6:00pm - 6:00pm

Business News

Missy Park makes $1M contribution to support USWNT and its fight for equal pay

Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Missy Park, CEO and founder of athletic brand Title Nine, is supporting the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team in a big way.

This week, Park announced that the women's adventure and outdoor apparel retailer will contribute $1 million to USWNT players to support their fight for equal pay. In addition, Title Nine established the "Kick In For Equal Pay" initiative, where the company will match any donations up to $250,000.

"My hope with this contribution is that we all are conscious of the small and large things that we can do," Park told "Good Morning America."

Park, a former athlete at Yale University and an beneficiary of Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed to prohibit sex-based discrimination in schools or education programs that receives federal money, said she was compelled to support USWNT players after watching the HBO Max documentary "LFG," which chronicles their ongoing fight for equal pay.

In March 2019, the players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, despite the courts having dismissed their equal pay claims last year. While competing at the Olympics, the team filed an appeal stating the ruling "penalized the USWNT players for their success."

"These women, they play more games, they win more games, and yet they are paid less, so I was really mad about that," Park said. "But then I also realized I'm kind of mad at myself. Like, it's not just up to U.S. Soccer to fix this -- it's up to all of us."

In a statement to ABC News, the U.S. Soccer Federation said it is "committed to fair and equal pay for our Women’s National Team players – and for all women."

"Comparing only the game bonuses our Men’s and Women’s National Teams receive ignores the $100,000 annual salary that U.S. Soccer pays members of the Women’s National Team. The USWNT Players Association negotiated and agreed to a contract that provides guaranteed annual salaries and benefits, in addition to game bonuses. Due to this contract structure, they receive lower game bonuses than the Men’s National Team, who do not receive salaries or benefits and are paid only on a “pay to play” basis," the statement continues. "Right now, we are focused on supporting the Women’s National Team in their quest to win a fifth Olympic Gold Medal. Moving ahead, we will continue to work with the team and its players association to chart a positive path forward."

Park's decision to contribute to the USWNT's fight for equal pay is also a personal one. As a mother of two kids who both have big athletic dreams, Park wants to make sure they're both able to pursue them in a way that's equal.

"I have a son, Leo. And he's a basketball player. And I have a daughter, she's a soccer player, amongst other things," she said. "I think about Leo when he was young -- he dreamed of being in the NBA. You know he could dream of making a living doing that … My daughter is a soccer player -- shouldn't she have that dream, too? Don't we want all our sons and daughters to have the same dreams?"

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Google, Disney join growing list of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines

JHVEPhoto/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- As coronavirus cases in the U.S. begin a concerning climb upward and virus variants threaten a return to normalcy, a handful of businesses have announced COVID-19 vaccination mandates as they prepare to welcome workers back to the office.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said employers can legally require COVID-19 vaccinations to re-enter a physical workplace, as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or because they have religious objections.

Still, the requirements have proven a hot button issue as business leaders mull over office reopening plans, in some cases sparking legal challenges and immense pushback from workers who refuse the shot. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that a mandate to require all federal employees to be vaccinated is now "under consideration."

Here is a roundup of some of the major U.S. employers that have announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Google
Tech giant Google announced a vaccine requirement Wednesday for those returning to its offices. The company has some 135,301 employees, according to SEC filings.

In a memo sent to employees, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai also announced that the company's "voluntary" work-from-home policy had been extended through Oct. 18 after it was initially set to expire on Sept. 1. In addition, Pichai wrote that "anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated."

"We're rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months," the chief executive said. "The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area."

He said local leads will share further guidance with employees, including "details on an exceptions process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other protected reasons."

Pichai added that he hopes these steps "will give everyone greater peace of mind as offices reopen."

Facebook
Hours after Google's announcement, Facebook said Wednesday it will require anyone working at its U.S. campuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Implementation of the new policy will hinge on "local conditions and regulations," Facebook Vice President of People Lori Goler said in a statement to ABC News. There will be a "process" for those who will be exempt from the mandate, such as for medical reasons, Goler said.

ABC News has requested further details on the testing protocols and action for failure to adhere to the requirement.

