Business News

NestleBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- There was something satisfying about sipping the last sweet, cereal-infused milk at the bottom of the bowl and now Nestle has come up with a new flavor to flood your fridge with that nostalgic taste.

Nestle has announced it's new Cinnamon Toast Crunch-flavored milk as part of its sensations products that the brand said "tastes just like an epic combination of cinnamon and sugar deliciousness with hints of toasted cereal."

The14-fluid ounce bottles will retail for $2.49 and is available now in grocery stores, convenience stores and mass retailers nationwide.

The company behind Nesquik, known for its classic chocolate milk, also rolled out two other new products including Protein Power Strawberry Milk and Nesquik Dark Chocolate Whole Milk.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesBY: LEIGHTON SCHNEIDER, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — PepsiCo has announced a new climate plan that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40% by 2030 - a doubling of the company’s previous climate initiative - while also pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.   

The food and drink giant says they will reduce emissions across its direct operations by 75% and its indirect value chain by 40%, based on a 2015 baseline. Direct operation emissions could include the manufacturing, shipping, or electricty used to produce products. Indirect emissions could include the plastic used to make bottles, or the growing of potatos or sugar cane.

Pepsi says this will reduce emissions by 26 million metric tons, which is the equivalent of taking more than five million cars off the road for a year. 

"The severe impacts from climate change are worsening, and we must accelerate the urgent systemic changes needed to address it," said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta. "Our ambitious climate goal will guide us on the steep but critical path forward -- there is simply no other option but immediate and aggressive action.”

The net-zero target aligns with the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, which calls on companies to commit to set ambitious climate goals to limit warming to 1.5°C.  

To achieve the goal, Pepsi says they will increase sustainable agriculture and regenerative practices, reduce new plastic use and increase the use of recycled materials in its packaging, and upgrade environmentally sustainable manufacturing, warehousing, transportation, and distribution sites. 

The company is implementing innovative business practices that will enable emission mitigation, including its ‘Sustainable from the Start’ program, which puts environmental impact decision making at the heart of product design. Pepsi also has two internal carbon pricing programs that will reinforce climate considerations in business decisions.  

"Our climate ambition is at the very heart of accelerating our global sustainability progress, and we are using our scale and reach to build a more sustainable and regenerative global food system," said Jim Andrew, Chief Sustainability Officer, PepsiCo. "It's long overdue that companies move beyond just minimizing their environmental impact, they must actively work to improve and regenerate the planet."

This new announcement comes on the heels of Pepsi meeting its 2020 target of 100% renewable energy across all direct US operations and its new goal of 100% renewable power across all company-owned and controlled operations by 2030 and its franchise and third-party operations by 2040. 

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LordRunar/iStockBy ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(ANAHEIM, Calif.) -- Nearly a year after closing its doors to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, Disneyland Resort is discontinuing its annual passholder program for its California theme parks.

The announcement was provided in a letter
from Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock on the Disneyland Resort website.

“In the next several days, we will begin the process of issuing appropriate refunds for eligible Disneyland Resort Annual Passports and sunsetting the current Annual Passport program due to the continued uncertainty of the pandemic and limitations and expected restrictions around the reopening of our theme parks,” Potrock wrote.

For nearly four decades, the program has allowed passholders to access both Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park, as well as enjoy discounts throughout the resort.

While the park has had to close its doors to the public amid the pandemic, Disneyland re-opened Downtown Disney District in July, and in November extended the district into California Adventure Park's Buena Vista Street, with more dining options.

Annual passholders who held active passports as of March 14, 2020, will still continue to receive applicable discounts on merchandise and food and beverages at select Downtown Disney District and Buena Vista Street locations based on their type of annual pass until new membership offerings are announced.

Those who are Disney Premier passholders -- which allows access to both Disneyland Resort theme parks and Walt Disney World theme parks -- are still eligible to enjoy Walt Disney World theme parks until March 31, 2021, and would have to renew their pass for Walt Disney World thereafter.

Potrock also noted that as an added benefit beginning Jan. 18 through Feb. 25, passholders will receive a 30% discount on select Downtown Disney District and Buena Vista Street locations.

While the news may come as a shock for many loyal Disneyland passholders and fans, Potrock and Disney are looking forward to what the future holds for the theme parks.

“I know that sunsetting the Annual Passport program will be disappointing to many of our Passholders who are just as anxious as we are to reopen our gates and welcome Guests back when the time is right,” Potrock wrote. “But we are also very excited about what’s ahead. We plan to use this time while we remain closed to develop new membership offerings that will utilize consumer insights to deliver choice, flexibility and value for our biggest fans.”

“We are very optimistic about our bright future,” he added.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.


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subman/iStockBy SOO RIN KIM and KENDALL KARSON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The pullback of political giving by some of the country's most prominent companies -- a move triggered by the siege on the United States Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters -- unevenly affects Republicans, but is unlikely to hamper the party's overall fundraising ahead of the 2022 cycle.

In the days after the insurrection on Capitol Hill, more than two dozen companies announced they are either reevaluating their political giving strategies or withholding financial support for lawmakers -- for now -- including some businesses that are specifically halting donations to those Republicans in Congress who objected to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election last week.

