set up stakeouts to prevent illegal stuffing of ballot boxes. Officials overseeing elections are ramping up security at polling places.

Voting rights groups said they were increasingly concerned by Ms. Engelbrecht.

She has “taken the power of rhetoric to a new place,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the acting director of voting rights at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “It’s having a real impact on the way lawmakers and states are governing elections and on the concerns we have on what may happen in the upcoming elections.”

Some of Ms. Engelbrecht’s former allies have cut ties with her. Rick Wilson, a Republican operative and Trump critic, ran public relations for Ms. Engelbrecht in 2014 but quit after a few months. He said she had declined to turn over data to back her voting fraud claims.

“She never had the juice in terms of evidence,” Mr. Wilson said. “But now that doesn’t matter. She’s having her uplift moment.”

a video of the donor meeting obtained by The New York Times. They did not elaborate on why.

announce a partnership to scrutinize voting during the midterms.

“The most important right the American people have is to choose our own public officials,” said Mr. Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz. “Anybody trying to steal that right needs to be prosecuted and arrested.”

Steve Bannon, then chief executive of the right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, and Andrew Breitbart, the publication’s founder, spoke at her conferences.

True the Vote’s volunteers scrutinized registration rolls, watched polling stations and wrote highly speculative reports. In 2010, a volunteer in San Diego reported seeing a bus offloading people at a polling station “who did not appear to be from this country.”

Civil rights groups described the activities as voter suppression. In 2010, Ms. Engelbrecht told supporters that Houston Votes, a nonprofit that registered voters in diverse communities of Harris County, Texas, was connected to the “New Black Panthers.” She showed a video of an unrelated New Black Panther member in Philadelphia who called for the extermination of white people. Houston Votes was subsequently investigated by state officials, and law enforcement raided its office.

“It was a lie and racist to the core,” said Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, who sued True the Vote for defamation. He said he had dropped the suit after reaching “an understanding” that True the Vote would stop making accusations. Ms. Engelbrecht said she didn’t recall such an agreement.

in April 2021, did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Engelbrecht has denied his claims.

In mid-2021, “2,000 Mules” was hatched after Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips met with Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative provocateur and filmmaker. They told him that they could detect cases of ballot box stuffing based on two terabytes of cellphone geolocation data that they had bought and matched with video surveillance footage of ballot drop boxes.

Salem Media Group, the conservative media conglomerate, and Mr. D’Souza agreed to create and fund a film. The “2,000 Mules” title was meant to evoke the image of cartels that pay people to carry illegal drugs into the United States.

said after seeing the film that it raised “significant questions” about the 2020 election results; 17 state legislators in Michigan also called for an investigation into election results there based on the film’s accusations.

In Arizona, the attorney general’s office asked True the Vote between April and June for data about some of the claims in “2,000 Mules.” The contentions related to Maricopa and Yuma Counties, where Ms. Engelbrecht said people had illegally submitted ballots and had used “stash houses” to store fraudulent ballots.

According to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a True the Vote official said Mr. Phillips had turned over a hard drive with the data. The attorney general’s office said early this month that it hadn’t received it.

Last month, Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips hosted an invitation-only gathering of about 150 supporters in Queen Creek, Ariz., which was streamed online. For weeks beforehand, they promised to reveal the addresses of ballot “stash houses” and footage of voter fraud.

Ms. Engelbrecht did not divulge the data at the event. Instead, she implored the audience to look to the midterm elections, which she warned were the next great threat to voter integrity.

“The past is prologue,” she said.

Alexandra Berzon contributed reporting.

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Record-Breaking Temperatures Continue Across The West

While even those lucky enough to have an air-conditioned home, you can’t count on it staying on in some of the worst heat the west has seen in years.

Hellish temperatures across the West — From California to Oregon, Nevada to Utah, temperatures are hitting triple digits in some of the country’s biggest cities, and a massive swath of the West is under some type of heat alert.

Almost the entire state of California is under an excessive heat warning. The state’s electric grid operator declared an energy emergency, warning of rolling blackouts if residents can’t conserve enough energy.

“We have all hands-on-deck ready to respond if there are outages, so that we can get the power restored as quickly and safely as possible,” Southern California Edison Spokesman David Eisenhauer said.

Near Los Angeles, crews are preparing spare transformers as state leaders expect the highest energy demand they’ve seen all year and potentially the most they’ve seen in five years.