"We continue to work with experts to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone's health and safety," said Goler, who noted that Facebook will be evaluating its approach outside the U.S. "as the situation evolves."

Facebook is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, and has offices in over 80 cities worldwide.

Washington Post
Some staff members at the Washington Post on Tuesday shared on Twitter that the company announced it was mandating vaccines.

In a memo sent to employees and shared with ABC News by the Washington Post, publisher and CEO Frederick J. Ryan, Jr. announced the mandate and said employees must also "demonstrate proof of full COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment."

The Post, which employs more than a thousand journalists and is aiming for a mid-September reopening, said accommodations will be provided to people with "genuine medical and religious concerns" and that they will need to document them with the human resources team.

"Even though the overwhelming majority of Post employees have already provided proof of vaccination, I do not take this decision lightly," Ryan said in the memo. "However, in considering the serious health issues and genuine safety concerns of so many Post employees, I believe the plan is the right one."

St. Jude's, Houston Methodist and more hospitals
The health care sector, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been one of the industries with the most vaccination requirements.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that all patient-facing health care workers in state-run hospitals are required to get vaccinated. "That is a point of contact, that could be a serious spreading event, we want to make sure those workers are vaccinated period," Cuomo said Wednesday.

At St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, staff were informed earlier this month that they had a Sept. 9 deadline to get vaccinated. "By September 10, employees who have refused vaccination or do not have an approved medical or religious exemption will be put on an unpaid administrative leave for two weeks," wrote Dr. James R. Downing, president and CEO of the Memphis hospital. "Those who fail to start the vaccination process will be terminated at the end of the two-week period."

The Houston Methodist hospital system in Texas, which oversees eight hospitals and has more than 26,000 employees, set a June 7 deadline for staffers to get the vaccine or risk suspension and termination. More than 175 staffers at the Houston Methodist hospital were temporarily suspended without pay last month after not complying with a mandate, and a lawsuit was filed against the hospital. A Texas judge sided with the hospital, tossing out the lawsuit filed by 117 employees who were against getting the shot.

Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines came out ahead of the curve on vaccine mandates. The airliner said in May that it would require all new hires in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for an accommodation.

The Atlanta-headquartered company with some 91,000 full-time workers has said it will not be putting in place a company-wide mandate to require current employees to be vaccinated, though the new hires vaccine requirement kicked in on May 17.

Disney
The Walt Disney Company announced Friday that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. must be fully vaccinated.

Employees working in-person who aren't already vaccinated have 60 days to do so as of July 30 while most employees working from home must provide proof of vaccination before returning, said Paul Richardson, Disney's senior executive vice president and chief human resources officer.

Richardson said the company is also developing vaccination protocols for employees outside the U.S.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trevor Milton, founder of electric truck startup Nikola, hit with securities fraud charges

Bloomberg/ Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Trevor Milton, the billionaire founder of electric truck manufacturer Nikola, was hit with securities fraud charges from federal prosecutors in New York City on Thursday.

In a nearly 50-page indictment, prosecutors accused Milton of preying on vulnerable retail investors who had turned to trading after losing income due to the pandemic. In some cases, these victims lost their retirement savings, authorities said, as they outlined his web of false promises related to an electric truck that was never operable.

"Milton's scheme targeted individual, non-professional investors -- so-called retail investors -- by making false and misleading statements," the indictment said.

Milton pleaded not guilty on Thursday after being taken into custody and was released on a $100 million bond. A spokesperson for his legal team maintained that Milton is innocent in a statement to ABC News Thursday, calling the situation "a new low in the government’s efforts to criminalize lawful business conduct."

"Mr. Milton has been wrongfully accused following a faulty and incomplete investigation in which the government ignored critical evidence and failed to interview important witnesses," the statement added. "From the beginning, this has been an investigation in search of a crime. Justice was not served by the government’s action today, but it will be when Mr. Milton is exonerated."

Authorities had been investigating Milton and Nikola for more than a year after short seller Hindenburg Research called the firm an "intricate fraud" in a September report.

The company subsequently conceded video of its electric truck gave a misleading impression it was actually drivable. The company also said Milton had made inaccurate statements about the technology behind the vehicle. Federal prosecutors agreed.

