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After reparations: How a scholarship helped - and didn't help - descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood racial massacre

By Robert Samuels
After reparations: How a scholarship helped - and didn't help - descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood racial massacre
Morgan Carter, a Rosewood scholarship recipient, poses for a portrait at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically black university in Tallahassee, Fla., on Dec. 13, 2019. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Zack Wittman.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Ever since Morgan Carter was a little girl, her grandmother would tell her a story. It was about an old mill town, deep in the backwoods of north Florida - a place where black people did well for themselves. The town was called Rosewood. That's where Carter's great-grandfather Oren Monroe was born.

In 1923, when Monroe was 8 years old, an all-white mob burned the town to the ground. They killed six people, maybe more. He escaped with a group of women and children on an unusually cold night, wading through a swamp before boarding a train that took them to a safer place.

Carter was destined to be the story's happy ending. Because of the pain Monroe's community suffered, the Florida legislature passed a law in 1994 allowing descendants of Rosewood to go to college in the state tuition-free. The law is regarded as the first instance of a legislative body in the United States giving reparations to African Americans.

- - -

More than 25 years after the law passed, Carter slumped over a textbook on an empty dining table. It was December, and finals were approaching. She was most of the way through a six-year program at Florida A&M University to earn a pharmacy doctorate, one of the school's most intensive programs. She closed her textbook, frustrated; then she opened it again.

"I can't mess this up," she said. "If I mess this up, I mess it up for me and my cousins and people I don't even know."

In the world outside Carter's stressful college bubble - she is continuing her studies online from her Tallahassee apartment because of the coronavirus outbreak - politicians had been debating reparations for black Americans with unprecedented vigor. A bill to study the issue got its first hearing in Congress last year, and virtually every Democratic presidential candidate pitched a racial justice platform as way to atone for the country's original sin.

Even so, supporters of reparations acknowledge the stumbling blocks of figuring out the appropriate way to pay back black Americans for centuries of enslavement and systemic discrimination. They also face the challenge of persuading skeptical lawmakers who consider reparations a pipe dream with no lasting effect.

The Rosewood bill stands out as a rare example of a group overcoming those challenges - and the impact of the law lingers across campuses such as FAMU. Since 1994, 297 students have received Rosewood scholarships, according to state records compiled at the request of The Washington Post.

What can a scholarship do to address a historic injustice? For Carter and her family, reparations changed the frame of a tortured past. The Rosewood story no longer ends with a scared boy running through the woods; it continues with graduation robes and diplomas, potentially the family's first doctorate.

But even as the scholarship has been the engine to propel family ambitions, it has also ensured that the story of Rosewood hangs over it like a shadow. A heaviness - a sense of purpose but also of worry - has been passed down from generation to generation.

"We're not doing this just for us," Carter, 21, remembered her grandmother saying. "You always have to be the best and prove a point, simply because of who you are and what your family has gone through."

Carter has not studied the specific details of her great-grandfather's journey. He died in 1976. But to know this story of his past, even by its loosest contours, is to understand the cruelty of racism, the potential depravity of a neighbor.

She tries not to think about it too much. But when she does, when things get stressful, she finds herself consumed by questions. They are the same questions that have lingered over her family for generations and that tortured Oren Monroe: How much should the past determine the future? And when is it time to move on?

- - -

Only a handful of groups have received reparations in the United States. In the 1990s and 2000s, court settlements led to payments to black men who were unknowingly infected with syphilis for medical studies and to low-income women who were forced to be sterilized.

In the 1980s, the federal government provided checks to Japanese American families who were forced into internment camps during World War II, and land and cash were given to Native American tribes slaughtered in the name of Manifest Destiny.

Still, until recently, the idea of reparations for African Americans had been considered fringe politics in a country still struggling to reconcile its fraught racial history.

Then there is Rosewood. Over two years, a group of elderly survivors - working in tandem with some of the state's most powerful lobbyists - persuaded a conservative state government to take responsibility for the pains of their forebears.

The survivors were from families that had visible symbols of wealth - two-story homes with organs and pianos - before the mob had burned it all down over six days. No law enforcement agency tried to rescue them. In a country where wealth is largely inherited, the families escaped with nothing.

As adults, they worked menial jobs: shining shoes, cleaning utensils, standing in factory lines. And in their life's twilight, they still had nightmares about the fires they witnessed as children, just as other incidents of white mob violence - similar incidents happened in Wilmington, North Carolina; Ocoee, Florida; and Tulsa, Oklahoma - haunted other black families.

"We wanted the case to be a blueprint for other cases across the country," said Stephen Hanlon, a lawyer for Holland & Knight who helped craft the bill. "We said back then that this was a single incident unlike any other, that it was just this one case. But that was bullsh--."

At first, the challenges seemed insurmountable. Lawmakers worried about being flooded with other reparations cases from different incidents, crowding the legislative agenda and draining the state's coffers. They wondered how they could possibly translate an incident of racial terror into dollars and cents. Some even doubted the incident actually happened.

Hanlon's firm developed a plan. Working with Rosewood descendants, it pushed the legislature to commission a study on the issue, so historians could verify the survivors' story. Then they started an international media campaign to raise awareness of the Rosewood massacre - partially to coax support from the state's Black Caucus, which feared the issue was too divisive.

They figured out that the way to get conservatives to support reparations was to avoid the topic of race. With the help of a Republican lead sponsor, they argued the Rosewood bill was about the loss of property rights, and the government neglecting its obligation to protect its citizens from vigilantes.

But Hanlon knew that the most important component, the thing that would compel the most skeptical lawmaker, was the testimony of living witnesses.

Lawmakers kept seeing elderly African Americans - one in a wheelchair, one blind - gingerly making their way through the bustling halls of the Capitol. They would grab lawmakers by the hand, look them in the eye and say, "Don't forget about us."

By the time the survivors were sworn in to give their official testimonies, the case had built up so much momentum that Hanlon was sure the families would win.

The only question left was: How much should they get?

Originally, the families had dreamed of a claim as large as $1 million per family, but lawmakers - even the bill's co-sponsors - told them they would reject a bill that was so costly.

A state arbitrator known as a special master arrived at a different calculation. He concluded that no amount of money would ever satisfy survivors who endured such loss, so it was not worth an attempt to quantify. Instead, he determined that living survivors were entitled to $150,000 - equivalent to the largest settlement the legislature had ever approved in a child abuse case. Families could also make claims for additional funds if they could find records proving their ancestors lost property during the massacre.

The bill cleared the state House easily and then the Senate 26 to 14 - nine Republicans joined 17 Democrats to vote yes - on the final day of the 1994 legislative session.

There were only nine living survivors who would receive the full payouts, according to the state data given to The Post.

And their families did not receive much. By the time 143 descendants received checks from the state of Florida, the controversial action of reparations amounted to little more than a tax refund. Only half received more than $2,000.

The survivors would eventually spend the money as quickly as they got it, in part to avoid family infighting. They bought new sofas and new houses, and donated to their churches.

Anticipating how quickly the money would vanish, the lobbyists came up with one more idea, one way to help ensure the story of Rosewood would endure. That idea was the scholarship.

- - -

Months after the bill passed, Carter's mother, Natasha Twiggs, got a phone call.

