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Prevent healthcare rationing on basis of disability, Congressmen tell HHS

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Members of Congress are asking the U.S. health department to clarify that states cannot ration patient care for coronavirus on the basis of disability.

A group of 25 members of the House and five senators all wrote Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar on Wednesday, asking them to emphasize that states cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in their plans for dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge your Department to act quickly to notify states that as they review and create their ‘crisis standards of care,’ they must not authorize or promote any form of disability discrimination that would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” the letter states.

The letter was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and led by Smith and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) in the House. Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) signed on as well.

“Our nation cannot leave behind Americans with disabilities or pre-existing conditions during this crisis,” Smith stated.

“Especially during times of crisis, we cannot abandon our moral duty to protect vulnerable communities and stand for the value of life,” Lankford stated.

In the letter, the members note that, due to the rapid spread of the new coronavirus and an expected spike in hospitalizations, health care rationing may be inevitable. However, they add, care cannot be denied or limited for a patient because of their disability.

Personnel and supplies “have been overwhelmed” during the spread of the new coronavirus, and with health care rationing reportedly “inevitable,” the HHS needs to “remind States of their obligation to adhere to existing anti-discrimination laws,” the letter states.

Earlier this week, the Thomas More Society and the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund issued a legal memorandum outlining federal civil rights protections against health care discrimination on the basis of disability or age.

Three scholars had requested the memorandum following reports that state health officials and hospitals were considering triage plans for rationing health care for younger or healthier patients.

For instance, in Washington state, health officials and hospitals were reportedly considering a plan to consider the “age, health and likelihood of survival” of COVID-19 patients when administering care and utilizing resources such as hospital beds and ventilators.

Disability rights groups filed a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that the state of Washington’s rationing plan would illegally and “discriminatorily disadvantage people with disabilities.”

Roger Severino, the HHS OCR director, stated to CNA this week that “Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism.”

“Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, or needing religious accommodations should not be put at the end of the line for health services during emergencies,” Severino stated.

Amid coronavirus, EWTN Radio to broadcast more Masses, devotional content

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 26, 2020 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- At a time when Catholic Masses have been closed to the public and efforts to stem the coronavirus epidemic dominate the news, EWTN Radio is temporarily rebranding its EWTN Radio Classics programming as EWTN Radio Essentials to provide more broadcasts of the Mass, devotionals, and spiritual reflections.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Jack Williams, general manager of the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, told CNA March 26.

Under the program changes, Mass will be broadcast eight times a day, every two hours from 8 a.m. through midnight Eastern Time.

EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw said March 25 that the change aims “to assist listeners struggling to cope with the closing of so many churches due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

This will make EWTN Radio Essentials “a one-stop source for Mass and devotions,” Warsaw said. “As people of faith know, prayer is what will get us all through this difficult time," he added.

Williams said that in the wake of church closures, “the outcry for the Mass from the faithful was loud and immediate.”

“In times of trouble our greatest recourse is always to Our Lord and the greatest prayer of the Church is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said.

Williams said the programming will be “a resource heavily grounded in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Rosaries, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross and the wisdom of spiritual icons like Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Andrew Apostoli, Fr. George Rutler and, of course, Mother Angelica.”

Both EWTN Global Catholic Radio and EWTN Radio Essentials are available through the EWTN phone app in the “Live Streams” section. The channels can also be found on the website, in the Radio section's Listen Live page, under the “United States” tab.

The programming change came March 25.

Williams said the change replaces some more catechetical offerings to content aiding prayer and devotion.

“The Mass and devotionals were always front and center on EWTN Radio Classics but not nearly in the concentration they are on EWTN Radio Essentials,” he said.

Williams said radio has its own unique qualities for Catholic broadcasting.

“Radio in general is an intimate medium,” he said. “It lends itself to the most intimate of all relationships, that of the Creator of the Universe and creatures he loves above all. EWTN Radio is geared toward establishing, building, nurturing and ultimately sharing that relationship.”

Williams said EWTN programming has a spiritual role in a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

“Crisis can weaken the soul. If we’re not there, especially in time of crisis, the door is wide open for the evil one to gain a foothold in the lives of those enduring the crisis,” he said.

