Why Apple and Google’s Virus Alert Apps Had Limited Success

Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.

Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.

Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.

“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”

announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.

Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.

But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.

Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.

CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.

“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”

In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”

Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.

said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.

But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.

Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.

Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.

Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.

“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.

In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.

The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.

Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.

Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.

One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.

In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.

Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”

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Vaccination Rates Take on Regional Differences

Almost half of Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. But the U.S. vaccination story varies widely across regions, with New England surging ahead of the national average, while much of the South is lagging far behind.

In five of the six New England states, over 60 percent of residents are at least partly vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a different story in the South, where Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee have the country’s lowest rates of residents who have received at least one shot. The rates in those states are all below 40 percent, with Mississippi, at 33 percent, at the bottom of the list.

The White House and state governments, after relying on mass vaccination sites for months, are turning their focus to more targeted, smaller-scale efforts to vaccinate underserved, harder-to-reach communities.

“This next phase of the vaccination campaign was — will be driven, more than anything, by the people and organizations and communities who help to vaccinate their families, their friends and others in their neighborhoods,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said on Friday during a White House news conference. “It’s why we’ve been saying that addressing access, motivation and vaccine confidence requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Cahaba Medical Care, which has 17 clinics in underserved communities in Alabama.

“Conversations with people you trust have always been important to us,” he said on Friday. “I’ve been on Facebook Live. I say: ‘Ask us the hard questions. Let’s talk.’ We pivot to the individual exam room, where they trust me to answer. We’re having success with that approach, but it’s not at the speed that the pandemic needs.”

The low rate in the South worries Thomas A. LaVeist, an expert on health equity and dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“You have the carrot and stick,” he said. “I’m beginning to think that the stick is the more likely scenario.”

Dr. LaVeist said the incentive that would work fastest for adults would be mandates by employers, who are uniquely positioned to require large numbers of Americans who otherwise would not receive a vaccination to do so because their employment depends on it. The federal government has issued guidance that says employers can require workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine and bar them from the workplace if they refuse.

a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found 28 percent of those who were employed said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if they were given time off to receive and recover from the vaccine. Another 20 percent said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if their shot was administered at their workplace. The survey looked at those who are unvaccinated, but who wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible

Dr. LaVeist and other experts, however, say the biggest hurdle among the vaccine hesitant is anxiety over possible side effects. “How was it possible to deploy the vaccine so quickly? If more people understand that, then more people will take the vaccine,” Dr. LaVeist said. “Corners were not cut.”

A recent New York Times report from Greene County, a rural area in northeastern Tennessee, revealed the most common reason for vaccine apprehension was fear that the vaccine was developed in haste and that long-term side effects were unknown. Their decisions are also entangled in a web of views about autonomy, science and authority, as well as a powerful regional, somewhat romanticized self-image: We don’t like outsiders messing in our business.

Vaccine hesitancy in any U.S. region poses a threat to all Americans, experts warn, because the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more time that the virus has to spread, mutate and possibly gain the ability to evade vaccines.

“My big concern is that there is going to be a variant that’s going to outsmart the vaccine,” Dr. LaVeist said. “That’s what viruses do. That’s their strategy for surviving. Then we’ll have a new problem. We’ll have to revaccinate.”

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Candy Makers Sue THC Lookalikes

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At first glance, the Skittles package appears to be just like the one sold in the candy aisle of a supermarket: It has block letters filled in with white, a flowing rainbow and a red candy that replaces the dot above the letter “i.”

A closer look reveals some small differences: a background pattern of small, stylized marijuana leaves; a warning label; and numbers that reveal the amount of THC, the intoxicating substance in cannabis, in each piece of candy.

The images are included in a lawsuit that the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, owned by the candy behemoth Mars Inc., filed in May against five companies for selling cannabis-infused edibles that look like our old friends Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers. Though the suit focuses on intellectual property rights, the plaintiffs also argue that the copycat products could lead people, particularly children, to mistakenly ingest drugs.

recreational marijuana consumption roamed by pandemic-stressed adults.

In recent years, lawsuits similar to the one filed by Wrigley have been brought by the Hershey Company (against TinctureBelle for products resembling Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Heath bars, Almond Joy bars and York peppermint patties), Mondelez International (against a company hawking Stoney Patch Kids) and Ferrara Candy Company (against a store selling Medicated Nerds Rope). These lawsuits have all been settled, with the smaller companies agreeing to halt production and sales of the offending products.

