(NEW YORK) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law earlier this month that prohibits businesses from requiring customers or employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. This presents a potential problem for major cruise lines that have relied on Florida ports and referred to the vaccines as "game changers" in their restart-operation plans.
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio has said the new law could force the company, which plans to require all future guests to be fully vaccinated, to suspend Florida departures and move its ships.
"At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can't operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida," Rio said last week during an earnings call.
Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Harry Sommer appeared on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday and sounded more optimistic that they could come to a compromise.
"At the end of the day, we have the same goal in mind to restart cruising safely for our guests in an excellent way with a fantastic product," Sommer said on "GMA." "And I think when people are aligned on the same goal they find a way to move forward."
"You say your goals are aligned," ABC's Michael Strahan said, "but what does the compromise look like if the state doesn't relent, are you prepared to keep ships out of Florida?"
"I don't think it's a question of relenting," Sommer responded, "I think it's a question of us coming together with a common cause and a common goal, moving forward, and I'm confident and optimistic that we'll be able to do that."
Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Norwegian are resuming North American cruises this summer with ships sailing out of the Caribbean. Since their voyages won't involve departures or stops at any U.S. ports, they didn't need approval from the CDC. They only had to obtain officials' approvals at their planned destinations.
Since March 2020, the CDC has blocked cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in U.S. waters. The agency recently announced that it will allow cruise companies to bypass previously required simulated voyages if a ship attests that 98% of its crew and 95% of its passengers are fully vaccinated. The CDC hopes this could have ships back in U.S. waters with paying passengers as early as mid-July.
"We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity," the agency said in a letter to cruise industry officials, which was obtained by ABC News, "and that the goal of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order's phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities."
Sommer said he can't guarantee that there will never be a case of COVID-19 onboard, but that the "combination of testing protocols and 100% vaccination is going to provide the absolutely safest vacation on the planet," adding, "that's their goal."
The CDC has yet to make a final decision on if masking will be required onboard the ship.
"We certainly hope not," Sommer said about the potential mask requirement, "You know, we think in a world where 100% of the people on board are vaccinated, that masks aren't being going to be required, but we're going to be guided by the science."
(NEW YORK) -- As the nation grapples with an unprecedented cybersecurity attack on a major East Coast fuel pipeline, the national gas price average hit $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years.
The national average price of regular gasoline is just slightly over $3 a gallon on Wednesday, according to data from the American Automobile Association. The last time average prices were at these levels was in November 2014.
Colonial Pipeline, which transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, said Saturday it was the victim of a cyberattack involving ransomware, and had temporarily halted all pipeline operations as a result. Pipeline operators have said they hope to "substantially" restore operations by the end of the week.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said that Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese met with principal leaders of the interagency group tackling the Colonial Pipeline situation.
Psaki did not give any update on where things stand with the pipeline reopening but conceded that there are “supply shortages.”
"The group discussed the latest updates on fuel supply in the affected region, and steps that agencies have taken and are considering to further alleviate the supply shortages," Psaki said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in remarks during an unrelated hearing before a Senate committee that DHS has the capabilities and resources to address all threats facing the homeland when asked about the ransomware attack.
"We are working at the direction of the president in an all-of-government way to address the cybersecurity threat that Colonial Pipeline suffered, and that other businesses and institutions across our country are vulnerable to,” Mayorkas said.
Four states in the Southeast -- Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia -- have declared a state of emergency related to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.
Some analysts have attributed the price hikes and fuel shortages at some gas stations in the region in part to panic-buying. Fuel-price tracker GasBuddy reported Tuesday that demand had jumped 14.3% week-over-week.
As of Wednesday, some 28% of gas stations in North Carolina have fuel outages, according to GasBuddy data, marking the highest of any state. This is followed by approximately 17% of gas stations in Georgia and Virginia.
Energy Sec. Jennifer Granholm on Tuesday urged calm, saying there should be no cause for "hoarding gasoline."
"Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic," Granholm told reporters, "there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend."
(NEW YORK) -- As vaccination numbers continue to rise, Americans are expected to travel this summer -- taking their first big trip since the start of the pandemic.
"I think folks are really eager to make their first trip back, they've been vaccinated and feel safe and comfortable traveling, they want to make their first trip a big one," Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights and author of Take More Vacations, told ABC News.
More and more travelers are taking to the skies
Despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance against non-essential travel, more than a million people have passed through U.S. airports each day since early March, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration.
"The resurgence in demand for travel is in full swing," Keyes said. "If you look at the number of flight searches, especially the more iconic travel destinations like Hawaii or Cancun, not only is it higher today than it was at the same time two years ago before the pandemic, it's not even close."
American Airlines said it expects to fly approximately 90% of its 2019 system seat capacity this summer. United Airlines said bookings for summer 2021 are "far outpacing bookings for summer 2020."
With international destinations like Iceland and Croatia announcing they will accept vaccinated Americans this summer, U.S. airlines are adding capacity to those routes as well.