It's a dramatic defiance within corporate America, which historically lines the parties' pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars in an election cycle, and could especially hurt Republicans who rely relatively more heavily on contributions from corporate political action committees, or PACs. In the 2020 election cycle, PACs representing corporate and business interests, including corporate PACs and trade association PACs, donated $327 million to candidates and party committees across the aisle, with Republicans receiving more than half -- or upwards of $180 million -- of that total.

Republicans and members in safe districts "are more likely to get money from corporate PACs," said Brendan Quinn, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Notably, the Republican objectors are disproportionately at risk from the corporate retreat because "many of those Republicans in those safe, red districts are the type of people that would be making the objections to the Electoral College," he added.

For at least five GOP House members who challenged the election's outcome on Jan. 6, more than 60% of their campaign cash in 2020 came from corporate PACs, according to the CRP.

But the move by corporations to direct their PACs away from politics may only amount to a symbolic stand.

"It's largely symbolic primarily because now is not the time that corporate PACs do their big giving," Quinn said, adding that the bigger contributions will come next year closer to the 2022 election.

Corporate PAC contributions are also often only one avenue of the greater corporate influence on federal politics, as bigger checks from executives and employees of corporations play an increasingly active role in campaign fundraising.

Wall Street bigwigs, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs -- among other corporations, such as Coca-Cola, Facebook and Microsoft -- announced their intentions to suspend political giving through their PACs across the board as they reexamine their political entanglements in the wake of the violence in the nation's capital.

But federal campaign disclosure records show that much of their political contributions have actually come from individual donations from their executives and employees' individual donations, not from their political action committees.

Executives and employees of Goldman Sachs, for example, have funneled more than $22 million to various campaigns and political groups across the aisle through individual contributions over the past decade, while its corporate PAC has only given $8 million, according to an analysis of FEC records by CRP. Similarly, JPMorgan's executives and employees have made far more political contributions than the company's PAC has over the past decade.

Just in the 2020 election cycle, a slew of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan executives made five- and six-figure contributions to President-elect Joe Biden and Trump's fundraising committees as well as national party committees and super PACs supporting Democrats and Republicans in Congress, FEC data shows. In contrast, the companies' corporate PACs stayed within the $5,000 contribution limit for candidates per year and the $15,000 limit for the party committees.

Asked about individual contributions, a Goldman Sachs spokesperson told ABC News that the company doesn't "limit what individuals can do beyond legal requirements." For JPMorgan, the company is halting all giving from the PAC for six months, and after that, a spokesperson said, "it will look different."

AT&T and Comcast, among the companies that are cutting ties with the more than 100 Republican lawmakers who challenged the election results, represent some of the biggest corporate PAC players across the aisle, but especially for Republicans. Their corporate PACs exert as big of an influence as individual contributions from their executives and employees, the PACs collectively funneling at least $5-6 million to federal candidates and committees of both parties every cycle.

But the extent of the ramifications for Republican objectors is likely to be asymmetrical within the singled-out cohort.

The 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to the Electoral College votes last week received nearly $1 million each from AT&T and Comcast's political action committees during the 2020 election cycle. But for some of the lawmakers, particularly those in the Senate, where corporate PACs represent a smaller share of candidates' fundraising, a decline in corporate PAC contributions is likely to have little impact. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Florida Sen. Rick Scott only received $5,000, $2,000 and $2,000 respectively from the AT&T PAC during the 2020 cycle.

The question remains whether such corporations will halt contributions to fundraising vehicles associated with these GOP lawmakers outside of their campaigns -- such as leadership PACs and national party committees.

Scott, one of the Republicans who voted against certifying Pennsylvania's electors, took the helm of the National Republican Senatorial Committee as chair this cycle, a role that is largely focused on fundraising. In the aftermath of his vote, with key donors recoiling, questions have been raised about how effectively he'll be able to bring in cash for the Senate GOP's fundraising arm and win back control of the chamber.

AT&T's PAC, for example, donates a whopping $120,000 to the NRSC every election cycle, while Comcast's PAC gives $30,000 to the committee every cycle. Both AT&T and Comcast, when asked by ABC News, would not specify whether they would suspend contributions to leadership PACs or party committees associated with the GOP lawmakers that they announced a break with, or a timeframe for the planned freeze in donations to the specific Republican members.

Marriott, which also publicly broke with the Republicans objectors, said their pledge involved leadership PACs associated with those members, and that the company's PAC does not donate to national party committees.

Both Scott, and the NRSC, brushed off any concerns about fundraising under his leadership.

"I've been given the opportunity to help Republicans regain control of the Senate and that is exactly what I'm going to do," Scott tweeted on Thursday in response to a story about his ability to successfully haul in cash for the committee. "We are a unified front when it comes to the issues that matter to American families and I'm going to focus on getting our message out."

The decision by some corporations to exclude the Republican objectors from their donations, at least for the time being, reflects the broader reckoning both inside and outside the GOP over the party's allegiance to Trump in the wake of the tumultuous events last week.

The influential Koch political network, which has bankrolled the GOP for years through hundreds of millions of unlimited outside super PAC spending, signaled they are reconsidering their political ties and future donations -- a move that could more significantly impair the party's fundraising in the next two years.