"Do you still want to finish college?"

Of course, Twiggs recalled telling her aunt. But Twiggs had no idea when. She was 21 and stopped going to class after she had a son, Carter's older brother. A single mom, Twiggs was working to provide.

"You might want to look into this," Twiggs recalled her aunt saying. "Your family has a scholarship that will pay for you to go to school."

Twiggs had no idea. She had paid no attention to the Tallahassee bill. Growing up, if she heard her elders speaking about Rosewood, she would go play outside.

"It just seemed like adult stuff," Twiggs said.

But reparations changed everything. Rosewood was now an opportunity. In 1996, Twiggs became Oren Monroe's first grandchild to use the scholarship to graduate from college. She is now a school administrator.

One of her favorite memories at Florida A&M was seeing a section about Rosewood while flipping through a textbook in her African American studies class. Twiggs was so excited that she called her mother to learn more about the history she once tried to ignore.

Marie Monroe-Ames, now 64, was thrilled to share everything she knew with her daughter. A self-described history buff, she had grown up in a world where outsiders did not take her family story seriously.

"It couldn't be swept under the rug no more," Monroe-Ames said. "No one can say it didn't happen."

But something even more personal happened to Monroe-Ames when she heard the survivors' testimonies. She felt as if she better understood her father, Oren Monroe.

Her father was a good man, but he had a bad temper and would sometimes shake inexplicably. He was suspicious of white people. When schools were integrating, he sent her and her sisters to an all-black boarding school. He wouldn't even allow white people to walk through the front door of the house.

Monroe was the proud son of Sophie Goins and John Monroe, whose family had a thriving lumber business in North Carolina, then a successful turpentine business in Rosewood. But his esteemed family lineage had been spoiled by the whites who descended on his community, seeking to avenge a white woman who claimed a black man had assaulted her. Before that night in 1923, blacks and whites in the nearby town had coexisted; some white boys even came to Rosewood to play baseball with them.

Monroe-Ames realized that her father could never trust people whose intentions could turn so suddenly. When the mob came, Oren Monroe and the other children were forced to hide in the house of a man named Sylvester Carrier, who shot two white men when they burst through his door. The mob retreated briefly before returning in greater numbers, forcing children - dressed only in their nightclothes - to suffer the indignity of fleeing through the forest, hiding like woodland animals.

For Monroe-Ames's generation, the fight for reparations was about restoring their families' dignity. They had started holding family reunions, reconnecting lines of their family tree. In doing so, they discovered reparations' promise - and its pain.

At one get-together before the bill was signed, Monroe-Ames said she met a woman who was a child during the Rosewood incident.

"We loved your Aunt Marie!" the survivor told Monroe-Ames of her namesake. "That was everybody's big sister."

Aunt Marie was 18 when the attack happened. Hiding in the swamps while the mob came to town, she caught pneumonia. Months later, she died.

Almost every Rosewood story, for the survivors, became tragic. After the bill, Monroe-Ames tried to get another survivor to fill out the paperwork for a claim. But when Monroe-Ames brought up the subject, she said, the woman descended into a trance. She wrapped her hands around her chest and started to shake.

"It's cold," she muttered. "It's so cold." It was as if she were back in Rosewood all over again.

And she began to scream.

"Oh my God. They shooting! They shooting!" she yelled before quieting herself down. "Be quiet. They going to find us and kill us."

"That bothered me for a long time," Monroe-Ames recalled. "These people were actually chased by ghosts all their lives, and we didn't understand that."

Growing up, Oren Monroe never told his daughter the full story. After reparations, Monroe-Ames realized why. A part of it was for her sake - and a part of it was for his own.

- - -

Carter was born into a different world - it seemed everyone was fascinated by her family history. There were television specials and award-winning books and magazine articles. Director John Singleton turned Rosewood into a feature film.

Carter would watch her grandmother travel around the state during Black History Month to do presentations about Rosewood, telling audiences there were lessons to be learned from the past.

Now, as her grandmother gets older, it is more and more up to Carter to decide how she should present her family legacy.

As she sat in her dorm room the night after her December exams, Carter said she wasn't sure she wanted that responsibility. What good would it do? Her grandmother taught the story of Rosewood for years, and still a torch-carrying crowd of white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia. Those people, she figured, could not have looked very different from the mob that ran out her great-grandfather.

"Hate needs to be taught, and people in this country still hate," Carter said. "Who's teaching them?"

And over time, the splendor of the legislative achievement lost its luster. The scholarship dictated her college choices - it was a foregone conclusion that she would go to school in Florida, nowhere else.

Carter was confident FAMU, the state's preeminent black university, was the right choice for her, but she saw flaws in the Rosewood bill. Even though she is in a six-year program, the scholarship covered only four years of tuition, running out at the end of this academic year. She is paying for the other college expenses through grants and additional scholarships.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful, because this scholarship is helping me get through college," Carter said. "And I am grateful for that. But at the same time, so is financial aid. It just feels like a small olive branch."

On a campus where so many struggle to pay their bills, Carter does not volunteer information that she receives a special scholarship. So she had never met another descendant on campus aside from her two cousins.

When Carter heard that this reporter knew of others, she asked whether she could meet them. They had wanted to meet her, too.

On a gray and rainy day, Carter put on a pair of sweatpants and headed to the university quad. Past the lawn, on the steps of the old library, were two fellow students. One was a sophomore named Darshae Spells, the other a freshman named Chandrahasa Srinivasa.

"I'm Morgan," she said.

"Are you a Rosewood?" Spells said under his breath.

"Yeah," she said.

"That's what's up."

The three stared at one another. Then they all giggled.

They made their way to a table in the student center and grabbed food at Chick-fil-A. Between bites of chicken sandwiches, there was mostly silence. Nothing in their lives had prepared them to talk to anyone who had this foggy piece of family history in common, and Morgan acknowledged to them she didn't fully know what to say.

At first they talked about the things that college students talk about - music, campus parties, their majors. Thirty minutes passed, and Spells finally broached the subject of Rosewood.

"There's a movie about us in the Black Archives," Spells said.

"My grandmother told me that movie is not accurate," Carter said. She shook her head and told them what she knew was fact.

"I'm a Goins," Carter said. "My great-granddad is Oren Monroe. He and his sister were there when everything was going down. They ran through the swamps to get to Riviera Beach, which is where I'm from. . . . I hate that I don't know more, but that's all I have right now."

There was an awkward pause.

"But does your family really talk about it, though?" Carter said. "Because mine doesn't."

"No, they don't really talk about it much," Spells said. Growing up, he said, he didn't know what happened until his junior year of high school, after he insisted on finding out why his family was not concerned with paying for college.

That's when his grandfather sat him down on the couch. He loaded the film version of "Rosewood" and told Spells that he is a distant cousin of Sylvester Carrier. (Carter is a distant relative of Carrier's wife, Gertrude King.)

"I felt like, 'Damn,' " Spells said. "That's just a lot to think about before you go to college. It made me feel some pressure."

"Me too," Carter said.

"Me too," Srinivasa said.

Srinivasa acknowledged he didn't know much more about Rosewood except the name of his ancestor, William Crockett. Srinivasa was just thankful for the scholarship money, the thing he called "low-key reparations."