Many public health officials fret that without proper regulation, accidental ingestion cases will continue to rise among children as the availability of edibles grows. Some poison control centers have already observed this trend in their data.

For example, there were 122 cases of exposure to THC for children under 5 in Washington State in the first nine months of 2020, compared to 85 for the same time period in 2019. The most common side effects reported included vomiting, lethargy and chest pain.

the illegal market is still thriving.

“When companies like these create headlines for doing what we’ve purposely avoided at Wana, I feel anger and frustration,” said Joe Hodas, the chief marketing officer at Wana Brands, a Colorado company that sells cannabis-infused products.

A recent review of the websites belonging to defendants in the Wrigley suit turned up cannabis-infused offerings like Stoner Patch Dummies, the Worlds Dankest Gushers, Gasheads Xtremes Sourfuls, Trips Ahoy, Buttafingazzz and Caribo Happy Cola.

“The situation has become more and more egregious,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the National Confectioners Association, a trade organization in D.C. with 350 members, including Mars Inc., Hershey’s, Ferrara and Mondelez. “The cannabis companies cannot and should not be allowed to tarnish existing brands at will. It creates consumer confusion.”

joined the list), and 18 of them, including New York, have legalized recreational marijuana as well. Though sales in New York are not expected to begin until 2022 at the earliest, businesses are rushing to grab real estate and prepare for the market’s opening. Some are already selling Delta-8-THC, derived from hemp, in candy form.

an infamous commercial spot.

considered 1 to 2 milligrams of THC, but effects vary based on many factors, like body weight and how much food the consumer ate that day.

Accidental consumption can affect anyone, but, Dr. Schauer said, “it has primarily impacted children because they can confuse cannabis edible products with other edible products, because most edibles look like candy or cookies or cake.” She pointed to reports compiled by poison control centers in Colorado and Washington, the two earliest states to legalize recreational cannabis use, in 2012.

Between 2014 and 2018, annual calls to the Washington Poison Center about children under 5 being unintentionally exposed to cannabis nearly tripled, rising from 34 to 94. In 2017, Washington State began requiring that all edibles have a logo stating “Not for Kids” (not that this will mean much to a 2-year-old).

edibles are the leading method by which children under 5 accidentally consume cannabis. In 2019, in Colorado, 108 people under the age of 19 were accidentally exposed to cannabis. In 2011, the year before the state legalized recreational use, that number was 16.

Like Washington, Colorado now requires packaging of edibles to include a warning symbol. The state also bans the use of the word “candy” on any marijuana packaging, and the sale of edibles that look like people, animals or fruit.

Dr. Schauer said other ways to reduce the risks of accidental ingestion include mandating childproof packaging, requiring that each edible item in a package is individually wrapped, limiting the potency of each individual edible, and educating consumers who live with children on how to store their cannabis products.

Making packages that will not catch the eye of a child is important, she said. In Canada, for example, where cannabis is legal, federal law requires packaging to have a uniform color and a smooth texture, and not to have cutout windows, scents, sounds or inserts (among other requirements).

Despite the stringency of Canada’s laws, as recently as mid-May, a child was hospitalized in the province of New Brunswick after eating Stoneo cookies that were made to look like Oreos, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In America, state laws are far less strict; for the most part, they prohibit the inclusion of cartoon characters and make general statements about how the packaging should not appeal to a child.

“The risks can be much more limited than we’ve seen them be so far,” Dr. Schauer said.

Mr. Hodas has three children, aged 12, 17 and 19. He has been in the cannabis industry for more than seven years. When he has products at home, he keeps them secure in bags made by StashLogix. It may not slow down a motivated 15-year-old, but it will stop a toddler, he said.

“If you have it locked up, and you keep in a place where they can’t reach it or see it, that’s the best way to prevent ingestion,” Mr. Hodas said.

To parents of a certain age, the situation may bring to mind the 1983 public service announcement “We’re Not Candy,” in which a barbershop quartet of singing pills on television advises children “to have a healthy fear of us.”

That the products now under scrutiny are a form of candy, just enhanced — and that no one is watching the same screen anymore — makes it difficult to imagine a marijuana meme so memorable.

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Big Candy Is Angry at Look-Alike THC Treats

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At first glance, the Skittles package appears to be just like the one sold in the candy aisle of a supermarket: It has block letters filled in with white, a flowing rainbow and a red candy that replaces the dot above the letter “i.”