In Long Beach, Deree Dickens charges his electric vehicle and worries about what that demand will mean in years to come, with leaders having just voted to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035.

“We’ve had power issues in the state for years,” he said. “The power grid is already taxed and then you’re going to put greater demand, significantly greater demand, on it by having all electric cars. You know, I don’t see that as a recipe for success personally, at least not not in that time span.”

In the short term, volunteers in Salt Lake City are doing whatever they can to keep cool the homeless who don’t have a place to find refuge.

“It is life or death,” Unsheltered Utah Executive Director Wendy Garvin said. “We really worry about people in this heat. In some ways, the heat is worse than the cold of the winter. We see more deaths from heat stroke than we do freezing injuries or freezing deaths.”

While even those lucky enough to have an air-conditioned home, you can’t count on it staying on in some of the worst heat the west has seen in years.

“I actually had to put a fan in my daughter’s bed because it was that hot,” one San Diego mom said. “My other slept in our room. We had all the windows open, we had gym fans in our room. It was intense. It was intense heat.”


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Drag Racing Rising Across U.S. Amid Increasing Traffic-Related Deaths

Videos on social media show dangerous street racing during large meetups from California to Michigan.

Dozens of people near downtown Chicago were seen on video throwing bricks, bottles and other objects at police. It followed two straight nights and several weekends of drag racing and what police have called “street takeovers,” marked by crowds watching reckless driving stunts.

“Just because we didn’t arrest you or tow your car, we have video of you… and we’ll prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Superintendent David Brown with the Chicago Police Department.

Dozens of videos popped up on social media over the weekend showing hundreds of cars blocking intersections and doing donuts on city streets overnight. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot partly blames the proliferation of these events on social media.  

“I think the lack of responsibility from social media companies who absolutely know the kind of things being posted, their failure to be proactive in addressing these issues, to work proactively with law enforcement, is an absolute abomination,” Lightfoot said.

The videos showing large stunt driving meetups online are not unique to Chicago.

Across the country from San Diego, California to Detroit, Michigan, police have faced off with large crowds and cars racing or stunt driving on city streets.

All of this comes as traffic-related fatalities are on the rise nationwide.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 9,500 people died in the first quarter of 2022 in traffic-related incidents, marking the highest Q1 total in 20 years.

“It’s frustrating and sad and heartbreaking,” said Adam Snider, director of communications at the Governors Highway Safety Association. “The pandemic did serve as a experiment in some ways to see what would happen when roadways cleared out when there was a lot less traffic. What we saw was an increase in this risky behavior. I’m talking about speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving.” 

Projections by this group say the U.S. is on its way to its third straight year of rising roadway deaths.

To be clear, street racing has not been formally linked to this rise in traffic-related deaths. That said, Snider considers drag racing just one of a host of risky behaviors behind the wheel that are driving these numbers up.

“Whether they are thinking about getting behind the wheel after a drink, checking that email while they’re driving, breaking the speed limit, or even trying to shut down the street and drag race with some friends, we need everyone to understand that those decisions are dangerous and deadly and impacts not just yourself, but put other lives in danger everyone else on the roads around you,” Snider said.

In response to these incidents, police departments across the country have taken action.

The Los Angeles Police Department launched a multi-agency task force specifically focused on street racing. The task force made 40 arrests and impounded 34 vehicles in one weekend.

Chicago Police Department launched its own task force this week and says it plans to use social media footage to impound cars that are clearly identified.


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Firefighters Face Heat Wave As They Battle California Wildfires

About 400 firefighters aided by aircraft managed to quell the explosive growth of the Route Fire, which had scorched more than 8 square miles.

Firefighters battling a Southern California wildfire were pulled back at times to find rest and shade on Thursday, a day after seven were sent to the hospital in the midst of a grueling heat wave.

Progress on the Route Fire in northwestern Los Angeles County gave strike team leaders the luxury of splitting and rotating their crews for breaks, fire Capt. Sheila Kelliher-Berkoh said.

“There’s no stand-down work order but they’re really pacing the work,” with some firefighters able to take 20-minute breaks and find shade back of the fire line before returning to the job of stamping out hot spots, Kelliher-Berkoh said.

Firefighters are “industrial athletes” who might be hauling up to 50 pounds of gear in addition to their boots, clothing and helmets, and keeping them safe is a priority, especially as they work in steep terrain in extreme heat, Kelliher-Berkoh said.

No one suffered heat exhaustion on Friday so “the strategy seems to be working,” she said.