The very mention of the word made each of three students shift in their seats.

"Reparations are cute, but I mean - this is probably just my opinion - but it's not going to change anything," Carter said. "We've been oppressed for too long for just a hot $10,000 to suddenly erase everything. We'll just go through this money and then be back where we started, before the reparations were handed out."

"Yeah," Spells said. "It's almost like: 'Here's some money. Now shut up about it.' "

"I think there are other ways, instead of just paying people a check," Srinivasa said. "Maybe if you give them, like, land or something, property."

"But if they don't have the money to pay the property taxes, they're going to lose the land you just gave them," Carter said.

The type of reparations that made sense to the three students would be similar to the type they were receiving - money for a specific incident of injustice.

But if the Rosewood bill was supposed to provide some sense of healing for Rosewood families, it was clear to these students that the scholarship would not be enough. The success of their elders - who used the scholarship to help build a better life for them - meant a college education was not particularly novel. In one generation alone, attaining a bachelor's degree became a family expectation.

The three appreciated the scholarship as an acknowledgment of suffering, a payment of a debt that was owed. Still, it could not erase the pain that lived on within them.

Four generations ago, their ancestors were fleeing their homes - hungry, shivering, unaware of what would come next. Now the descendants were at a Chick-fil-A, speaking about their paths to becoming a dermatologist, a pharmacist and a financier.

This was not the grand family reunion that the three imagined. They had little else to say to one another.

Srinivasa started trading cryptocurrency on his cellphone, Spells put in his ear buds and Carter pulled out her umbrella. But as they prepared to leave, Spells asked one more question. It spoke to something they all had in common, a feeling all three had assumed was theirs and theirs alone. He asked, almost sheepishly:

"Do - you like talking about it?"

"No," Carter said. "I hate it."

"Me too," Spells said.

Srinivasa nodded his head.

"Me too."

Trump sows uncertainty and seeks to cast blame in coronavirus crisis

By Philip Rucker and Robert Costa
Trump sows uncertainty and seeks to cast blame in coronavirus crisis
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a coronavirus briefing Wednesday, April 1, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

WASHINGTON - In the three weeks since declaring the novel coronavirus outbreak a national emergency, President Donald Trump has delivered a dizzying array of rhetorical contortions, sowed confusion and repeatedly sought to cast blame on others.

History has never known a crisis response as strong as his own, Trump says - yet the self-described wartime president claims he is merely backup. He has faulted state governors for acting too slowly and, as he did Thursday, has accused overwhelmed state and hospital officials of complaining too much and of hoarding supplies.

America is winning its war with the coronavirus, the president says - yet the death toll rises still, and in the best-case scenario more Americans will die than in the wars in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The economy is the strongest ever and will rebound in no time, he says - yet stock markets have cratered and in the past two weeks a record 10 million people filed for unemployment insurance.

As Trump has sought to remake his public image from that of a skeptic of the pandemic's danger to a savior forestalling catastrophe and protecting hundreds of thousands of people from a vicious contagion, he also has distorted the truth, making edits and creating illusions at many turns.

Trump's machinations have a dogged showman's quality, using his omnipresence at daily White House news conferences - which sometimes stretch to two hours or more and are broadcast to millions - to try to erase memories from his two months of playing down the crisis, sometimes scolding reporters who question his version of events.

The result is chaotic. Leaders from Maine to Oregon and from Dayton, Ohio, to Austin, Texas, say their constituents are whipsawed by the contradictory messages emanating each day from the presidential lectern, which exacerbates efforts on the ground to enforce social distancing and mitigate the spread.

"People are confused about whether this is really serious. People are confused about how long this may last," Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, said. "We're trying to get as much containment as we can by limiting the number of physical interactions taking place, but they're hearing it's not a big deal, it's going to be over soon, and getting community buy-in becomes a harder thing to achieve."

Due to Trump's pinballing statements, Americans have been subject to a parade of claims and musings about medicine, a topic about which past presidents have avoided speculating in deference to the Food and Drug Administration's official role addressing safety and efficacy matters.

"He at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said recently. "It's critically important that the message is straightforward and fact-based for the public."

White House spokesman Judd Deere defended Trump's handling of the pandemic in a lengthy statement and furnished a list of 115 specific actions the president or his administration have taken, including limiting travel, expanding testing access and supporting health-care providers.

"During these difficult times, Americans are receiving comfort, hope and resources from their president, as well as their local officials," Deere said in the statement, which stressed the federal government's collaboration with state and local governments.

Trump has often sought to rewrite history. He now says covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is nothing like the seasonal flu because it is far more contagious and "vicious," as if pretending his many previous flu comparisons never had been uttered. And he now says he has known since it was first detected in China that the coronavirus was horrible and would become a pandemic, as if he could halt the playback reel of his past comments minimizing the threat.

The first coronavirus case was reported in the United States on Jan. 21, and the virus ravaged China and then Italy and other parts of Europe. Although Trump banned travel from China in late January, a decision he says saved lives, Trump did not begin fully engaging with the crisis until late February. The president did not release guidelines for social distancing and other ways citizens could slow the spread until March 16, well after the virus already had spread across the United States.

When confronted by his earlier attempts to play down the coronavirus, Trump has either snapped at the reporters asking the questions or argued that he was merely trying to offer hope to people.

"I don't want to be a negative person," Trump said Tuesday. "It would be so much easier for me to come up and say we have bad news. . . . But I'm a cheerleader for our country."

Ever mindful of his reelection prospects, Trump has looked to avoid personal accountability for shortcomings in the response. "I don't take responsibility at all," the president said in reference to testing failures while speaking March 13 at a news conference in the Rose Garden during which he declared a national emergency.

Trump alternately has blamed China for the virus's initial spread; Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for being slow to contain what would become by far the biggest U.S. outbreak; governors generally for requesting federal help in procuring ventilators, masks and other equipment and for not showing appreciation for assistance; hospital workers for hoarding supplies; and the media, first for allegedly overhyping the dangers and then for allegedly not giving him adequate credit for the steps he has taken.

In a pair of tweets Thursday, Trump wrote: "Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered directly to states and hospitals by the Federal Government. Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them. The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit."

Trump spent his first three years in office systematically discrediting and attempting to dismantle parts of the federal government's national security, intelligence and scientific apparatus. He has harbored suspicions of career experts in part because he does not consider them sufficiently loyal to him personally, at times tuning out their advice and steadily working to erode their trustworthiness in the minds of his supporters.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., attributed Trump's difficulty controlling the coronavirus to his lack of experience in public service and his perspective that government is too big. The president, she said in an interview, "doesn't understand that in this moment of crisis, this is exactly when we need our government to work."

"This is that moment when the American people need their government, but if you don't embrace and appreciate the nobility, the responsibility, the heavy, heavy responsibility and weight, then you see what happens," Harris added. "You have a president, frankly, who has been a bit frivolous in the way he has approached this job, as it relates to this pandemic."

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, said that leaders need credibility and competence at moments of crisis but that Trump lacks both because of his lack of preparedness.

"People say, 'Oh, who could have predicted this?' Well, it was predicted, specifically, to the administration when they took office that this was a possibility," King said.

King criticized Trump for disbanding the National Security Council's pandemic team as well as a State Department program designed to identify outbreaks and other emerging threats around the world. "When you take those kinds of actions in light of warnings, it's hard to say they weren't warned," he said.