He also emphasized the benefits EWTN Radio listeners find.

“We hear from people at every stage of their pilgrimage here on earth, from the unchurched to the non-Catholic to the fallen away Catholic,” Williams said. “Our programming has the potential to speak a word of encouragement to anyone at any stage.”

“We evangelize the non-believer and fallen away Catholic, catechize and encourage the Catholic faithful and hopefully spur them on to lives of heroic virtue according to their individual state in life,” he added.

For Williams, the programming will help show “that regardless of how secular the culture becomes or how much the human family turns their back on God, the truth about Him and the necessity for recourse to Him is written within the human heart.”

“Sadly, it all too often takes great tragedy before we’ll acknowledge that truth,” he told CNA.

The format change will remain in place until the coronavirus crisis diminishes.

Besides the EWTN Mobile App and EWTN website, EWTN radio services are available on SiriusXM Satellite Radio Channel 130, iHeart Radio, and 380 AM and FM radio station affiliates. EWTN Radio is available on TuneIn Radio Apps, Roku, Amazon Fire, YouTube and Facebook as well as streaming platforms like Apple TV, Amazon Echo and Google Play.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is now in its 38th year. Its 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages to over 300 million households in more than 145 countries and territories.

Its news services include Catholic News Agency and the National Catholic Register. Its book division is EWTN Publishing.

Illinois religious order funds hotel initiative to protect homeless from coronavirus

Chicago, Ill., Mar 26, 2020 / 03:38 pm (CNA).- As homeless shelters have been limited by the coronavirus, the Clerics of Saint Viator will help fund an initiative to house homeless people amid the pandemic.

The religious order based in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb, has donated $63,000 to help over 60 homeless people stay at two hotels in the city. The initiative will last for at least three weeks, but it will likely be extended.

The religious order partnered with Journeys: The Road Home in Palatine to help homeless people have a place to quarantine during this pandemic. As of March 25, over 1,800 cases of the coronavirus have occurred in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported.

As the organization has also received donations from numerous other religious organizations in the area, the hotels were able to house 81 people last night with 10 more clients who will be checked-in today.

Suzanne Ploger, Journey’s director of development, told CNA that it is essential to help homeless people protect themselves from the virus as they are unable to self-quarantine.

Not only has the pandemic caused public facilities and businesses to close, but it has closed homeless shelters. Because of the pandemic, the organization’s services and volunteers have been limited. She said a majority of the volunteers for the homeless ministry are elderly people, who also need to be kept safe from the outbreak.

Experts are urging people to “ stay indoors, and then all the restaurants are closing and all the public facilities are closing,” she said.

“If you don't have a home to shelter in place, where are you supposed to be? That's where we were struggling with how we can provide the best services to our clients and keep them safe as well as be able to keep our staff and our volunteers healthy too.”

She said the clients have been chosen by those who are most at risk of COVID-19. She said the organization has prioritized 100 people who normally use their shelters and ranked them in terms of those with advanced age, families, or health issues.

“As we have secured the hotel room and we have secured the amount of funding to house that person in that hotel room for three weeks, then we house them and then we'd go down to the next rank on the list,” she said.

The organization will also help feed the clients in the hotel with a meal delivery system.

“We're packing up food pantry bags, we're packing up meals, some people are donating food again, and we're starting that system of delivering meals to the hotels. Right now we're doing it almost every day,” she said.

The Journey is a homeless service agency that partners with 21 religious organizations that provide emergency shelter. It began 30 years ago and, under normal circumstances, will house about 100 homeless people each night.

Besides the hotel, the organization will keep open a limited number of services including a food pantry, clothing closet, mail services, and emergency case management.

Father Daniel Hall, the provincial superior for the Viatorians, said, without living assistance, this pandemic may cause dozens of homeless people to get sick. He said this project should be important to Catholics and encouraged parishioners to donate.

"This is in line with our mission as a Catholic religious community," said Hall, according to the Daily Herald. "This crisis could lead to between 60 to 80 men, women and children on the verge of living on the streets, and even more vulnerable to the coronavirus."

"It is my hope that you join us in this commitment to care for our most vulnerable sisters and brothers during this crisis.”

