January 11, 2018

In late December, the Health and Human Services Department canceled the contract of the organization that oversees the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, a federal database of vetted and approved interventions to treat drug addiction and mental illness, The Washington Post reports. HHS officials froze the website in September, meaning no new treatments have been added in the past 90 days, and mental health and substance abuse specialists are both concerned about the database's future and confused as to why the Trump administration is changing the registry after 20 years.

Instead of an outside contractor, Development Services Group Inc., choosing which treatments are scientifically sound, the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and specifically its new National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory, or Policy Lab, will run the registry. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he was "concerned" by the change "and looking into it," and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said she was "shocked to learn that the NREPP contract has been terminated as an opioid epidemic continues to shake our nation" and is "determined to find out why SAMHSA has made such a mind-boggling decision."

Mental health professionals tell the Post they view the database as neutral, nonpartisan, and a crucial tool for choosing treatments, and they're worried moving it inside SAMHSA could politicize the treatment selection process. Agency spokesman Christopher Garrett said Wednesday that it's SAMHSA's job to "lead the efforts to rapidly institute evidence-based practices in all behavioral health treatment programs," and "the federal government should not be in the business of having a single contractor determine winners and losers in behavioral health care." In its email informing program participants its contract was canceled, Development Services Group said SAMHSA explained the decision as "for the convenience of the government." You can read more about the registry at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

9:56 a.m.

The American economy is on the mend — at least through a pandemic-tinted lens.

New unemployment claims finally dipped below 1 million for the first time since March in the past week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Still, the total of 963,000 new claims is well more than the pre-pandemic record of 695,000, and shows that layoffs are still happening even as the Trump administration touts an economic recovery.

Unemployment claims first jacked up at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, hitting a peak of nearly 7 million. They've dropped significantly since then, but recovery recently slowed as unemployment claims lingered over 1 million for weeks on end. A total of 15.5 million people are still receiving unemployment benefits, per the Labor Department's numbers. That's well above the pre-pandemic record of 6.6 million, The Wall Street Journal notes.

Unemployed Americans were receiving an extra $600/week boost to the their unemployment benefits until the federal government's coronavirus stimulus package expired at the end of July. Democrats, Republicans, and the White House have failed to agree on a way to continue the boost — and some unemployed Americans say they haven't gotten any benefits yet at all due to filing backlogs. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:41 a.m.

Officials are warning that the worst of the coronavirus is definitely not over.

"The fall could be incredibly gruesome," Yale School of Medicine epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves told Politico on Thursday. COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly, and coupled with colder weather that will push people indoors and coincide with flu season, it could make for an entirely new round of brutal months.

Gonsalves said he didn't understand why the Trump administration didn't take advantage of the summer months to tamp down on swirling outbreaks. Squandering this key period means the country is in no better shape than it was a few months ago when the initial spike slowly began to flatten. "Somebody's going to have to explain it to me, 10 years from now, why they would make all these bad choices," Gonsalves said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, meanwhile, says "this could be the worst fall from a public health perspective we've ever had." He urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance.

On Wednesday, the U.S. reported 1,493 coronavirus deaths, the highest single-day total since mid-May. Despite the increasingly grim outlook, Politico reports the Trump administration is feeling good. "Aides are increasingly assured about their response — feeling like they're finally getting a handle on how to fight the disease," the report reads. But one anonymous senior Republican said "I don't feel like they kind of know what 'under control' would look like." Summer Meza

9:19 a.m.

AMC Theatres hopes to bring consumers back to the movies amid the COVID-19 pandemic by giving tickets away almost for free — at least for a day.

The theater chain has announced it will begin reopening its U.S. locations, which closed nationwide in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, on Aug. 20. And on that first day back open, it will sell tickets for just 15 cents. The company framed this as its way of celebrating the 100-year anniversary of its founding by offering 1920s prices, although it's clearly also an effort to entice moviegoers to return to theaters that have been shuttered for months. Following this 15 cent promotion, AMC will sell tickets to classic movies like Back to the Future and Ghostbusters for $5.