A closer look reveals some small differences: a background pattern of small, stylized marijuana leaves; a warning label; and numbers that reveal the amount of THC, the intoxicating substance in cannabis, in each piece of candy.

The images are included in a lawsuit that the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, owned by the candy behemoth Mars Inc., filed in May against five companies for selling cannabis-infused edibles that look like our old friends Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers. Though the suit focuses on intellectual property rights, the plaintiffs also argue that the copycat products could lead people, particularly children, to mistakenly ingest drugs.

recreational marijuana consumption roamed by pandemic-stressed adults.

In recent years, lawsuits similar to the one filed by Wrigley have been brought by the Hershey Company (against TinctureBelle for products resembling Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Heath bars, Almond Joy bars and York peppermint patties), Mondelez International (against a company hawking Stoney Patch Kids) and Ferrara Candy Company (against a store selling Medicated Nerds Rope). These lawsuits have all been settled, with the smaller companies agreeing to halt production and sales of the offending products.

Many public health officials fret that without proper regulation, accidental ingestion cases will continue to rise among children as the availability of edibles grows. Some poison control centers have already observed this trend in their data.

For example, there were 122 cases of exposure to THC for children under 5 in Washington State in the first nine months of 2020, compared to 85 for the same time period in 2019. The most common side effects reported included vomiting, lethargy and chest pain.

the illegal market is still thriving.

“When companies like these create headlines for doing what we’ve purposely avoided at Wana, I feel anger and frustration,” said Joe Hodas, the chief marketing officer at Wana Brands, a Colorado company that sells cannabis-infused products.

A recent review of the websites belonging to defendants in the Wrigley suit turned up cannabis-infused offerings like Stoner Patch Dummies, the Worlds Dankest Gushers, Gasheads Xtremes Sourfuls, Trips Ahoy, Buttafingazzz and Caribo Happy Cola.

“The situation has become more and more egregious,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the National Confectioners Association, a trade organization in D.C. with 350 members, including Mars Inc., Hershey’s, Ferrara and Mondelez. “The cannabis companies cannot and should not be allowed to tarnish existing brands at will. It creates consumer confusion.”

joined the list), and 18 of them, including New York, have legalized recreational marijuana as well. Though sales in New York are not expected to begin until 2022 at the earliest, businesses are rushing to grab real estate and prepare for the market’s opening. Some are already selling Delta-8-THC, derived from hemp, in candy form.

an infamous commercial spot.

considered 1 to 2 milligrams of THC, but effects vary based on many factors, like body weight and how much food the consumer ate that day.

Accidental consumption can affect anyone, but, Dr. Schauer said, “it has primarily impacted children because they can confuse cannabis edible products with other edible products, because most edibles look like candy or cookies or cake.” She pointed to reports compiled by poison control centers in Colorado and Washington, the two earliest states to legalize recreational cannabis use, in 2012.

Between 2014 and 2018, annual calls to the Washington Poison Center about children under 5 being unintentionally exposed to cannabis nearly tripled, rising from 34 to 94. In 2017, Washington State began requiring that all edibles have a logo stating “Not for Kids” (not that this will mean much to a 2-year-old).

edibles are the leading method by which children under 5 accidentally consume cannabis. In 2019, in Colorado, 108 people under the age of 19 were accidentally exposed to cannabis. In 2011, the year before the state legalized recreational use, that number was 16.

Like Washington, Colorado now requires packaging of edibles to include a warning symbol. The state also bans the use of the word “candy” on any marijuana packaging, and the sale of edibles that look like people, animals or fruit.

Dr. Schauer said other ways to reduce the risks of accidental ingestion include mandating childproof packaging, requiring that each edible item in a package is individually wrapped, limiting the potency of each individual edible, and educating consumers who live with children on how to store their cannabis products.

Making packages that will not catch the eye of a child is important, she said. In Canada, for example, where cannabis is legal, federal law requires packaging to have a uniform color and a smooth texture, and not to have cutout windows, scents, sounds or inserts (among other requirements).

Despite the stringency of Canada’s laws, as recently as mid-May, a child was hospitalized in the province of New Brunswick after eating Stoneo cookies that were made to look like Oreos, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In America, state laws are far less strict; for the most part, they prohibit the inclusion of cartoon characters and make general statements about how the packaging should not appeal to a child.

