Your NPR news source
White House

A view of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in Washington.

Andrew Harnik

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: So Are We Getting $600, $2,000 Or Nothing?

Hey there! It’s Wednesday, and the newsletter is going on a short break. But we’ll be back on Monday. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. What happens with the stimulus bill now?

Republicans face a dilemma today after President Donald Trump threatened to veto the economic relief bill because of the size of stimulus payments.

Congress agreed to send up to $600 to qualified Americans. But Trump, who sat out of negotiations between congressional leaders, now says he wants $2,000 payments for individuals and $4,000 payments for couples.

Republicans previously opposed higher stimulus payments during negotiations, and now they must choose whether to stand with party leaders or Trump. The stakes are particularly high for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are in crucial runoff elections that will decide which party controls the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she supports higher payments and will bring the issue to the House floor tomorrow for a vote by unanimous consent.

While the relief bill passed by veto-proof majorities this week, it must be signed by the president soon or an estimated 12 million Americans will lose their jobless benefits the day after Christmas. And the government will shut down on Monday because a spending bill was paired with the relief plan. [NPR]

Meanwhile, the 5,593-page bill has a lot of stuff in it, like two new Smithsonian museums and tax breaks for racehorse owners. [Guardian]

And Trump today vetoed the annual defense spending bill, meaning lawmakers will return to D.C. to potentially override his veto for the first time during his presidency. [NPR]

2. Britain orders more lockdowns over concerns of new coronavirus strain

More areas of England will be put under strict lockdowns, affecting about 6 million people, as health experts say the only way to contain a new coronavirus strain is to severely limit human contact.

“The new variant makes everything so much harder because it spreads so much faster,” said British Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Scientists are studying the new strain from the U.K. and another one from South Africa. Both are believed to be more transmissible, but scientists say more tests need to be conducted to understand the dangers they pose. [BBC]

In the U.S., the Trump administration reached a deal with Pfizer to double the country’s supply of vaccines. [NPR]

In Illinois, cases and death continue to decline. State officials today reported 135 deaths and 6,762 new cases. [WBEZ]

Meanwhile, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois High School Association are being sued by four parents over the cancellation of winter sports. [Chicago Sun-Times]

And as health officials urge people to stay home for the holidays, here’s how one former Chicago resident copes with being apart from his family. [WBEZ]

3. More than 200 toxic sites in the U.S. could be hit by wildfires

Firefighters, land managers and government officials are worried that climate change-fueled megafires could hit a toxic site with disastrous results ranging from “acid mine drainage to radioactive smoke,” reports Inside Climate News, NBC News and The Texas Observer.

According to a government study, 234 Superfund sites are located in areas impacted by wildfires. One, Superfund Operable Unit 3 in Montana, is considered to be a “worst-case scenario.” If a fire reaches that site, it “could send asbestos-contaminated ash into nearby communities. Some firefighters worry a plume of smoke could carry the forest’s toxins hundreds of miles away,” the organizations report. [NBC News]

4. Illinois’ population dropped for the seventh year in a row

The state’s population declined by 79,487 people in the year ending on July 1, reports Crain’s Chicago Business, citing recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The total estimated population for Illinois stands at 12,587,530.

These estimates are not from the bureau’s big count that it does every 10 years. But they likely foreshadow more bad news for the state when that census count is completed.

As Crain’s reports, Illinois has lost more than a quarter of a million residents since the last census count in 2010. That could mean the state will lose not one but two congressional districts. Other states expected to lose a congressional district are Alabama, California, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia. [Crain’s]

5. How teenagers see the pandemic in one of the hardest hit communities in Chicago

With the city’s public school students staying home during the pandemic, art teacher Liz Winfield launched a photography unit for her students at Benito Juarez Community Academy, reports WBEZ’s Linda Lutton.

Many students at Benito Juarez come from Latino immigrant neighborhoods that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 cases and deaths. Winfield says she was struck by the hopeful nature of many students’ photos.

A portrait by senior Leslie Corona is shot in a dark alley in Back of the Yards. At the end of the block, a single street light illuminates in the distance. “Keep fighting until you get there to the light,” Corona writes in a reflection paired with the photo, which she titled “Hope.” [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • The U.N.’s human rights office criticized President Trump’s pardon of four Blackwater guards convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad. [AP]
  • A law firm representing Dominion Voting Systems told Rudy Giuliani and White House counsel Pat Cipollone to preserve all records related to the company. [CNN]
  • An “arctic blast” is expected to hit the Chicago area. [Chicago Tribune]
  • Here’s a look at the best music to come out of Chicago this year. [WBEZ]

Oh, and one more thing …

WBEZ’s Curious City recently looked at how Marshall Field’s, now Macy’s, became a holiday tradition with its window displays and the Walnut Room restaurant. The story featured glowing memories from listeners, but the Curious City team realized it missed another aspect of the story.

Joyce Miller Bean, a storyteller and retired English professor at DePaul University, and other listeners reached out to share their experiences of racism and discrimination at the department store.

“You felt this sense that they would only take your dollars grudgingly,” Miller Bean said in an interview. “I can remember one year, it was near Christmas and my mother had taken me down to the toy section, which was famous. They had stuffed animals that were the same size as the baby animals they actually represented. I was no more than five and was waiting eagerly to go see [the stuffed animals]. The clerks at the store were taking other [white] children, putting them up on top of the floor models and having them pet them. And I waited for one of the clerks to come get me, but they just ignored us. I was very hurt. I remember that. And I looked at my mom and she said, ‘Come on Joy, we’ll go.’” [WBEZ]

Tell me something good ...

What’s your New Year’s resolution for 2021?

Gary Davis writes:

“I resolve to be around long enough to make a New Year’s Resolution for 2022. That would be nice.”

Bill Stade writes:

“My resolution is to have fewer inputs and more outputs. Less time reading and learning and more time using what I have learned so far. Do, do, do.”

And Nate writes:

“Honestly the best resolution I made was years ago. I decided to do 10,000 push-ups in a year. It’s not even that hard — if you do 30 a day you’re done early! But that led to other exercises and group fitness, and eventually my wife and I were working out all through her pregnancy. She stopped two weeks before Vi was born.”

Feel free to keep emailing your resolutions to me! Y’all have some great ones.

Thanks for reading and have a nice night! We’ll see you on Monday.

The Latest