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stimulus payment

A stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak is seen in San Antonio, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

Eric Gay

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Democrats Seek To Beef Up Stimulus Plan

Good afternoon! It’s Monday, and I just remembered that one of my many rejected slogans for this newsletter was “your progress report on the apocalypse.” Here’s what you need to know today.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. Democrats will propose a child tax credit of up to $3,600 for millions of Americans

The legislation, expected to be unveiled by top House Democrats today, would provide $3,600 per kid under the age of 6 and $3,000 per child up to 17 over the course of a year, according to The Washington Post.

Those payments would be phased out for individuals who made more than $75,000 and couples who earned more than $150,000 in 2020. If approved, the IRS would begin sending out payments in July.

The tax credits would last only a year, but congressional Democrats and White House officials told the Post that they will try to make the credits permanent later this year. Democrats are aiming to attach the credits to the stimulus package, which they hope to approve by the end of the month. [Washington Post]

Meanwhile, hiking the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 could lower poverty levels but possibly result in 1.4 million Americans losing their jobs, according to a report released today by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. [Reuters]

As Democrats move forward with President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, they are also preparing to put Republicans on notice if they don’t support the plan.

“It’s going to be very difficult for Republican lawmakers to look their constituents in the eyes and try to explain why they voted against giving them $1,400 checks, why they voted against reopening schools, and why they voted against speeding up vaccinations,” a White House official told Politico. [Politico]

2. Coronavirus variant from the U.K. is surging in the U.S., study finds

The more contagious variant, known as B.1.1.7, is on track to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March, according to a recent study. A team of scientists found that cases of the variant in the U.S. are doubling every week and a half, which is on par with other countries.

The study, which has not been peer reviewed, estimates the variant is between 35% and 40% more transmissible than earlier strains of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated the variant to be about 50% more contagious.

The threat of B.1.1.7 and other variants has added pressure on officials to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. The authors of the study say the U.S. needs to take “immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.” [CNN]

In South Africa, officials are seeking a new plan after preliminary data suggested one particular vaccine was not effective at preventing mild to moderate illness from a variant that emerged in that country. [AP]

Meanwhile, about 9% of Illinois’ population has received at least one vaccine dose, up from just 6.6% about a week ago, according to The Washington Post. Nationally, more than 32 million people have gotten one or both shots. [Washington Post]

Illinois lags behind many states and U.S. territories when it comes to vaccine distribution. According to the Chicago Tribune, state officials were “late to try to hire outside experts to manage the rollout, then abandoned that effort to assemble their own team just weeks before the first doses showed up.” [Chicago Tribune]

3. Trump’s legal team says Senate “lacks jurisdiction” and calls impeachment “political theater”

The Senate is expected to begin the historic second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump this week, and Trump’s legal team today gave an outline of their upcoming defense against allegations that he incited the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The former president’s lawyers said the Senate lacks the jurisdiction to try Trump because he is no longer in office. Many Republicans have clinged to this argument instead of addressing Trump’s comments during a rally shortly before the attack, when he urged supporters to “fight like hell.”

But many scholars say there is precedent for the Senate to try a former government official. That argument picked up steam this weekend when Charles Cooper, one of the nation’s top conservative constitutional lawyers, wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal that said Trump could still be charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. [NPR]

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are reportedly close to reaching a deal on the rules and timeline of the impeachment trial, which could begin tomorrow. [Axios]

4. Chicago teachers begin voting on Lightfoot’s latest reopening plan

The governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union is meeting this afternoon to vote on whether to accept a proposal from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, which is now pushing back the reopening of schools for elementary and middle school students to March 1.

The union’s governing body, called the House of Delegates, will vote on whether to reject the proposal or send it to the union’s full membership for a final vote.

The Lightfoot administration made some significant concessions in this latest offer. Among them is allowing staff members who do not want to return to classrooms the opportunity to take unpaid leaves of absence while keeping their jobs and benefits until mid-April. [WBEZ]

5. Remembering Karen Lewis

The legendary former leader of the Chicago Teachers Union has died at the age of 67, the union confirmed today. The details of her death were not immediately clear. Lewis had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014, when she was preparing to run against then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

As WBEZ’s Sarah Karp reports, Lewis is largely credited for inspiring a wave of teacher activism that transformed the union into the political power player that it is today.

Lewis was also known for “telling it like it is.”

“Early on in her tenure as union president, she emerged from a meeting with Emanuel and revealed he had sworn at her. This came after she called the longer school day he was pushing a ‘babysitting’ initiative,” Karp writes.

“ ‘He jumped out of his chair and said, F-you Lewis,’ she recalled. ‘And I jumped out of my chair and said, who the F do you think you are talking to? I don’t work for you.’ ” [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Myanmar’s military imposed a curfew, banned peaceful protests and is cracking down on critics demanding an end to military rule after last week’s coup. [AP]
  • Some Republican state lawmakers want to make it harder to vote in future elections. [NPR]
  • Illinois is opening three publicly funded trauma centers that experts say will help reduce violent crime. [WBEZ]
  • The Greater Chicago Food Depository wants to change the aesthetics of food pantries while expanding access in Black and Latino communities. [WBEZ]

Oh, and one more thing …

I can’t tell if the lousy weather we’ve been having recently makes me glad I never leave the apartment or is giving me cabin fever by driving home the point that I’m essentially trapped in this apartment thanks to the pandemic.

In any case, we could see more snow and low temps all week.

Up to 3 inches of snow could fall today, with more possible on Wednesday and Thursday before another possible snowstorm over the weekend, the Trib reports. [Chicago Tribune]

Tell me something good ...

There’s been a lot of news surrounding schools, so I’d like to know what is something you miss about going to school or college?

I really liked shopping for school supplies before the new academic year. A Trapper Keeper with Alf on it? Yes please.

Feel free to email or tweet me, and your responses might show up here.

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