"They really want to take advantage of that spike in interest to visit those places after they announced that they're open for tourism again," Keyes said.
Delta announced Friday that it will debut new service to Croatia this summer. United said its flying more than 100% of its pre-pandemic schedule to Latin America compared to 2019. American also said its Latin American network is expected to be the same size as it was in 2019.
Travelers are booking hotels last minute
According to Hopper, a travel-booking app, 51% of all hotel bookings made on their platform are last-minute, meaning they were booked within 48 hours of check-in. The most popular cities among those bookings are Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles, the company said.
Hopper also said "staycations" are popular among their users, with more than half of all hotel bookings made through their site being less than 200 miles from a customer's origin. The company launched its "Stay the Night" feature Tuesday in an attempt to help consumers find the best fares at the last minute.
"I think initially there was a little bit of an apprehension about traveling," Adit Damodarn, economist at Hopper, said in an interview with ABC News. "But I think there is a little bit more comfort as you kind of get into this new travel period with like dipping your toes in the water exploring some local markets, and getting a feel for what it's like to be traveling again. I think that's kind of why vacations are so popular now."
Road trips are on the rise, but car rentals are hard to come by
Once travelers arrive to their destination, car rentals are becoming harder to find. In the past week, car rental searches on KAYAK were up 115%, with prices up 92% compared to the same dates in 2019, the company said.
"We've seen a huge surge in rental car searches compared to 2019, particularly in outdoorsy spots like Montana, Hawaii, Alaska and Florida," Matt Clarke, vice president of NA Marketing at KAYAK said. "Supply-and-demand logistics are playing a big role and likely leading to the volatile prices we're seeing across the U.S."
Hertz said it's seeing a spike in demand for leisure travel in cities and regions across the country.
"We anticipate strong demand for car rental to last several months and throughout the summer and encourage customers to book as early as possible and at the same time they're making other travel arrangements," the company said in a statement to ABC News. "Another tip is to consider booking at a neighborhood car rental location which may have more availability when airport volumes are high."
Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and others, said it is also seeing the same increased demand for vehicles and similarly recommended people make their reservations early.
"Providing flexible travel dates and branch pick up locations in your search may also help increase your options," the company said in a statement to ABC News.
(NEWARK, N.J.) -- The most populous city in New Jersey has launched a pilot program to give guaranteed income to some residents, as the pandemic has exacerbated the racial wealth gap and exposed the economic vulnerabilities millions of Americans face.
Experts say success in Newark, New Jersey, a neighbor of New York City, could set a precedent for other communities around the country to follow suit as the nation seeks to equitably recover from the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19.
"We must emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with new purpose, new vision and new ideas to transform our community and truly improve the quality of life of our residents," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a Democrat, said in a statement earlier this week. "Here, we have an opportunity to directly empower and strengthen hundreds of lives immediately, while also demonstrating how to do so to the entire nation."
The Newark Movement for Economic Equity, launched by Baraka on Monday, is a two-year research study that will give unconditional cash payments to economically vulnerable residents. The pilot program is starting with just 30 residents, but is set to expand to 400 residents in the fall. To qualify, participants must be Newark residents who are at least 18 and have income levels at or below 200% of the federal poverty threshold.
To start, participants will receive $6,000 per year -- with half receiving payments on a bi-weekly basis and half receiving payments twice yearly.
Some $2.2 million to date in private funds from local philanthropic groups and beyond have been raised to support the pilot program, and a statement from the mayor’s office said they are continuing to seek donors for the initiative.
If it is successful, the group has said on its website it anticipates it will be funded through state or federal money.
The median household income in Newark was $35,199 according to 2019 Census data, with more than 27% of the population living in poverty. Census data also shows that more than 50% of the residents identify as Black.
The program was launched in collaboration with Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a national program spearheading guaranteed income pilot programs across the U.S., and the research study will be led by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR) at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.
"Guaranteed income is essentially just an income floor, an agreement that we decide individuals should not fall beneath," Stacia West, the director and co-founder of the Center for Guaranteed Income Research and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work, told ABC News.
She said they started their experiment to study guaranteed income in 2017 in a program that eventually launched in Stockton, California, dubbed the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration. Currently, they have more than 20 pilot programs for guaranteed income in communities across the country.
"The best ones are the ones that are completely community-based, and I think that's what you see here in Newark," she said. "The mayor's team partnered with local community-based organizations to identify a group of individuals that they felt were really struggling the most economically, both pre-pandemic and throughout it, and those happen to be individuals that are housing insecure."
The pilot program is especially targeting residents who are formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated, undocumented or aging out of the foster care system, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
"In 2017, people were like, 'You all are are crazy, you can't just give people $500 a month,'" West recalled. "We have a lot of entrenched narratives, that are frankly rooted in anti-Blackness, that suggests that people are somehow going to misuse the money."
