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Analysis-Biden’s effort to expand childcare could hit roadblock in Republican states

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Analysis-Biden's effort to expand childcare could hit roadblock in Republican states
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (not pictured) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Jason Lange and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion social-policy bill offers hundreds of billions of dollars to subsidize child care and expand pre-kindergarten, but millions of kids could be frozen out if Republican governors decline to use the money.

The “Build Back Better” package making its way through Congress provides $390 billion for nationwide pre-kindergarten and subsidized child care, but requires states to pay up to 40% of the cost. Costs could rise further if Congress fails to extend the two programs when they would expire in 2028.

That could be a deal-breaker for conservative states reluctant to spend money on safety-net programs — even though some of the biggest per-capita benefits would go to poor, Republican-led states including Mississippi and West Virginia.

“We’re talking about completely overhauling and disrupting the entire system of childcare and pre-K for a plan that’s on a knife’s edge,” said Matt Bruenig, of the left-leaning People’s Policy Project, who is pushing for a larger federal role.

It would not be the first time that Republican-led states balk at a federal program on concerns over cost and government overreach. Many did so when they rejected billions of dollars in federal aid over the past decade to expand the Medicaid health plan for the poor under President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.

“The Biden administration wants to insert itself into the most intimate family decisions and tell parents how to care for their toddlers,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said this month.

Republicans oppose the Build Back Better bill, and Democrats in Congress are trying to pass it on a straight party vote.

The Biden plan’s initial rollout gives more childcare subsidies to states with lower incomes and higher rates of child poverty — a formula that benefits Republican-leaning states, according to a Reuters analysis of funding estimates by the Center for Law and Social Policy, which advocates for low-income Americans. https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-BIDEN/zjvqkwmmrvx

States with lower incomes and higher rates of child poverty would get more money per capita in the first three years of the program to overhaul childcare networks and expand access to subsidized childcare. States that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 would get about $4,600 for every child under 6, while states that voted for Biden would get about $3,600, according to the Reuters analysis.

Mississippi and West Virginia, both of which backed Trump, would get the highest per-capita amount. New Mexico would get the highest amount among states that backed Biden.

PRIOR REJECTION

At least one state recently walked away from federal dollars over ideological concerns.

Idaho’s Republican-led state legislature earlier this year rejected $6 million in federal aid for early childhood education. Conservative lawmakers said they were worried the money would advance liberal teachings on race relations and encourage mothers to work outside the home.

Some backers of Biden’s child-care proposals say it could be difficult to get state buy-in.

“It will be a huge struggle,” said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

The measure provides a Plan B if states decline to participate, as local governments could work directly with the federal government to set up programs.

The plan, which the Democrat-led House of Representatives approved on Friday in a first step in seeking approval from both the House and the Senate, aims to create universal free schooling nationwide for children age 3 and 4 and subsidize child care for most families with children under age 6.

States would receive federal funding to get programs running but would have to start covering some of the cost within a few years: 10% for the child-care subsidies starting in 2024, and up to 40% for pre-K.

An earlier version of the legislation would have kept federal subsidies in place for longer, but was scaled back to satisfy centrist lawmakers who said the bill’s original $3.5 trillion price tag was too high.

States that already have robust pre-K programs, such as Vermont and Florida, would find it easier to participate than those like Idaho and South Dakota, which would have to create programs, said Angela Rachidi, a senior fellow in poverty studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“States have different budgets and funding priorities,” said Rachidi, who opposes the Biden plan.

Advocates point out that many Republican-led states already have pre-K programs in place, while others like Alabama and Arkansas have used federal coronavirus aid to expand their early-childhood programs.

Coronavirus

China slashes COVID quarantine time for international travellers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday slashed the quarantine time for inbound travellers by half in a major easing of one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 curbs, which have deterred travel in and out of the country since 2020.

Quarantine at centralised facilities has been cut to seven days from 14, and subsequent at-home health monitoring has been reduced to three days from seven, the National Health Commission said.

The latest guidelines from the health authority also eased quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

China has cautiously eased its COVID curbs on cross-border travellers in recent months, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows for an adjustment of quarantine periods.

The Chinese capital Beijing in recent months has already reduced the quarantine period at centralised facilities to 10 days from 14.

China, last month, also removed some COVID-19 test requirements for people flying in from countries such as the United States.

“We believe that today’s announcement will be welcomed by the American business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said on its official WeChat account.

The quarantine adjustment will make it easier for companies to bring staff to China, and for Chinese companies and their executives to visit the United States, AmCham said.

Stock markets rose in Hong Kong and the mainland, with the Hang Seng Index reversing losses and ticking up roughly 0.4% and the CSI300 Index gaining 0.7%.

Shares in mainland tourism companies jumped more than 5%.

China’s aviation regulator said this month it had been in touch with some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.

IN THE CLEAR

Beijing and Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear simultaneously since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19.

The Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said on Tuesday that it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it had been shut for more than three months.

Authorities, however, were adamant the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

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Coronavirus

Beijing, Shanghai both free of new local COVID cases for first time in months

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s capital, Beijing, and the financial hub of Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear at the same time since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19, following a crushing two-month citywide lockdown that was finally lifted in early June.

Authorities, however, remained wary and were adamant that the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

The city would build “a solid virus barrier”, Cai was quoted as saying on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

Despite easing COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai, their combined 47 million residents have been told to go through COVID testing every few days, to maintain access to public spaces and transport.

Elsewhere in mainland China, a total of 22 domestically transmitted infections were reported for June 27, including five in the southern technology hub Shenzhen.

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U.S. appeals court vacates federal vaccine mandate pending additional hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A resident over 50 years old and immunocompromised receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel said on Monday it would convene a full panel to reconsider President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and set aside the order pending that hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, had reinstated the vaccine order in April by a 2-1 vote after it was blocked by a district court judge in January. [L2N2W530Z]

The court said on Monday that it would reconsider the case en banc, which means it will be heard by a larger panel of judges. No date was given for the hearing. Pending that hearing, the court said it would vacate the April ruling, which means that Biden’s order cannot be enforced.

Biden said in September he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. Despite the legal fight, more than 90% of federal workers were vaccinated by December, the White House said last year.

The president’s vaccine and mask mandates have faced stiff opposition, led by Republicans, which have turned public safety measures endorsed by disease experts into a political and legal battle in the United States.

The United States passed the milestone of 1 million dead from the coronavirus in May. More than 250 people still die of the disease daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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