The false promotional video for the semi-truck prototype known as Nikola One was referenced heavily in the indictment. The concept included a shot of the Nikola One coming to a stop in front of a stop sign, according to the indictment.

"In order to accomplish this feat with a vehicle that could not drive, the Nikola One was towed to the top of hill, at which point the 'driver' released the brakes, and the truck rolled down the hill until being brought to a stop in front of the stop sign," prosecutors wrote. "For additional takes, the truck was towed to the top of the hill and rolled down the hill twice more."

Moreover, the door had to be taped to the vehicle during the shoot "to prevent it from falling off," prosecutors wrote. Batteries were also entirely removed from the vehicle during the shoot, which was attended by Milton, to, according to prosecutors, "mitigate the risk of fire, explosion, or damage."

Phoenix-based Nikola planned to build battery- and hydrogen-fuel cell-powered heavy trucks for long-haul trucking and the company had been valued at more than $12 billion. The doubts raised by short sellers and regulators have tanked the stock price and scuttled a deal with General Motors to take a stake in the company.

Nikola said in a statement, "Trevor Milton resigned from Nikola on September 20, 2020 and has not been involved in the company’s operations or communications since that time. Today’s government actions are against Mr. Milton individually, and not against the company. Nikola has cooperated with the government throughout the course of its inquiry."

Prosecutors said Milton lied at every turn about the company's ability to produce its electric truck.

According to the indictment, Milton made false and misleading statements about the company's success in creating a fully functioning Nikola One prototype when he knew that the prototype was inoperable. He also made false statements about an electric- and hydrogen-powered pickup truck known as the Badger using Nikola's parts and technology when he knew that was not true, the indictment claimed.

"Among the retail investors who ultimately invested in Nikola were investors who had no prior experience in the stock market and had begun trading during the COVID-19 pandemic to replace or supplement lost income or to occupy their time while in lockdown," prosecutors wrote.

When it emerged that Milton's statements were false and misleading, the value of Nikola's stock plummeted.

"As a result, some of the retail investors that Milton's fraudulent scheme targeted suffered tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, including, in certain cases, the loss of their retirement savings or funds that they had borrowed to invest in Nikola," the indictment added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Retail trading app Robinhood makes its Wall Street debut on the Nasdaq

guvendemir/iStock

(NEW YORK) — Investing platform Robinhood officially became a publicly-listed company Thursday, making its Wall Street debut on the Nasdaq under the trading ticker $HOOD.

Robinhood co-founders Vlad Tenev (the current chief executive officer) and Baiju Bhatt (the chief creative officer) rang the Nasdaq's opening bell in Times Square on Thursday morning, surrounded by colleagues and family members. Tenev carried his young daughter on his hip as his company made its initial public offering.

Trading opened to the public at $38 per share, giving it a valuation of some $32 billion. By mid-day the stock fell slightly, trading at around $35 per share.

Robinhood exploded in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic as swaths of retail investors turned to its commission-free trading services. It became embroiled in controversy amid the GameStop short-squeeze, when an army of retail investors attempted to take on Wall Street firms that were betting against the video game retailer.

As individual investors pushed the price of GameStop shares up, Robinhood and other trading platforms abruptly halted trading of the stock -- leading to allegations they were doing so at the urging of hedge funds and short sellers. The company has denied this, saying the temporary halt was due to clearinghouse-mandated deposit requirements that skyrocketed amid the volatility.

Still, Robinhood's Tenev was called to testify before lawmakers and the fallout of the GameStop saga left Wall Street reeling for months.

Robinhood has repeatedly said its mission is to "democratize finance for all." The firm on Thursday celebrated what it saw as bringing its Main Street clientele to Wall Street via its Nasdaq listing. Some 50% of Robinhood users are first-time investors.

"The U.S. stock market is one of the world’s greatest sources of wealth creation. But for generations, it was out of reach for most people," Tenev and Bhatt said in a joint statement Thursday celebrating the IPO. "Robinhood changed that -- we’ve built investing products for everyday people, to put them in control of their financial futures."