West said the Center for Guaranteed Income Research, however, has seen "a really dramatic return on investment" for guaranteed income.
"We saw more people moving from unemployment or underemployment to full employment," she said. "We followed people who were meeting the criteria for depression and anxiety, suddenly feeling much better, no longer meeting those clinical criteria."
In the Stockton program, they found that 28% of the recipients had full-time employment when the program officially launched in February 2019. One year later, however, 40% of the recipients of the guaranteed income were employed full-time.
Meanwhile, the control group in the same experiment saw just a 5% increase in full-time employment over the same one-year period -- jumping from 32% of the control group employed full-time to 37%.
Their preliminary data comes as the nation debates whether enhanced government aid via unemployment benefits is disrupting the labor market by leading to less people working.
West said she hopes the Newark initiative, one of the largest cities in the pilot programs, could set a model for other cities to follow suit.
"The point is to test out a policy proof-of-concept, to make good science-based policy that results in better health, economic and social justice outcomes," she said. "So if what we see not only from Newark but from the other 26 pilots that we're running is that individuals seem to be doing better in terms of those domains of health, education, economics, how they're doing parenting their children -- then why would you not scale up the policy?"
(NEW YORK) -- During the pandemic, Andrea Xu found a new way to tap into her Asian heritage and help connect consumers to the flavors, ingredients and dishes that are deeply rooted in her culture's cuisine.
The young entrepreneur spoke to ABC News' Good Morning America about how her unique culinary experience growing up to Chinese parents in Spain before living in the U.S. for a decade shaped her tastes and sparked an idea to launch her own food business this March.
Umamicart is an online grocery store that delivers hundreds of hand-curated Asian-owned products. From fruits and veggies to cuts of meat and traditional pantry staples, the selection of products highlight and celebrate the endlessly diverse world of Asian American culture and cuisine.
Xu started her career in finance at Goldman Sachs before a stint at a venture capital firm, but she said, "A lot of me didn't feel like that's what I wanted to dedicate my life to."
"I just kept going back to being interested in small businesses and making offline things online, because that's what I grew up seeing my parents struggle with," she said. "I just always ended up more interested in food and thinking about how hard it was to access Asian food and wanting to work with mom and pop suppliers, so I took a leap of faith and started Umamicart."
When she built her small-but-mighty team of five people based in Brooklyn, New York, she said they all had the same pain points in common: "accessibility to ingredients that our parents used for their cooking in one place and ingredients that we've picked up along the way."
"I think there's an interesting intersection for people like myself who have Asian heritage, but didn't grow up in Asia," she explained. "I feel like we're very picky about the flavor, because we grew up eating it -- but we don't always know exactly what goes in every dish -- but the stuff in the mainstream grocer isn't exactly what we want."
Like others who may have access to local stores, Xu said she always gravitates towards going to Chinatown or Koreatown. But she also acknowledged "that's not always accessible or realistic to think that you're going to be able to go all the time -- so in between you're sort of settling for the swaps -- if you don't have time to procure the right ingredients."
Enter Umamicart, whose goal is to "sort of take that burden of authenticity off for people," Xu said, by curating thoughtfully sourced products "that represent Asian brands and makers -- from suppliers we love and think super highly of and we think that's the product mix that our consumers will really like."
"The concept of authenticity is really nuanced," Xu continued. "I'm not the domain expert for Chinese food for sure, but who really is or defines that? For my parents, having their Chinese restaurant in Spain, they definitely had this burden where there was certain dishes they had to carry -- when in reality, why couldn't they serve what was super personal and that they liked?"
Xu works with an array of local suppliers, offline mom and pop-run markets and more who could bring traditional southeast Asian flavors and ingredients to the site.
"We started working on this in the midst of the pandemic, so it was pretty hard to meet them in person, and a lot of them don't have online channels," she said. "It was a labor of love building trust and explaining the value proposition to them and that we're not a site where we're going to charge them a super high fee -- rather work with them to highlight their products and build a good partnership."
Xu and her team first start with products they want for specific cuisines like Chinese, Korean and Japanese, then identify and meet suppliers, then sample and choose a product mix.
Here are a few of Xu's favorites and best sellers on Umamicart: sashimi grade seafood options; Crave Natural oatmeals, produced by a fellow female-founded company that come in multiple Asian flavors like red bean and taro; Er jing tiao chili, which is the most popular variety of chili in Sichuan and used to make chili crisp and oil; Japanese dashi; and snacks, particularly shrimp crackers.
While there are other Asian retailers with online presences, Xu said her goal was to make it more than just a convenience point of putting a catalog of products on a website.
"It was more about celebrating the cooking behind it, celebrating these flavors and making a good experience," she said.
For AAPI Heritage Month, Umamicart partnered with a selection of its favorite Asian heritage brands to showcase their histories and entry into the U.S. market. The well-recognized food brands will offer exclusive discounts, giveaways and recipes for a month of fun and delicious treats.
