Happy Monday and welcome to the final days of August and what could be a relatively calm news week, made even calmer by NASA’s decision this morning to postpone the scheduled launch of its Artemis I lunar mission – and the most powerful rocket in history – due to an engine problem. The legal drama stemming from the FBI’s raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate continue to this week, with a hearing related to Trump’s court filing scheduled for Thursday. Then Friday will bring the monthly employment report for August.
In the meantime, here’s what’s going on:
US to suspend free Covid testing program as funds run out
The federal program that provides free Covid-19 test kits will be suspended later this week, the White House announced Sunday.
A notice on the web portal operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, COVID.gov, reads: “Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, September 2 because Congress has not provided additional funding. to replenish the country’s testing stock.”
Until then, Americans can order a total of 16 tests per household, with shipping handled by the United States Postal Service.
The Biden administration launched the free test kit program in early 2022, and officials say more than 600 million kits have been distributed so far. The White House has asked Congress for more funding to continue the program, but lawmakers have failed to act, with some Republicans arguing that the administration should use existing funds from other pandemic programs.
“We warned that Congressional inaction would force unacceptable compromises and undermine our overall COVID-19 preparedness and response — and the consequences would likely worsen over time,” a White House official said. . told CNN. “Unfortunately, due to the limited funding we have to work with, we have had to make impossible choices about which tools and programs to invest in – and which ones to scale back, pause or end all together.”
The administration says test kit distribution would resume if or when Congress provides more funding. However, there are growing fears that manufacturers are shutting down production lines, which could make it difficult to supply additional test kits if the need – and funding – arises.
Biden Admin to Provide $11 Million for Monkeypox Vaccine Production
The Biden administration said Monday it would provide about $11 million to support domestic production of the Jynneos vaccine used to combat the spread of monkeypox.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the funding will be used to support vaccine manufacturing through the purchase of additional equipment and the hiring of more staff for Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing (GRAM) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“This new agreement strengthens a domestic manufacturing capability that will get us more vaccines sooner to end this outbreak,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said.
Op-Ed of the Day: More Student Loan Reforms Needed
As politicians argue over the merits of President Joe Biden’s plan to write off billions of dollars in student loan debt, two Bipartisan Policy Center analysts remind us that America’s higher education funding system is still seriously flawed. and needs to be repaired.
BPC’s Kevin Miller and Shai Akabas argue Monday in The hill that instead of tinkering around the edges, “policymakers should reform the system to lower borrowing costs, target aid to the most distressed borrowers, and reduce student reliance on long-term loans.”
Miller and Akabas say two fundamental reforms are essential. “First, they should make college more affordable and reduce or prevent loans most likely to cause harm,” they write. “Second, policymakers should change how the federal government handles loans and how borrowers repay them.”
The first reform would involve providing federal funds to states to reduce education costs upfront, allowing states to offer “tuition reductions, grants, scholarships, and ‘free college’ programs” targeting low- and middle-income households so they don’t have to borrow so much money in the first place to go to school.
The second reform would change the loan repayment system across the board, making it sensitive to the borrower’s income and family size rather than the borrower’s loan size, thus creating a repayment schedule more realistic. Miller and Akabas also want to update the public service loan forgiveness program to help more borrowers who work for nonprofits or the government repay their loans.
“Together, these reforms could reduce the costs of college education, especially for low-income students, allow low- and middle-income students to borrow less and stay in college, and slow or even reverse , the growth of existing and new borrowings,” Miller said and Akabas said. “We need systemic reforms rather than partial or poorly targeted measures that will not meet the long-term needs of current or future borrowers.”
“A limited budget and overworked investigators”
Politico’s Ben Leonard reported problems on Sunday at the federal office tasked with cracking down on hackers who steal medical information from millions of Americans each year.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Civil Rights Office, writes Leonard, is misplaced for security work “because it has a dual mission – both to enforce federal health privacy law known as HIPAA and to help organizations protect themselves – and Congress has given it few resources.”
Here’s more from Leonard:
“Because of its tight budget, the Civil Rights Office has fewer investigators than many local police departments, and its investigators must handle more than a hundred cases at a time. The office had a budget of $38 million in 2022 – the cost of around 20 MRI machines that can cost between $1 million and $3 million each.
“Another issue is that the bureau relies on the cooperation of victims, the institutions targeted by hackers, to provide evidence of crimes. These victims may sometimes be reluctant to report violations because HHS could then charge them with for violating HIPAA and levying fines that are in addition to the costs associated with the violation and the ransoms often demanded by hackers.”
Read the full story on Politico.