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FEMA Will Provide More Money for Covid Funeral Expenses

People who paid for the funeral and burial expenses of someone who died from Covid-19 will be offered expanded federal financial support starting on Monday, according to an announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 556,000 Americans, according to a New York Times database. Under the expanded assistance program, their survivors can apply for up to $9,000 in reimbursement for the purchase of a plot, burial, a headstone, clergy services, the transfer of remains, cremation or other services associated with a funeral.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families,” the agency said in a statement announcing the expanded benefits. “At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters. We are dedicated to helping ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the virus.”

Congress approved billions of dollars in funding for funeral benefits in two Covid relief measures, the one signed by former President Donald J. Trump in December and the one known as the American Rescue Plan that President Biden signed last month.

Both measures include added funds for funeral services in an attempt to cushion the financial blow to families, many of whom are already struggling because of the loss of income in the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

To qualify for reimbursement, an applicant must be a United States citizen or legal permanent resident who has documentation that they paid funeral expenses for someone whose death “‘may have been caused by’ or ‘was likely a result of’ Covid-19 or ‘Covid-19 like symptoms,’” or whose records include “similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of Covid-19,” according to FEMA. The person who died need not have been a United States citizen or resident, the agency said.

FEMA will reimburse funeral costs for multiple people in the same family, up to a maximum of $35,000, according to the agency. But the amount of federal assistance will be reduced if applicants also received support from other sources, including insurance policies specifically designed to pay for funeral expenses.

The effort to soften the financial burden of the pandemic is one of the largest such efforts ever undertaken by the agency. It also offers an opportunity for fraud, as the agency acknowledges in bright red type on its website.

“Fraud Alert: We have received reports of scammers reaching out to people offering to register them for funeral assistance,” the alert says. “FEMA has not sent any such notifications and we do not contact people prior to them registering for assistance.”

The agency will begin taking applications on Monday. Applicants can call a hotline at (844) 684-6333.

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Trump Aide Peter Navarro Doled Out Millions in Pandemic Contracts, Inquiry Finds

The Trump administration was so slow to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic that a top aide to President Donald J. Trump took matters into his own hands.

That aide, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s deputy assistant and trade adviser, personally steered hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for pandemic supplies to politically connected or novice companies, a preliminary investigation by House Democrats has found.

Mr. Navarro sounded an early alarm about supply shortages, according to emails and other documents released by a House committee overseeing the federal coronavirus response. In a memo dated March 1, 2020, he complained that “movement has been slow.”

After that, documents show, he prodded the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $96 million sole-source contract for respirators to AirBoss Defense Group, a defense industry supplier, telling a company executive “everything you requested is OK,” even though no contract had been signed.

Eastman Kodak Company, best known for its photography business, which then entered into a letter of intent in June 2020 to collaborate on the domestic manufacture of pharmaceutical agents, even though the company had no experience in that field.

Mr. Navarro also pushed for the Trump administration to award a $354 million contract to Phlow, a brand-new company in Richmond, Va., to manufacture generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients — an effort aimed at building up an American manufacturing base for products that were needed to treat Covid-19 but were made overseas. The Democrats’ investigation found that Mr. Navarro had been introduced to Phlow’s chief executive in November 2019.

“My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Mr. Navarro wrote to top federal health officials in March 2020. “This is a travesty. I need PHLOW noticed by Monday morning. This is being screwed up. Let’s move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can’t move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed.”

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Indiana and Ohio are expanding their pools of vaccine-eligible residents.

Ohio and Indiana are the latest states to announce significant expansions in Covid-19 vaccine eligibility for their residents. In Ohio, eligibility will be extended to anyone 40 years and older as of Friday, as well as for residents with certain medical conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney disease and heart disease. Indiana extended its group of eligible residents to people 45 and older, effective immediately. And Wisconsin on Tuesday said residents 16 years and older with certain medical conditions will be eligible for vaccinations a week earlier than initially planned.

President Biden has called on states to offer vaccines to all adults by May 1 and has said that the United States will have secured enough doses by the end of May for shots to be made available to them. And several states across the country have already begun expanding the criteria for vaccinations.

New York Times analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Times database.

In Ohio, as of Monday, about 21 percent of adults in the state had received at least one shot and 12 percent were totally vaccinated, according to a Times database.

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, announced the expanded eligibility on Tuesday, as well as a goal of working up to administering 6,000 shots a day across the state in the coming days, an increase over the 1,500 shots a day he said the state is currently administering.

With the expanded criteria, Mr. DeWine said another 1.5 million Ohio residents will be eligible for the vaccine on Friday. He also said a new Federal Emergency Management Agency mass vaccination site, the Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center, would handle shots for more than 200,000 people over the next eight weeks.