The five brands include Myojo USA, Lee Kum Kee, Otafuku, Calbee and IRVINS, and a portion of Umamicart's proceeds during May will be donated to Send Chinatown Love and Heart of Dinner.
The company currently delivers locally in New York City and states in the Mid-Atlantic region.
(WASHINGTON) -- Gas stations are running out of fuel in Southeastern cities and long lines are forming across the country as panic buying ensues following the crippling cyberattack on the nation's top fuel pipeline network.
Ashish Desai, an employee at BP station in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Tuesday was chaotic.
"We had people waiting before we even got here," Desai said, adding that cars began lining up around 6:30 a.m.
People waited in long lines outside gas stations amid fears of shortages after a cyberattack forced the shutdown of a major gas pipeline in the U.S. that supplies 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast. https://t.co/SHeSHGqX9ipic.twitter.com/8M0TWldOAT
He said a handful of pumps were shut down around 2 p.m., but eventually they were all closed and it was unclear when the next fuel delivery would be made.
"It could be tomorrow; it could be next week. I don't know," he told ABC News.
The Southeastern U.S. is feeling the worst impact. The Colonial Pipeline that is now offline is responsible for delivering more than 70% of the transportation fuels supply to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, according a homeland security bulletin obtained by ABC News.
Georgia and North Carolina have already issued emergency declarations. In North Carolina, 9% of gas stations were without fuel, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan. And in Georgia, almost 6% of the state's gas stations were without gasoline, with more than 20% of metro Atlanta gas stations out.
"Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm cautioned Tuesday, "there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend."
Krisi Ennis, who lives in North Carolina but works in South Carolina, said Tuesday that she had seen the news the night before, but panicked when she noticed the gas station near her job had run out of gas.
"I got lucky," she told ABC News, after waiting for over 40 minutes before finally getting to a pump.
She said there were only two gas stations with fuel available in her area and she paid $60 for 17 gallons of gas.
"You got to get what you can get right now; we got to go to work," Ennis said.
The national gas price stood at $2.98 on Tuesday, an 8-cent increase on the week, according to AAA.
The association said the last time the U.S. saw average prices at $2.99 and higher was November 2014.
Airlines are also feeling the ripple effects of the pipeline shutdown.
American Airlines had to add a fuel stop on two of their daily long-haul flights out of Charlotte, North Carolina.
One American flight that's normally nonstop from Charlotte to Honolulu will now involve a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth, where passengers will have to switch to a different aircraft. The other impacted flight that normally flies direct from Charlotte to London will stop in Boston for additional fuel.
A United Airlines spokesperson told ABC News that their operations are not currently impacted, but that they are tankering fuel into four airports. Tankering involves flying planes with additional fuel into an airport which allows them to avoid or reduce ground refueling. They will fly into Baltimore, Nashville, Greenville-Spartanburg and Savannah.
The Colonial Pipeline's chief executive had indicated the company would decide by the close of business on Wednesday whether it could fully restart the pipeline, Granholm said, but that even if it did, "it will take a few days to ramp up operations."
ABC News' Luke Barr, Josh Margolin, Sam Sweeney, Jade Lawson and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.
(NEW YORK) -- Sisters Andrea and Natalia Tovar looked to a special friend as inspiration for their company -- their 13-year-old dog Bocce.
In 2010, Andrea Tovar decided to start Bocce's Bakery after noticing all of the processed ingredients found in typical dog treats.
"I flipped over one of the treat bags that I was giving him and I was shocked by the amount of ingredients, and the names that I couldn't pronounce that were in his treats," said Andrea Tovar.
She decided that Bocce, and all dogs, deserved better. She began making dog treats from her New York City apartment with only natural ingredients.
"We would literally bake Friday to Sunday night, nonstop, tiny apartment," said Andrea Tovar. "Baking treats, baking treats."
Tovar said she soon tapped her sister and their mother Jacqueline to be the first employees. She said she needed the help when stores kept reordering her all-natural treats.
"Once the store started to reorder and that's when we knew, you know, this is a business," said Andrea Tovar. "We definitely need a bigger oven and more hands to be cutting those treats."
Now, Bocce's Bakery has four bakeries across the U.S. and employs over 700 workers.
"I mean we are so extremely proud to say that Bocce's is made in America, because of the jobs that we've been creating not only directly at Bocce's but at those we are supporting in bakeries and suppliers here in America," said Natalie Tovar.
The company makes about 6 million biscuits a week in dozens of flavors. Andrea Tovar said she has been especially grateful during this tough year.
"I think to be able to support American jobs and opportunities is huge every year," she said, "but especially this year."
(NEW YORK) -- Food service workers are putting renewed pressure on their employers for better working conditions and wages.
Businesses across the country are blaming a “workforce shortage” for being understaffed or closed. But workers in the industry say poor labor practices are pushing potential employees away.