Trump's defenders say he is being unfairly criticized. "Everyone is winging it," said former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, a Republican. "We're facing something we've never faced before. The entire world was slow to react."

Trump seeks to play the role of commander in chief navigating a crisis that has consumed his presidency, and indeed has won plaudits for some quick interventions to marshal resources, but has acted more often as a commander of confusion.

"He has communicated like he's negotiating with everyone, which is the craziest thing," said Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and an adviser to former vice president Joe Biden, Trump's likely Democratic opponent.

One vivid example of this leadership style was Trump publicly musing last week about reopening the economy by Easter, April 12, which most public health experts warned was far too premature.

"These things have to be empirically driven, not driven by him waking up and going, 'You know what? Easter would be a good time,' " Emanuel said. "That's not how you make policy or how anyone would run an organization."

Message inconsistency has been a feature throughout Trump's presidency, from his zigzagging positions on foreign and domestic policies to his up-and-down personal relationships and rivalries. This is caused in part by the president's proclivity to speak his mind at any given time, something his followers hail as a virtue. It also is attributable to his lack of ideological conviction, which makes him susceptible to being persuaded by advisers both inside and outside the government, often on the basis of self-interest.

"This is not the first time this president has looked schizophrenic, because there's a long history of him vacillating between incompatible messaging and policy directives," said a former senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. "This is no outlier. This is a result of a more ad hoc approach to governing."

In the midst of a pandemic that affects every American and that knows no boundaries of geography, class or race, Trump - who has personalized his office, polarized the public and smeared the media more than any president in recent memory - has struggled to assert national leadership and summon broad credibility. And his lack of clear and factual information has left governors and mayors to step in, making varying decisions for their localities that have resulted in a patchwork response.

"People here are looking to us to talk about what's going on in Ohio," said Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican. "We tell them exactly what we're seeing - everything we know, when we know it."

Asked whether Trump has sent confusing signals, DeWine responded with a simple "No." But then the governor went on to explain that Trump's Easter float "did not impact what we were seeing in Ohio or my conversations with people in the state. It just didn't impact it."

In Dayton, a working-class city of about 140,000 people, Mayor Nan Whaley described the challenges of keeping folks informed as their lives are uprooted.

"I have people in my city texting me what the president said, and they go, 'Well, what you're saying isn't true because the president says the opposite,' " said Whaley, a Democrat. "Every day is a different message from the federal government and there is no consistency, other than from Dr. Fauci," she added, referring to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Trump also has given confusing signals about what he prioritizes in economic stimulus packages, which has left him somewhat isolated from congressional leaders as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes the lead crafting policies.

When asked whether she and other members of Congress look for cues from Trump, Harris was dismissive. "There are a number of us who really aren't looking to the president for guidance on what the American people need," she said.

Jim Clyburn, who's been a political force for a long time, changed everything for Joe Biden's campaign

By Donna M. Owens
Jim Clyburn, who's been a political force for a long time, changed everything for Joe Biden's campaign
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., in his office on Capitol Hill. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

In late February, before a coming pandemic had begun to sweep the nation, back when the Democratic primary field was crowded and it looked like former vice president Joe Biden's campaign was hanging by a thread, congressman James E. Clyburn stood behind a lectern and began talking about fear.

"I am fearful for the future of this country," the South Carolina lawmaker said three days before the state's primary while urging votes for Biden. "I'm fearful for my daughters and their future and my children and their children's future."

Weeks later, in his office, Clyburn was less anxious. His emotional endorsement of Biden as Democrats' proper antidote for the Trump era to end the era of President Donald Trump had earned him the title "kingmaker," another notch in a long career that has made him the highest ranking African American legislator on Capitol Hill.

It was early March, and Congress was still welcoming tour groups, so Clyburn, 79, was hosting a group of black college students, all young men who were part of the teacher training program "Call Me Mister" that he had helped launch decades earlier. They were seated were seated adjacent to his office's conference room - a marble fireplace, a gilt-edged golden mirror and sparkling chandelier attesting to the congressman's stature and a wall lined with vintage images of black men who served in Congress during Reconstruction attesting to his own place in history.

"Don't allow your skin color or heritage to keep you from excelling," he told them in his gravelly baritone. "Don't let it define you or confine you."

Clyburn knows something about defining moments. When Democrats look back on their 2020 primary, Clyburn's endorsement of Biden will be viewed as a key inflection point, perhaps the moment that everything changed.

For Clyburn, who has served in Congress for 27 years and is majority whip, the past few months have had their own inflections. In September, he lost his wife, Emily, whom he had been married to for nearly six decades, and for the first part of this year, he saw his favored presidential candidate faltering badly.

Biden had come to South Carolina offering words of comfort at Emily's funeral last fall - a mark of the deep friendship shared between the two men. Clyburn later watched as his old friend lost in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. He privately advised Biden to deliver his often-meandering message more clearly; boil it down, as preachers do. Clyburn wasn't planning to endorse until an elderly constituent asked him who he was voting for. At that point, he publicly loaned his political capital to Biden, saying: "We know Joe. But more importantly, Joe knows us."

Former president Barack Obama once said Clyburn was "one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens," but it would have been hard to predict just how pivotal Clyburn's words would prove.

According to Edison Research exit poll data, 56 percent of South Carolina's Democratic primary voters were African American, and they overwhelmingly supported Biden, who won 61 percent of their vote. (Sen. Bernie Sanders lagged far behind at 17 percent.) Sixty percent of black voters cited the Clyburn endorsement as an important factor in their decision.

Biden's win in South Carolina reverberated across the country. He won 10 states on Super Tuesday and has continued to rack up delegates. With other state primary elections delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, Biden's delegate lead over Sanders is holding. He has Clyburn and Southern black voters to thank.

"The primary results underscored significant and instructive lessons that candidates would do well to heed: Black voters can make or break a campaign," said Rashad Robinson, president of the advocacy group Color of Change. "From Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropping out after seeing no pathway to the black vote after South Carolina, to Biden taking home many Southern states, the message is clear."

Putting it another way, Clyburn quotes his friend Andrew Young, the former ambassador and civil rights leader, who "used to say all the time that black folks have the best antenna."

- - -

Before Clyburn was elected in 1993 to represent South Carolina's 6th Congressional District, he'd lost three elections. He was 52 years old, and his win that year made him the state's first black congressman since 1897.

When he got to Washington, Clyburn recalled a reporter saying to him, "You're just getting elected to Congress at an age when people are retiring from Congress. How do you expect to be around here long enough to get anything done?"

Clyburn responded by running for president of his legislative class and was elected co-president his first year on Capitol Hill. In 1999, he was voted in as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Democratic Caucus vice chair in 2002. Three years later he was unanimously elected chair of the Democratic Caucus. When the party regained the House majority in 2006, Clyburn became House Majority Whip, and later served as Assistant Democratic Leader from 2011 to 2019.

"I call him 'Mr. Clyburn.' It's as a sign of respect," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "He is a giant on the Hill and like John Lewis, one of the lions in Congress. ... Many of us look up to him as a mentor, to show us what to do."