"Our listing day is a celebration of our customers -- Generation Robinhood," the statement added. "Through Robinhood, millions of everyday people have started investing in the stock market for the first time."

Tenev and Bhatt said these new everyday investors are "making their voices heard through the markets, transforming our financial system in the process."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden's federal workforce vaccine mandate could inspire companies to follow suit

Prostock-Studio/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers could set the groundwork for more private sector organizations to follow along. But it also is likely to trigger an avalanche of lawsuits from those who say required vaccinations infringe on the civil liberties of Americans.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday a plan requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated or comply with "stringent COVID-19 protocols like mandatory mask wearing -- even in communities not with high or substantial spread -- and regular testing.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that employers can require their employees to be vaccinated with exceptions being granted for religious and medical reasons.

Federal law does not bar organizations from mandating coronavirus vaccines even as the publicly available vaccines have yet to receive full authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, according to a Justice Department memo.

But some legal scholars say that full approval from the FDA would give companies increased legal cover from employees who refuse to comply with a vaccine mandate.

“There are many companies that are worried about pushback litigation and are waiting for full FDA approval,” said Larry Gostin, a professor of global health law at the Georgetown University Law Center and director of the World Health Organization Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights.

Full FDA vaccine approval is expected in September, according to a federal official. Normally, full approval takes up to a year following the submission of all required data.

Gostin added that employers also have the right to terminate employees who do not comply with their company’s vaccine mandate.

“A worker doesn’t have a legal or ethical entitlement to go unvaccinated or unmasked in a crowded workplace,” he said. “They can make decisions for their own health and well-being, but they can’t pose risk to others. Somebody who is unvaccinated and isn’t tested and unmasked poses a very substantial risk of transferring a very dangerous, if not deadly, disease.”

Similar to the legal arguments over state mask mandates, the debate surrounding vaccine mandates is an issue widely expected to end up in court.

“America is a very litigious society and there will be lawsuits,” said Gostin. “But employers and particularly hospitals are on very firm legal grounding and will win those lawsuits.”

While the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers could inspire similar moves from large employers to local governments, some states are taking offensive measures.

Several states including Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, and Montana have already passed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

And with return to school quickly approaching for millions of U.S. students, some legislatures have even sought to prohibit required COVID-19 vaccines for school attendance.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association, which consists of FBI agents and U.S. Marshalls, however, sees the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees as an attack on civil liberties.

“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” said Larry Cosme, the association’s president, in a statement.

The idea of employer vaccine mandates is something that many public health experts increasingly agree on. A large number of companies are still allowing employees back to the office based entirely on voluntary employee disclosure of vaccination status as opposed to requiring actual proof of vaccination.

“An honor system can work in a situation where you don’t have an epidemic,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “We need to realize that we are in an emergency, and we have to do everything possible to ensure that the vast majority of people get vaccinated.”

Google, Apple and Facebook all postponed their return to office plans for mid-October as the delta variant continues to drive a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide.

Google's decision to require staff in their offices to be vaccinated comes after similar announcements impacting government workers in New York and California to curb the spread of the delta variant.

“The timing for these vaccine mandates is right and it’s actually a bit long overdue,” said El-Sadr.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rocket Lab launches US Space Force experimental satellite

Rocket Lab

(NEW YORK) -- Rocket Lab successfully launched an experimental satellite for the United States Space Force on Thursday morning.

The California-based aerospace company returned its Electron rocket to flight from its space launch facility on New Zealand's Mahia peninsula.

About an hour after a successful liftoff at 2 a.m. ET, the rocket deployed a small research and development satellite, called Monolith, into a 600-kilometer low-Earth orbit.

Monolith, sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, will "explore and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor's mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control," according to Rocket Lab.

"Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines," the company said in a statement. "The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities."

The launch was procured by the U.S. Department of Defense's Space Test Program and the U.S. Space Force's Rocket Systems Launch Program, both located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. The mission was named "It's a Little Chile Up Here" in a nod to New Mexico's beloved green chile, according to Rocket Lab.

The U.S. Space Force is the newest and smallest branch of the American military, set up in 2019 under former President Donald Trump.