“It’s stressful working for a billion-dollar company when they’re not caring for the workers,” said Ieshia Townsend, a McDonald’s employee in Chicago, Illinois. She has worked at the McDonald’s location since 2015. “Even during COVID-19, we had to literally go on strike just for masks, just for gloves, just for supplies and protection to protect the workers, which should have been set in place.”
Signs have been taped to the doors, drive-thru speakers and facades of fast-food and fast-casual restaurants with descriptions of long workdays, no lunch breaks and poor pay to accommodate for the risk of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some of the signs stated that many workers are no longer showing up for their shifts.
Employees across the country are searching for ways to make their workplaces more safe.
Edward Dialecio, who has worked at a New York City Chipotle for over a year, is one of many workers fighting for a union. He has been organizing with 32BJ SEIU.
“It’s a constant fight to create the conditions that we want and things have been changing for the better the more pressure we put on,” Dialecio said.
A sign on an unknown Chipotle door recently went viral on social media. It said: "Ask our corporate offices why their employees are forced to work in borderline sweatshop conditions for 8+ hours without breaks. We are overworked, understaffed, underpaid, and underappreciated."
Chipotle is being sued by the City of New York for violating a law that requires fast-food chains to give their employees stable schedules. The lawsuit, filed on April 28, claims there have been almost 600,000 violations of the law and $151 million is owed to workers because of workplace violations.
According to the lawsuit, Chipotle violated the Fair Workweek Law that was passed in 2017, which states that employers “must give workers good faith estimates of when and how much they will work, predictable work schedules and the opportunity to work newly available shifts before hiring new workers.”
In a statement to Insider, Chipotle's Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laurie Schalow said: "We make it a practice to not comment on litigation and will not do so in this case, except to say the proceeding filed today by DCWP is a dramatic overreach and Chipotle will vigorously defend itself. Chipotle remains committed to its employees and their right to a fair, just, and humane work environment that provides opportunities to all."
In light of the recent demands from workers on poor working conditions, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced in a press release that it would increase restaurant wages to $15 by the end of June. It also introduced a new employee referral bonus, where employees can earn $200 for crew member referrals and $750 for higher ranking positions. The press release also stated that workers now have more opportunities for promotions and can advance in as quickly as three years.
The news also comes as Chipotle looks to hire 20,000 new workers in restaurants across the country.
"Chipotle is committed to providing industry-leading benefits and accelerated growth opportunities, and we hope to attract even more talent by showcasing the potential income that can be achieved in a few short years," Marissa Andrada, the chief diversity, inclusion and people officer at Chipotle, said in the release.
Chipotle did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
McDonald’s workers in 15 states are also demanding union representation. They will be going on strike on May 19 before the annual shareholder meeting to demand a $15 hourly wage and union representation for cooks and cashiers. In 2020, McDonald’s earned almost $5 billion in profits and workers are demanding that they get their share.
In a January investor call about Q4 earnings, McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski said the company is doing “just fine” in states where wages are above the federal minimum of $7.25.
Union organizers say they have been demanding a raise long before the pandemic and the fight has become more urgent. Townsend, who has been part of the Fight for $15 movement since 2016, said the job has become more dangerous since the start of the pandemic. When she comes home from work, she enters only through the back door and takes a shower before hugging her kids every day. She and her colleagues fear they’ll pass on the virus to their loved ones.
“You can afford to pay the workers $15 with a union,” Townsend said. “We need to be treated like we’re essential. We're not asking for a lot. We're asking for hazard pay. We're asking for $15 and a union. We're asking for sick pay time.”
McDonald’s did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, said there is some evidence of a labor shortage in the leisure and hospitality industry. Wages may be slowly increasing but they're still not high enough to attract workers, she argued.
Shierholz said fast-food employers are competing with hurdles like child care, ongoing health concerns and low wages. She said annual earnings for non-supervisory leisure and hospitality workers remain around $22,000 a year.
If employers want to bounce back, they need to address workforce concerns, Shierholz recommended.
“Listen to what workers need and then try to meet those,” she said. “People’s lives are just a lot more chaotic than they were before the recession. As much as policies can be adjusted to make room for that, that will help attract workers.”
(ORLANDO) -- Memorial Day travel should is expected to jump by about 60 percent from 2020, as the coronavirus cases decline and more people begin to travel.
AAA is anticipating more than 37 million people will travel 50 or more miles from home between May 27 and 31. That figure far eclipsing the 23 million who traveled last Memorial Day, the lowest tally since AAA began recording the statistic in 2000.
It's still a decrease, however, from the 2019 Memorial Day holiday. That year, AAA says about 43 million people ventured out of town.
As more Americans get fully vaccinated against COVID-19, travel has begun to increase. During the month of May, the Transportation Security Administration has said over one million people per day have gone through U.S. airport security screenings.
(NEW YORK) -- McDonald's is teaming up with the White House to help get the word out on COVID-19 vaccines.