“The risks can be much more limited than we’ve seen them be so far,” Dr. Schauer said.

Mr. Hodas has three children, aged 12, 17 and 19. He has been in the cannabis industry for more than seven years. When he has products at home, he keeps them secure in bags made by StashLogix. It may not slow down a motivated 15-year-old, but it will stop a toddler, he said.

“If you have it locked up, and you keep in a place where they can’t reach it or see it, that’s the best way to prevent ingestion,” Mr. Hodas said.

To parents of a certain age, the situation may bring to mind the 1983 public service announcement “We’re Not Candy,” in which a barbershop quartet of singing pills on television advises children “to have a healthy fear of us.”

That the products now under scrutiny are a form of candy, just enhanced — and that no one is watching the same screen anymore — makes it difficult to imagine a marijuana meme so memorable.

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From Colombia to U.S., Police Violence Pushes Protests Into Mass Movements

When the history of this global moment is written, there will need to be an entire chapter on police forces’ spectacular own goals as force for change.

Around the world, the police have cracked down violently on protests — only to discover that their attacks, captured on camera and shared across social and conventional media, have been the catalyst that helped turn issue-based campaigns into mass movements.

Movements like Black Lives Matter in the United States, the 2019 uprising in Chile that led to a new constitution, and, now, Colombia’s protests grew out of political wounds unique to each society. But each was transformed into a broad, potentially generation-defining cause once protesters were confronted with police violence.

shaped the culture and training of Colombian police, who amid the protests have often appeared to draw little distinction between peaceful protesters who object to the government’s policies and violent guerrillas who wanted to overthrow the state.

In Chile in 2019, protests initially began as opposition to an increase in transit fares. It was the government’s fateful decision to restore order by calling out the army — for the first time since Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship ended in 1990 — that transformed the protests into a national movement with widespread political support.

Army tanks rolling through the streets sent a message that the country’s transition to democracy was incomplete, and at risk of collapse. Protesters carried placards printed with the face of Victor Jara, a folk singer murdered in the early days of the Pinochet regime, drawing a direct connection between the modern protests and the tanks that brought General Pinochet to power.

Just a year after the protests exploded, Chileans voted to scrap the constitution drafted during the Pinochet years and replace it with a new one.

In Colombia, the violence against protesters, and the heavy militarization of the streets in cities like Bogotá, has likewise sent a message that the country’s democratic project is not just unfinished, but is perhaps in jeopardy.

The 2016 peace agreement was supposed to end the armed conflict between the government and the FARC. But the actions of the state security forces over the past two weeks have many questioning whether peacetime democracy ever began at all.

“I think that the story of this country is about the armed conflict,” said Erika Rodríguez Gómez, 30, a lawyer and feminist activist from Bogotá. “We signed a peace agreement in 2016. And maybe at that moment we felt like, OK, we are going to move on.”

“But actually we have all of the military forces on the streets. And we have these attacks against us, the civil society,” she said. “So we think now that actually, they were never gone.”

It is too soon to say whether the protests will lead to lasting change. The attacks on protesters have made state violence visible to more people, said Dr. González, the Harvard researcher, but she believes that they are still considering it through the lens of “their usual scripts about understanding society, and understanding the police, and understanding everything. So it hasn’t quite come to the point of people converging.”

But Leydy Diossa-Jimenez, a Colombian researcher and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that she sees this moment as a turning point for change across generations. “Gen Z, they are now rethinking their country, and thinking about what has been left by prior generations,” she said in an interview. “They are saying ‘No, this is not what we want.’ ”

“And I think for the first time now, the older generations in Colombia are allying with that idea, that this is not the country we want,” she said.

“I don’t know if the politicians are up to the challenge, and up to the historical moment,” she added. “I just hope they are.”

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Banks Fight $4 Billion Debt Relief Plan for Black Farmers

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.

The debt relief was approved as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March and was intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other nonwhite farmers have faced from lenders and the United States Department of Agriculture over the years. But no money has yet gone out the door.

Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of reverse discrimination sued the U.S.D.A. over the initiative.

Now, three of the biggest banking groups — the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and National Rural Lenders Association — are waging their own fight and complaining about the cost of being repaid early.

other investors.

They also want other investors who bought the loans in the secondary market to get government money that would make up for whatever losses they might incur from the early payoff.

