Biden officials condemn ‘in strongest possible terms’ Russian detention of US journalist

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(WASHINGTON) — Russia’s detention of an American journalist is sparking sharp condemnation from the Biden administration and Capitol Hill.

Evan Gershkovich from The Wall Street Journal was detained in Ekaterinburg, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Thursday. The intelligence agency has accused Gershkovich of spying and collecting “state secrets.” The Kremlin took a sharper tone, saying Gershkovich was caught “red-handed.”

Gershkovich has pleaded not guilty.

The American faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. His case is marked “top secret.”

“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The White House said Thursday it was in contact with the Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich’s family, and that the State Department has been in touch with the Russian government and is working to secure consular access to Gershkovich.

“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Both Blinken and Jean-Pierre reiterated guidance that Americans not travel to Russia.

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation, White House spokesperson John Kirby said.

Gershkovich covers Russia and Ukraine for the WSJ. The newspaper “vehemently denies” the spying allegations brought against their reporter and is seeking his immediate release.

The U.S. has previously negotiated to secure the release of wrongfully detained Americans abroad. Last year, WNBA star Britney Griner was released in a prisoner exchange with Russia following a monthslong saga after her detention on drug charges.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov downplayed any suggestion of an exchange, saying it’s too early for such talks.

“I wouldn’t raise a question on this now, because you yourself understand that some exchanges that took place in the past took place for people who were already serving sentences,” Ryabkov told reporters.

Gershkovich’s arrest comes amid the worsening relationship between Russia and the United States.

Asked if there were any indication that this was retaliation by Russia, Kirby said he couldn’t say as an investigation is ongoing.

“We do not know right now,” he said. “We are still trying to gain as much information and context as we can. It’s early hours, so I can assure you we’re all working as hard as we can, but we don’t know any more than what I’ve been able to share with you in my opening statements.”

When asked Thursday if he was concerned the reporter’s detention was an escalation on Russia’s part, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said yes.

“Putin plays all these little games with bluffing and brinkmanship and this is another,” Schumer said in a press conference. “To have an innocent journalist held hostage for that is really despicable. I am urging the administration to do everything they can to get him free.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, R-Md., responded to Gershkovich’s detention by stating a free press is “absolutely essential.”

“The Russian people need to know the truth, which is why they want to arrest reporters who tell people — they would not be for this carnage that Putin and his dictatorship has affected and the tragedy and war crimes that are being committed,” Hoyer told reporters.

ABC News’ Patrick Reevell, Joseph Simonetti and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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Seattle law grants most gig workers paid sick leave

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(SEATTLE) — Seattle will provide paid sick and safe leave for most gig workers under a new law, becoming the first U.S. city to guarantee such benefits on a permanent basis for app-based employees.

Workers who perform tasks for companies like Instacart, Postmates and DoorDash will accrue a day of paid sick leave for every 30 days they do work in Seattle. While on leave, workers will receive pay based on their average daily compensation.

The law permanently enshrines a temporary measure that mandated paid sick and safe leave for some food delivery workers in Seattle during the pandemic, when many customers stuck at home came to depend on delivery services. That measure was set to expire on May 1.

“A healthy workforce leads to a healthy community, and no one should have to choose between taking a sick day to care for themselves — or their families — and making rent,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement.

“Gig workers stepped up to serve our city during the pandemic and are an essential part of our workforce and economy, and this important legislation ensures the rights of our app-based workers remain protected,” Harrell added.

The new law expands the type of workers covered from food delivery employees to those working for a slew of apps covering a range of “on-demand” tasks. Gig workers who set their own pay will not be covered.

App-based drivers for Uber and Lyft are already guaranteed paid sick days under state law, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Workers protected by the law will be allowed to take time off to care for their own health or that of a loved one, go to a doctor’s appointment or pick up a child in the event of a school closure, among other activities, the mayor’s office said.

The legislation marks the latest advance for gig workers as some city, state and federal officials push for some app-based workers to either be classified as employees or receive benefits akin to those that companies must offer part-time or full-time staff.

In a statement, Instacart said it is open to collaboration with lawmakers on enhanced worker protections but that the new law could lead to higher prices for its customers.

“Instacart is committed to providing shoppers what they need to earn on their terms, and we continue to make shopper health and safety a top priority,” the company said. “Instacart is willing to work with any policymaker that prioritizes the health and safety of shoppers who choose to earn income through our platform.”

“However, at a time of high inflation and tightening household budgets, it is critical that policymakers also take into account the rising financial burden their misguided policy proposals could have on their constituents,” the company added.

