Senate Finally Gets Organized
Last week, the two leaders of the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate finally were able to reach an agreement on organizing the Senate for the next two years. An agreement was needed because each party has 50 Senators. Because of that, Vice President Kamila Harris, who is President of the Senate as provided for in the Constitution, will break any tie votes that may occur. That includes the vote to organize the Senate.
As a result of the agreement, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) switches places with Senator Mitch McConnell (R- Ky.). Schumer now becomes the Senate Majority Leader and McConnell becomes the Senate Minority Leader.
One of the most important results of this change is that the Senate Majority Leader controls what legislation moves through the Senate. That is crucial in determining what happens in terms of President Biden’s agenda in the next two years.
TSCL is a non-partisan organization which means we work with whomever supports our legislative agenda, regardless of what party they belong to. We look forward to working with the new chairmen and women of the various Senate committees and with the minority members of the committees in achieving our goals.
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Test Program to Give Covid Vaccine Through Local Pharmacies
The Biden administration announced last week that it will begin distributing a limited number of Covid-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies across the nation.
Many pharmacies are already administering vaccine doses that have been allocated to states. Under the new program, the federal government would ship doses directly to pharmacies. The new pharmacy initiative — which is aimed at broadening access to vaccines generally — is separate from an ongoing federal program to have Walgreens and CVS vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.
The program will ship roughly one million doses per week to about 6,500 pharmacies across the U.S. as a trial run, beginning Feb. 11. They also will boost shipments to states by 5% to 10.5 million doses per week, up from the 10 million doses that were announced a week earlier.
The pharmacies providing vaccines at stores include CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, and Costco, as well as networks of independent operators. Not all the chains will immediately be taking part in every state, the White House said.
At least one participant, CVS Health, plans to begin offering vaccinations to “eligible populations” using doses from the federal program on the first day, Feb. 11. The pharmacy chain expects to receive about 250,000 doses that will be rolled out at approximately 330 stores across 11 states including California, Texas, Virginia, and New York.
Another participant, Walgreens, will begin using its federal doses on Feb. 12.
The Biden administration is treating the first weeks of the program as a dry run to test if the federal pharmacy program will work before scaling it up, according to one source familiar with planning discussions.
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Seniors Hurt by Intolerable Mail Delays
If you are like millions of Americans you have experienced delays in your mail, including drug prescriptions and checks. In some instances, it has taken over a month for a letter to arrive at its destination, and there are still stories of undelivered packages piled up in postal facilities.
Members of the Maryland Congressional delegation recently sent a letter to the Postmaster General complaining of the poor service. They stated in part:
“We write to express our concern and alarm about the dramatic increase in problems with mail delivery that are being experienced by constituents across Maryland. Based on the reports and information we have received; these delays appear to be the result of delayed processing times and staff shortages.
“… Recently, our offices have received a significant increase in complaints from constituents who have gone weeks without receiving mail, similar to the surge of complaints we received last summer in the wake of USPS cuts and policy changes. These delays have had significant harmful impacts on the lives of our constituents. Because of these delays, our constituents have received bills after the dates on which payments were due or their payments were never received, and they have been forced to pay late fees.
“… Many of our constituents have not received urgently-needed packages such as prescription medications. The Department of Veterans Affairs saw a 25% delay in delivery of prescriptions mailed by the U.S. Postal Service in 2020.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) has urged President Biden to fire the entire USPS Board of Governors. “The continued challenges in preserving our Postal Service to survive and endure are gargantuan, and so demand bold solutions to meet them. To begin that work, we must have a governing body that can be trusted to represent the public interest,” Pascrell wrote.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) has also supported Pascrell’s plan to fire the board, citing constituents’ calls about late bills, checks and holiday cards.
However, the Biden administration has not received the idea enthusiastically. Jen Psaki, who is the White House Press Secretary, was asked about the proposal to fire the postal service board and she said it was an “interesting question,” and that “we all love the mailman and mailwoman,” but did not have any further comment.
However, some advisors have said it would be unwise for Biden to clean house. The board currently has four Republican governors, two Democratic governors and three vacancies.
This is obviously an area of concern for many TSCL members who get their prescriptions delivered through the mail as well as though who receive monthly checks by mail. If you have problems with late delivery, we urge you to contact your own Senators and Representative and let them know. Congress needs to put pressure on the postal service to get this problem fixed.
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New Report Warns About Eating Fried Foods (Again)
According to the Washington Post, a new report warns that regularly eating fried
foods — french fries, fried chicken, and the like — ups your chance of having a major cardiovascular problem, such as a heart attack or stroke, by 28 percent.
The report, which was published in the medical journal Heart, also notes that the more you eat, the greater your risk, with each additional weekly serving of a half-cup of fried food increasing that risk by 3 percent.
Besides heart attack and stroke, heightened risk for heart failure and coronary artery disease (by 37 percent and 22 percent, respectively) was linked to fried food consumption, too.
The health-related negatives of fried food include generally higher calories and fat, as well as extra salt and a tastiness that often leads people to eat multiple servings, which contributes to weight problems.
Consumption of fried foods has also been linked to diabetes and high blood pressure.
Obesity and diseases related to it, such as diabetes, have also been shown to be high risk factors for negative outcomes for those who contract the coronavirus.
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Now for Some Hopeful News
We gave you the bad news about eating fried foods, which really is nothing very new. But there was some hopeful news last week that we want to pass along.
According to the Associated Press, the AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, which is being used in Great Britain, does more than prevent people from falling seriously ill — it appears to reduce transmission of the virus and offers strong protection for three months on just a single dose, researchers said last week in an encouraging turn in the campaign to suppress the outbreak.
The news came from preliminary findings from Oxford University, a co-developer of the vaccine. The research could also bring scientists closer to an answer to one of the big questions about the vaccination drive: Will the vaccines curb the spread of the coronavirus?
It is not clear what implications, if any, the findings might have for the two other major vaccines being used in the U.S., Pfizer's and Moderna's.
The research appears to be good news in the desperate effort to arrest the spread of the virus and suggests a way to ease vaccine shortages and get people vaccinated more quickly.
The makers of all three vaccines have said that their shots proved to be anywhere from 70% to 95% effective in clinical trials in protecting people from illness caused by the virus. But it was unclear whether the vaccines could also suppress transmission of the virus — that is, whether someone inoculated could still acquire the virus without getting sick and spread it to others.
As a result, experts have been saying that even people who have been vaccinated should continue to wear masks and keep their distance from others.
Oxford's study, however, found that the vaccine not only prevented severe disease but appeared to cut transmission of the virus by two-thirds. The study has not been peer-reviewed yet.
Pfizer and Moderna also are studying the effect of their vaccines on asymptomatic infections.
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Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.