Happy Monday and welcome to the final few days of August and what may be a relatively quiet news week, one made quieter by NASA’s decision this morning to postpone the planned launch of its Artemis I moon mission — and the most powerful rocket in history — due to an engine issue. The legal drama stemming from the FBI’s search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate will continue this week, with a hearing related to a Trump court filing scheduled for Thursday. Then Friday will bring the monthly jobs report for August.
In the meantime, here’s what’s going on:
US to Suspend Free Covid Test Program as Funds Runs Out
The federal program that provides free Covid-19 test kits will be suspended later this week, the White House said 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 hasn't provided additional funding to replenish the nation's stockpile of tests."
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 testing kit program at the beginning of 2022, and officials say that more than 600 million kits have been distributed so far. The White House has requested more funding from Congress 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 have warned that congressional inaction would force unacceptable tradeoffs and harm our overall COVID-19 preparedness and response—and that the consequences would likely worsen over time," a White House official told CNN. "Unfortunately, because of 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 we must downsize, pause, or end all together."
The administration says that test kit distribution would resume if or when Congress provides more funding. There is a growing concern, however, that manufacturers are shutting down production lines, which could make it difficult to provide more test kits should the need – and the funding – arise.
Biden Admin to Provide $11 Million for Monkeypox Vaccine Production
The Biden administration on Monday said it will provide about $11 million to support domestic production of the Jynneos vaccine being used to combat the spread of monkeypox.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the funding will be used to support the manufacturing of the vaccine through the purchase of additional equipment and recruitment of more staff for Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing (GRAM) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"This new agreement solidifies a domestic manufacturing capability that will bring us more vaccine sooner to end this outbreak," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Op-Ed of the Day: More Student Loan Reforms Needed
As policy wonks battle over the merits of President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt, a pair of analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center remind us that the U.S. higher education financing system is still seriously flawed and in need of repair.
BPC’s Kevin Miller and Shai Akabas argue Monday in The Hill that, instead of tinkering around the edges, "policymakers should reform the system in ways that lower borrowing costs, target relief to the most hard-pressed borrowers and reduce student dependence on loans over the long term."
Miller and Akabas say two basic reforms are essential. "First, they should make college more affordable and reduce or prevent the loans most likely to cause harm," they write. "Second, policymakers should change how the federal government manages loans and how borrowers repay them."
The first reform would involve providing federal funds to states to reduce education costs upfront, enabling states to offer "tuition cuts, grants, scholarships and ‘free college’ programs" targeting low- and middle-income households so that they don’t have to borrow so much money in the first place to attend school.
The second reform would change the loan repayment system across the board, making it responsive to borrower income and family size rather than the size of the borrower’s loan, thereby creating a more realistic repayment schedule. Miller and Akabas also want to update the public service loan forgiveness program to help more borrowers who work for nonprofits or government discharge their loans.
"Together, these reforms could cut college costs, especially for low-income students, enable low- and moderate-income students to borrow less and still attend college and slow if not reverse the growth of both existing and new loan debt," Miller and Akabas say. "We need systemic reforms rather than partial or poorly targeted steps that will not meet the long-term needs of current or future borrowers."
From Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of "The Black Swan," and presented in the interest of furthering debate (h/t Bloomberg):
‘A Shoestring Budget and Overworked Investigators’
Politico’s Ben Leonard reported Sunday about trouble at the federal office tasked with fighting the hackers who steal the medical information of millions of Americans every year.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, Leonard writes, is poorly positioned for the security job "because it has a dual mission — both to enforce the federal health privacy law known as HIPAA and to help the organizations protect themselves — and Congress has given it few resources."
Here’s more from Leonard:
- Team Biden’s Dour Mood Eases as Gas Prices Fall – Politico
- The Polls Are Telling a New Story About Democrats and the Midterms – The Hill
- Senate Dems Set to Stick With Schumer – Politico
- Fed’s QT to Hit ‘Full Stride’ With Central Bank Shrinking $9 Trillion Portfolio – Bloomberg
- ‘Inflation Fever’ Is Finally Breaking — But Central Banks Won’t Stop Hiking Rates – Bloomberg
- Warren ‘Very Worried’ the Fed Will Cause a Recession – Politico
- Black Americans Feel Disproportionate Pain From High Interest Rates – The Hill
- Fed Rate Hikes Won’t Bring Down Inflation as Long as Government Spending Stays High, Paper Says – CNBC
- Biden Administration Blames Congress for Imminent Pause of Free COVID Tests Program – CBS
- White House Effort to Stave Off Fall COVID Surge With New Boosters Faces Uphill Battle – The Hill
- The Worst-Paying States for Teachers – The Hill
- ‘Zombie Ice’ From Greenland Will Raise Sea Level 10 Inches – Associated Press
Views and Analysis
- Our Work Reforming Student Loans Is Far From Finished – Kevin Miller and Shai Akabas, The Hill
- It Took Joe Biden, Career Centrist, to Cancel Student Debt – Ross Barkan, New York
- Student Loan Debate Reveals Limits of Economist-Style Thinking – Elizabeth Popp Berman, New York
- This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Student Loan – Richard Galant, CNN
- What the Hawks Didn’t Get at Jackson Hole – Daniel Moss, Bloomberg
- Don’t Mock the Payroll Protection Program – Ross Barkan, New York
- The Rich Are Using Long-Term Care Funds Meant for the Poor – Mark Warshawsky, The Hill
- Biden’s Monkeypox Missteps – Bloomberg Editors