In 2022, the Biden administration proposed a rule change that would make it easier for gig workers to be classified as employees, giving them access to minimum wage protections and other benefits.

Meanwhile, over the past five years, legislators in nine states have proposed laws that would guarantee portable benefits for gig workers that would travel with them from one app-based company to the next, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At the outset of 2020, California implemented a measure called Assembly Bill 5, which eased the standards used for classifying gig workers as full-time employees, affecting at least one million workers.

Months later, a state referendum approved by California voters excluded Uber and Lyft workers from the new standards, returning them to the category of independent contractors.

In Seattle, gig worker advocates celebrated the new legislation guaranteeing paid sick and safe days.

“The gig economy is booming thanks to workers,” Danielle Alvarado, the executive director of the nonprofit Working Washington, said in a statement.

“We are proud that Seattle has recognized the importance of making sure gig workers can stay home when they are sick or need to take care of a loved one,” Alvarado added. “When gig workers are protected, we all are.”

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DeSantis to visit gun store on book tour, days after Nashville shooting; Dems call it ‘beyond the pale’

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(ATLANTA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will travel to Cobb County, Georgia, on Thursday to visit a popular gun store as part of his ongoing book tour ahead of what is expected to be a presidential campaign announcement this summer.

The previously scheduled trip happens to come days after a shooter killed six people at a private school in Nashville, Tennessee, which Georgia Democrats noted in criticizing DeSantis, who is seen as a rising Republican star after easily winning reelection in November.

The governor is continuing a tour pegged to his new memoir and promoting what he calls Florida’s “blueprint” for the rest of the country, believing it can serve as a model for governing and politics nationwide.

The gun store in suburban Atlanta, Adventure Outdoors, has been a campaign stop for other Republicans, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Herschel Walker, who unsuccessfully sought to unseat Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock last year.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and three other local lawmakers went to Adventure Outdoors earlier this week to criticize what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reportedly called a routine, random inspection. Greene claimed it was “unusual and unnecessary.”

Democrats in Georgia have called out DeSantis for holding an event at the gun store in the wake of the Nashville shooting and have said he should cancel the event.

“Holding a campaign event at a gun store days after another horrific school shooting where innocent children were murdered should be beyond the pale, but Ron DeSantis seems to not care,” Rep. Nikema Williams, the Democrats’ state chair, said in a statement on Tuesday. “DeSantis is showing Georgians exactly where his priorities lie as he advocates for an extreme MAGA agenda that could make it easier for criminals to carry guns in Florida and puts the gun lobby ahead of our children’s lives. DeSantis should cancel this event immediately.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his visit.

He has called the Nashville shooting “senseless” and directed flags flown at half-staff in Florida in light of President Joe Biden’s declaration ordering the same.

DeSantis’ stop in Georgia adds to the list of his appearances in battleground and early nominating states ahead of his widely expected announcement that he’ll run for president in 2024.

In April, he’s scheduled to go to Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

After his trip to Georgia, DeSantis was initially set to travel to Franklin, Tennessee, on Monday, where he would meet with Gov. Bill Lee. However, that event has now been postponed, according to Eventbrite, where it was being advertised.

In Florida, lawmakers are taking up new gun-related legislation: Republicans are working to pass a law allowing people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit with exceptions such as on school property.

The final vote on the bill is set to happen as early as Thursday and will almost certainly pass, given Republicans have a supermajority in the state Legislature. The proposal would then head to DeSantis’ desk.

It would make Florida the 26th state in the country with a permitless carry law.

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Indictments obtained in drugging deaths of two men in New York City: Sources

A framed photo shows Linda Clary and her late son, John Umberger. — ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Prosecutors have obtained indictments in the case of two men who took tainted drugs at gay night clubs in New York City and then were assaulted, multiple sources familiar with the case told ABC News.

Last year’s deaths of John Umberger and Julio Ramirez were deemed homicides earlier this month and prosecutors obtained indictments last week from a grand jury last week for six people believed to be connected to the cases, sources said.

Police are now looking for the men allegedly involved in the deaths, with plans to charge at least two of them with second degree murder. Other charges would include robbery, identity theft, grand larceny and conspiracy, according to ABC News’ sources.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment. Indictments will remain sealed until the defendants are arrested and appear in court.

At least 43 incidents of drugging have been linked to robberies in and around Manhattan clubs dating back to September 2021. Seven of the drugging incidents resulted in fatal overdoses, including the cases of Umberger and Ramirez. Although the patterns first gained public attention after the April and June deaths connected to gay bars in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the patterns involve a mix of both straight and gay bars, and of both heterosexual and LGBTQ people.

Multiple suspects are still being sought in the two patterns of drugging that officials have established, which appear to be unrelated.