The fast-food chain announced Tuesday it has partnered with the Biden administration to provide customers with access to trusted, independent information on vaccines. The partnership is part of the company's ongoing efforts to support communities and neighborhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initiative begins later this month and will kick off with an informational billboard in Times Square. In July, both McCafé cups and McDelivery seal stickers will promote vaccines.gov, where customers can get more information on how to protect themselves and others from the virus plus find nearby vaccine appointments.
"We all want to protect ourselves and our loved ones and be together with our communities again. McDonald’s is excited to be doing our part for the people we serve, providing them with simple information that can help keep them safe," Genna Gent, McDonald’s USA vice president for global public policy and government relations, said in a statement. "This is a team effort -- it takes all of us. We’re proud to enter this partnership to provide trusted, independently verified information about COVID-19 vaccines to our customers in the nearly 14,000 communities we serve."
U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, added that "ending this pandemic requires all of us working together."
"Getting vaccinated is easy. More than 150 million people have already gotten at least one dose of vaccine and millions more are getting vaccinated every day," he said. "Thanks to McDonald's, people will now be able to get trusted information about vaccines when they grab a cup of coffee or order a meal."
This new business, government and community partnership builds on McDonald's continued efforts to provide for the safety of both employees and customers since last March.
In January, the fast-food restaurant chain announced that managers and crew at corporate-owned U.S. restaurants and U.S. corporate employees would receive up to four hours of paid time to receive the vaccine.
(NEW YORK) -- Authorities are working to crack down on an impostor phone scam in which the caller pretends to be a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent and then tries to steal the victim's money -- often by having them purchase gift cards.
Phone scams in general are on the rise, with the number of reported scams nearly doubling between 2019 and 2020, according to the latest numbers from the Federal Trade Commission. Half a million reports were filed last year alone, with losses totaling over $1 billion.
ABC News has been tracking new scam alerts sent out by the FBI, IRS and DEA in cities across the country including Boston, Houston, San Francisco, and Spokane, Washington, where officials report seeing an increase in scams in which would-be thieves identify themselves as officers, claim that the target has been found to be associated with a crime, and then demand that they pay them or else face charges.
The Drug Enforcement Administration recently issued a warning about a "widespread fraud scheme" in which the caller purports to be a DEA agent in an attempt to extort money.
According to DEA Special Agent James Pokryfke, the scam begins with the would-be thief informing the target that their name and social security number was used to rent a vehicle that was subsequently found at the southern border between the United States and Mexico, along with evidence of drugs and money laundering.
"The fake DEA agent will convince people to turn over money in a couple different ways. One is to avoid prosecution," said Pokryfke. That option often includes paying a fine, he said.
The other option is to offer the target a way to secure their money using the threat of a frozen bank account.
When Terri Tuson's phone rang last July, she says she was told her social security number had been used to rent a car that was found in Texas, along the border, with drugs in the car. The scammers told her they were going to freeze her bank accounts unless she withdrew her money and transferred it to gift cards.
"I was scared because I didn't know if it was actually going to happen or not," said Tuson, who works as a housekeeper at a hospital in Illinois.
At the time, she had $2,800 in her one account. She says she withdrew it all, following the scammer's direction, and went to a drug store and grocery store, where she purchased eBay and Best Buy gift cards.
"They told me they'll open up another account for me to put my money into, send a sheriff out to my house, and give me all that information so I can have my money back. It never happened," said Tuson.
ABC News spoke with several other victims of the same scam, whose losses ranged from $200 to over $450,000.
The DEA directed questions about a possible investigation into this specific scam to the FBI, which declined to comment on the status of an investigation.
In an audio recording provided to ABC News by the DEA, a scammer is heard trying his best to convince a target he's a legitimate DEA agent -- even texting a photo of a fake federal badge.
The scammer was unaware that his target had conferenced in a real DEA agent, Pokryfke, who told the scammer what he was doing was criminal and subject to investigation.
"The DEA will never call you and threaten you with arrest unless you make payment," Pokryfke told ABC News. "And they will never ask you to give them money to keep it secure."
YouTube star "Pierogi," a pseudonym used to protect his real identity, has gained celebrity fame by "scamming the scammers." Videos of his conversations with phone scammers show Pierogi -- who has a background in cybersecurity and IT -- playing a range of characters from a widowed grandmother to a college student.
"I'm on the phone every day with scammers and I hear victims in the background going to get gift cards and giving their money to these guys," Pierogi told ABC News.
He said the helpless feeling of not being able to assist the victims brings him to tears.
Pierogi, whose videos have been viewed more than 60 million times since he launched his channel in 2019, said the scammers don't just target the elderly.
"It can be 18 to 85 -- they don't care. If they think they can scam you, they will," he said.
Pierogi said that scammers use gift cards as a preferred method of payment because they have a very quick turnaround.
"The scammers have Facebook groups where people will either tie up gift cards or they'll take them as currency," he said.