Bank lobbyists, in letters and virtual meetings, have been asking the Agriculture Department to make changes to the repayment program, a U.S.D.A. official said. They are pressing the U.S.D.A. to simply make the loan payments, rather than wipe out the debt all at once. And they are warning of other repercussions, including long-term damage to the U.S.D.A.’s minority lending program.

In a letter sent last month to Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, the banks suggested that they might be more reluctant to extend credit if the loans were quickly repaid, leaving minority farmers worse off in the long run. The intimation was viewed as a threat by some organizations that represent Black farmers.

they wrote to Mr. Vilsack in April.

The U.S.D.A. has shown no inclination to reverse course. An agency official said that obliging the banks would put an undue burden on taxpayers and that the law did not allow the agency to pay interest costs or reimburse secondary market investors. The agency hopes to be able to begin the debt relief process in the coming weeks, according to the official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the program.

The relief legislation that Congress passed in March provided “sums as may be necessary” from the Treasury Department to help minority farmers and ranchers pay off loans granted or guaranteed by the Agriculture Department. Most of the loans are made directly to farmers, but about 12 percent, or 3,078, are made through lenders and guaranteed by the U.S.D.A.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the loan forgiveness provision would cost $4 billion over a decade.

While America’s banks have flourished in the last century, the number of Black-owned farms has declined sharply since 1920, to less than 40,000 today from about a million. Their demise is the result of industry consolidation as well as onerous loan terms and high foreclosure rates.

Black farmers have been frustrated by the delays and say they are angry that banks are demanding additional money, slowing down the debt relief process.

“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and have lost their land and their livelihood,” said Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council. “And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.”

John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, a nonprofit, said he found it upsetting that the banks said little about years of discriminatory lending practices and instead complained about losing profits.

“They’ve never signed on to a letter or supported us to end discrimination, but they were quick to send a letter to the secretary telling him how troublesome it’s going to be for the banks,” Mr. Boyd said. “They need to think about the trouble they’ve caused not working with Black farmers and the foreclosure process and how troublesome that was for us.”

Mr. Boyd urged Mr. Vilsack not to let the debt relief stall.

“It’s planting season and Black farmers and farmers of color really could use this relief,” Mr. Boyd said.

Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said that the letter from the banks appeared to be a veiled threat.

“They are prioritizing profits over people,” Mr. Blanding said, expressing concern that the backlash from banks and white farmers could delay the debt relief. “Debt has been a burden on the back of many farmers and especially farmers of color. Them holding this up really prolongs justice.”

Although the government is paying 120 percent of the outstanding loan amounts to cover additional taxes and fees, banks say that unless they get more, they will be on the losing end of the bailout.

The banking industry groups could not offer an estimate of how much additional money they would need to be satisfied. The Agriculture Department said it would cost tens of millions of dollars to meet the banks’ demands.

In the letter to Mr. Vilsack, the bank lobbyists pointed to one large community bank, which they said had a $200 million portfolio of loans to socially disadvantaged farmers that would lose millions of dollars of net income per year if the loans were quickly paid off. They warned that such a move would “undoubtedly reduce the bank’s ability to retain employees.”

The American Bankers Association defended the request, arguing that lenders have been a lifeline to minority farmers. It said that the matter primarily affects the group’s smaller members that have large portfolios of loans from socially disadvantaged borrowers. Representatives for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup said that the debt relief program had not been on their radar and that they had not been lobbying against it.

“We recognize the need for U.S.D.A. to carry out this act of Congress, and we support the goal of providing financial relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” said Sarah Grano, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. “We believe it would be helpful if the U.S.D.A. implemented this one-time action without causing undue financial harm to the very lenders who have been supporting farmers with much-needed credit.”

Danny Creel, the executive director of the National Rural Lenders Association, said he had no comment. An official from the Independent Community Bankers of America said that the group was not currently considering litigation and that it anticipated that the federal government would find a way to accommodate its requests.

Lawmakers who helped craft the relief legislation have expressed little sympathy for the banks and are pressing the agriculture department to get the money out the door.

Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said: “U.S.D.A. should now take this first step toward addressing the agency’s history of discrimination by quickly implementing the law that Congress passed and moving forward without delay to pay off in full all direct and guaranteed loans of Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers.”

The banks are not the only ones who have been fighting the debt relief initiative. A group of white farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Ohio are suing the Agriculture Department, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory. America First Legal, a group led by the former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, filed a lawsuit making a similar argument in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas this month.