Of course, AMC will only be reopening its theaters in areas of the country where it's permitted to do so, excluding numerous major cities. The company had pushed back its reopening date multiple times, but its plan now is to have more than 100 locations reopened on Aug. 20 and then another 300 or so reopened in the following two weeks. AMC previously announced safety policies it's putting in place to reopen, including enhanced cleaning measures and requiring customers to wear masks.

It remains unclear whether consumers will feel safe returning to the movies in the areas where they can do so, though, as well as if they'll even be interested during these first days of operation when major new blockbusters won't yet be playing. The New Mutants is scheduled to open on Aug. 28, while Tenet is to be released in select cities on Sept. 3, by which point AMC says it will have two-thirds of its locations opened. But on the same weekend that Tenet opens, Disney will be enticing consumers to stay home as Mulan, which was originally intended for a splashy theatrical release, hits streaming instead. Brendan Morrow

8:10 a.m.

Subscription bundles from Apple may be coming this fall.

The company plans to start offering consumers bundles of its various subscription services, such as Apple TV+ and Apple Music, for one price beginning "as early as October," according to a new report from Bloomberg.

The bundles are reportedly being referred to as "Apple One" inside the company, and there would be several tiers at different prices. The cheapest would give users access to both Apple Music and Apple TV+, with the next tiers adding on Apple Arcade, Apple News+, and more iCloud storage. While no price point has been revealed, the report says they're intended to save customers between $2 and $5 or more a month.

Apple had been expected to roll out subscription bundles, especially as the price tag of subscribing individually to its growing number of services continued to rise. Bloomberg also describes this as a "major bid by Apple to achieve the same loyalty" that Amazon has with Prime, which sees users subscribing for one recurring fee and getting various services from Amazon like free shipping as well as access to Amazon Prime Video. Apple's own streaming service, Apple TV+, launched last November.

In addition to the bundles, Apple is also developing a "new subscription for virtual fitness classes," which would be included in one of the pricier subscription bundles and "rival virtual classes offered by companies" like Peleton and Nike, Bloomberg reports. While the report notes there's a possibility that Apple's plans change, the Apple One bundles could reportedly launch alongside the next line of iPhones later this year. Brendan Morrow

7:11 a.m.

College football has fractured into at least two camps, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceling their fall seasons on Tuesday due to COVID-19 and the other three Power Five conferences — the SEC, Big 12, and ACC — confirming Wednesday that they will try to plow ahead with their truncated schedules. At least two smaller conferences have also scrapped their seasons and as of now, 53 of America's 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams will sit this autumn out.

Fans are despondent, and "the loss of college football will have a crushing impact on bars, restaurants, and other businesses that rely on football fans," The Associated Press notes.

Ohio State devotee Jeff Hewitt, a Democratic strategist in Texas, called Politico's Renuka Rayasam with a theory, she wrote Tuesday night: "If college football gets canceled in the Midwest it would cost Trump the presidency. I laughed, but Hewitt was serious." And he's not alone. The Big Ten conference covers seven key battleground states with massively popular college football teams, and Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray told The New York Times the loss of their Saturday fix could push Republican voters away from Trump, especially the tiny sliver of undecideds. "It's just one of those markers that reminds people of how much has been disrupted in their life," he said.

Politics is simply "not as important as college football in Ohio, in Georgia, in Alabama," ESPN college football radio host Paul Finebaum tells the Times. "And without it, people will be lost and people will be angry." He said he has strained to keep politics out of his program this summer, but "we don't have a day that doesn't pass where someone doesn't call up and blame the president. Even from the South, I've heard more anger directed at the president than I thought."

Some Republican operatives said Trump will be insulated from the anger because he has publicly urged colleges to play football and even called up some players and coaches to enlist their help salvaging the season. But the loss of college football on Saturdays feels like "yet another piece of fabric was being torn from American life," the Times notes, and especially in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio where Trump's support runs deepest, "losing football may be a political stain that the president is unable to blame on his enemies in the Democratic Party or on the media." Peter Weber

5:22 a.m.