She says Clyburn, who was born in Sumter, South Carolina, is a "true Southern gentleman." His hometown - named for Thomas Sumter, the American Revolutionary War general who later served in Congress - shaped him. Clyburn's mother, Almeta Dizzley Clyburn, was a beautician and entrepreneur. His father, the Rev. Enos Lloyd Clyburn, was a fundamentalist Church of God minister.

He and his two younger brothers "had to recite a different Bible verse daily, and a current event from the newspaper," recalled Clyburn, who was elected president of his local NAACP youth chapter at age 12.

In his congressional office, where books and papers are stacked on his desk, Clyburn recalled living under Jim Crow. One incident still riles him: When his high school marching band was accepted into the town's annual Christmas parade, white schools were given plum spots among the procession of floats.

"We were placed dead last, directly behind the horses," he said. Clyburn carried a new clarinet and marched for miles in a freshly starched shirt and shined shoes, dodging horse manure.

In 1957, he enrolled in South Carolina State College, a historically black institution in Orangeburg. There, he helped build the local chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality, an interracial group that organized the "freedom riders" who traveled on buses across the South to peacefully protest segregated transportation facilities. Clyburn also attended a 1960 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee convening with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

As part of the "Orangeburg Seven," he and peers at nearby Claflin College helped strategize and lead demonstrations against segregated drugstores. A protest in 1960 turned violent and a jeering white mob and law enforcement trailed about 1,000 marchers. Clyburn was among those herded into police cruisers and jailed. Soon after, he met Emily England, who was also attending the state college.

Clyburn described her as "a cute, 92-pound coed" who offered him one of the burgers she and other students had brought to the courthouse while protesters awaited bail. "I reached for it, and with an impish grin, she drew it away, broke it in half and we shared the hamburger," he wrote in his memoir, "Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black."

Fifteen months later, they were married.

- - -

"My wife was very much a sounding board," Clyburn said. "More than that, she was pretty strategic, too."

The Clyburn union lasted 58 years until "Miss Emily," a librarian and widely beloved community advocate, died. Before her death, the couple designated $1.7 million in endowed funds they raised and contributed to SCSU to establish a scholarship in her honor.

They had three children - Mignon Clyburn, Jennifer Clyburn Reed and Angela Clyburn - and several grandchildren. Many of them live near the congressman in a quiet Columbia neighborhood - some next door, others on the same street.

They're a politically active bunch. Mignon, who lives in Washington, D.C., is a former FCC commissioner turned private sector consultant. Angela, the youngest daughter, is political director of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

"It helps to be near each other," said Jennifer Clyburn Reed, a former teacher who leads an education center at the University of South Carolina. "We usually all vote together and go out to breakfast afterward. This is the first year that we didn't do that."

The tradition was one they had shared with their mother, whom they are all mourning. She was a fervent Biden supporter, but not everyone in the Clyburn family backed him.

Eldest grandson Walter A.C. Reed was a field organizer on Pete Buttigieg's campaign. Granddaughter Sydney Reed, a medical student, had been impressed by Andrew Yang. Their mother, Jennifer, and her husband leased campaign office space to billionaire Tom Steyer, who invested heavily in South Carolina before exiting the race.

"Her daddy is for Biden, she's renting to Steyer, her son is in TV ads for Pete. We were having fun with that," said Clyburn. "In fact, I got a call I'll never forget: 'Your grandson is in this ad and he's got your picture in the ad with him. It looks like you're endorsing Buttigieg.' I said 'Well, you did say my grandson, didn't you?' "

Clyburn laughed about it, allowing that Walter - who has political aspirations - showed savvy. Before the election, he called the recent college graduate with a prediction.

"I said, 'I never spanked you when you were a child, but I'm going to give you a good spanking on election day'," Clyburn said, chuckling again.

- - -

Several of the presidential campaigns courted Clyburn, but he says he was always going to vote for Biden. They go way back. They had both lost three elections and understood disappointment. They'd appeared on Charlie Rose's show fairly often, had talked about desegregation and knew each other.

Yet Clyburn was dismayed by Biden's campaign early on: the way he got thrown "off kilter" by the "touchy, feely" #MeToo allegations, and his performance in the first debate when Sen. Kamala Harris "went upside his head" over busing.

Clyburn offered Biden advice ("He was very open to it") and spoke without notes during his endorsement. "I had no idea it would get that kind of reaction," he said. "But I did say, 'I'm trying to create a surge.' "

The pollsters at FiveThirtyEight analyzed the Super Tuesday results and found that Biden did well among black voters and also white voters, especially those who decided late to back Biden.

"I can't tell you how many people have come up to me, white - male and female - saying 'thank you,' " Clyburn said. "I've had more white people than black people thank me for that endorsement."

As a politician, he's known for his Famous Fish Fry, which draws a large crowd each June, particularly when a presidential election is looming.

As a legislator, he's pushed for rural and economic development. His 10-20-30 federal funding formula to combat poverty was included in four sections of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The formula requires that at least 10 percent of federal funds go to communities with "persistent" poverty. (The program is so popular in the party that several Democratic presidential candidates sought to rebrand Clyburn's program as a vehicle for reparations.)

Last year, Clyburn launched the House Task Force on Rural Broadband with the goal of making sure all Americans have access to high-speed Internet by 2025. It is an issue that has been highlighted by the coronavirus crisis. Clyburn has also been pushing for community health centers to help fight the pandemic, and the first coronavirus package included $100 million for such centers.

And, he's still supporting his candidate. Clyburn held calls with clergy in Florida and Illinois to get out the vote for Biden, did radio interviews in Michigan and Pennsylvania and recorded robocalls that went out in several Southern states. Campaigning has cooled as the nation's political leaders respond to the current health crisis, but Clyburn has said that if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, he should select a black woman as his vice president.

"I say a black woman as opposed to a minority," he said. "It needs to be a black woman. Biden is winning black women overwhelmingly."

Clyburn's short list includes: Sen. Harris; Rep. Val Demings, the Florida congresswoman who helped lead the Trump impeachment hearings; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Stacey Abrams, the Georgia gubernatorial candidate; and Obama's former national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Consider them endorsed.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Deflation could be the next threat

By robert j. samuelson
Deflation could be the next threat


(Advance for Monday, April 6, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Samuelson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- Just what kind of economic slump will this be? It's too early to know, but it's not too early to speculate. I've done a totally unscientific survey of economic forecasts. Some were solicited by me; others I received from regular emails. What follows is a quick summary of what I found. It doesn't attempt to forecast peak unemployment or the impact on the presidential election. My purpose is more modest: to clarify what we know and what we don't.

You'll recall the context. The coronavirus has turned into a job-killing machine. Businesses have closed by the thousands as firms lost customers and governments invoked lockdowns. Jobs, profits and the stock market have dropped dramatically. The next big worry may be deflation, a general fall of prices. It's already occurring in oil, where daily global demand has plunged from about 100 million barrels to 80 million. Prices have spiraled downward.