FTC Acting Deputy Director Monica Vaca told ABC News that scammers have financial systems in place to monetize the cards.
"Sometimes they're selling them on a secondary market, or they use them for themselves," said Vaca. "Once you've read those numbers on the gift card [to the scammer], they will be able to access those funds."
According to the FTC, gift cards were the most common payment method by those who reported being victimized by the DEA scam in the past year, with a median loss of $850 per victim. The FTC said that the most popular gift cards requested by scammers include eBay, Google Play and iTunes cards.
FTC officials said they have been working with retailers to post visible signage in the gift card sections of stores as part of a public awareness campaign called "Hang Up on Gift Card Scams" that seeks to warn gift card purchasers about possible phone scams.
"We do hear from consumers that in many instances, it is these store clerks that intervene and stop them from sending money" when the targets of the scam go to purchase the cards, Vaca said.
Among those participating in the awareness campaign is the world's largest retailer, Walmart.
A Walmart spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that warning signs have been posted in Walmart stores across the United States. The company also confirmed that store associates have been trained in how best to identify red flags regarding potential fraud scams.
(NEW YORK) -- After months of buzz around non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, the three-letter word has officially been added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary. But the publisher and language authority took the moment in blockchain history a step further by offering up the animated NFT of its definition for auction.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told ABC News' Good Morning America that while he's come to know NFTs through the world of fine arts and memorabilia, "there's really nothing I've seen that compares with the specificity of this one, which is to say it is literally the definition of the activity, the endeavor, the archive and the minted product."
The proceeds of the auction will go to Teach for All, a network of organizations in 60 countries that incorporates Teach for America and ensures education opportunities for children, which he said "was the perfect charity to benefit from this."
"It makes it this nice symmetrical, elegant way of expressing this new term. We don't normally throw a party for every new word we add to the dictionary," he added with a laugh. "Words enter the dictionary at their own pace. When a word is found in many publications and likely to be encountered by many readers -- then that means that editors think that their readers know what [the word] is."
Sokolowski continued, "As soon as the linguistic white gloves come off and there's no longer a little parenthesis that explains it, then we see that the word has become essentially a naturalized citizen of the English language that's ready for the dictionary and has to be defined."
Here is how the official definition will read in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Non-fungible token (NFT): Noun ˌnän-ˈfǝn-jǝ-bǝl- : a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided, that is recorded in a blockchain, and that is used to certify authenticity and ownership of a specific digital asset (such as the original version of an online photo or video).
"This is a term that has come into the world in a big way in recent months. Cryptocurrency has been around for about a dozen years. Blockchain has been around for about 10 years," Sokolowski said. "If people are using a term in many places, then there is no advocacy or committee [on our end], it simply goes in as soon as we can get a good, carefully edited definition in."
Sokolowski also explained that NFT is actually referred to as an initialism, like FBI or CIA, where the letters are spoken individually.
"When you study and you learn etymologies" -- the study of the origin of words -- "like that fungible comes from fungi, to perform in Latin, you never forget it. That knowledge becomes yours, you own it and carry it with you forever," he said. "Carrying away the possession of knowledge is something that has always been part of what a dictionary does"
On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. ET the first-of-its-kind auction will be available on OpenSea, the world’s largest digital marketplace for crypto collectibles and NFTs, and will close at midnight ET on Friday, May 14.
"This project is about establishing NFTs as a medium with lasting value through the permanence of a record in the country’s most-trusted dictionary," Nate Chastain, head of product at OpenSea, said in a statement. "We’re excited that a brand like Merriam-Webster is using NFTs to engage with its audience in new ways."
(NEW YORK) -- Nearly a decade ago, Linda Greene was having dinner with some of her friends when she heard that marijuana had been legalized for medicinal use in Washington, D.C. Having lived through the 1960s counterculture, she saw an opportunity.
Greene opened Anacostia Organics in 2019. The push to open the medicinal marijuana dispensary began after Greene saw that of the 15 original cultivator and dispensary licenses issued by the district’s Department of Health, none had been awarded to residents of the U.S. capital, and only two had been awarded to people of color.
Anacostia Organics became the first medical marijuana dispensary east of the Anacostia River, located in a poverty-stricken area that was also home to the majority of the city’s patients registered to buy marijuana for medicinal purposes. Greene, who aims to uplift the community in which her dispensary is located, said the drug has been misunderstood.
“This is not a stoner industry,” she told ABC News. “It’s been misconceived. ... It’s the industry of healing.”
Greene is one of over 320,000 Americans who work in the cannabis industry. The drug, which has been legalized for recreational use in 17 states and Washington, D.C., accounted for $17.5 billion in sales in 2020.
Yet, even as revenues from cannabis continue to grow across the country, the drug remains a federally prohibited Schedule 1 controlled substance -- in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
That may change, though. Ninety-one percent of Americans surveyed believed marijuana should be legalized, according to a Pew Research Center survey from last month. Of those participants, 60% said it should be legalized both recreationally and medicinally. Only 8% said it should not be legal for any adult use.