"Lawmakers' actions leading up to and during last week's insurrection will weigh heavy in our evaluation of future support. And we will continue to look for ways to support those policymakers who reject the politics of division and work together to move our country forward," said Emily Seidel, CEO of Americans for Prosperity and a senior adviser for AFP Action, the group's super PAC, in a statement first reported by Politico.

Last Wednesday, an armed right-wing mob, goaded by the president's baseless accusations that the election was "stolen" from him, breached the Capitol complex and forced lawmakers inside to halt the ongoing proceedings to certify the election for hours. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died during the assault.

By 8 p.m., when the joint session reconvened, Republicans in the House and Senate still moved forward with their objections to Biden's victory -- a futile maneuver based on the same unfounded claims of fraud that incited the violent mob.

Other companies, such as FedEx, said they're re-evaluating their guidelines for political contributions in the future. It's not yet clear whether the recent public protests to political giving might be followed by the same companies reversing course down the road with a more subtle re-entry into the political sphere.

The overall impact of corporate PACs, though, has dwindled in the era of Trump, as both Republicans and Democrats find more success with small-dollar donors and the explosion of outside groups dwarfs the contributions made to PACs.

"The influence of corporate PACs has lessened significantly in recent years, not only because of the influence of these super PACs that you can give unlimited funds to, but also because in 2018 and 2020, we saw a massive rise in individual donors," Quinn said.

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Michael Vi/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Yelp has expanded features prompted by COVID-19 to allow users to input their own feedback about the safety measures at restaurants, bars and other local businesses.

"Starting today, Yelp will display if users observed, or did not observe, the enforcement of social distancing and staff wearing masks," Akhil Kuduvalli, head of consumer product, said in an announcement about the new function. "We know many businesses are prioritizing the health and safety of their customers. This new update further highlights how businesses have adapted to keep their customers safe, and aims to instill confidence in consumers to continue supporting local businesses."

The service offerings section has also been updated to include information about heated outdoor seating, contactless menus and more to help businesses share what they've done to adapt for consumers during this time.

Yelp has implemented a number of criteria that must be met before the user-generated feedback is displayed:

  • The business must receive several user responses with consensus from multiple users on whether or not social distancing is being consistently enforced or if staff are regularly seen wearing masks.
  • Only Yelp users logged into their account can provide feedback.
  • User responses are evaluated daily and only user responses received within the previous 28 days will count.
  • For businesses with multiple locations or franchises, user feedback will only be counted and displayed on the business page for the relevant location.

Additionally, the platform will now send a push notification to users that have recently connected with a business on Yelp once it has updated its COVID-19 information.

Below is a list of the health and safety practices that restaurants and bars can include on Yelp:

  • Staff checked for symptoms
  • Disposable or contactless menu
  • Heated outdoor seating
  • Covered outdoor seating
  • Indoor dining
  • Private dining
  • DIY meal kits

The newly launched feature will denote that the majority response user data is correct with a green check mark next to the above measures in text.

"If a majority of user responses indicate that these measures are not enforced, an orange question mark will be displayed with text that reads, 'Social distancing might not be enforced according to most users,'" Yelp explained.

When responses from users are mixed, even if there's significant feedback, an orange question mark will appear.

"At launch, the orange question mark is only displayed on a couple hundred businesses out of the millions of businesses on Yelp -- making it relatively uncommon as of today," the company said in a statement. "We've also implemented advanced technology to mitigate potential misuse of the feature."

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DKart/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey stood by the decision to ban President Donald Trump from the platform in a wide-ranging thread, but admitted that the action sets a "dangerous" precedent.

"I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here," Dorsey wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. He added that the decision was made "with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter."

Twitter announced last Friday that it had permanently suspended the president's account in the wake of his supporters violently rioting at the U.S. Capitol building, resulting in the death of five people.

Trump had some 80 million followers prior to his ban from Twitter and it was by far his most-used social media outlet to reach supporters. The clamp down on Trump's accounts stoked concerns about free speech and the power wielded by big tech even among Trump's critics.

Dorsey reflected that ultimately he believes it was the right decision for Twitter to ban the president, saying, "Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all."

At the same time, however, he said that he feels the ban is a "failure" on their part.

"That said, having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications," Dorsey wrote. "While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation. And a time for us to reflect on our operations and the environment around us."

Banning an account limits public conversation and the potential for "clarification, redemption, and learning," Dorsey wrote. "And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation," he added.

Dorsey also acknowledged that previously if users don't agree with one social media company's rules they could just go to another service provider, but that last week this "concept was challenged" as a slew of tech giants simultaneously restricted Trump's accounts. Dorsey said he doesn't think that was coordinated, but rather companies decided for themselves and were "emboldened by the actions of others."

The CEO acknowledged that the company needs to look "critically at inconsistencies of our policy and enforcement," something many social media giants have taken heat for over the past week.

He also said Twitter was investing in an initiative that aims for an open, decentralized standard for social media. While he said this will take a while to build, he pledged transparency in the process.

I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here. After a clear warning we’d take this action, we made a decision with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter. Was this correct?

