WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden couldn't get everything he wanted into his own $1.8 trillion families plan.
His proposed child tax credit is set to expire after 2025. It would provide parents with $300 a month for each child under 6 and $250 a month for older children. Democratic lawmakers are pushing hard to make the credit a permanent policy, but the administration told them that the annual costs of roughly $100 billion were too high.
Biden is embracing a dramatic shift from four decades of politics in which presidents from both parties focused more on containing government than expanding it. But the resistance to making the child tax credit permanent is a sign that even in a White House that embraces big government, there are some limits.
"This is a very expensive policy, probably another $500 billion-plus to extend this for the rest of the decade," said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "According to the principles they've laid out, they would want to show they're paying for it, and the current 'pay-fors' would be insufficient even on a 15-year basis."
Still, the tax credit is integral to the administration's goal of reducing child poverty to the single digits and improving the well-being, education and earnings of America's next generation. It was first introduced in part of Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus package as a yearlong benefit that increased the size of the existing credit, opened it up to almost every family and enabled it to be paid out monthly.
Religious festival stampede in Israel kills 44, hurts dozens
JERUSALEM (AP) — A stampede at a religious festival attended by tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in northern Israel killed at least 44 people and injured about 150 early Friday, medical officials said. It was one of the country's deadliest civilian disasters.
The stampede began when large numbers of people thronged a narrow tunnel-like passage during the event, according to witnesses and video footage. People began falling on top of each other near the end of the walkway, as they descended slippery metal stairs, witnesses said.
Avraham Leibe told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that a crush of people trying to descend the mountain caused a "general bedlam" on a slippery metal slope followed by stairs. "Nobody managed to halt," he said from a hospital bed. "I saw one after the other fall."
Video footage showed large numbers of people, most of them black-clad ultra-Orthodox men, squeezed in the tunnel. The Haaretz daily quoted witnesses as saying police barricades had prevented people from exiting quickly.
The stampede occurred during the celebrations of Lag BaOmer at Mount Meron, the first mass religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.
India cases up as scientists appeal to Modi to release data
NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian scientists appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to publicly release virus data that would allow them to save lives as coronavirus cases climbed again Friday, prompting the army to open its hospitals in a desperate bid to control a massive humanitarian crisis.
With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it's unclear by how much.
India's pandemic response has been marred by insufficient data and the online appeal — signed by over 350 scientists Friday afternoon — asks government to release data about the sequencing of virus variants, testing, recovered patients and how people were responding to vaccines.
The appeal says that "granular" data on testing was inaccessible to non-government experts and some government experts too. Modeling work to predict future surges was being done by government-appointed experts with insufficient information. Similarly, scientists had failed to get information that would allow them predict how many beds, oxygen or intensive care facilities would be needed, it said.
The appeal urged the government to widen the number of organizations sequencing the virus to study its evolution, and also increase the number of samples being studied. It added that restrictions on importing scientific raw materials — to make India 'self reliant' is a key goal for Modi and his government — was an obstacle. "Such restrictions, at this time, only serve to impede our ability to deal with COVID-19," it said.
Brazil backs away from the virus brink, but remains at risk
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — For most of this month, intensive care units across Brazil were at or near capacity amid a crush of COVID-19 patients, and sedatives needed to intubate patients dwindled. The nation's biggest cemetery had so many corpses to bury that gravediggers worked hours past sundown.
But Brazil has stepped back from the edge — at least for now — as burial and hospital services no longer face collapse. It has ceased to be the virus' global epicenter, as its death toll ebbed and was overtaken by India's surge. Experts warn, however, that the situation remains precarious, and caution is warranted.
The number of states with ICU capacity above 90% has slipped to 10, from 17 a month ago, according to data from the state-run Fiocruz medical research institute. And nighttime burials at Vila Formosa and three other cemeteries in Sao Paulo were suspended Thursday, after two weeks of declining deaths.
That comes as cold comfort in a country where some 2,400 people died every day over the past week, more than triple the number in the U.S. Brazil surpassed the grim milestone of 400,000 confirmed deaths on Thursday — a number considered by experts to be a significant undercount, in part because many cases were overlooked, especially early in the pandemic. The seven-day average has retreated from more than 3,100 deaths in mid-April, but Fiocruz warned in a bulletin Wednesday that it may plateau —and at an even higher level than it did last year.
"Our goal now is to make the numbers keep going down instead of stabilizing. That's the most crucial thing," said Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist and coordinator of Brazil's largest COVID-19 testing program. "It's good that they're going down, but let's not assume that this will be the last wave. There is hope that it will be the last wave, because of the vaccine, but that needs to be confirmed."
'I'm still exhaling': Swing-state voters on Biden's 100 days
ELM GROVE, Wis. (AP) — Standing on the sidelines of her son's soccer practice in this upscale suburb, Laura Hahn looked skyward for answers when asked how she would rate President Joe Biden's first 100 days in office.