There's already a huge glut of jobless workers. Claims for government unemployment insurance have jumped by 3.3 million and 6.6 million in the past two weeks. The total of nearly 10 million is likely the fastest surge of joblessness since the Great Depression. If that 10 million were added to the preexisting joblessness, the unemployment rate (3.5% in February) would jump to over 10%, a blog post by the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

That hasn't happened yet. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the latest jobless figures on April 3, the official unemployment rate rose to only 4.4% in March. The gap between the 4% and the 10% has many causes, the BLS said: (1) Much of the employment survey occurred in early March, before the full impact of coronavirus layoffs was felt; (2) some workers on temporary layoff were misclassified as being employed; (3) some interviews "were suspended … for the safety of interviewers and respondents."

Confusion also surrounds gross domestic product (GDP). Some reports have suggested that GDP will suffer a double-digit decline in the second quarter. This is misleading. The CBO expects GDP to "decline by more than 7% during the second quarter." However, the data is presented on an annualized basis. So the 7% is multiplied by four. Presto: 28%.

Many forecasters expect the economy to rebound in the summer; the pandemic is expected to subside and many people could return to work. Economists Nariman Behravesh and Elisabeth Waelbroeck-Rocha of IHS Markit, a forecasting firm, expect the U.S. GDP to drop 5.4% in 2020. Capital Economics, a consulting firm, thinks the pandemic by year-end will be "under control in much of the world, including the U.S. And we think that this will set the stage for a more lasting recovery." European stocks could advance 20% to 30% over the same period. Goldman Sachs expects the GDP to take a massive hit in the second quarter but then jump 19% in the third quarter, resulting in a 6.2% drop for the whole year.

But pessimists abound. There's no doubt that the slump will be severe. Many economists have identified surpluses of people and products. Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute fears the worst. "The coronavirus epidemic is triggering other economic crises in its wake," he writes. Among those crises is "the bursting of a global asset price bubble … a global credit crunch, and a major reversal of capital flows to the emerging market economies."

Economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics is also downbeat. Households face lost income and lost wealth, he writes. "Some $10 trillion in stockholder wealth (depending on the day and hour) has evaporated in the past several weeks. A powerful wealth effect -- the relationship between households' wealth and their spending -- will soon take hold. We estimate the wealth effect in a down stock market to be 4.5 cents for every $1 decline in stock wealth, consumer spending will decline by almost a nickel in less than a year," he says. If continued, this would "crush consumer spending and the economy."

Deflation is a widespread fall in prices, just as inflation is a widespread increase in prices. In theory, modest deflation could aid an economic recovery by making goods and services cheaper. But rapid deflation could be self-defeating. Companies become even less profitable and consumers delay purchases because prices will be even lower.

The Great Depression provides evidence of deflation's damaging effects. Agricultural prices collapsed, making it harder for farmers to pay their debts. Mortgages went into default by the thousands. Prices fell more than wages, raising labor costs and frustrating firms' efforts to resume production. Idle workers and idle machines pushed prices down, delaying the recovery. We cannot let it happen again.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

On being our better selves

By kathleen parker
On being our better selves


(Advance for Sunday, April 5, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- Sometimes it takes a virus to summon the better angels of our nature, to take liberal license with Abraham Lincoln's famous words.

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory ... will yet swell ... when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

His words remind us that throughout our history, our leaders have often risen to outsize challenges with language that has inspired us. Other periods are notable for an absence of lyricism at the lectern -- or before television cameras and microphones. As I researched Lincoln's words, it was jarring to hear Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., criticizing California's school closings as "overkill" in response to COVID-19, and that "children could have went back to school in two weeks to four weeks."

In such moments, we find it necessary to inspire ourselves. And Americans, though rabidly divided, are doing just that. More than a few times, I've heard strangers say, in so many words, "We're supposed to learn something from this." Coastal residents, especially in the Bible Belt, tend to be, shall we say, spiritually alert, often to others' benefit. Frequently, this perspective coaxes out the question: What can I do to help?

This isn't to say we humans are reliably angelic, especially not when we're on the hunt for bathroom tissue. At the local Publix, which opens at 8 a.m., at least 100 people had gathered in the parking lot Friday by 7:30 a.m. When the gates opened, caffeinated demons rushed in. One of the shoppers, Pawleys Island lawyer Elizabeth "Muffy" Kneece, told me it was a surreal sight as masked neighbors skipped the niceties -- and the carts -- and sprinted to the paper-products aisle.

Well, they did say we're at war, didn't they?

Cognitive dissonance surrounds us. Nature is grand-jete-ing through springtime, taunting us with azure skies and dazzling us with color, while we ponder darkly the unseen microscopic world of bat viruses that seem bent on wiping out the human race. There's an ambient, almost universal, sense that any minute it may be our turn.

One escape, people have found, is by turning outward to help others, starting in your own backyard. This may mean standing on the balcony and singing arias for neighbors. Or, say, running a marathon in your small garden, as one British man did, raising $22,000 for COVID-19 relief. Church of Christ parishioners in nearby Georgetown, South Carolina, gathered at the local hospital parking lot to pray and sing their appreciation to employees leaving during a shift change.

Here in Pawleys Island, the loaves-and-fishes parable is becoming a reality. Restaurateur Josh Quigley, who co-owns three restaurants along The Grand Strand coastal highway, decided to feed people -- at no cost. After having to furlough 300 employees, keeping only managers employed at reduced salaries, Quigley wanted to do something to help.

He first consulted with local Episcopal rector William Keith, to figure out how to feed first responders. (Father Wil is also chaplain for the local fire department.) But before their brainstorming session was over on the eve of their experiment, which launched Thursday, they decided to make the food available to anyone who showed up. Copying the model created by One World Everybody Eats, a network of about 50 pay-as-you-can cafes around the country, Quigley created baked-pasta take-out meals to feed families of four to eight.

If you could pay the $5 cost of the meal, fine. If not, Quigley said the restaurant was earning enough from its other take-out customers to cover the cost of feeding those in need. Father Wil hopes to press other restaurants into service, taking turns one night a week so that locals can feed their families every night.

These unheralded efforts, small perhaps in their scope but vast in their impact, are a useful reminder that we (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) learning something, as we try to build a better foxhole. Or, perhaps, those better angels of our nature (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) touching the mystic chords of memory, just like the man said.

When we get to the other side of this pandemic, the challenge will be to keep these bonds of affection -- and to remember that we are not enemies, but, indeed, friends.

Kathleen Parker's email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Next year, may we be together

By ruth marcus
Next year, may we be together


(Advance for Sunday, April 5, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON -- The brisket is in the freezer, the matzoh in the pantry, but this Passover will be different from all other Passovers, a wan, anxious version of itself.

Other Jewish holidays are holier, but none is more communal. We Jews are, by definition, not social distancers; it takes 10 to make a minyan, the quorum required for public prayer. And a Passover Seder is the ultimate antithesis of social distancing. We are commanded to come together to retell the Passover story, to share it with our children, even those too young to comprehend.

There is nothing sadder than a sparse Seder table, nothing more Jewish than generations and siblings and cousins, friends and friends of friends, invited to join. "Let all who are hungry come and eat," we say, holding aloft the matzoh. As the meal concludes, the children open the door for Elijah the prophet.

This is a holiday of hospitality and open doors, not a ritual to be experienced six feet apart or enacted in cyberspace. And yet, distance we must, and discover alternate ways of fulfilling the commandment, "You shall tell your child on that very day: It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt."