The blaze in Castaic was 27% contained Thursday night.

Progress also was made on a fire in eastern San Diego County near the U.S.-Mexico border that left two people hospitalized with critical second- and third-degree burns, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The victims were burned after apparently crossing the border, and five other people had to be rescued, Tony Mecham, Cal Fire unit chief in San Diego County, said at a news conference.

“Those people ran for their lives,” he said. “”They had a very close call.”

The blaze also destroyed three homes and seven other buildings.

“It wiped everything out, the only thing I have left is the clothes on my back, so far I saved one of my dogs and two of the cats,” Ronnie Fukuda, who lost his home in the community of Potrero, told KSWB-TV.

The Border 32 Fire in the Dulzura area grew to nearly 7 square miles on Wednesday and prompting evacuation orders for about 1,500 people in hundreds of residences. However, the fire had stalled on Thursday. It was 14% contained and some people were allowed to return home, fire officials said.

The fires erupted as California broiled under a heat wave that was expected to last through Labor Day, sparking concerns about the threat of new blazes in tinder-dry brush. Triple-digit forecasts also prompted worries about straining the state’s electrical grid as people turned to their air conditioners. The California Independent System Operator, which oversees the grid, issued a “Flex Alert” call for voluntary conservation between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday — the third alert in a row.

At the Route Fire in Castaic, seven firefighters were sent to the hospital on Wednesday with heat-related problems before being released. Temperatures remained torrid on Friday, topping out at 112 degrees in Castaic.

However, about 400 firefighters aided by aircraft managed to quell the explosive growth of the blaze, which had scorched more than 8 square miles and destroyed a house. No homes remained threatened and evacuations were lifted, fire officials said.

The fire closed Interstate 5, a major north-south route but some lanes had reopened, although the highway remained jammed, especially by big-rigs.

Wildfires have sprung up this summer throughout the Western states. The largest and deadliest blaze in California so far this year erupted in July in Siskiyou County. It killed four people and destroyed much of the small community of Klamath River.

Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.


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Bills Release Punter Matt Araiza After Gang Rape Allegation

By Associated Press
August 27, 2022

In Buffalo, the focus shifts to why the Bills weren’t aware of the allegations against Araiza when they first selected the San Diego State player.

In the face of a major public backlash and internal questions over the decision to award Matt Araiza the punting job, the Buffalo Bills reversed course by cutting the rookie on Saturday, two days after a lawsuit was filed alleging the player and two college teammates gang-raped a teenager last fall.

The decision to cut ties with their sixth-round draft pick out of San Diego State comes after Buffalo cleared the way for Araiza to take over the punting duties by releasing returning veteran Matt Haack on Monday.

The Bills opted then to keep Araiza even while being aware of the allegations made against him since late July. The team then stood by the player by announcing it “conducted a thorough examination” into the matter a day after the lawsuit was filed.

Araiza’s release begins to ease a crisis which has shaken the team as reflected by coach Sean McDermott having difficulty containing his emotions while discussing the situation following a 21-0 preseason loss at Carolina on Friday night.

Without being specific, McDermott said he was unaware of some of the revelations that came out once the lawsuit was filed a day earlier, and repeatedly said the team has work to do to get to the truth.

“It’s not a situation we take lightly. I’m hurt, I understand they’re hurt,” McDermott said referring to Buffalo’s fanbase. “It’s not easy to hear about some of the things that I’ve heard about over the last several hours say. Haven’t slept a lot to be honest with you.”

McDermott made the call to hold out Araiza from playing against Carolina. The player watched the game from an undisclosed location while also issuing a statement through his agent, Joe Linta, which read: “The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”

Without another punter on the roster, third-string quarterback Matt Barkley handled the punting duties.

A lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court accused Araiza and two teammates of raping a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween party at an off-campus home where Araiza had been living. A San Diego police investigation has been turned over to the district attorney’s office to determine whether to pursue charges. DA spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said Friday there was no timeline as to how long a decision will take.

In Buffalo, the focus shifts to why the Bills weren’t aware of the allegations against Araiza when selecting the San Diego State player in the sixth round of the draft in April. Though he was college football’s top punter last year, and earned the nickname “Punt God” because of a booming left leg, Araiza was the third punter selected in the draft.

It’s unclear whether Araiza informed the NFL about the allegations in the months leading up to the draft.

Executives from two different teams told The Associated Press they became aware of Araiza’s involvement in an incident during the draft process, but neither person knew the extent of the allegations. Executives from three other teams said they had no knowledge of the allegations against Araiza before the draft and only learned of the incident Thursday. All the people spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Though it’s unclear when the Bills first became aware of the allegations, they knew by the end of July when Dan Gilleon, the lawyer representing the alleged victim identified in the lawsuit as “Jane Doe,” contacted the team’s legal counsel, Kathryn D’Angelo, by email.

“She seemed like she was concerned. She says she’ll get back to me, and then she never did,” Gilleon said. “I even followed up and said, `Hey, you guys haven’t talked to me and called me back like you said you would.’ And they just ignored that, too.”

Without saying when, Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, said he also informed his client to be upfront and inform the Bills about the allegations. Armstrong said he also kept in regular contact with the Bills over the past month to provide details of his own investigation into what happened.

“I 100% do not believe that he ever forcibly raped this girl or had sex with her while she was passed out or drunk or anything like that,” Armstrong said.

The Bills also conducted what they called a “thorough examination,” which eventually led to their decision to cut Haack.

The Bills also informed the NFL of the incident once they were made aware of it, a person familiar with the situation told The AP. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, wasn’t certain of the timeline.

The NFL declined to comment except to say it was aware of the matter.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.


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Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once

Rachel Nagler, 39, has worked part time since she was 22, but she will never be financially independent, according to her father. She is legally blind with a seizure disorder and mild cognitive impairment, the result of birth trauma.

For her parents, Sam and Debra Nagler of Concord, Mass., planning for retirement required them to focus on Rachel’s future as well as their own.

“She has very limited earning capacity,” Mr. Nagler, 70, said. “The concern is, is this sufficient for her for the rest of her life?”

His wife, who is 68, has been their daughter’s primary caregiver since her birth.

“Nobody knows Rachel, and takes care of Rachel, and knows every need of Rachel, and is on top of everything other than my wife,” Mr. Nagler said. “That’s a worry because she’s not going to live forever.”

For parents of children who have serious disabilities or special needs, the challenges of growing and preserving their wealth are magnified exponentially, and the stakes are much higher. While they are trying to plan for their own retirements, these parents need to simultaneously secure the ‌ stability of a son or daughter who will be dependent on them‌ until — and even after — their deaths.

“We want to make 100 percent sure that after we’re gone, there’s no issue,” Mr. Nagler said.

Under the best of circumstances, caring for an adult child with special needs is physically and emotionally taxing. As these parents age, the question of who will house, feed and drive their son or daughter after they no longer can becomes an urgent one.

But not all parents in this situation are aware of the myriad challenges they face. “Getting them to understand that they need to think differently about their retirement in this scheme of things is a key step. And it’s not simple,” said Mary Anne Ehlert, a certified financial planner and founder of Protected Tomorrows, a financial planning firm that specializes in families with special needs.

For example, Ms. Ehlert said, she has to consider a multigenerational time horizon for these clients’ portfolios. “We might be a little more conservative, but we still need growth. We need growth longer,” she said. But a conservative-leaning asset mix has drawbacks, too. “Conservative doesn’t always give us the growth we need,” she said. In addition, many families opt for a portion of their portfolio to be in cash or cash-like liquid investments in the event that their child suddenly needs a new piece of expensive equipment, like a speech-assistive device.

Often, one spouse will sideline a career or leave the work force entirely to provide care, reducing their own ability to save for retirement. These families find their budgets strained by a host of ancillary costs: paying for gas to drive their children to therapy appointments and day programs; buying supplies like adult diapers and waterproof bedding, compression tights to promote circulation, specialized diets — the list goes on.

Even when the disabled individual qualifies for public health assistance, finding affordable, adequate housing is especially difficult. Some people require supervised care in a group home, while others need in-home care in a dwelling modified to accommodate physical limitations. In both cases, waiting-list times are measured in years.

As a result, many parents feel they have no choice but to keep their son or daughter at home, said Harry Margolis, an estate planning lawyer near Boston who works with families with special needs. “Often, they’re still living with parents even when everybody’s getting older,” he said.

This can be expensive in terms of lost opportunity costs. To spare their child the upheaval, parents might forgo the opportunity to downsize into a less-expensive or more accessible home while they are still healthy enough to do so.

Since most of the public benefits available to special-needs and disabled people are administered at the state level through Medicaid, parents of a special-needs child might not be able to move to a state with a lower cost of living. Doing so could mean the adult child would lose access to their benefits and be placed at the bottom of waiting lists for services in a new state.

Some families, however, move to states that offer more generous benefits, even if it means a higher cost of living. “That’s a real struggle for these families, particularly as Mom and Dad age,” said Debra Taylor, founder of Taylor Financial Group in Franklin Lakes, N.J. “Some look to relocate to different states because some states are more hospitable than others.”

Douglas and Susan Rohrman moved out of the Chicago area five years ago, alarmed at the declining health of their daughter Liz, who suffered a traumatic brain injury just before the age of 2. Now, 38, the younger Ms. Rohrman has a host of physical challenges, including partial paralysis that impairs her mobility and ability to swallow and cognitive impairment.

“Liz was not getting great care in Illinois, so it was time to sell the house and move everything,” Ms. Rohrman, 74, said. “I researched this up the wazoo.”

The Rohrmans moved to the San Diego area because resources such as housing and day programs were more readily available. But when Covid struck, the couple felt that the only way they could keep their daughter safe — she had been hospitalized with pneumonia three times in 2019 — was to take her out of the care home they had moved her into just a few years earlier, the one they’d uprooted their lives for.

It was an enormous adjustment in responsibilities, but also in finances.

“When we were doing our taxes, I sort of sat down to see where my money was going. And Liz is a large part of it,” Ms. Rohrman said, ticking off items for which she has to pay out of pocket now that her daughter is living at home.

For example, swallowing difficulties mean that the younger Ms. Rohrman has to have a thickening agent added to her water. That alone costs several thousand dollars a year, her mother said, and there are a host of other unique expenses, such as for stabilizing footwear that helps her daughter walk. “I came up with like $9,000, not counting everything I buy at the grocery store and Walmart,” she said.

Mr. Rohrman, 80, had deferred his retirement at a law firm several years to keep earning income, but he stopped working when the family moved. The combination of much higher expenses, a drop in income and a flagging stock market demanded they re-evaluate their finances.

These financial struggles are magnified for single parents. “Care is inevitably more expensive when you have a single parent,” Ms. Taylor said, because they have to rely much more on paid caregivers.

Laura Weinberg, 59, became the sole caregiver for her son Will, who is autistic and nonverbal, when her husband, a lawyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I was in the weird situation of being widowed when I was 38, dealing with a 4-year-old who was a danger to himself,” she said. She was also a caregiver for her ailing mother and maintaining the family home in northern New Jersey. “I was overwhelmed,” she said.

“Estate planning was confusing and extremely expensive when I started to put a toe in the water,” she said. “I got all kinds of wrong information.”

Ms. Weinberg said she would like to have speech-assistive equipment for her son so that he can communicate, but the cost is prohibitive. Instead, she has pieced together a solution with an iPad and specialized apps. “It’s more modest than it might have been, but some of them are in the many thousands of dollars,” she said.

For parents of special-needs children, retirement planning and estate planning have to take place in tandem. Special-needs trusts and life insurance policies in one or both parents’ names are two of the most commonly used tools. Both have to be structured in compliance with the complex eligibility regulations for public health benefits, since many are means-tested.

Mr. Margolis said that even wealthy families have to navigate the byzantine landscape of government benefits, because many of the services available, including housing, are administered entirely through these programs. “In order to qualify for S.S.I. and Medicaid, in most cases you’re limited to $2,000 in countable assets,” he said.

“For a disabled individual, a lot of time, maintaining eligibility is critical,” said Joellen Meckley, executive director of the American College of Financial Services’ center for special needs. “I can’t tell you how many times family members, with the best of intentions, will name a disabled adult child as a beneficiary, not understanding that getting that money could immediately jeopardize their ability to access public benefits,” she said, referring to parents’ wills, retirement plans or life insurance policies.

This makes it imperative that money intended for a disabled individual be held in a specialized financial instrument such as a special-needs trust.

The money in a trust can go toward quality-of-life enhancements for the special-needs individual like cable TV, a cellphone or computer, better food, care providers and rent or utilities, without jeopardizing their public benefits, Mr. Margolis said.

There are two main categories of special-needs trusts. First-party trusts are established with assets that belong to the individual. The drawback is that these trusts have a payback clause: After the individual dies, any money remaining in the trust goes to reimburse the state for the cost of their care over the years.

Third-party special needs trusts are established and funded by someone else for the benefit of the disabled individual. “A third-party one takes in the assets of other people, like gifts, inheritances or life insurance proceeds,” said Brian Walsh, senior manager of financial planning at SoFi.

These trusts are often funded or supplemented with parents’ life insurance proceeds. “A lot of times, life insurance can be used to kind of create a funding source when one or both of them passes away,” Mr. Walsh said.

A “second-to-die” life insurance policy is a frequently used tool. Both members of a couple are covered under it, and the policy pays out after the second spouse dies, providing a more affordable option than insuring each parent separately.

“The purpose of this policy is that it’s going to pay out a death benefit to fund the child’s remaining needs no matter when the parents die,” Mr. Walsh said.

Since the funds in these trusts are generally conservatively invested, experts say the final challenge is making sure that the amount in the trust will provide an adequate income stream.

Getting that balance right is something that the Rohrmans, in California, struggle with.

When Mr. Rohrman stopped working, that meant not only paring back household spending, but revisiting their investing strategy as well.

“We’re financially very conservative. We know we can’t be like we were in our 30s and 40s in terms of our investment mix, spending and so forth,” Mr. Rohrman said. “We think about it a lot. We don’t let it dominate us.”

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Government Takes Steps To Improve Food Security For Military Families

In recent months, the U.S. government has taken some steps to improve food security for its service members — but there’s more to do.

Years after joining the Navy, Lisa Javenar still worries about having enough food for her family of five every month. 

We first introduced you to Lisa in May. She’s the wife of Teddy Javenar, an electronics technician with the rank of petty officer third class. Some months, she doesn’t know how she’s going to feed her kids.  

“We know what we signed up for,” Javenar said. “It doesn’t make it any easier. It’s still difficult. And so to have to deal with all of that and have to worry about how we’re going to feed our families. I mean, it’s just — it would be awesome to not have that extra stress.”

In tight months, Lisa, like thousands of other military families, helps feed her family by joining a line at the military equivalent of a food bank. 

As Newsy reported, a bureaucratic oversight is costing thousands of military families critical benefits to keep them from going hungry, especially in high-rent cities like San Diego where the value of housing can easily put them over budget. 

They get what’s called a basic allowance for housing to live off base. It covers the high rent, but also counts as income. It means they missed qualifying for SNAP benefits because on paper, they brought in too much money — by about $5 a month. 

The U.S. Department of Defense issued a roadmap this summer for strengthening food security in the force.

It references a survey done in 2020 that showed 24% of active-duty service members were food insecure. That’s around 300,000 people, plus their families. 

“People are shocked when they hear that military families struggle with hunger in the first place at all,” said Josh Protas, an executive at aid group MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “And they should be shocked because there’s no reason that those who serve in our armed forces should have to struggle to put food on the table.”

The Department of Defense plan aims to increase access to healthy food, help military spouses with employment, look at pay, and more.  

“It’s the first time that i know that a Secretary of Defense has spoken openly about this problem, and not tried to deflect blame onto the service members who are impacted, but to look at the systemic issues that are causing the problem,” Protas said.

There are other fixes in the works. Families may soon get what is called a basic needs allowance, a sort of pay bonus for low-income military families. It was part of last year’s bill that appropriates money for the Department of Defense.  

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will mean about $400 extra each month on average.  

But like SNAP eligibility, this too counts the basic allowance for housing as income, disqualifying many families.  

It does give the Secretary of Defense power to exclude the basic allowance for housing in high-cost areas.  

A few members of Congress are working hard to fix this in the next defense spending bill. One effort cleared the House of Representatives but now must make it through the Senate this fall.  

The Senate’s version made it out of committee. It doesn’t tackle the housing allowance issue but it does raise the financial limit for who qualifies for the basic needs allowance.  

There are also other standalone bills to stop the housing allowance from being counted as income for SNAP eligibility, including one introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who we spoke to earlier this year.  

“We have a real issue here,” Duckworth said. “The same people who protect and defend us should not be worried about whether or not their children are getting food.”

There’s a similar bill in the House.  

Now, after Newsy’s report, some familiar faces on the veterans advocacy front are joining the fight.  

John Feal fought alongside comedian and TV host Jon Stewart to get funding and benefits to 9/11 first responders, and most recently advocated for passing the PACT Act, which expanded care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

The day after President Biden signed the PACT Act, Feal shifted his focus. He sent a tweet saying “24% of our military and their families are food insecure… D.C., I am coming back with a vengeance!”

“We’re going to get in their face,” Feal said. “We’re going to make them do what’s morally right. We’re going to make them put aside their politics and their ideologies and think like human beings and show some humanity. If we have to shame them and scorch the earth to do so, then we’ll do so. We come in peace until we can’t come in peace anymore.” 

It’s still unclear whether other agencies, like the USDA, the Department of Defense, or even the White House, could legally fix this quickly. But Protas says there’s one group of people in D.C. that could.  

“Congress shouldn’t wait for administrative action, whether or not that is forthcoming, but should do right by military families and not leave them stranded,” he said.


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Rent Prices Are Skyrocketing Nationwide

Many Americans are frustrated with inflation and having to shell out hundreds of extra dollars for rent as it increases across the country.

Rent prices continue to hit historic highs as inflation takes its toll on the economy. 

“At night, I just lay there and pray that this is eventually going to start slowing down with this inflation,” said Anthony Erringer, a Tucson, Arizona resident.  

It’s a nationwide nightmare. 

“Three times the amount of rent these days. People aren’t even making the amount of the rent,” said Shaneika Cooper, a Las Vegas resident. 

Some tenants are now shelling out hundreds more a month. 

“I was completely astonished to see my rent going up from $2,895 to $3,500,” said Rosieangela Escamilla, a San Diego resident. From San Diego, California to Newport, Kentucky rent is increasing.  

“It just feels like you have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn to,” said Catherine Chandler, a Newport, Kentucky resident.  

According to a new survey from Freddie Mac, nearly 60% of renters said they were hit with rent increases this past year. 

Those increases hit upwards of 10%. 

And a majority reported that their wages did not increase at a suitable rate.  

Soaring rent with historically high housing costs is a one-two punch for anyone looking for an affordable place to live, putting more Americans at risk for homelessness. 

“For a person like myself, or someone who makes less than $30,000 a year, affordable is out of reach,” said Lewis Bass, a Detriot, Michigan resident. 

The key factors are landlords passing on their rising costs to their tenants. 

On top of that, some are capitalizing on the strong demand for housing, especially in new market hot spots where people migrated during the pandemic for remote work. 

That demand hikes prices for everyone and changes the types of housing on offer. 

Michael Hicks is a professor of Economics at Ball State University. 

“The pressure for them to go up is now lower. So the landlord can no longer sell their property as easy, and they aren’t facing any growth in cost,” said Hicks. 

A decrease in rent prices is likely a ways off. 

But experts say they will become more affordable by stabilizing. 

In the meantime, renters are doing what they can to stay afloat and keep their home sweet home. 

“People like me that have been here for years and not necessarily want to buy, but have been part of the community. It’s like we’re feeling pushed out,” said Crystal Jones, a Carmel, Indiana resident. 


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Where Do You Go When You Gotta Go? America’s Public Bathroom Shortage

Discrimination, underinvestment and sanitation concerns have led to a lack of public bathrooms, which has multiple consequences.

If a person has to go to the bathroom while out in public, it may be difficult to find a toilet without some sort of catch. Often, it’s in a coffee shop, a convenience store, a pharmacy or in another private building — so it’s not a truly public toilet.

The U.S. has eight public toilets per 100,000 people. That number is comparable with the rate in Botswana and far behind Iceland’s world-leading 56 public toilets per 100,000.

So why is it so hard to find a public toilet in the U.S.?

It’s a question with a complicated answer and that has a long history. Surprisingly, it relates to a ton of different issues, including public health, social services and just about every form of discrimination imaginable.

Public toilets were a fact of life in the U.S. and elsewhere for centuries — at least as far back as the Roman Empire. But they were pretty public, without any walls or barriers between them. The expectation for privacy while going to the bathroom in a public space emerged in the 19th century, with the industrial revolution and houses with modern plumbing.

Later on in the 19th century and into the early decades of the 20th century, sanitation became a greater priority. As leaders began to understand sanitation’s role in containing outbreaks of water-borne diseases, cities built and celebrated their public toilets.

Temple University history professor Bryant Simon, who has studied and is writing an upcoming book on the history of toilets, shared more about how toilets used to be a big deal. 

“City officials get on their soapboxes and brag about how much they spend on public bathrooms,” Simon said. “They brag about the touch points in these bathrooms. They brag about the brass fittings. They brag about the marble countertops. They brag about the floors. They’re proud of their accomplishment.”

Bathrooms quickly became points where people were segregated. Bathrooms were split up by gender, as they still frequently are. But the splits can be broader than that and led to discrimination against many different groups.

For example, public toilets started closing as early as the 1930s, with the LGBTQ community as a target.

“Beginning in the 1930s, 1940s, that early public officials begin to complain about perversions,” Simon said. “They begin to complain about same sex sex in bathrooms. As there’s fears about gay sex in bathrooms, there’s fear about people drinking in bathrooms. It’s not a very popular city sort of thing to build anymore.”

In the first half of the 20th century, bathrooms often were segregated by race, with Black Americans, or Latinos in the Southwest, having their own separate facilities. 

“The bathroom sort of operates as a kind of hardware of inequality because, essentially, you needed a public bathroom or a bathroom of some sort in order to be out and in public,” Simon said.

Racial segregation in toilets may sound like a distant thing or a footnote, but that legacy extends into the present.

In 2018, two Black men were blocked from using the restroom at a Starbucks location in Philadelphia’s Center City. The incident prompted Starbucks to take on a role as America’s de facto public toilets, as it changed its policy to allow people to use the restrooms at its more than 15,000 U.S. locations without buying anything.

While money can be a barrier to private toilets in stores, historically it’s limited access to public standalone toilets, too. By the 1960s and 70s, public toilets requiring small payments sprung up, but those ended up closing after concerns about gender discrimination.

The other big push to remove public toilets came in the 1980s, as part of a broader push to drive unhoused people to the edges of cities by taking away their access to public spaces and aggressively enforcing public urination laws.

Now if you don’t have a home of your own, it can put access to a restroom pretty far away. 

“Most of us are used to having our own bathroom,” said Raven Drake, Street Roots ambassador program manager. “Where I lived when I was unhoused, the nearest bathroom was a one mile walk away. Imagine walking a mile to the bathroom, and most of us can’t fathom walking 50 feet to our left a mile.”

Drake works with unhoused people in Portland as part of the local newspaper Street Roots. She’s an advocate for bathroom access as a central part of addressing homelessness, and she was unhoused herself in late 2019 and early 2020, during some of the strictest shutdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We ran a survey around bathrooms, around the importance of bathrooms and access to clean water with the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and a resounding amount of people answered that they had no access to public restrooms,” Drake said. “So we took forth on this initiative of placing out throughout the city 172 porta-potties.”

Underinvestment has been a major concern, too. If public toilets aren’t funded or attended, they can fall into disrepair. They can potentially become unsafe or unhygienic.

Starbucks announced in July that it would close 16 stores due to safety concerns. CEO Howard Schultz said in June that the coffee giant may restrict its currently public restrooms to customers only, as part of its broader push for store safety.

So, if Starbucks makes this decision to no longer serve as America’s public restroom, where will people be able to go? Even if a person isn’t homeless, bathroom access advocates like American Restroom Association president Steven Soifer point out this is an issue.

“For everyone, for people with shy bladder, for people with incontinence, for people with bladder issues of different sorts,” Soifer said. “People who had health issues and families with children who often struggle to find a place.”

Soifer is calling on government officials to step up here, but it may have to be local officials taking the lead. 

“There are going to be fewer and fewer options for people to be able to relieve themselves, and that becomes a public health issue as well,” Soifer said.

If there are no bathrooms available, the consequences can be deadly for communities. In 2017, at least 16 people died and hundreds more got sick in San Diego in an outbreak of hepatitis A. The disease spread in large part due to contact with fecal matter and public defecation. 

The city acknowledged that a lack of public restrooms, especially for unhoused people, was part of the issue and helped contain the outbreak by installing public toilets and handwashing stations.

But even then, a lack of funding or upkeep can quickly lead to toilets disappearing. A report earlier this year from researchers at San Diego State University found many of the toilets closed after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and that nearly half the county’s census tracts, home to 40% of the population, had no public restrooms.

Other cities are moving ahead with plans to install new public toilet facilities, including Portland, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. But, there’s still a shortage of public toilets in the U.S. and it’s pretty dire.

In 2011, a United Nations independent expert, Catarina de Albuquerque, studied water and sanitation rights on a mission to the U.S. Her report found an instance in Sacramento, California where public restroom closures and enforcement of public urination and defecation laws led to a homeless person traveling miles to dump a whole community’s human waste.

In the report, she indicated that the laws had a discriminatory effect and led to “a violation of human rights that may amount to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”


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