Overall, Biden is doing well, she said after a few minutes of thought. But she acknowledged her judgment is as much a feeling of relief as an analysis of accomplishments.
"I'm still exhaling," Hahn said, referencing the tumultuous tenure of President Donald Trump. "It's been exhausting."
At the 100-day marker, polls show most Americans are like Hahn, giving the new president positive marks for his early performance.
But in this pocket of swing-state Wisconsin, where a surge in suburban Milwaukee helped put Biden in the White House, interviews with voters show that support for the Democratic president often falls short of adulation. Biden continues to get credit for bringing stability to the coronavirus crisis — and for not being Trump — but there are signs that goodwill only goes so far.
EXPLAINER: What remains as US ends Afghan 'forever war'
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — After 20 years, America is ending its "forever war" in Afghanistan.
Announcing a firm withdrawal deadline, President Joe Biden cut through the long debate, even within the U.S. military, over whether the time was right. Starting Saturday, the last remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops will begin leaving, to be fully out by Sept. 11 at the latest.
Another debate will likely go on far longer: Was it worth it?
Since 2001, tens of thousands of Afghans and 2,442 American soldiers have been killed, millions of Afghans driven from their homes, and billions of dollars spent on war and reconstruction. As the departure begins, The Associated Press takes a look at the mission and what it accomplished.
Growth in Burkina Faso gold mining fuels human trafficking
SECACO, Burkina Faso (AP) — For months, human traffickers beat and drugged Blessing, hauling the 27-year-old from one gold mine encampment to the next, where each night she was forced to sleep with dozens of men for less than $2 a person.
The madam who lured Blessing to the landlocked West African nation of Burkina Faso with promises of a hair salon job, threatened to kill her if she tried to run away.
"Nobody comes to your rescue," said Blessing, wiping tears from her cheeks during a recent interview.
In December 2019, while the madam was away, Blessing finally got the courage to escape. With the help of local residents, she and six other women left the encampment and walked to safety, ultimately ending up in a United Nations transit center for migrants in the capital city of Ouagadougou.
Blessing's experience in the gold mining encampments is not unique.
As virus engulfs India, diaspora watches with despair
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bad news, knowing no time zones, arrives in a jarring burst of messages, calls and posts informing millions of members of India's worldwide diaspora that yet another loved one has been sickened or lost to the coronavirus.
Sometimes it comes in a barrage of WhatsApp messages first thing in the morning, and sometimes it lands in the middle of the night, as it did for Mohini Gadré's father. A 3 a.m. call at his San Francisco Bay Area home let him know that his octogenarian mother — who had tested positive in Mumbai — was too weak to say her morning prayers, setting off a mad scramble to find her the hospital bed where she remained for days.
In the U.S., where half of the adult population has gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, the talk has been of reopening, moving forward and healing. But for Indian Americans, the daily crush of dark news from "desh," the homeland, is a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
"We're seeing life slowly start to get back to normal in small ways, and you're feeling like a bit of hope — like with spring. You know that things are improving, it's been a year," Gadré, 27, said. "And meanwhile there's this tinderbox that's been ignited in India."
The more than 4.2 million people like Gadré who make up the Indian diaspora in the U.S., according to census estimates, have watched in horror as the latest coronavirus surge burns through India, killing thousands of people a day and catapulting the death toll to more than 200,000 — the fourth-highest in the world.
Beyond the pandemic: London votes for a mayor during crisis
LONDON (AP) — Not long ago, London was booming. Now it fears a bust.
Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have hit Britain's capital in a perfect storm. In 2021, the city has fewer people, fewer businesses, starker divisions and tougher choices than anyone could have expected.
On May 6, Londoners will elect a mayor whose performance will help determine whether this is a period of decline for Europe's biggest city — or a chance to do things better.
"It's going to be rough, definitely," said Jack Brown, lecturer in London studies at King's College London. "Those two quite seismic changes" — Brexit and the virus — "will be a lot to cope with."
Disneyland opening highlights California's COVID turnaround
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Four months ago, America's most populous state was struggling to combat a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations that packed patients into outdoor tents and killed hundreds of people each day.
On Friday, Disneyland, California's world-famous theme park, will reopen to visitors after an unprecedented 13-month closure in what tourism officials hope is a sign of the state's rebound from the pandemic. For now, the park is allowing only in-state visitors and operating at limited capacity.
"It has such a symbolic nature to really quantifying that we're finally rolling out of COVID," said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of the state tourism agency Visit California.
The news comes as California boasts the country's lowest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections and more than half of the population eligible for vaccination has received at least one dose of the shots. It's a dramatic turnaround from December, when hospitals across the state were running out of ICU beds and treating patients at overflow locations.
Now, children are returning to school, shops and restaurants are expanding business, and Gov. Gavin Newsom set June 15 as a target date to further reopen the economy, albeit with some health-related restrictions.