I am lucky in this regard: My children were not supposed to be home for the Seder; now they have returned, and they and their boyfriends have quarantined enough that the six of us can limp through a mini-Seder on Wednesday night, one where the specified practices assume new resonance. Ordinarily, we dispense with the ritual hand-washing; this year I imagine we will count the full 20 seconds, both times. Ordinarily, we break off and pass around bits of the afikoman, the piece of matzoh set aside to serve as a symbolic dessert; this year we will come up with an alternative.

If I can find a chicken in the grocery store, if I can snag a delivery spot, there will be matzoh ball soup, even if it is not safe for Grandma to come and make the matzoh balls with my daughters, as she usually does. But can Grandma -- my 85-year-old mother, who has been sewing face masks at her nearby retirement community as soon as the material arrives -- safely join us? Can my brothers and their family? Can we put all the leaves in the table and sit Grandma apart, at the very end?

In my head, I know the right answer is no. Grandma has Zoom on her iPad; she can follow along. In my heart, this is killing me. There has never been a Passover -- not the terrible year my father was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery; not the even worse one that he was in a nursing home, trying without success to recover from his broken hip -- that we have been apart.

One measure of the Passover imperative to gather came in Israel, where a group of Orthodox rabbis authorized videoconferencing for Seders as long as the link was launched before the holiday began -- this despite the fact that Orthodox Jews would ordinarily not be permitted to use electricity, as on the sabbath.

The exception, the rabbis wrote, was justified "to remove sadness from adults and the elderly, to give them motivation to continue fighting for their lives." Israel's chief rabbinate overruled the rabbis, but even the willingness to consider relaxing the rules makes the point.

It is a bitter irony of the pandemic that this is a holiday about plagues, visited by God on the Egyptians in order to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jewish slaves go. Passover, of course, refers to the sign, marked in lamb's blood on the doors of Jewish households, to instruct the Angel of Death to pass over their houses as God unleashed his 10th and most terrible plague, the slaying of the first-born.

At the Seder, we dip our fingers into a glass of wine and recite the names of the plagues in order: Dam (blood). Tz'fardea (frogs). Kinnim (vermin). The spilled wine recognizes, we are told, the suffering of the Egyptian people, even as we rejoice in our own liberation.

This year, needless to say, there is an 11th plague and little rejoicing. If the first 10 had a godly purpose, to release the Jewish people from bondage, I recoil from discerning a divine hand in this one. The virus unleashed itself on us, and we failed to prepare for or respond adequately to its menace. This time, no sacrificial lamb can ensure that the Angel of Death will pass us by.

The Seder ends with the invocation "L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim." Next year in Jerusalem. It is a statement not simply of geography but of yearning for a better world. This year, that yearning is made manifest. L'Shana Haba'ah. Next year may we be together. Next year may we be healthy. Next year, God willing, back to normal.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

A sign of the hunger to come

By catherine rampell
A sign of the hunger to come



(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

At one food pantry in Central Texas, the queue of cars waiting to pick up boxes of food stretches a quarter-mile. In Dayton, Ohio, the line extends about a mile.

In Pittsburgh, it's miles, plural, as families wait hours so they won't go hungry.

Across the country, one of the less visible parts of the social safety net -- tens of thousands of food pantries and food banks -- is starting to fray. The federal government must do more before it unravels.

Unsurprisingly, demand for food assistance is surging.

Nearly 10 million Americans lost their jobs in just the latter half of March, according to initial unemployment benefits claims, and many of those workers are struggling to pay their bills. Children are stuck home from school, which means parents who had relied on free or reduced-price school lunches are scrambling to assemble or pick up additional meals during the week. Grocery stores cannot stock products as quickly as people want to purchase them, and many households with vulnerable family members fear cramming into crowded supermarkets.

And so Americans who never saw themselves at risk of food insecurity are turning to private nonprofits that distribute free meals.

In surveys of food banks conducted from March 19 to 23 by Feeding America, the nation's largest organization for domestic hunger relief, 92% reported increases in demand for food assistance. The size of the increase varies by location, with some reporting doubling or even septupling their usual distributions. Dayton's The Foodbank Inc. served about 175 to 200 households per day before the crisis; one day last week, it distributed food boxes to 667 households through its limited-hours, drive-through-only service.

"I'm worried about running out of food," says Chief Executive Michelle Riley.

Just as demand has surged, donations from local grocers and supermarkets have plummeted. Understandably, many have little inventory left over to donate. About two-thirds of food banks surveyed nationwide have experienced a decline in food donations, Feeding America reports.

Meanwhile, these organizations' other expenses have gone up.

About two-thirds have reported a decline in volunteers -- partly because volunteers tend to be retirees, older people who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Some organizations, such as ECHOS in Houston, have been offering their paid staff temporary raises in gratitude for their willingness to continue working under stressful conditions. ECHOS and other organizations have had to buy new software and supplies to adapt to social-distancing measures that require some staff to work remotely, and others to implement new food-delivery logistics on-site.

And as the economy sinks into recession, many worry that the private donations they rely on will dry up.

"No crisis has ever strained our ability to serve those in need as much as coronavirus," says Derrick Chubbs, president and chief executive of the Central Texas Food Bank. His organization did not have money set aside in its operating budget to purchase food needed to replace disappearing grocery donations. The cancellation of a major Austin music festival, which usually raises about $200,000 for the food bank, has intensified the financial strain.

The federal government has taken steps designed to beef up food assistance. These include funding for additional commodity purchases from farmers, for emergency food programs; and allowing states to temporarily give more households the maximum food-stamp benefit.

Much more needs to be done.

First, the Agriculture Department needs to reduce cumbersome paperwork requirements for food banks and food pantries. It usually does this after natural disasters, when the goal is to serve as many people as quickly as possible. The measure seems doubly important during a disaster caused not by a hurricane but by an infectious disease, when trading pens and paperwork back and forth is risky.

But USDA officials have dragged their feet on waiving such requirements.

Second, Congress needs to pass "phase four" coronavirus relief legislation that increases the maximum value of food-stamp benefits, as it did in response to the Great Recession. (The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed states to give more households the maximum benefit but did not raise the ceiling for benefits.)

Every single food bank, food pantry and anti-poverty organization I've spoken with pleaded for this. Not because more generous food-stamp assistance would put more money into their coffers. It won't. But it would put more funds into the hands of low-income Americans, enabling them to purchase more groceries through commercial retailers. This would reduce some of the burden on food pantries and, moreover, serve as effective fiscal stimulus.

The hours-long lines at food pantries around the country are an early indicator of the hunger to come. Better to get ahead of the problem now.

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

This is the scary part. But Americans will get through this.

By megan mcardle
This is the scary part. But Americans will get through this.



(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- This is the scary part.

I had intended to write about what the new jobless figures mean: more than 6 million people filed for unemployment in the past week, roughly 10 million in the past fortnight. This was expected, and necessary. But it is also the point when the realities of the virus, the realities of the economic damage we're taking to stave it off, all become undeniable, and quite terrifying. And after you've said that, I'm not sure what else there is to add.

I'd like to tell you this isn't as bad as it seems. But it seems bad because it is bad. We are living through something common in human history but unfamiliar to us: a global outbreak of a killing disease that is going to take a lot of lives and leave us all poorer.