— jack (@jack) January 14, 2021

Finally, Dorsey called for unity and working together toward "a more peaceful existence on earth."

"I believe the internet and global public conversation is our best and most relevant method of achieving this," the CEO wrote. "I also recognize it does not feel that way today. Everything we learn in this moment will better our effort, and push us to be what we are: one humanity working together."

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cosmonaut/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Plant-based foods are rolling right along into 2021 and Taco Bell has teamed up with one of the leaders in the non-meat category, crafted a new, customizable menu of vegetarian options, and is bringing back a widely requested fan favorite ingredient.

Taco Bell announced
it's new venture with Beyond Meat on Thursday saying it will work with the brand to create an innovative new new plant-based protein that will be tested within the next year.

The fast food restaurant said in a press release that it chose to team up with Beyond Meat because of their "proven track record of attracting younger customers with its irresistibly delicious plant-based offerings."

The forthcoming foray into plant-based food will expand on Taco Bell's already vegetarian-friendly menu.

"We have long been a leader in the vegetarian space, but this year, we have more meatless options in store that vegetarians, veggie-curious and even meat-eaters will love," Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's Global Chief Food Innovation Officer said in a statement.

And now, an announcement from our CEO. pic.twitter.com/JHHJMrPEJH

— Taco Bell (@tacobell) January 14, 2021

The brand has had other meatless offerings like its bean burrito for many years and was the first fast-food restaurant to partner with the American Vegetarian Association (AVA) in 2015.

Taco Bell currently has over 30 vegetarian ingredients on the U.S. menu and Thursday's announcement came with the much-anticipated return of potatoes after a brief hiatus from menu simplification efforts last year.

"The return of our beloved potatoes is just the first step in showing our fans the strong continued commitment to vegetarian we are making this year," Matthews said.

The AVA-certified vegan potato bites like Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes and the Spicy Potato Soft Taco will officially be back on menus starting March 11.

Plus, customers can easily swap meat for potatoes or beans on any of Taco Bell's menu items.

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AdrianHancu/iStockBy JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- "Shopping while black" is a phrase used to refer to biased treatment Black shoppers often face in retail stores like falsely being accused of theft or being shadowed by secuity guards. Now, makeup brand Sephora is using its platform to counter that bias.

The beauty haven released a study Wednesday centering around racial bias in retail and the results revealed several key findings the company plans to take action against.

The study found that two in five U.S. retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone. It also found that Black retail shoppers are 2.5 times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color (44% vs. 17%), while Black, Indigenous and shoppers of color are two times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity (30% vs. 15%).

Additionally, the study found that one in five retail employees report having personally experienced unfair treatment based on their race at their place of work (20%) -- either from customers or coworkers, and that "one in three retail employees have contemplated quitting when they experienced racial bias and unfair treatment (31% for all employees; 37% for Black employees)."

Sephora's study also found that limited diversity across marketing, merchandise and retail employees results in exclusionary treatment before shoppers even enter a store, and continues across their in-store journey.

It also highlighted that U.S. retail shoppers of color use coping mechanisms, such as shopping online, to minimize or avoid an anticipated biased experience when in-store. While many customer experience needs are universal, shoppers of color have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome.

"At Sephora, diversity, equality, and inclusion have been our core values since we launched a new kind of beauty retail destination in the U.S. over 20 years ago – but the reality is that shoppers at Sephora, and in U.S. retail more broadly, are not always treated fairly and consistently," Jean-André Rougeot, president and CEO, Sephora Americas, said in a statement.

He continued, "We know that we're in a strong position to influence positive changes in the retail industry and society at large and it's our responsibility to step up. We're committed to doing all we can to make our U.S. retail experience more welcoming for everyone."

Sephora also presented a preliminary action plan to address bias across its various platforms.

Key action items include:

- Building on Sephora's commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge, the company will double its assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021.

- Reduce the presence of third-party security vendors in stores and utilize more in-house specialists, with the goal of providing better client care and minimizing shoppers' concerns of policing.

- Update zero-tolerance policies that prohibit discrimination, harassment and other violations of its code of conduct to ensure clearer communication, expectation and enforcement of its policies for employees, including set outcomes if violated.

In 2019, Sephora was called out for racial discrimination by singer and songwriter SZA for an encounter she said she had while shopping at one of the brand's stores in Calabasas, California.

SZA had tweeted "Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn't stealing. We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy."

The brand promptly responded to SZA's experience and closed all U.S. stores a month later for an hour on June 5 for over 16,000 employees to participate in a one-hour inclusitvy workshop.

"This store closure is part of a long journey in our aspiration to create a more inclusive beauty community and workplace, which has included forming employee resource groups, building social impact and philanthropic programs, and hosting inclusive mindset training for all supervisors," Sephora previously told ABC News' Good Morning America.

Sephora said it plans to keep its shoppers and communities abreast of its progress for change.

"We're proud of the work we've done thus far to make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority for the company," said Rougeot in a statement. "We are stronger as a retail community when we are serving the needs of all of our shoppers, and hope other retailers will join us, with the ultimate goal of advancing inclusivity and improving the retail experience for all."