Mr. Vilsack said at a White House press briefing this month that his department would not be deterred by pushback against its plans to help minority farmers.

“I think I have to take you back 20, 30 years, when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture,” Mr. Vilsack said. “So, the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin addressing the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers.”

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Eugene Webb, Leading Harlem Real Estate Broker, Dies at 102

Eugene H. Webb, who was raised in racially segregated Alabama with modest ambitions, but who after transplanting himself to Harlem established what became the nation’s largest Black-owned real estate management company, died on April 5 at his home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. He was 102.

His death was confirmed by Webb & Brooker, the New York-based management, leasing and sales company he founded with George M. Brooker in 1968, which oversaw thousands of apartments generating tens of millions of dollars in rents.

In addition to his role at the firm, where he became chairman emeritus, Mr. Webb was among the founders of Carver Federal Savings Bank and of Freedom National Bank (which closed in 1990 during a recession). Both banks earned a reputation for lending to prospective Black and Hispanic home buyers in neighborhoods like Harlem, where applicants had been reflexively rejected by other banks.

Mr. Webb also played a prominent role in Harlem’s contentious redevelopment history, when new projects often raised fears that old Harlemites would be pushed out. He was part of the team that built the $60 million Renaissance Plaza on West 116th Street in the late 1990s, which includes 240 cooperative apartments and more than 60,000 square feet of retail space.

the HistoryMakers Digital Archive in 2004.

He dropped out of Miles College in Fairfield, Ala., to marry and worked in a coal mine before finally getting his dream job in a steel mill. After a little more than a year, he decided that he had higher aspirations and it was time to move on.

The New York Times that year. “Do you realize what that means if that money is channeled to local businesses to hire Black plumbers, painters and contractors?”

He and Mr. Brooker founded the Harlem Real Estate Board, where Mr. Webb served as president. After Mr. Brooker died in 1993, Mr. Webb assumed a policymaking role at the real estate firm and assigned operating control to Bernard Warren, who remains president.

Mr. Webb was a trustee of Miles College and of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

His survivors include his third wife, Danna (Wood) Webb, a lawyer, whom he married in 1999; his daughter, Brenda; five grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

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The Lure of H Mart, Where the Shelves Can Seem as Wide as Asia

At the H Mart on Broadway at 110th Street in Manhattan, the lights are bright on the singo pears, round as apples and kept snug in white mesh, so their skin won’t bruise. Here are radishes in hot pink and winter white, gnarled ginseng grown in Wisconsin, broad perilla leaves with notched edges, and almost every kind of Asian green: yu choy, bok choy, ong choy, hon choy, aa choy, wawa choy, gai lan, sook got.

The theme is abundance — chiles from fat little thumbs to witchy fingers, bulk bins of fish balls, live lobsters brooding in blue tanks, a library of tofu. Cuckoo rice cookers gleam from the shelves like a showroom of Aston Martins. Customers fill baskets with wands of lemongrass, dried silvery anchovies, shrimp chips and Wagyu beef sliced into delicate petals.

For decades in America, this kind of shopping was a pilgrimage. Asian-Americans couldn’t just pop into the local Kroger or Piggly Wiggly for a bottle of fish sauce. To make the foods of their heritage, they often had to seek out the lone Asian grocery in town, which was salvation — even if cramped and dingy, with scuffed linoleum underfoot and bags of rice slumped in a corner.

1.5 percent of the American population was of Asian descent.

beaten to death in Detroit by two white autoworkers who were reportedly angered by the success of the Japanese car industry. Asian-Americans, a disparate group of many origins that had historically not been recognized as a political force, came together to condemn the killing and speak in a collective voice.

Today, as they again confront hate-fueled violence, Asian-Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, numbering more than 22 million, nearly 7 percent of the total population. And there are 102 H Marts across the land, with vast refrigerated cases devoted to kimchi and banchan, the side dishes essential to any Korean meal. In 2020, the company reported $1.5 billion in sales. Later this year, it’s set to open its largest outpost yet, in a space in Orlando, Fla., that is nearly the size of four football fields.

And H Mart has competition: Other grocery chains that specialize in ingredients from Asia include Patel Brothers (Patel Bros, to fans), founded in Chicago; and, headquartered in California, Mitsuwa Marketplace and 99 Ranch Market — or Ranch 99, as Chinese speakers sometimes call it. They’re part of a so-called ethnic or international supermarket sector estimated to be worth $46.1 billion, a small but growing percentage of the more than $653 billion American grocery industry.