Our only advantage is that some of us live in countries so rich that we can try to fight it with an entirely novel strategy: Everyone sit still until the virus runs out of new victims. Then slowly try to spin up the wheels of commerce, ever-vigilant for signs of another outbreak that will require us to scurry back into our homes.

The planet's apex predators are learning once again to live like prey.

Living in fear is hateful to me, no matter how necessary. I'd imagine you loathe it, too. So I decided to ask different question: As we sit isolated in our homes, with nothing but a steady stream of awful news for company, what's the best way to face this bravely and cheerfully?

Well, if you find out, please do let me know. In the meantime, here are a few things that have been helping me.

First, community. Americans are checking in on elderly neighbors, calling friends on other coasts or continents, sharing recipes and sourdough starters, clapping for the health-care workers on the front lines. This human instinct for helping each other is heartwarming, but more importantly, it's our secret weapon. Even more than language or tools, community and cooperation are what separate us from most other species. It's how we cured tuberculosis, split the atom, went to the moon. It's how we'll fix COVID-19, too.

So I remind myself of the courage of doctors and nurses risking their lives to save others, not just despite the virus, but despite the fact that we accidentally cut their pay. I remember the unprecedented global collaboration happening behind the front lines, where humans are cracking COVID-19's genetic code, fast-tracking vaccines and sharing everything they've learned about treatment, real time, so an invention that's keeping doctors safer in Taiwan soon shows up on the other side of the planet.

Human history can sometimes look like a race between the selfish and the incompetent, and the decent people who do the right thing. Well, the latter group has been pulling ahead for the past 15,000 years, and now has a comfortable lead. I'm betting on them to win this round too, hauling the rest of humanity across the finish line behind them.

History comforts me in another way: Like you, I am descended from a long line of people who would consider my current worries some easy living.

On one side, they crammed more than a hundred people into a ship the size of a large house, taking 63 seasick days to reach a wild land they'd never seen. Almost half their shipmates would die that winter, an ocean away from everyone they'd ever known. On the other side, my ancestors survived an even more perilous journey on the infamous "coffin ships," fleeing a famine that ultimately denuded their island of half its population in the space of a decade.

Maybe your ancestors came here some other way: in chains through the brutal Middle Passage, in steerage fleeing the pogroms of Russia or the Holocaust, the persecution of the Huguenots or the Armenian genocide. Or perhaps they were already here when the Pilgrims landed and endured European plagues followed by a centuries of massacre and displacement.

What they all have in common -- what we have in common -- is that they endured. Their blood runs in our veins; we were made to handle this, and much worse.

No matter how bad it gets, thanks to the hard work and technological innovations of those generations before us, for Americans, this crisis will still be rather mild and very brief, as human disasters go. And if we all make a real effort to cut off every possible avenue of transmission, we can make it even shorter: knock the caseload back to the point where covid-19 can be contained with aggressive testing and contact tracing, followed by spot quarantines, rather than nationwide lockdowns.

If so, we can get the economy restarted before too much of the damage becomes permanent.

That's obviously not easy, and it's going to be expensive, no matter what. But even when the news goes from bad to worse to unbelievably terrible, I never stop believing that we can do it. What's more, knowing my fellow Americans, I believe that we will.

Read more:

Megan McArdle: Covid-19 is going to do to businesses what it has done to people

Cathy Merrill: This is more than a 'hiatus' for my small business

Megan McArdle: Need motivation to stay home? Do it for our supply chains.

Craig Spencer: A day in the life of a New York emergency room doctor

Canceled surgeries, delayed testing and lost jobs: How the coronavirus is affecting lives

Danielle Allen: A better way to defeat the virus and restore the economy

Early clues of COVID-19's origins

By david ignatius
Early clues of COVID-19's origins


(Advance for Friday, April 3, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- The story of how the COVID -19 virus emerged in Wuhan, China, has produced a nasty propaganda battle between the United States and China. The two sides have traded some of the sharpest charges made since the Soviet Union in 1985 falsely accused the CIA of manufacturing AIDS.

U.S. intelligence officials don't believe the pandemic was caused by deliberate wrongdoing. The outbreak that has now swept the world instead began with a simpler story, albeit one with tragic consequences: The prime suspect is "natural" transmission from bats to humans, perhaps through unsanitary markets. But scientists don't rule out that an accident at a research laboratory in Wuhan might have spread a deadly bat virus that had been collected for scientific study.

"Good science, bad safety," is how Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., put this theory in a Feb. 16 tweet. He ranked such a breach (or natural transmission) as more likely than two extreme possibilities: an accidental leak of an "engineered bioweapon" and a "deliberate release." Cotton's earlier loose talk about bioweapons set off a furor, back when he first raised it in late January and called the outbreak "worse than Chernobyl."

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added to the bile last month by describing COVID -19 as the "China virus" and the "Wuhan virus," respectively.

China dished wild, irresponsible allegations of its own. On March 12, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao charged in a tweet: "It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan." He retweeted an article that claimed, without evidence, that American troops might have spread the virus when they attended the World Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019.

China retreated on March 22, when Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai told "Axios on HBO" that such rumors were "crazy" on both sides. Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping pledged in a March 27 phone call to "focus on cooperative behavior," a senior administration official told me.

To be clear: U.S. intelligence officials believe there's no evidence whatsoever that the novel coronavirus was created in a laboratory as a potential bioweapon. Solid scientific research demonstrates that the virus wasn't engineered by humans and that it originated in bats.

But how did the Wuhan outbreak occur? Solving this medical mystery is important to prevent future pandemics. What's increasingly clear is that the initial "origin story" -- that the virus was spread by people who ate contaminated animals at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan -- is shaky.

Scientists have identified the culprit as a bat coronavirus, through genetic sequencing; bats weren't sold at the seafood market, although that market or others could have sold animals that had contact with bats.

There's a competing theory -- of an accidental lab release of bat coronavirus -- that scientists have been puzzling about for weeks. Less than 300 yards from the seafood market is the Wuhan branch of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control. Researchers from that facility and the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology have posted articles about collecting bat coronaviruses from around China, for study to prevent future illness. Did one of those samples leak, or was hazardous waste deposited in a place where it could spread?

Richard Ebright, a Rutgers microbiologist and biosafety expert, told me in an email that "the first human infection could have occurred as a natural accident," with the virus passing from bat to human, possibly through another animal. But Ebright cautioned that it "also could have occurred as a laboratory accident, with, for example, an accidental infection of a laboratory worker." He noted that bat coronaviruses were studied in Wuhan at Biosafety Level 2, "which provides only minimal protection," compared to the top BSL-4.

Ebright described a December 2019 video from the Wuhan CDC that shows staffers "collecting bat coronaviruses with inadequate [personal protective equipment] and unsafe operational practices."

And then there's the Chinese study that was curiously withdrawn. In February, a site called ResearchGate published a brief article by Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao from Guangzhou's South China University of Technology. "In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. Safety level may need to be reinforced in high risk biohazardous laboratories," the article concluded. Botao Xiao told the Wall Street Journal in February that he had withdrawn the paper because it "was not supported by direct proofs."

Accidents happen, human or laboratory. Solving the mystery of how COVID-19 began isn't a blame game, but a chance for China and the United States to cooperate in a crisis, and prevent a future one.

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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