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courtneyk/iStockBy ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- A total of 965,000 workers filed jobless claims last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday, an increase of 181,000 from the prior week.

The Labor Department also said that more than 18 million people were still receiving some form of unemployment benefits through all government programs for the week ending Dec. 26. For the comparable week in 2019, that figure was just above two million.

The weekly unemployment tally has fallen since peaking at 6.9 million in March but still remains elevated by historical standards.

The pre-pandemic record for weekly unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.

That record has been broken every week since late March.

As of last month, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was 6.7%. It was 3.5% last February.

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nevodka/iStockBy ARIELLE MITROPOULOS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- While millions have eagerly awaited the arrival of coronavirus vaccines, hoping they'll help restore a sense of normalcy, many others, including some health care workers, still appear concerned with their efficacy.

Less than a month after vaccines by Pfizer and the Moderna COVID-19 were granted emergency use authorization, hospitals and state officials are reporting that some doses are being left unused. For months, polls have revealed that some Americans remain hesitant to take the vaccine, with many concerned that it was developed too rapidly.

"I am definitely concerned that health care workers are electing to wait to get vaccinated," Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a briefing last week.

Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of New York City Health and Hospitals, said last week that "around 30%" of medical workers have so far opted out of vaccinations. In Georgia, vaccine distribution has been expanded to older adults and other front-line workers, such as firefighters and police, after health care workers in some parts of the state were reluctant to receive them.

"There's vaccine available, but it's literally sitting in freezers," said Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. "That's unacceptable. We have lives to save."

Hospitals and businesses have found themselves confronted by a precarious balancing act -- ensuring workplaces are safe but without infringing on employees' personal medical rights.

Some hospital leaders and local officials have resorted to creative solutions -- offering gifts or cash incentives -- to employees who agree to be immunized.

Houston Methodist, a large flagship hospital in Texas that employs over 26,000 people, has begun to offer its employees a $500 "hope bonus" if they agree to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. About 60% of the hospital's employees have been vaccinated.

Hospital president and CEO Dr. Marc Boom detailed the new bonus in a letter, obtained by ABC News, sent to his staff earlier this month.

"This bonus is a thank you for your perseverance throughout a difficult 2020, as well as something to look forward to, to provide hope, during the next couple of challenging months," Boom wrote to his employees. "Eligibility criteria will include getting a COVID-19 vaccination, fulfilling our obligation as health care workers to lead the community."

Vaccinations at Houston Methodist are not mandatory, but Boom told ABC News they likely will be "eventually" -- at least for workers who can safely receive it.

"We've built a culture of patients first," Boom said, calling the care his staff provides a "sacred obligation."

Houston Methodist made the flu vaccine mandatory 15 years ago, with exceptions for religious conflicts or health complications, and more than 99% of staff members get it every year.

"We believe in science, and we are a science-driven institution," Boom added.

Directly rewarding employees has proven successful before, Boom added, so "why not reinforce good behaviors when we were going to pay a bonus anyways?"

Similarly, Northampton County, in Pennsylvania, is offering employees at Gracedale, the county nursing home, $750 each to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite precautions taken early in the pandemic, at least 76 residents have died from the virus. The facility, with about 535 residents and 650 employees, is one of the largest in the state.

"What we were hearing, as we began preparing our employees for vaccinations," County Executive Lamont McClure told ABC News, "was that there was going to be a great deal of resistance to being vaccinated."

Less than 1% of America's population lives in long-term care facilities, but as of Jan. 7, residents and staff from the facilities have accounted for 37% of the country's COVID-19 deaths, according to data collected by the COVID Tracking Project.

"We cannot get a grip on controlling the deaths from COVID-19 and the pandemic until everybody who works in a nursing home or long-term care facility is vaccinated," McClure said. "I have to say, I'm disappointed, because we cannot save lives and livelihoods, until we get everybody -- not just residents, but employees in our nursing homes, vaccinated."

Although it's still too early to determine whether offering cash was effective in changing minds, McClure said that the local union president does believe that some of the people, who were on the fence, did get the vaccine because of the incentive.

To date, about 22% of Gracedale's employee population has been vaccinated, a figure McClure is hopeful will quickly rise.

The Los Angeles Fire Department also has gotten creative in pushing for vaccinations, offering reluctant firefighters who get both doses of the Moderna vaccine prizes like Canary home security cameras, Google Nest entertainment systems, Aventon fixed-gear bicycles and gift cards for Airbnb and Lyft, according to a memo distributed last week by Chief Ralph M. Terrazas.

Capt. Erik Scott, a spokesman for the LAFD, told ABC News these incentives were "always part of the plan" that included firefighters receiving information on the vaccine and top officials getting the vaccine themselves, to lead by example.

Scott said the incentives appear to be working, with nearly half of the department's 3,400 members having been vaccinated.

That figure is "increasing as we speak," Scott said. "Our goal is 100% vaccinated."

The ethics surrounding whether people should be paid to get vaccinated are a bit less clear.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said it's critical for about three-quarters of the U.S. population to be vaccinated in order to reach "herd immunity" and help thwart virus spread. If fewer are immunized, the herd immunity will be less effective -- more people will get sick, more people will die.