“I want to thank the president, President Biden, for making this site available to us,” Mr. DeWine said during a news conference on Tuesday.

according to Times data. Over the past 7 days, Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland and is Ohio’s second-largest county, has had the most new cases, and public health experts gauge the risk of getting Covid-19 there as very high, based on a Times analysis. Putting a mass vaccination site in the county and on Cleveland State’s campus, he said, was a deliberate move, given its proximity to some underserved neighborhoods. Mr. DeWine said free transportation to and from the Wolstein Center would be provided.

Ohio will make vaccines eligible to all Ohio residents 16 years and older on March 29.

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On Mexico’s Border With U.S.,Desperation as Migrant Traffic Piles Up

Mexico is struggling to deal with a new wave of migrants expelled from the U.S. while even more come north hoping to cross. Shelters that were empty four months ago are now having to turn many away.

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The migrants’ hopes have been drummed up by human smugglers who promise that President Biden’s administration will welcome them.

Instead, the United States is expelling them back to Mexico, where they wait along with tens of thousands of others hoping to cross. The pressure, and desperation, is quickly building among families stuck in Mexico, as shelters and officials struggle to help them.

In the United States, the federal authorities are scrambling to manage a sharp increase in children who are crossing the border on their own and then being held in detention facilities, often longer than permitted by law. And the twinned crises on both sides of the border show no sign of abating.

Near the crossing with El Paso, Texas, a group of mothers and fathers clutching their children were sobbing as they walked back into Mexico from the United States on Saturday. They walked unsteadily, in sneakers too loose after their shoelaces were confiscated and discarded along with all their other personal items when they were detained by the United States Customs and Border Protection.

natural disasters in Central America wiped away livelihoods.

the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who are filling up detention facilities after Mr. Biden said, shortly after taking office, that his administration would no longer turn back unaccompanied minors.

Mexican officials and shelter operators say the number of children, with parents or unaccompanied, is reaching levels not seen since 2018. Late that year, tens of thousands of migrants headed for the border each month, prompting Mr. Trump’s administration to separate families and lock them up. Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents to this day.

as it did during the Trump administration, officials said.

A Mexican Foreign Ministry official said the government was within its right to deport illegal migrants but did not comment on whether raids had increased in recent weeks or whether the Mexican government was responding to a U.S. request.

At the international bridge on Saturday, Dagoberto Pineda, a Honduran migrant, looked shocked as he discreetly wiped away tears and held his 6-year-old son’s hand. He had thought he was entering the United States, but here he was in Ciudad Juárez, crying underneath a Mexican flag. He asked Mr. Valenzuela and New York Times journalists for help: Was he allowed in or not?

massive hurricane hurtled through Mr. Pineda’s town late last year, destroying the banana plantation he worked on, owned by Chiquita Brands International. After years of paying Mr. Pineda about $12 a day to help fill American grocery stores with fresh fruit, the company laid him off. When coyotes offered him a chance to cross into the United States for $6,000 — more than his annual salary — he took it.

Mr. Pineda had crossed from Tamaulipas State into southern Texas, where he was detained by American officials for several days. When he was flown 600 miles to a second detention center in El Paso, Texas, he thought his entry into the United States had finally been granted.

Instead, on Saturday, border patrol agents released him on the Paso del Norte bridge, linking El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, and told him to walk in the direction of the Mexican flags.

Over the past week, Mexican officials and shelter operators like the International Organization of Migration said they had been surprised by the Department of Homeland Security’s new practice of detaining migrants at one point of the sprawling border only to fly them hundreds of miles away to be expelled at a different border town.

The United States is doing this under a federal order known as Title 42. The order, introduced by Mr. Trump but embraced by Mr. Biden, justifies rapid expulsions as a health measure amid the pandemic. But cramming migrants into airplanes and overcrowded detention facilities without any coronavirus testing defeats the purpose of Title 42, observers say.

Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said that the American authorities had seen “an increase in encounters” but that to adhere to federal guidelines for Covid-19, border officials were “expeditiously” transferring migrants out of their custody.

“Trump got his wall, it’s called Title 42,” said Rubén Garcia, the founder of Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter networks in the United States, based in El Paso.

Still, the new surge of migrants is straining resources throughout the system. Last Sunday, Mr. Garcia said, he was left with barely 30 minutes to prepare after being told by the authorities that 200 migrants were about to be deposited at his shelter, none of them tested for Covid-19.

“I’m on calls with staffers at the White House and D.H.S. and when I’m on those calls I say: ‘You’re not prepared. You’re not prepared for what is about to happen,’” Mr. Garcia said in an interview, using the acronym for the Department of Homeland Security.

Across the border, Mexican officials are also ill-prepared to handle the rising number of migrants, with shelters at a breaking point.

If Mr. Valenzuela’s daughter had not looked up from her book to spot the families crossing the border, all 19 migrants would have been dumped in downtown Ciudad Juárez, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, at the mercy of the cartels or human traffickers.