Japanese Breakfast, in her new memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” published last month. The book begins with her standing in front of the banchan refrigerators, mourning the death of her Korean-born mother. “We’re all searching for a piece of home, or a piece of ourselves.”

As the 20th-century philosopher Lin Yutang wrote, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”

For an immigrant, cooking can be a way to anchor yourself in a world suddenly askew. There is no end to the lengths some might go to taste once more that birthday spoonful of Korean miyeok guk, a soup dense with seaweed, slippery on the tongue, or the faintly bitter undertow of beef bile in Laotian laap diip (raw beef salad).

When Vilailuck Teigen — the co-author, with Garrett Snyder, of “The Pepper Thai Cookbook,” out in April — was a young mother in western Utah in the 1980s, she ordered 50-pound bags of rice by mail and drove 150 miles to Salt Lake City to buy chiles. She had no mortar and pestle, so she crushed spices with the bottom of a fish-sauce bottle.

Snackboxe Bistro in Atlanta, was a child in a small town in east-central Alabama, where her family settled after fleeing Laos as refugees. They fermented their own fish sauce, and her father made a weekly trek to Atlanta to pick up lemongrass and galangal at the international farmers’ market.

The essayist Jay Caspian Kang has described Americans of Asian descent as “the loneliest Americans.” Even after the government eased restrictions on immigration from Asia in 1965, being an Asian-American outside major cities often meant living in isolation — the only Asian family in town, the only Asian child at school. A grocery store could be a lifeline.

When the writer Jenny Han, 40, was growing up in Richmond, Va., in the ’90s, her family shopped at the hole-in-the-wall Oriental Market, run by a woman at their church. It was the one place where they could load up on toasted sesame oil and rent VHS tapes of Korean dramas, waiting to pounce when someone returned a missing episode.

A few states away, the future YouTube cooking star Emily Kim — better known as Maangchi — was newly arrived in Columbia, Mo., with a stash of meju, bricks of dried soybean paste, hidden at the bottom of her bag. She was worried that in her new American home she wouldn’t be able to find such essentials.

Then she stumbled on a tiny shop, also called Oriental Market. One day the Korean woman at the counter invited her to stay for a bowl of soup her husband had just made.

“She was my friend,” Maangchi recalled.

Kim’s Convenience” might say, a sneak attack. Once Brian Kwon entered the office, he never left. “My father called it his ‘golden plan,’ after the fact,” he said ruefully. He is now a co-president, alongside his mother and his sister, Stacey, 33. (His father is the chief executive.)

For many non-Asian customers, H Mart is itself a sneak attack. On their first visit, they’re not actually looking for Asian ingredients; customer data shows that they’re drawn instead to the variety and freshness of more familiar produce, seafood and meat. Only later do they start examining bags of Jolly Pong, a sweet puffed-wheat snack, and red-foil-capped bottles of Yakult — a fermented milk drink that sold out after it appeared in Ms. Han’s best-selling novel-turned-movie “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

To be welcoming to non-Koreans, H Mart puts up signs in English. At the same time, the younger Mr. Kwon said, “We don’t want to be the gentrified store.” So while some non-Asians recoil from the tanks of lobsters, the Kwons are committed to offering live seafood.

Sunday Family Hospitality Group, in San Francisco, remembers the H Mart of his youth in New Jersey as “just the Korean store” — a sanctuary for his parents, recent immigrants still not at ease in English. Everyone spoke Korean, and all that banchan was a relief: His mother would pack them in her cart for dinner, then pretend she’d made them herself.

Later, as a teenager, he started seeing his Chinese- and Filipino-American friends there, too, and then his non-Asian friends. Spurred by postings on social media, young patrons would line up to buy the latest snack sensation — “the snack aisle is notorious,” Mr. Hong said — like Haitai honey butter chips and Xiao Mei boba ice cream bars. (The current craze: Orion chocolate-churro-flavored snacks that look like baby turtles.)

In “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown,” a new cookbook by the chef Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, Mr. Jew, 41, recalls Sunday mornings in San Francisco with his ying ying (paternal grandmother in Cantonese), taking three bus transfers to traverse the city, on a mission for fresh chicken — sometimes slaughtered on the spot — and ingredients like pea shoots and lotus leaves.