"We need to get people vaccinated, for their own safety and that of the people around them," Dr. Nir Eyal, a professor of bioethics, told ABC News. "Giving a gift is not in itself a very problematic act. So it may seem like a no-brainer that these hospitals are doing the right thing.

"For me, however, whether it is the right thing to do depends -- it depends on whether the gift would raise questions like, 'If this vaccine is supposed to be so great for me and my family, why are they giving me a gift to accept it?' Gifts can sometimes backfire in that way. Behavioral economists have shown that so-called conditional cash transfers and other conditional benefits can make people apprehensive about doing things that they would happily -- and wisely -- do otherwise," Eyal said.

Clearly presenting the gift as a "thank you" or as a "reward," rather than as part of a "quid pro quo," is less likely to backfire, Eyal added.

Dr. Jennifer Miller, an assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine, told ABC News that although it's not unethical from a medical standpoint, paying people to receive vaccines may not be necessary or wise.

"Ideally," she said, "people should get vaccinated to help themselves and others -- not for money."

Money and resources used for such rewards could be better spent getting more people vaccinated, said Miller, who shared concerns similar to Eyal's about whether paying people may arouse suspicions.

"Payment may lead people to question why they are being paid -- asking misguidedly, for example, if there are higher risks than there really are," Miller said. "I think the question could be more salient if we decide to mandate vaccines -- then we could ask whether it is better to pay people or mandate vaccinations with corresponding penalties for failures."

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ymgerman/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Amazon Web Services has responded to Parler's lawsuit against it with a series of screenshots of hateful content -- loaded with threats of violence and racial slurs -- that allegedly spread on the platform, in new court filings.

Parler, the self-proclaimed "free speech" social media platform has courted controversy for months as it exploded in popularity among right-wing users. In the wake of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last week, Amazon Web Services abruptly suspended web hosting services to Parler, essentially forcing it offline.

Parler then sued Amazon Web Services, alleging in a complaint filed Monday in Seattle federal court that the termination was "motivated by political animus" and designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market.

An AWS spokesperson told ABC News in a statement that there is "no merit to these claims" and that content that incites violence on Parler violated terms of service.

"AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow," the spokesperson said. "However, it is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service."

"We made our concerns known to Parler over a number of weeks and during that time we saw a significant increase in this type of dangerous content, not a decrease, which led to our suspension of their services Sunday evening," the AWS spokesperson added.

Court documents filed by AWS in response to the lawsuit include screenshots of some of the content that led to its suspension.

One screenshot of a Parler post features a slew of racial slurs about Michelle Obama and another states, "The only good democrat is a dead one."

Some of the posts in the court documents also show calls for violence, with one user writing, "I do approve of actual violence towards Antifa and BLM" and "Kill’em ALL!"

In another post highlighted in AWS' court filings, a user writes, "My wishes for a racewar [sic] have never been higher" and that they think about killing Black people and Jewish people "more and more often."

Parler did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the new court filings Wednesday.

Parler CEO John Matze responded to AWS taking it offline in a statement last Sunday, saying the company does not "condone or accept violence on our platform and we never will."

"Our team worked hard to produce a strong set of Community Guidelines, which expressly forbids content which incites or threatens violence, or other activity which breaks the law. We’ve worked even harder to construct a system which engages our community to quickly and transparently enforce these rules and remove prohibited content," Matze stated.

"It hasn’t been easy. Parler does not engage in viewpoint discrimination, nor do we harvest and abuse personal data. Parler is not a surveillance app, so we can’t just write a few algorithms that will quickly locate 100% of objectionable content, especially during periods of rapid growth and the seemingly coordinated malicious attacks that accompany that growth," he added. "But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been effective. Up until Friday afternoon, it seemed that Apple, Amazon, and Google agreed."

Matze went on to argue that their system "worked as well or better than the methods used by our competitors, while adhering to our principles."

"It is important to all of us at Parler that we get it right," he stated. "We care deeply and are committed to being part of the long-term solution to save civil discourse."

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EarthScapeImageGraphy/iStockBy AARON KATERSKY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- New York City is severing its contracts with President Donald Trump's eponymous company, a move that could cost the outgoing president millions of dollars in response to his role in inciting the Capitol insurrection.

The city will be notifying the Trump Organization that it will cancel its agreements to operate the Central Park Carousel, Wollman and Lasker skating rinks, and Ferry Point Golf Course in the Bronx.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is acting under a clause that allows termination of contracts in the event of criminal activity.

"The president incited a rebellion against the United States government that killed five people and threatened to derail the constitutional transfer of power," de Blasio said. "The City of New York will not be associated with those unforgivable acts in any shape, way or form, and we are immediately taking steps to terminate all Trump Organization contracts."

"He has dishonored New York City by his actions," the mayor added.

The city's corporate counsel said the Ferry Point Golf Course contract is being canceled because the agreement was based on the expectation that the course would attract a major golf tournament, which is now unlikely after the PGA of America pulled its 2022 PGA Championship from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., over the weekend.

The Trump Organization pockets $17 million a year for operating the skating rinks, the carousel and the golf course.

When Trump was running for the presidency, and later when he was pushing a plan to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, he touted his success in taking over the management of Wollman Rink as an example of his business acumen.

