The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a measure, 354-72, that would allow houses of worship to be eligible for federal disaster assistance in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. But despite significant House Democratic support, the bill’s future in the Senate isn’t clear. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to itself change the rules, due to the city’s reliance on churches in the disaster aftermath. But The New York Times reported that FEMA lawyers responded in a memo saying current law doesn’t allow aid for areas used as “worship space.” FEMA offers grants to nonprofits that provide “essential services” like homeless shelters and health clinics, and the bill would add houses of worship to the list of eligible organizations.
The U.S. government may save $2 billion over the next three years by beefing up oversight of Lifeline, a program providing free phone service to 16 million low-income Americans. Impoverished households are eligible under the program to receive a single $9.25 phone subsidy each month, applied toward either land or mobile service. But millions of subscribers apparently have been making false claims about their income or living situation: Since the Federal Communications Commission enforced eligibility standards last year, five top mobile carriers have shed two-fifths of their Lifeline customers. The Lifeline program began in 1984 for landlines, and expanded in 2005 to include cell phones. It got attention last September after an Obama supporter in Cleveland touted her “Obama phone” in a viral internet video. Although President Obama didn’t start the program, it nearly tripled in size under his watch, laying out $2.2 billion in subsidies last year, up from $819 million in 2008. Free cell phones are provided not by Lifeline but by carriers like TracFone Wireless, which has grown significantly because of the program.
When nearly a dozen Chinese officials tried to collect a fine from a couple accused of violating the country’s one-child policy, the ensuing chaos turned tragic: Leaving the scene with the accused mother in custody, the officials’ vehicle crushed to death her 13-month-old son.
Chen Liandi, the baby’s father, told the local Xian Dai Jin Bao news agency that family-planning officials unexpectedly arrived at his home on Feb. 4 to collect a “social compensation fee” for violating the one-child policy. Chen and his wife, Li Yuhong, have three children.
Chen says he followed officials outside with his infant son in his arms, and found his wife already in the car. When he tried to enter the car, Chen says someone pushed him, he dropped the baby, and the car began moving. “I wasn’t able to get my baby before the tire crushed him,” Chen told the news agency. “He was killed.”
The deadly incident underscored the brutality of a one-child policy that sometimes imposes fines on families and prompts some officials to force mothers into abortions.
Thousands of villagers protested the infant’s death outside local government headquarters, the BBC reported. “The Chinese Communist Party has no intention of ending coercive family planning any time soon,” said Reggie Littlejohn of the group Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. “But the voices of the Chinese people are getting stronger and stronger in protest against this violent totalitarianism.”
The head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua Dubois, 30, resigned last month—and plans to write a devotional book using daily Scripture meditations he emailed to the president. DuBois, a Pentecostal minister named at 26 to head the office that President George W. Bush created in 2001, turned it into a vehicle to rally support among religious groups for the president’s policies, rather than fostering a White House partnership with faith-based entities over community projects. It failed to head off the ongoing clash between the White House and religious organizations, like the Catholic Church, over Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate.
A Feb. 8 email from a North Carolina–based adoption agency stunned more than a dozen U.S. families waiting to adopt children from Kyrgyzstan: Officials from Christian World Adoption (CWA) said they were closing their operation “effective immediately.” A statement on the website of CWA—the only U.S. adoption agency accredited in Kyrgyzstan—cited rising costs and increasing restrictions on international adoptions as reasons for closing.
CWA clients Shannon and Kevin Fenske had been matched with Kamila, a girl with special needs from Kyrgyzstan. Shannon said the family wouldn’t give up: “This does not change the fact that our children continue to languish in institutions and we continue to love them as much as we did yesterday.”
Kyrgyzstan suspended foreign adoptions in 2008, but 15 U.S. families had begun the process of applying and paying for adoption services through CWA. CWA didn’t indicate how or if the agency would interact with affected families or children, and the agency erased contact information from its site.
Adoption ARK in Buffalo Grove, Ill., another agency, also announced it would close in February. The agency cited Russia’s recent ban on adoptions for U.S. families, and noted its Russia program provided half its income. The agency’s website provides an email address for families with questions.
The United States faces an ongoing and severe sexually transmitted disease epidemic, according to two February health studies. More than 19 million new infections are reported every year, up from 15 million in 1996. New cases include a rise in HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS—and half of the new cases affect people ages 15 to 24. “Young women in particular are at greater risk,” said Catherine Satterwhite, an author of one of the reports and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist.