Things That Matter

The U.S. Passport Was Once The World’s Strongest, It’s Fallen To 25th Place Thanks To Failed Leadership Amid Coronavirus

Not that we should be traveling right now, as the country’s Coronavirus pandemic continues to spiral out of control – but it’s worth noting that our international options are fewer than they were just months ago.

Historically, the U.S. passport has been seen as the golden ticket to travel with ease across the international community as it was once regarded as one of the strongest passports in the world. But that’s changing.

You can blame the drop in standing of the U.S. passport on our elected leaders who have massively failed to gain an upper hand on this health crisis. As other countries have demonstrated an ability to control Coronavirus within their borders, the U.S. has failed miserably. And that failure – in addition to more than 3 million infections and 130,000 deaths – has resulted in Americans simply being turned away from international destinations.

The U.S. passport dropped in visa-free access from 7th to 25th place as a result of our Coronavirus failures.

In what is a double whammy for the United States, the country recently crossed the three-million mark in terms of the number of registered COVID-19 cases, and more than 132,000 people have died from the disease. Now, its handling of the pandemic has drastically diminished power of its passport. 

Before the pandemic, the U.S. was regularly listed in the Top 10 on the Henley Passport Index, an annual ranking of the number of countries a passport gets you into without a visa. The ranking is based on data from the International Air Transport Association. The US usually comes in sixth or seventh and topped the list as recently as 2014. Before the coronavirus pandemic, a US passport would get you into 185 destinations around the world without the need for a visa at all or a visa on arrival.

According to the latest Henley Passport Index, U.S. passports now have access to only 158 countries, putting it on par with a Mexican passport, a significant decline from its previous top 10 ranking in 2014.

“We see an emergence of a new global hierarchy in terms of mobility, with countries that have effectively managed the pandemic taking the lead, and countries that have handled it poorly falling behind,” says Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, according to Forbes.

The biggest drop came as a result of the European Union banning entry to U.S. citizens.

Many countries across the globe are beginning to open back up as they get their Coronavirus outbreaks under control, and they are limiting or banning travel with countries where the virus is running rampant — including the United States. 

In fact, as Europe has slowly started to reopen its borders to international tourists, it’s specifically left off the U.S. Europe’s decision is responsible for the largest drop in the power of the U.S. passport.

Recently, five Americans who flew to Sardinia on a private jet were turned away and governors in Mexico are advocating for tighter border measures to prevent Americans from going into the country and spreading the virus. 

The U.S. passport is now equal in strength to that of Mexico and Uruguay.

It’s no secret that citizenship is the main factor behind preserving global inequalities today and that simply holding a U.S. passport can grant you access to so many more destinations. But now, Americans are getting to swee just how your government’s actions – or failures – can result in you being treated differently on the global level.

Thanks to America’s failure at combating the virus, U.S. citizens now hold passports that have around the same level of travel freedom as citizens of Mexico (#25 on Henley Passport Index, with a score of 159) and Uruguay (#28, with a score of 153).

Coronavirus continues to rage out of control across the U.S., so it should go without saying that an international trip is not a good idea right now.

Countries are closing their doors to Americans, as the outbreak in the US — the worst in the world — nears 3 million infections with over 131,000 deaths.

The US last week surpassed 50,000 new daily coronavirus cases, and that trend has been maintained this week with multiple states and cities recording record-high new infections, hospitalizations, or deaths. 

Another factor playing into travel restrictions – beyond the surging of cases in the U.S., is that America’s health care system is decentralized, unpredictable and unequal.

Tourism is essential for the economies of many destinations—and the livelihoods of individuals and families—and plays a role in reducing poverty. But right now is not the time for Americans to be traveling.

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Just After Congress Approves $600 Stimulus Checks, Trump Threatens To Veto The Bill

Things That Matter

Just After Congress Approves $600 Stimulus Checks, Trump Threatens To Veto The Bill

Pixabay

Updated: December 23, 2020

Just days after the U.S. Congress approved legislation that would send millions of Americans much-needed stimulus checks – even though they were only $600 – Donald Trump has thrown the entire plan into chaos.

Donald Trump threatens to veto historic spending bill.

Trump is holding a veto threat over recently passed, bipartisan legislation that was aimed at stimulating a suffering economy. Trump says that he wants lawmakers to boost the $600 direct payments to checks for $2,000 but his own party is basically united against increasing the size of checks.

Many point out that Trump is simply holding up the legislation, not for the stimulus checks, but because he objects to other parts of the law. Within the spending package, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle approved spending for arts and cultural programs as well as aide to developing countries across the world.

Original Story Published: December 18, 2020

So it looks like millions of Americans may end up getting that long overdue second stimulus check after all. So long as Congress doesn’t screw things up again.

As part of the latest round of negotiation between Democrats and Republicans, it looks a like a proposal for $600 direct payments is back on the table. However, $600 is literally half of the amount that was sent out to millions of Americans back in April and May.

A new stimulus package could include direct payments to millions of Americans.

Congressional leaders are considering a new deal to help stimulate the economy which has been battered by the Coronavirus pandemic. And although it appeared, as recently as last week, that a second stimulus check was off the table, that seems to have changed.

The new deal under consideration included new stimulus checks and enhanced federal unemployment benefits, according to reports by Politico. Even President Trump said in a TV interview over the weekend that he wants stimulus checks in the deal, saying he wants to “see checks—for more money than they’re talking about—going to people.”

Millions of workers aren’t getting any help from the largest emergency aid deal in US history.