"When I did the Wollman Rink, it was seven years they couldn't get it built. It would have been forever, they couldn't get it built, and I did it in a few months at a much smaller price," Trump said in 2018. "We did it for a tiny fraction of the cost."

Eric Trump, the president's son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said the company would challenge the city's decision to cancel the contracts.

"The City of New York has no legal right to end our contracts and if they elect to proceed, they will owe The Trump Organization over $30 million dollars," said Eric Trump said. "This is nothing more than political discrimination, and we plan to fight vigorously."

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mattjeacock/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(SEATTLE) -- Starbucks started a new community resilience fund to help support underserved communities in 12 major cities.

The Seattle-based coffee company announced the launch of the Starbucks Community Resilience Fund on Wednesday, which will invest $100 million by 2025 to help advance racial equity and environmental initiatives through development projects in Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

"Starbucks has always been a company focused on caring for our partners, creating experiences for our customers and playing a positive role in our communities and throughout society," Starbucks president and CEO Kevin Johnson said in a statement. "We are excited to make this investment as it aligns with our Mission and Values and supports our aspiration to advance equity and opportunity in the communities we serve."

Today, Starbucks unveils programs to strengthen communities:
- $100MM investment to support small businesses & community projects in BIPOC neighborhoods
- Partners w/ @NMAAHC to provide educational resources from the museum's collection
Learn more: https://t.co/7o6thwpFO5 pic.twitter.com/Mm2e3M6bL0

— Starbucks News (@StarbucksNews) January 12, 2021

Starbucks will direct the investments to 12 metropolitan areas and surround regions in Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington D.C.

The company said it will work with Community Development Finance Institutions and other impact-focused financial institutions, to help provide access to capital intended to support small businesses and neighborhood projects, including those addressing the inequitable impact of climate change. Plus, the Opportunity Finance Network will help work with those CDFIs to provide borrowers with access to capital, ongoing mentorship and technical assistance.

"Starbucks is investing in the survival of small business by working with CDFIs in key cities across America. CDFIs deliver affordable credit as well as training on disaster recovery and rebuilding -- and that is exactly what small businesses need right now to withstand ongoing economic and climate changes," OFN president and CEO, Lisa Mensah said in a statement. "With partners like Starbucks and CDFIs, these small businesses will have a fighting chance to recover, rebuild, hire workers and serve their local economy."

Matthew Roth, IFF President of Core Business Solutions, who leads the agency’s CDFI wing said, "the pandemic has has highlighted how important CDFIs are in the financial ecosystem" and explained that this project with Starbucks will ensure "capital reaches non-profits and small businesses serving low-income communities that are traditionally left out of mainstream finance."

Additionally, the company announced a new collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture to share educational resources and digital volunteer opportunities in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

As part of the partnership, Starbucks said that both customers and employees can participate in the Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project. Volunteers involved will help digitally transcribe handwritten records containing information from newly emancipated Black people during the Reconstruction period.

"The initiative helps African Americans discover their ancestors and historians better understand the years following the Civil War," the company said. "These records will be used later in a museum exhibition planned for 2021 on the Reconstruction Era."

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Anatoliy Sizov/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY and BECKY WORLEY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- TikTok has unveiled new privacy protections for teens on the popular social media platform.

The app which has been behind some of the biggest video, dance and other viral trends during the pandemic has announced new privacy settings for users under 18.

TikTok told ABC News in a statement, "starting today we're changing the default privacy setting for all registered accounts ages 13 to 15 to private."

This means that all followers must be approved by the user. The setting can be changed manually to switch to a public account.

TikTok will also limit comments on videos created by users in the same age group.

Those 13 to 15-year-olds can now choose to allow comments only from friends or from no one at all on their posts.

Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, told ABC News' Good Morning America that this limit on comments could be beneficial for the younger creators on the app.

"When there is extensive commenting on a video, very frequently there’s bullying going on," he said. "TikTok has a very young audience, and with that young audience comes a lot of responsibility."

Additionally, TikTok is also changing the Duet and Stitch settings to now make these features available on content created by users age 16 and older only.

"For users ages 16 to 17, the default setting for Duet and Stitch will now be set to Friends," the company said.

Direct messaging and hosting live streams will now be limited to accounts of users who are 16 and older. Downloads will only be available on videos that have been created by users 16 and older as well.

"Other users can decide whether they want to allow downloads of their videos, though for users ages 16 to 17 the default setting will now be changed to Off unless they decide to enable it," TikTok said.

While these changes reflect TikTok adapting to help prevent bullying, kids can still bypass these protections since the app does not have age verification for setting up an account.

Additional tips for parents of teens on the platform:

  • Switch on restricted mode.
  • Make sure their TikTok accounts are set to private so that only friends can view their posts.
  • Turn off commenting by strangers.
  • Limit direct messages to only friends.
  • Limit their time using the app.
  • Parents who prefer to block the app entirely have parental controls in the operating system that locks out downloads on Apple and Google.

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    RomanOkopny/iStockBy DEENA ZARU, ABC News

    (NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump is arguably the Twitter president -- having relied on his digital megaphone as a candidate and while in office to communicate unfettered (or fact-checked) with millions of supporters, unlike any past commander-in-chief.

