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Social Security boost seen as unlikely to help Dems at polls

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Social Security boost seen as unlikely to help Dems at polls

WASHINGTON (AP) — The news that 70 million people will see an 8.7% boost in their Social Security checks next year came just weeks before Election Day, but it is unlikely to give Democrats the edge they are desperately seeking at the polls.

In fact, the promise of bigger payments could call even more attention to the surging prices that have been inflicting pain on households — and the reason behind Thursday’s announcement of the the program’s largest cost-of-living increase in four decades.

“It’s going to bring more money to people’s pockets, but it primes people to think about high inflation,” said Marty Cohen, a James Madison University political science professor.

“This is being done because inflation is bad, and that’s the reason for the large adjustment. It’s not an issue that Democrats want on the front burner for voters.”

Voters have ranked the economy as a higher priority than Social Security, with 71% of U.S. adults telling Pew Research Center in January that strengthening the economy was a top priority for the president and Congress versus 57% saying the same about ensuring the Social Security system is financially sound.

The 8.7% boost in benefits brought a one-word response from 76-year-old retiree and genealogy hobbyist Paul Phelps: “Ouch.”

In Phelps’ mind, the increase is so large because inflation is so bad.

Rising costs will not have any bearing on how he votes in the Nov. 8 election. Neither will the boost he will see in his monthly checks beginning next year.

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“No, it’s a good example of the government running as the government should,” said Phelps, of Alexandria, Virginia.

Mary Browning, a 69-year-old Social Security recipient in Minneapolis, said she credits Democrats and the Biden administration entirely for the revved up checks she will get starting in January. But that did not change how the self-described “die-hard progressive” she plans to vote.

“I don’t think that people understand how difficult it is to get these changes through. And Biden is getting them through,” Browning said.

Yet Biden and his administration played no role in the calculation of the cost-of-living adjustment. It is arrived at by a formula based on inflation.

The White House messaging on Social Security highlights how older people will save hundreds of dollars next year thanks to the 8.7% Social Security increase, a roughly $5 monthly decrease in Medicare premiums and a new law — which Republicans unanimously opposed — that that will cut some prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients.

“Seniors are gonna get ahead of inflation next year,” President Joe Biden said Thursday. “For the first time in 10 years, their Social Security checks will go up while their Medicare premiums go down.”

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that only 36% of people in the United States approve of Biden’s handling of the economy. But they are not putting all the blame for inflation on him, with 55% saying higher than usual prices are mostly because of factors outside Biden’s control and 44% saying that’s happening mostly because of Biden’s policies.

Republicans have been quick to point out other ways costs are up for older people, highlighting private retirement plan losses over the last year, high gas prices and rising costs at the grocery store.

“Seniors are having to delay their retirement, retirees on fixed incomes are struggling, retirement funds are plummeting and Biden and Democrats have only themselves to blame,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn.

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Some Democratic candidates have put Social Security at the center of campaign ads attacking their opponents. In some cases, the ads have made misleading suggestions about Republican plans for Social Security, echoing recent claims from Biden that Social Security will be “on the chopping block” under a Republican-controlled Senate.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., proposed plan earlier this year that would require Congress to come up with a proposal to adequately fund Social Security and Medicare or consider phasing them out.

That idea has won little public support from Republican lawmakers. It will “not be part of our agenda,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

To Jaime Harrison, the Democratic National Committee chair, Republicans “want to cut Social Security and they’re openly plotting to raise prescription drug prices on millions of seniors.”

Nowhere has Social Security become more of a campaign issue than the Senate race in Wisconsin, where Democrat Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor, is challenging Republican incumbent Ron Johnson.

Johnson, one of a few politicians who expressed support for Scott’s plan, has repeatedly criticized Social Security over the years, calling it a “Ponzi scheme.” He has proposed moving Social Security from mandatory spending into the discretionary fund, which would mean the money spent on the program would not be automatic and require Congress to approve the funds every year.

During their debate Thursday, Johnson defended saying Social Security and Medicare should compete for money with other government programs, saying that would avoid financial turbulence down the road.

“I want to save Social Security. I want to save Medicare,” Johnson said. “I never said I wanted to cut or put Social Security on the chopping block.”

Barnes pushed back.

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“He’s coming for your retirement,” he said.

It is unlikely that with such meager support to overhaul Social Security that anything will be done in the coming years, said Cohen, the James Madison political scientist. The program is also extremely popular, with 74% of U.S. adults saying in 2019 that the program’s benefits should not be reduced in any way.

“Saying is one thing, and getting things done is another,” Cohen said. “It’s a program that’s broadly popular, for the reason that it benefits people. It’s somewhat untouchable.”

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Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis and Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

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Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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