The survey was conducted amid a heightened push by lawmakers to decriminalize the drug at the federal level and provide restorative justice to those who’ve been incarcerated for certain marijuana offenses. The House recently passed the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, which would make it easier for cannabis companies to operate in states where sales of the drug are legal.
During a press briefing on April 20, widely considered to be an unofficial holiday for marijuana users, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden supports “decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana.”
But while Biden’s position may fall short of full recreational legalization, Andrew Freedman, the former director of cannabis coordination for the state of Colorado, said now may be one of the best chances to legalize the drug.
Freedman was widely known as Colorado’s cannabis czar. He spearheaded the state’s framework for recreational marijuana use legalization -- the first in the country. Since 2014, the industry has amassed $10 billion in sales and over $400 million in tax revenue that has been used in part to fund the state’s school-related projects.
He said the state has had legal marijuana for long enough now that it’s not even taboo anymore.
“If you go to Colorado right now, and you have conversations about cannabis, it’s the most normal thing in the world,” he said. “It stands right alongside alcohol. It stands right alongside the Denver Broncos as just a thing to have a conversation about.”
Freedman, who went on to advise other state governments about how to establish cannabis regulations, is now the executive director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation. The think tank represents stakeholders including big tobacco, big beer and security companies, among others.
With more states legalizing it, Freedman said the think tank’s goal is to focus on the “hows” of marijuana legalization rather than the “ifs.”
“Our strategy is really to stop focusing on if legalization should go forward, recognizing that legalization has gone forward,” he said. “It’s a reality for almost half of America.”
Virginia became one of the latest states to legalize marijuana for recreational use last month. But while it’s the first state in the South to do so, it’ll take three years for people to be able to sell the drug legally. Gov. Ralph Northam recently pushed the state legislature to speed up the timeframe to legalize simple possession in an effort to limit marijuana-related arrests.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are nearly four times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar rates of use.
Shanita Penny was charged with possession nearly a decade ago. She said she believes her encounter with the law is an example of the racial bias often seen in policing minorities who are caught with marijuana.
“It’s personal. I was on [Interstate 95] in Virginia when I was pulled over and arrested for cannabis possession,” she told ABC News. “Born and raised in Virginia, I didn’t think that would happen.”
Penny paid nearly $3,500 to expunge her record after being charged with possession. She said she believes it was only because she was able to get the help of an attorney. It was a difficult process, she said, even “for someone who’s reasonably resourced.”
“But for someone who’s not, this becomes a game-changer in the worst way,” she said.
Penny worked for several Fortune 500 companies as a consultant before founding cannabis consulting firm Budding Solutions. She said she thinks wielding her skills in compliance and business development will not only help cannabis businesses thrive but will also balance the scales of justice for minorities.
“It lit a fire under me to make legalization happen in a way that people who were not interested in consuming this plant or being part of this industry would fully understand why legalization is so important and how equitable legalization can impact your life, whether you’re touching this plant or not,” she said.
Decriminalizing marijuana possession first and foremost is important, she said, because if legalization is “truly going to prioritize racial equity and the harm that’s been done, then we needed to stop the harm as soon as possible.”
Like in Colorado, other states are increasingly seeing the revenue from their cannabis sales as a source of funding to pursue racial equity and economic opportunity, Freedman said.
“A lot of the conversation now is, how do you make sure that the economic opportunities available from a new economy are there for the communities most harmed by the war on drugs?” he said.
A resolution passed in Evanston, Illinois, in March would provide reparations to the communities hit the hardest: A portion of tax revenues from cannabis sales would go toward a $10 million fund over 10 years to help pay for home repairs or down payments for Black residents who’ve faced historically unfair housing practices.
In Virginia, the law to legalize cannabis includes the so-called Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would direct 30% of tax revenue to communities that have been overpoliced for marijuana-related crimes.
“We have a lot of hopes on the commercial market here, particularly in Virginia,” said activist Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the group Marijuana Justice. “But it is going to be a hard push to truly make that equitable, and we would like to really say that this is a first step forward. This is a progressive step forward.”
In Washington, D.C., Greene says she also feels compelled to reinvest the fruits of her labor into her community. Along with opening Anacostia Organics in her own neighborhood, she also employs people who live there and teaches them the inner workings of the industry so that they, too, can one day build up.
(NEW YORK) -- Ford is recalling over 660,000 SUVs due to loose roof rail covers that can detach while the vehicle is in motion and “create a hazard for others on the road.”
The recall affects 2016-2019 Ford Explorers. More than 620,000 of the SUVs are in the U.S.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the retention pins in the part can loosen and allow the roof rail covers to detach from the vehicle. To fix the issue, dealers will install push-pins and replace any damaged rail clips and roof rail covers, NHTSA said.
Ford said it was not aware of any reports of accidents or injuries related to the recall.