    His frequent communications on the channels, sometimes dozens a day on his personal Twitter feed “@realdonaldtrump,” were considered official communications of the presidency.

    So when Facebook and Twitter permanently suspended his accounts Friday in the wake of the Capitol siege over concerns that his posts were inciting violence, the president and his allies appeared incensed.

    Many on the right -- even those critical of Trump's rhetoric -- renewed their attacks on "big tech," accusing companies of censoring conservatives and echoing Donald Trump, Jr.'s tweeted sentiment that "free-speech no longer exists in America.

    Trump, who along with other conservatives, has long railed against the social media giants for allegedly being biased against conservatives, blasted Twitter in a statement released by the White House Friday. He said the company has “gone further and further in banning free speech” and suspended his account in an effort to “silence” him.

    Trump's tweets had been repeatedly flagged around the election for providing misleading information, another controversial move by social media companies seeking to bolster their fact-checking operations amid a torrent of disinformation.

    So is this a matter of free speech or something else?

    Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor and Dean of Berkley Law, said the First Amendment does not apply to the issue of suspending Trump's accounts because it is meant to protect people from being silenced by the government.

    "A private company, no matter how large, does not have to comply with the First Amendment. Facebook and Twitter can suspend who they want and there is no First Amendment issue," he told ABC News.

    Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, said that although there “would be no First Amendment claim against Twitter for banning President Trump,” the issue of freedom of speech does factor into the debate in several ways.

    Civil rights groups sound alarm over unchecked power of big tech

    The debate over big tech's increasingly powerful role in public discourse has been debated and criticized by both the left and the right, with both sides arguing that platforms like Twitter and Facebook have too much power to shape debates and censor speech in an increasingly digital world.

    Various civil rights groups, including the NAACP, have criticized Twitter and Facebook for allowing the president’s conspiracy theories and false claims to go unchecked for years.

    Arisha Hatch, vice president of the progressive advocacy nonprofit Color of Change, applauded Twitter’s decision to ban Trump, but told ABC News on Monday that it was long overdue and showed that Trump was treated “in more privileged ways.”

    Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been critical of Trump’s rhetoric on social media, sounded the alarm after he was banned by Twitter, saying that while “we understand the desire to permanently” suspend him, “the unchecked power” companies like Facebook and Twitter have “should concern everyone.”

    Trump and other prominent figures can turn to press teams or media outlets to communicate with the public, ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said, but “many Black, Brown and LGBTQ activists who have been censored” do not have that “luxury.”

    Hatch echoed these concerns and said that while suspending Trump was the right call, “big tech companies have way too much power” and “should be subject to deeper government regulation.”

    How social media companies are protected under federal law

    According to Fallow, the Trump presidency has posed new questions and challenges for social media platforms, free speech advocates and lawmakers, who are trying to navigate an “unprecedented” environment.

    “Some people have called for (applying) antitrust law to the social media platforms on the idea that there's essentially a monopoly on the speech environment, but those are untested legal waters,” she said.

    Antitrust laws apply to other big companies and in a new world dominated by social media, lawmakers on both sides have argued that anti-trust laws need to be overhauled to rein in big tech.

    Top Democratic congressional lawmakers released a report in October about the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, stating, “To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”

    Meanwhile, social media companies are protected under federal law by Section 230 -- a provision of the 1996 Communications and Decency Act, which shields platforms from being held liable in court for the speech of users, unlike traditional media companies

    Trump and many of his allies have called for a repeal of Section 230 to curb the power of social media companies, but Fallow points out that a repeal would “ironically” hurt their own cause, especially if Trump does follow through by starting his own social media platform.

    For instance, with Section 230 in place, Trump-friendly platforms like Parler -- which is increasingly being used by Trump and his supporters after the president was suspended from Twitter -- are shielded from liability over the speech of its users so they don’t have to regulate it.

    Parler, a conservative-friendly social network that has also been increasingly used by far-right and white nationalist individuals, was booted by various platforms, including Google, Amazon and Apple over concerns that users are inciting further violence following the siege on the U.S. Capitol and that Parler was not policing the content.

    According to experts, platforms like Parler helped create echo chambers for violence and extremist views and also provided a platform for some of the coordination of last week's attack.

    But social media companies also have legal grounds for making a First Amendment argument in defense of their policies, including the decision to suspend Trump’s account -- or anyone else’s.

    Private businesses, including tech companies, have a First Amendment and property right to determine who and what type of speech they host on their platforms -- a view that has been upheld by the Supreme Court, Fallows said, particularly by conservative judges who ruled in favor of the businesses.

    But the same protection did not apply to Trump’s own Twitter account when he blocked several users because it was considered a public political forum to which First Amendment protections applied.

    The president lost a legal battle when the Supreme Court ruled in July 2019 that it was unconstitutional for him to block critics on social media.

    “The Court recognized that when a public official uses a social media account to host speech … it functions as a kind of public forum,” Fallow, one of the lead attorneys in the case challenging Trump, said. “When he blocked people from his account, it means they could no longer reply to him, and they could no longer participate in the discussion.”

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