The patterns involve loosely knit robbery crews and no one person is believed involved in all incidents, according to police sources.

Police linked 17 drug-aided robberies between Sept. 19, 2021 and Aug. 28, 2022 to the method used against Umberger and Ramirez. In those cases, drunk victims were offered tainted narcotics or marijuana at a bar. Once the drugs took effect, they were robbed of their cellphones and large amounts of money were transferred from the victims’ bank accounts.

Another 26 robberies between March 18, 2022 and Dec. 8, 2022 are linked to a similar but separate pattern, sources say. This pattern involves a more violent method, with suspects offering tainted drugs to victims in clubs before stealing money, jewelry and cellphones for money transfers.

Some of the robberies in that pattern have been perpetrated through brute force outside or near clubs for jewelry and cash.

Ramirez, 25, was found dead in the back of a taxi and his bank accounts were drained after a night out at Ritz Bar and Lounge in April 2022.

Umberger, 33, was found dead inside an apartment where he had been staying after arriving in New York for business in June 2022.

The 2022 deaths of the two men were ruled homicides after they were given drugs tainted with fentanyl.

Officials are also looking for the perpetrators behind the death of fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher, who was discovered dead in her Lower East Side home last July. Her death was ruled a homicide last week and is connected to one of the drugging patterns seen by authorities.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Friday ruled her death a homicide from the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl and ethanol.

Two other fatal drugging victims include 29-year old-Nurbu Shera, who was found in front of an East Village building in March 2022, and 26-year-old Ardijan Berisha, who was found in front of a Lower East Side building in July 2022.

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Amid shortage of generic Adderall, frustration builds as demand increases

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(NEW YORK) — Months after the Food and Drug Administration first indicated that there was a shortage of ADHD drugs, suppliers are warning that those shortfalls could continue throughout the year — a source of frustration amid increased demand and diagnoses.

Amphetamine mixed salts, commonly referred to by the brand name Adderall, is a stimulant medication that can treat ADHD. It requires a prescription and as a controlled substance, supply is strictly monitored, and distribution is limited.

According to the FDA, Adderall is no longer in shortage, but generic versions are still impacted.

The FDA told ABC News that the shortage started with a delay from a manufacturer, which has since resolved, and is now demand-driven.

A CDC report released Thursday estimates that prescription fills for stimulant drugs — which are primarily used to treat ADHD — grew by more than 11% among adults ages 25-44 during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notable increases were also seen for adolescent females, as prescriptions increased more than 8% for those ages 10-14, and over 15% for those ages 15-19.

Suppliers are echoing demand issues, with Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, a division of Novartis, telling ABC News they expect the product to remain in tight supply for the entirety of 2023.

“At this time we are meeting current customer orders but have not been able to fill increased demand due to the initial quota in 2023 given to us by the DEA… We submitted our requests to the DEA for an increase in volume in 2023, but have not been granted our full request,” Leslie Pott, vice president of corporate affairs at Sandoz told ABC News.

Each year, the DEA sets a limit for the amount of active ingredient in controlled substances that can be produced by manufacturers.

Teva, the largest manufacturer of generic and brand name Adderall in the U.S, told ABC News that while the company is not currently experiencing manufacturing issues or shortages, “they are still seeing unprecedented demand which may cause intermittent delays for some pharmacies or patients.”

Alvogen and Teva have reported to the FDA that demand increases are behind the shortages, while Epic Pharma and US Pharma Windlas (a new manufacturer) have reported a shortage of the active ingredient.

Aurobindo Pharma and SpecGX are predicting supply issues through April 2023, according to the shortage database.

Dr. Anish Dube, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Children, Adolescents and their Families told ABC News that there may be an increase in diagnoses due to increased awareness.

“I think there’s been a lot more awareness and knowledge and folks are getting assessed more frequently for ADHD and this could be a cause for increased diagnosis and treatment,” says Dube.

While people of all ages are affected by the shortage, school-age children and families are especially feeling the constraints.

Millions of US children rely on the medication. The latest estimates suggest that roughly 10% of US children ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Center for Disease Control and Protection, and these numbers may have increased since 2019.

“Especially for children who are in school, or that are still doing any kind of virtual options, having to be in front of the screen for extended stretches of time, it can be particularly challenging for them to be sitting still or to be stationary for extended periods,” says Dube.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends medication, in combination with parent training in behavior management and behavioral classroom interventions for those in a classroom setting for children and adolescents ages 6-18 with an ADHD diagnosis.

Parents who are struggling to obtain their child’s medication and feel they’ve exhausted all options, should call their pharmacist or doctor to discuss a plan.

