice without fear or favor, so help me God,” Jackson said in a written statement at the time of her swearing-in. “I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great Nation.”

The entire court will sit for new pooled official photos on Oct 7.

The court begins hearing cases in the new term on Monday, Oct. 3. This term, for the first since the coronavirus pandemic, the court will welcome the public back to its courtroom as it hears arguments.

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Why young athletes may be more at risk for sudden cardiac arrest

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — When 16-year-old Haley Meche stepped out onto the flag football field, she didn’t know it would nearly kill her.

“My brain hurt so bad,” Meche told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “And then, like, everything went black.”

Meche almost died from sudden cardiac arrest. She survived because she had known she had a heart condition and already had a defibrillator. Her doctors said that Meche’s heart screening test detected her risk early — and saved her life.

Studies have also shown that sudden cardiac arrest is the leading medical cause of death in athletes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2,000 young people die from sudden cardiac arrest each year — many without previously known heart issues.

“1 in 300 young persons has a condition at risk for sudden cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Jonathan Drezner, the head of the UW Medical Center for Sports Cardiology in Washington, to GMA.

The risk is nearly four times higher in student athletes, according to Drezner. A risk that most athletes don’t even know about, he said.

“Research shows that up to 80% of kids who suffer sudden cardiac arrest have no symptoms prior,” said Drezner.

In Florida, non-profit “Who We Play For” is raising awareness around detecting risk earlier. They offer low-cost Electrocardiograms, or ECGs.

“It’s never okay for a kid to die out of nowhere because they never know that they have a heart condition,” said Meche.

Meche’s school was one out of more than 150 schools in Florida that require student athletes to get an ECG before they play. Her doctors told her that early detection saved her life.

Similarly, Josh Tetteh was also able to detect a heart condition last year that, if gone unnoticed, could have led to sudden cardiac arrest.

He said he didn’t have any symptoms so he wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for his preventative heart screening.

“My whole life was perfect,” said Tetteh to GMA. “We had this screening, they found something within my heart that is one of the reasons why athletes die.”

A majority of high schools across the country require student athletes to pass a thorough questionnaire endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA) and a physical exam before playing sports. If a child is found at higher risk, guidelines call for additional testing and ECG.

Drezner said it’s not enough.

“There is robust evidence that using that model for screening leaves the majority of kids at risk undetected,” said Drezner.

The AHA told Good Morning America that it supports ECG testing for children at the highest risk, but stood by the current guidelines, which considers the latest research findings and patient safety.

The association also expressed concern that universal ECG screening may miss cases by de-emphasizing the importance of proper exams. Also, it would cost an estimated $2 billion that they said could be spent on other potentially life-saving interventions.

Dr. Eli Friedman, the medical director of sports cardiology at Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute, agreed with the AHA guidelines and he advocated for other interventions.

“It’s not a tool for everybody. The infrastructure is definitely a concern that I have because there’s disparities in our healthcare system,” said Friedman to GMA. “I advocate more than anything for emergency action planning, CPR and AED training.”

The AHA said that it is an important area of study that needs more rigorous research and that there is concern that not all doctors are following screening guidelines.

As the debate continues, Bernadette Littles, Tetteh’s mother, said she was grateful an ECG screening led to her son’s diagnosis. She said she now volunteers to help other kids who may be in the same situation.

“After what happened to Josh, I volunteer. That’s my way of saying thank you,” she said to GMA. “Can’t wait to go to Mayville State and watch him on the field.”

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