The night before, Mr. Valenzuela welcomed 45 families with little time to prepare.

Under Mr. Trump’s Remain in Mexico Policy, which deported migrants to Mexico to wait out their court cases for asylum in the United States, communication and coordination was better between the various organizations operating along the border, shelter operators and Mexican officials said. Mr. Biden ended that policy in January and promised to start processing some of the 25,000 migrants enrolled in that program. In recent weeks, hundreds have been let in.

Jettner, 29, a migrant from Honduras, is one of those who was allowed in to the United States. After waiting for nearly two years on the border with his wife and two daughters, it took them barely an hour on Friday to be processed and let in. He swiftly went to his sister’s house in Dallas.

As he walked up the bridge, leaving Ciudad Juárez behind as he strode toward El Paso, he was confident. “My life is going to change 180 degrees,” said Jettner, who asked that only his first name be used, fearing reprisals for his family back home. “I am going to a place where I will be well and have a decent roof over the heads of my daughters.”

Though American officials insist that the border is closed to new migrants, that has not stopped thousands from making the dangerous journey north, most from Central America.

Just four months ago, the Filter Hotel shelter in Ciudad Juárez was so empty that they used several rooms as storage. The shelter, run by the International Organization of Migration, now has signs on its door declaring “no space.”

Of the 1,165 people the Filter Hotel has processed since early May, nearly 39 percent were minors, most of them younger than 12, employees said. Its staff often has to shoo smugglers away when they loiter around shelter entrances.

Gladys Oneida Pérez Cruz, 48, and her 23-year-old son, Henry Arturo Menjívar Pérez, who has cerebral palsy, came to the shelter after being expelled from the United States late last month. Shortly after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, smugglers began cruising her neighborhood in Honduras for business, falsely putting out the word that the United States border was open.

Ms. Pérez hoped to join her sister in Maryland, and to find work that would help her afford medicine for her son.

A coyote charged her $9,000 for the trip — a steeper price than she expected, but it came with the promise she would travel by car and his colleagues would help her carry her son across the border, as he had to leave his wheelchair behind. Her sister wired the money. She and her son embarked on the dangerous trek on Feb. 7, she said. Nearly two weeks later, the smugglers dumped them at the border and said they would have to cross on their own.

They managed to cross after hours of effort, but were quickly detained by American border patrol agents and expelled back to Mexico. She has decided to return to Honduras, preferring to face poverty rather than risk being killed or kidnapped in Mexico.

“I apologize for having tried to enter the United States like this, but it was because of my need and my son’s illness,” she said through her tears.

“Biden promised us that everything was going to change,” she said. “He hasn’t done it yet, but he is going to be a good president for migrants.”

Albinson Linares contributed reporting from Juárez, Mexico.

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Biden Administration Directs FEMA to Help Shelter Migrant Children

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in processing an increasing number of children and teenagers who have filled detention facilities at the southwest border, as criticism mounts over the treatment of young migrants.

FEMA, which normally provides financial assistance during natural disasters, will help find shelter space and provide “food, water and basic medical care” to thousands of young migrants, Michael Hart, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.

The administration also asked officials in the Homeland Security Department to volunteer “to help care for and assist unaccompanied minors” who have been held in border jails that are managed by Customs and Border Protection.

Previous administrations have also dispatched FEMA to help process migrants during surges in border crossings. However, the Biden administration cannot use disaster aid funding to support the processing of migrants in Texas after they cross the border without the consent of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. States must request the funding from the federal government.

9,457 children, including teenagers, were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January.

The Biden administration has so far failed to quickly process the young migrants and transfer them to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, where they are held until the government matches them with a sponsor. The administration has struggled to expand the capacity of those shelters, where roughly 8,500 migrants were held this week. The Biden administration recently directed the shelters intended to hold the children to return to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

surge of crossings is adding new pressure in a divisive policy fight that the last three administrations have also confronted.

Mr. Biden’s critics have moved quickly in recent days to blame him for the increase of arrivals that they say threatens the country’s safety, economic recovery and health as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim thousands of lives.

Many of them appear eager to shift attention away from the president’s handling of the pandemic and his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which has been well received by the public, and toward an issue that could unite the Republican Party in opposition to Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called the influx of migrants, particularly children, “a humanitarian challenge to all of us.” But she was determined to cast blame on Mr. Trump and his policies, and longstanding unrest in Central America that had driven waves of migrants north.

“What the administration has inherited is a broken system at the border, and they are working to correct that in the children’s interest,” she said on “This Week” on ABC.

Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, who had also pointed to the Trump administration, said she found the situation at a processing facility that she had toured in El Paso on Friday “unacceptable.”

Nicholas Fandos and Chris Cameron contributed reporting.

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