“It’s important that parents have a contingency plan with their prescribing physician… At least temporarily, you might be looking at other treatment options to help the young person to manage those symptoms,” says Dube.

The FDA says they recognize the potential impact that increased demand of certain products may have on health care providers and patients, and are working to alleviate constraints.

“The FDA is working closely with numerous manufacturers, agencies, and others in the supply chain to understand, mitigate and prevent or reduce the impact of intermittent or increased demand of certain products,” an agency spokesperson told ABC News.

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Proposal to put unruly passengers on no-fly list introduced in Congress

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(WASHINGTON) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers re-introduced legislation Wednesday that would create a no-fly list for passengers fined or convicted for assaulting crew members on board an aircraft.

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would direct the Transportation Security Administration to “create and manage a program” that bars such unruly passengers from flying again.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., along with Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said the legislation they introduced is in the interest of everybody on board a flight.

“We must do more to protect employees and the traveling public, and the Protection from Abusive Protections Act does that,” Reed said at a press conference. “Passengers, once they are on board, must follow the rules and not commit acts of violence, or they won’t be permitted on commercial aircraft again.”

The TSA would have the authority to determine how long an unruly passenger is banned from flying based on the severity of their offense, according to Reed’s office.

The legislation marks the latest move by Congress to secure America’s skies amid thousands of reports of unruly passengers each year. In 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration received nearly 2,500 reports of unruly passengers and investigated 831.

While those numbers are down from a pandemic high in early 2021 when the federal mask mandate was in effect, some flight attendants, such as American Airlines flight attendant Pedro ​​Enriquez, say they still face unruly travelers. During a flight from Miami to London in January, a passenger physically assaulted ​​Enriquez amid a disagreement about the flyer’s assigned seat, the flight attendant said at the Wednesday press conference.

“He approached me threateningly, spitting on me while I backed away through the business class cabin until I was trapped in the galley,” ​​Enriquez said of the passenger, adding that after the flight attendant attempted to deescalate, the passenger “spat again in my face and sucker-punched me in the eye.”

The passenger was arrested upon landing, according to Enriquez, who held up a photo to show his injuries.

“It is disappointing to me that a passenger who was arrested for physically assaulting and spitting in a flight attendant’s face can continue to fly on commercial airplanes here in the United States,” Enriquez said.

Cher Taylor, an Orlando-based flight attendant with Frontier Airlines, said a July 2021 incident still haunts her. One white passenger used his fists and racially insensitive language during a dispute about a carry-on bag with a Black passenger, she said.

“Law enforcement didn’t come in time,” Taylor said. “The perpetrator walked off the plane, and nothing happened.”

“I’ve had months of therapy and struggled initially to go back to work,” a visibly distraught Taylor added.

While the legislation has some bipartisan in both chambers of Congress, such reform may face difficulty getting passed. Other legislation concerning unruly passengers was introduced during the last Congress but failed after it was referred to a subcommittee in the House for further consideration.

But lawmakers Wednesday were hopeful this attempt in the 118th Congress could succeed.

“I don’t say this very often, [but] I’m quite optimistic about this getting across the finish line,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is something I anticipate will get broad bipartisan support.”

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Disgraced crypto exec Sam Bankman-Fried faces new bribery charge, pleads not guilty

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(NEW YORK) — Embattled crypto executive Sam Bankman-Fried now faces an additional criminal charge of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to a superseding indictment unsealed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York.

The new charge brings to 13 the total number of counts Bankman-Fried faces, all stemming from alleged corruption in the operations of the crypto companies he founded: FTX and Alameda Research.

Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty on Thursday to this newest count and four others unsealed in a prior indictment in late February. Bankman-Fried had previously pleaded not guilty to the other eight charges he faces.

“We will be challenging the new charges when motions are filed,” a spokesperson for Bankman-Fried told ABC News.

Bankman-Fried is due back in court June 15.

Bankman-Fried allegedly agreed to pay $40 million in cryptocurrency to foreign officials in China so they would unfreeze certain trading accounts on two of China’s largest crypto exchanges that belonged to Alameda, according to the superseding indictment.

The accounts had been frozen in 2021 by Chinese authorities as part of an investigation of a certain Alameda trading counterparty.

“After the accounts were frozen, Samuel Bankman-Fried, the defendant, and others operating at his direction, considered and tried numerous methods to unfreeze the accounts,” the indictment said. “After months of failed attempts to unfreeze the accounts, Samuel Bankman-Fried, the defendant, discussed with others and ultimately agreed to and directed a multi-million dollar bribe to seek to unfreeze the accounts.”