The bill, known as the CARES Act, delivers direct payments to most taxpayers, vastly expands unemployment benefits, and makes testing for the virus free, among other provisions.

But although unauthorized immigrants are no more immune from the effects of the current crisis, the stimulus bill conspicuously leaves them out in the cold — potentially putting them at greater economic and health risk, and impeding public health efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

There are an estimated 10.7 million undocumented immigrants in the USA who are ineligible for emergency federal benefits or state unemployment insurance because they don’t have valid work authorization. 

That’s left an extra layer of anxiety for immigrants without legal status who have lost their jobs or seen work hours reduced amid the statewide shutdown of “nonessential” businesses. Many turned to local organizations for help to put food on the table and pay other expenses. 

Undocumented residents are already at greater risk of being affected by Covid-19 because of inadequate resources and access to health care.

The unauthorized worker population is particularly vulnerable to the virus due to inadequate access to health care. Noncitizens are significantly more likely to be uninsured compared to US citizens, which may dissuade them from seeking medical care if they contract the virus.

Compounding matters are the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies — including wide-scale immigration raids and a rule that can penalize green card applicants for using Medicaid — which have made noncitizens afraid to access care. These factors pose a problem for America’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 12,000 in the US as of April 7.

Where the government is failing, advocates and organizations are stepping up to help.

Some immigrant advocates lobby for the undocumented to be included by allowing payments to those who file taxes using individual tax identification numbers, which are often used by workers without legal immigration status. 

“They should include at least the individual taxpayers,” said Diana Mejia, founder of the Wind of the Spirit, an organization that helps immigrants in New Jersey’s Morris County.  “They are paying taxes,” she added in an interview with CNN.

Filers who use ITINs contribute about $11.74 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington think tank.

Aside from millions of undocumented migrants, millions of others are also being left out of the stimulus:

Credit: Department of Treasury

College Students and 17-Year-Olds: If someone else claims you as a dependent on their taxes, you won’t get your own check. Parents will get an extra $500 payment per child, but that’s only for kids under 17.

Most 17-year-olds, some young adults and many of the country’s roughly 20 million college students are claimed by their parents as dependents. They won’t get checks, and their parents won’t get an extra $500.

Disabled People: People who get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or Veterans Affairs are eligible for the payments — but not disabled adults who are claimed as dependents by their parents or other relatives on their taxes

Seniors Who Live With Family: Senior citizens who are on Social Security or make less than the income cap are eligible. But the “dependent” rule applies to them, too. Some seniors who live with their adult children or other relatives are claimed by them as dependents on their taxes. Those seniors won’t get checks.

Immigrants are eligible for some free testing.

Credit: Pixabay

Here’s one thing the bill does offer to unauthorized immigrants: free coronavirus testing at government-funded community health centers through a $1 billion federal program. But some community health centers have already reported shortages of tests.

There is also a larger, state-level testing program funded through Medicaid, but that’s only available to Medicaid-eligible immigrants — green card holders who have lived in the US for at least five years, immigrants who come to the US on humanitarian grounds such as asylum, members of the military and their families, and, in certain states, children and pregnant women with lawful immigration status. Those groups, however, make up only a small proportion of immigrants living in the US. 

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that it won’t consider use of free testing services when evaluating whether immigrants will likely end up relying on public benefits under the “public charge” rule, which went into effect in February

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In A Post-Covid World, Here Is Where You All Said Want To Travel

Culture

In A Post-Covid World, Here Is Where You All Said Want To Travel

©Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

Covid put a stop to our travel plans for 2020. After almost a year in lockdown, we have had time to plan fantasy trips and explore the world. We asked you where you wanted to visit and here are some of the places you all can’t wait to see.

Argentina

Argentina offers something for everyone. As on of the southernmost countries in the world, Argentina offers natural sights that will make nature lovers swoon. Into architecture? Cities like Mendoza offers a look at the art-deco style that will make you feel like you are back in time. Don’t forget to try to make a trip down to Ushuaia, the End of the World for a spectacular view.

Cuba

Cuba is a tricky one but a beautiful place to see. The country is filled with old buildings and cars that make it feel like a time capsule. Now, the island is old because they are oppressed and don’t have much. But you can always find ways to make sure that you help people of the island instead of giving the money to government approved businesses.

Costa Rica

This is about as wild and wondrous as it gets. Costa Rica will give everyone a chance to really be one with nature. The Central American country is a rainforest oasis with nature everywhere you look. The country prides itself on how development is not encroaching on nature and has even outlawed zoos and aquariums.

Honduras

Honduras is an underestimated place to visit. The food and people are warm and inviting. There has been some unrest in the country in recent years and a series of hurricanes has devastated the population. Tourism is a great way to bring money into a place the needs it. Just don’t take advantage of them while you are there.

Mexico

Mexico is a country filled with wonders new and old. You can experience the ruins of some of the oldest civilizations and bask in the modernity of Mexico City. The food is as diverse and vibrant as the people with delicious moles in Oaxaca and experimental fusions in Mexico City. Valle de Guadalupe is home to some farm to table restaurants and exquisite wineries. It truly is a journey of the sense if you take time to see the country.

Colombia

Colombia is one of South America’s gems. After years of internal conflict, the nation is growing and quickly becoming a destination. Bogotá and Medellín are great but make it a point to visit Cali. The city is one of the place everyone should visit if they make their way to Colombia.

READ: Mexico Announces 11 New Pueblos Mágicos And It’s The Post-COVID Travel Lust We All Need Right Now

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