He still prefers “that Old World kind of shopping,” he said, from independent vendors, each with his own specialties and occasional grouchiness and eccentricities. But he knows that the proliferation of supermarkets like H Mart and 99 Ranch makes it easier for newcomers to Asian food to recreate his recipes.

“Access to those ingredients leads to a deeper understanding of the cuisine,” he said. “And that in turn can become a deeper understanding of a community and a culture.”

Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta, feels that something is lost when you buy paneer and grass-fed ghee at a Whole Foods Market. You miss the cultural immersion, he says, “getting a dunk and having horizons broadened.”

“An Indian grocery is not just a convenience — it’s a temple,” he said. “You’re feeding the soul. Come in and pick up on the energy.”

In the TV special “Luda Can’t Cook,” which premiered in February, Mr. Irani takes the rapper Ludacris to Cherians, an Indian supermarket in Atlanta. Once Mr. Irani had to scrounge for spices like cumin and turmeric at health food stores; now, surrounded by burlap sacks stuffed with cardamom pods and dried green mango, he tells Ludacris, “This is my house.”

Min Jin Lee, 52, remembers how important H Mart was to people working in Manhattan’s Koreatown in the ’80s, when it was still called Han Ah Reum and “tiny, with almost no place to negotiate yourself through the aisles,” she said. (It has since moved across West 32nd Street to a larger space.) Her parents ran a jewelry wholesale business around the corner, and relied on the store for a cheap but substantial dosirak (lunch box) that came with cups of soup and rice.

She sees the modern incarnation of the store as a boon for second- and third-generation Korean Americans, including thousands of Korean-born adoptees raised by white American parents, who “want to find some sort of connection to the food of their families,” she said. “There aren’t gatekeepers to say who’s in or who’s out.”

BTS — anti-Asian sentiment is growing. With visibility comes risk.

For Ms. Lee, this makes H Mart a comfort. “I like going there because I feel good there,” she said. “In the context of hatred against my community, to see part of my culture being valued — it’s exceptional.”

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U.S. states are turning down hundreds of thousands of doses as demand plummets.

Several states are turning away Covid vaccine doses from their federal government allocations, as the daily average of coronavirus vaccine doses administered across the United States has fallen below two million for the first time since early March. Experts say the states’ smaller requests reflect a steep drop in vaccine demand in the United States.

Wisconsin officials have asked for just 8 percent of the 162,680 doses the federal government had set aside for the state next week, according to The Associated Press. In Iowa, officials asked for just 29 percent of the state’s allocated doses. And in Illinois, the state is planning to request just 9 percent of its allotted doses for everywhere, except for Chicago, for next week, The A.P. reported.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington State and Connecticut are also scaling back on their vaccine requests.

As demand falls and the spread of the virus slows in the United States, the Biden administration is under increasing pressure to share vaccine doses with countries like India, which has been ravaged by a catastrophic surge. About 83 percent of shots have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while only 0.3 percent of doses have been given in low-income countries.

normal refrigeration temperatures for at least three months, making its distribution considerably easier. But allocations of that have remained low nationally after a pause over extremely rare cases of blood clots was lifted last month, and that has contributed to the drop in vaccinations being given more broadly.

shifted the administration’s strategy to battle the pandemic. Changes include creating a federal stockpile of vaccine doses to given to states as needed, instead of strictly by population, and investing millions in community outreach to target underserved communities, younger Americans and those hesitant to get shots.

Mass vaccination sites will wind down in favor of smaller settings. Pharmacies will allow people to walk in for shots, and pop-up and mobile clinics will distribute vaccines, especially in rural areas. Federal officials also plan to enlist the help of family doctors and other emissaries who are trusted voices in their communities.

Dr. Adalja suggested that federal health guidance should take care to avoid “underselling the vaccine” as the nation tries to get more people vaccinated. Guidance on issues such as traveling and mask-wearing can be loosened “aggressively” for vaccinated people, Dr. Adalja said. “They seem to be several steps behind what infectious disease doctors like myself are telling people that are fully vaccinated what they can do.”

Experts warn that states where vaccinations are falling behind — particularly in the South — could be especially prone to outbreaks in the weeks ahead as more contagious virus variants spread. Texas and North Carolina are trailing the national average in vaccinations, with about 40 percent of people receiving at least one shot. In Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, about a third of residents have gotten their first shot.

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