DOJ: Sex discrimination laws don't cover transgender athletes

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Justice said Tuesday that biological males who identify as women should not be classified as girls when it comes to athletics. 

Attorney General Bill Barr and several other Department of Justice officials co-signed a statement of interest on March 24 in the case Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools. The suit was filed by three female high school athletes from Connecticut--Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith--who lost races to biological male competitors who identify as girls.

The statement from the Justice Department says that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) was wrong in their belief that Title IX required the organization to permit biologically male athletes to compete alongside and against biological females.

“The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), however, has adopted a policy that requires biological males to compete against biological females—despite the real physiological differences between the sexes—if the male is a transgender individual who publicly identifies with the female gender. CIAC claims that ‘federal law’ requires this state of affairs,” said the statement of interest.  

“They are incorrect,” The Justice Department said.  

The case involves two biologically male athletes who identify as transgender girls. Since they began racing against girls in 2017, they have won 15 state championships between them. The year before, those titles were shared between nine different female athletes. Both of the biologically male athletes ran at least one athletic season without taking cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers. One athlete ran the indoor track season in the winter on the high school boys’ team, before switching to the girls’ team for the spring outdoor track season. 

“Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy,” the DOJ wrote. They said that to the contrary, requiring that biological males who identify themselves as female compete against biological girls, “would turn the statute on its head.” 

“One of Title IX’s core purposes is to ensure that women have an ‘equal athletic opportunity’ to participate in school athletic programs,” they said. 

“Schools realize that purpose primarily by establishing separate athletic teams for men and women and by ensuring that those teams are on equal footing. Because of the physiological differences between men and women, the existence of women’s sports teams permits women to participate more fully in athletics than they otherwise could.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the female high school athletes in this case, the two biologically male athletes have “taken more than 85 opportunities to participate in higher level competitions from female track athletes in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons alone.” In high school track, top competitors from qualifying meets are eligible to compete at regional or national meets, where they receive increased attention from college recruiters and potential scholarships.

Coronavirus aid bill passes Senate, blocks loans to Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Senate passed a massive relief package Wednesday night to counter the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The measure passed unopposed, and contained provisions excluding abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from access to funding for elective abortions.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed the Senate by a vote of 96-0 late Thursday evening. Not voting were Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who reportedly did not attend the vote because he was feeling unwell.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have self-quarantined in recent days, as a precaution after having had contact with Sen. Paul.

The House plans to vote on the package on Friday, as members will need time to travel to Washington, D.C. to vote.

The bailout package includes: direct checks to taxpayers of up to $1200; grants and loans to small businesses for payroll and rent; temporary expansion of unemployment insurance; funding for hospitals and health care clinics; and authorization for the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to send several trillion dollars to “distressed” industries such as the airline industry.

Volunteer health care workers will be protected from liability under the Good Samaritan provision.

On Thursday, the Department of Labor reported that unemployment insurance claims had soared to their highest-recorded seasonally-adjusted levels of almost 3.3 million.

Negotiations over language for funding of abortion providers continued on Thursday, with the final version that passed the Senate including protections against taxpayer funding of elective abortions, as well as a provision blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving small business loans.

Under the provision, non-profits such as Planned Parenthood would not be eligible for small business loans for coronavirus relief if they have more than 500 employees, a requirement which is already a part of affiliation rules for the Small Business Administration.

Planned Parenthood Action tweeted out on Wednesday that senators were “exploiting a public health crisis to target sexual and reproductive care” and that the bill “expands the discriminatory Hyde Amendment.”

The Hyde Amendment—which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions—was specifically extended to certain health care funding provisions in the bill.

It covers $100 billion in supplemental discretionary health funding for hospitals and health care providers, an extension of mandatory funding for community health centers, and $150 billion in a coronavirus relief fund for states.  

“Have been pouring over the text of the relief bill. I’m not happy negotiators took out language that excluded Planned Parenthood from receiving government subsidies. But I have been assured Planned Parenthood will still NOT be eligible,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

The acting president of Planned Parenthood Action, Alexis McGill Johnson, responded that she was “appalled” to see senators “continue to exploit this pandemic to attack reproductive health care.”