The alleged bribe payment was carried out in November 2021, at which time the accounts were unfrozen, prosecutors said, and Bankman-Fried resumed trading with the estimated $1 billion that remained in those accounts.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges. He has yet to enter a plea on this newest count and four others unsealed in a previous superseding indictment in late February.

Bankman-Fried has been free on a $250 million personal recognizance bond and under court orders to live with his parents. On Thursday, the judge overseeing the case will consider additional restrictions on Bankman-Fried’s bail after federal prosecutors raised concerns about his internet activities and his contact with current and former FTX employees.

According to a new court filing, Bankman-Fried’s parents have agreed to not allow him to use their phones and laptops and to install monitoring software on those devices that will photograph the device’s user every five minutes.

If the judge agrees, Bankman-Fried will not be allowed to contact current or former FTX and Alameda employees, use Signal or other encrypted messaging apps or use a VPN to access the internet.

He will be given a new laptop configured to allow access only to pre-approved websites, which are necessary for the preparation of the defense or for personal use, and do not pose a risk to the community.

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Cross-country storm to bring more severe weather, tornado threat

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(NEW YORK) — Areas pummeled by last week’s deadly tornado outbreak are likely to see more severe weather in the coming days as a cross-country storm moves east, bringing with it the threat of long-track tornadoes.

As of Thursday morning, 27 states and nearly 30 million people were on alert for heavy snow, strong winds or flooding from California to Wisconsin.

A major storm that battered the West Coast will move into the Heartland on Friday, with a major severe weather outbreak expected.

The storm already brought up to 30 inches of snow to Mammoth Lakes, California, in a 24-hour period. The area has seen more than 700 inches of snow this season — making for its snowiest winter on record. Some flooding, hail and even mudslides were also reported across California from the Bay Area to Los Angeles County.

The storm is forecast to leave California later Thursday and will cross the Rocky Mountains overnight, bringing heavy snow to the area. Wind gusts up to 72 mph from Nevada to Utah are also forecast overnight.

By Friday, the storm is expected to redevelop in the Plains and produce a major severe weather outbreak from Texas to Wisconsin. Nearly 50 million people are on alert Friday for tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail.

The highest threat for strong, long-track tornadoes will be near Memphis, Tennessee, and in Iowa and Illinois, west of Chicago.

In addition to tornadoes, damaging winds and huge hail could be possible in Des Moines, Iowa; Chicago; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; and Little Rock, Arkansas.

Severe weather could reach as far south as Rolling Fork and Silver Springs, Mississippi, which were devastated by a deadly tornado outbreak last week.

Elsewhere, to the north, a late-season winter storm is expected from Nebraska to Michigan. A winter storm watch has been issued for areas including Minneapolis. Locally more than a half foot of snow is possible in the Upper Midwest and the northern Great Lakes.

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Record snowfall buries California mountain town

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(MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif.) — A series of mega-storms throughout March has brought snow to Mammoth Mountain in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, burying homes, cars and businesses.

Earlier this week, 20.7 inches fell in 24 hours at Mammoth Mountain, surpassing the all-time season snowfall record, according to the UC Berkeley Snow Lab, with more than 700 inches for the season. The previous record, set in the 2010-2011 season was 668 inches.

People were out shoveling snow off roofs and trying to keep roads passable with windy conditions. Wind gusts at the ski resort were reported to be as high as 98 mph.

That will stretch the ski season through at least July at Mammoth Mountain ski resort, which has recorded 870 inches at the base of the Main Lodge.

Another 30 inches fell in the last 24 hours and the forecast is for snow this weekend and early next week.

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Roku to slash 200 jobs, amounting to 6% of workforce

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(NEW YORK) — Roku plans to lay off another 200 workers, or 6% of its workforce, the video-streaming company said in a government filing on Thursday, just months after a prior round of layoffs in the fall that slashed 200 jobs.

The company’s revenue surged during the pandemic when customers stuck indoors came to rely on at-home entertainment.

However, the return of consumer habits more closely resembling pre-pandemic life has posed a challenge for the San Jose, California-based company.

The round of layoffs, which the company described as a “restructuring plan,” aims to “lower the Company’s year-over-year operating expense growth and prioritize projects that the Company believes will have a higher return on investment,” the government filing said.

The layoffs will cost the company between $30 and $35 million due to severance payments and other employee benefits, the filing said.

The company’s revenue stood essentially unchanged over the last three months of 2022 compared with the same period a year ago, according to an earnings report released last month.

Roku had previously warned of a difficult business environment expected at the end of last year due to a slowdown in ad spending and the adverse effects of inflation.

Shares of Roku ticked up about 1.5% in early trading on Thursday.

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