Joe Biden and his new running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), held their first joint appearance Wednesday at a Delaware high school, Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "It was a warm and energetic launch to their campaign, but when Biden took the stage, Joe did not pull any punches, especially when it came to Trump attacking his running mate." He found Biden's line that "whining is what Donald Trump does best" a bit unfair.

"One person who was not thrilled with Biden's choice is his opponent," and Trump's "criticism had a familiar ring to it," Colbert said. Oddly, "one person Trump thinks Harris was particularly 'nasty' to is her new running mate."

"Like, is Trump attacking or defending Joe Biden? I can't tell," Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "I mean of all people, Donald Trump should totally understand how you can be with a woman who's publicly humiliated you."

"Kamala Harris on the ticket with Joe Biden is a genius move by the former VP, because not only does she tick a bunch of boxes, but clearly, conservatives are gonna struggle to put her in one," Noah said, playing a highlight reel. "Honestly, it's kind of cute watching Republicans flail around trying to figure out the right talking points." He illustrated the GOP confusion with a mock attack ad.

"As of right now, Biden and Harris are up by 10 points on Trump and Pence," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "Just to rub it in, at the end of their event they both moonwalked down a ramp." He showed, then mimicked, Trump's attacks on Harris. "Meanwhile, in a new attack ad, the Trump campaign has already labeled them 'Slow Joe and Phony Kamala,'" Fallon said. "And if you have a 'Slow' and 'Phony' joke that doesn't end with 'Those used to be Trump's nicknames for Eric and Don Jr.,' write to us."

The Late Late Show's James Corden showed Harris slamming Trump at her joint event with Biden. "Donald Trump getting bullied in a high school gym! It's honestly the first time I've related to him." He and his crew agreed that Harris is a much better pick than Hillary Clinton's running mate, who they made a show of not remembering.

And The Late Show had some condolence cards for all the running mates who didn't make the cut. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:26 a.m.

President Trump has been notably vague about his plans for a potential second term, but he has recently proffered one idea: tax cuts. Specifically, taxes on capital gains, income taxes, and the payroll taxes used to fund Social Security and Medicare. Trump signed an executive order Sunday directing the Treasury Department to defer payroll taxes from Sept. 1 until the end of the year, leaving workers to pay the money back later.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, generally a Trump ally on tax cuts, has some serious concerns.

Trump has pitched the payroll tax deferral as a boost to the economy before the November election, but the Chamber asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a letter Wednesday if it would be optional, whether businesses will be liable for repaying the deferred taxes, and how the White House expects the deferred withholdings to help the economy. Trump's order is "surrounded by uncertainty as to its application and implementation" and "only exacerbates the challenges" companies face, the Chamber said. "As American employers, workers, and families work to navigate the COVID-19 crisis they need clarity not more confusion," the business group added in a statement.

Trump touted his executive order in a news conference Wednesday evening, saying he would make the payroll tax holiday permanent if re-elected — something that would require an act of Congress, where there is little appetite for the idea in either party. Asked how he planned to finance Social Security and Medicare without the payroll tax, Trump suggested "we're taking it out of the general fund" and then claimed it wouldn't further blow up the ballooning budget deficit because "we're going to have tremendous growth."

Trump issued the payroll tax order and other executive actions rather than reaching a deal with congressional Democrats on a new bill to shore up the coronavirus-addled economy and individual Americans. Negotiations resumed Wednesday and then quickly died, each side blaming the other.

Meanwhile, "Trump's advisers have sought legal guidance from White House lawyers about whether the president has the authority to eliminate certain taxes, including income and business taxes, without the approval of Congress," The New York Times reports. "The legality of such a move is dubious," because the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to set tax policy, but "the executive branch does have wide latitude" regarding tax collection, and "Trump has not been shy about pushing the boundaries of his authority." Peter Weber

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