Thursday's launch was the fourth of the year for Rocket Lab and the 21st involving Electron. It was also the first Electron launch since a failed mission on May 15, in which the rocket was supposed to deploy two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring firm BlackSky but "experienced an anomaly shortly before stage two ignition," Rocket Lab later said in a statement.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Walt Disney World, Disneyland requiring masks indoors again for guests

Manakin/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Disney Parks has updated its mask policy for all visitors regardless of vaccine status after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance following the surge in COVID infections.

The high-traffic theme parks in Florida and California announced late Wednesday that beginning Friday, July 30, all guests are required to keep masks on while indoors, including when entering all attractions and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner.

"We are adapting our health and safety guidelines based on guidance from health and government officials, and will require Cast Members and Guests ages 2 and up, to wear face coverings in all indoor locations at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort," Disney Parks said in a statement.

The news comes days after the CDC's call for a return to masks in public, indoor settings due to the transmissibility of the fast-spreading delta variant.

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'Made in America' company creates fashionable bags out of recycled sails

MCCAIG/iStock

(PORTLAND, Maine) -- One company is taking used sails from sailboats and creating something totally brand new: summer tote bags.

Sea Bags, founded in Portland, Maine, makes unique tote bags out of locally recycled materials. Since 1999, the company says it has saved over 700 tons of material from going into landfills.

“Our materials come from Maine first; New England, second; and [the] U.S.A, third,” it says on the company's website.

Located right on the water on Custom House Wharf in Portland, Sea Bags employs 200 workers.

Employee Dillon Leary, who has been working for Sea Bags since high school, said he’s proud of his role in producing the bags.

“We get to see the process from the very beginning,” said Leary, “Out of the thousands of pounds of sails that we're taking per year, every single one of those starts in this building."

Timeiqua Nixon, who has been a part of the design team for over six years, said that pride goes into each product.

“Everything is handmade. So I love that we just do it ourselves,” she said. “Which is, we’re the main source for it. We don’t have to outsource anything.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Target, Staples, Barnes & Noble And More Offer Back-To-School Discounts For Teachers

Iryna Veklich/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- As the end of summer approaches, teachers are already preparing for the school year ahead, which is happening again this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help teachers, select retailers are offering special back-to-school deals and discounts. Here are some of the retailers offering special deals now for teachers.

Target
Target is offering teachers a one-time, 15% discount on select classroom supplies and essentials now through July 31. Teachers need to sign up for Target Circle and verify their teacher status to be eligible.

All K-12 teachers, homeschool teachers, teachers working at daycare centers and early childhood learning centers, university or college professors and vocational/trade/technical school teachers are eligible, according to Target.

Staples
At Staples stores across the country, teachers and school administrators can get 20% off select purchases now through Sept. 30.

Parents can also help support teachers through Staples' Classroom Rewards program, which gives a percentage of their qualifying purchase made at a Staples store back to an enrolled teacher or school administrator of their choice, according to the company.

To start getting discounts, parents, teachers and school administrators must download the Staples Connect app and enroll in Classroom Rewards.

Abt Electronics
Teachers who purchase $500 worth of Abt Electronics supplies are eligible for a $50 discount. This offer applies to teachers, teachers aides, teaching assistants, educational assistants, lifetime teaching credential holders, professors, speech pathologists and school administrators.

To use the discount, teachers must verify that they are eligible when they check out. Then, they will receive a promotion code to access their discount.

Meijer
Teachers can now get 15% off back-to-school supplies with a coupon at Meijer. The coupon covers 1,500 items that teachers can use in the classroom.

Michaels
Teachers are eligible year-round for a 15% discount at Michaels after verifying their profession and creating a Michaels account. The discount will apply if they provide their phone number or email at checkout online or in-person.

JOANN
By signing up for the Teacher Rewards Digital Discount Card, teachers can receive a 15% year-round discount at JOANN. To register for the card, teachers must show a valid educator identification.

Barnes & Noble
Teachers will receive 20% off qualifying book purchases at Barnes & Noble if they sign up to become a B&N Educator. The sign-up process, while free, must be done in-person at a Barnes & Noble location.

Dollar General
Dollar General is offering teachers a 30% discount on back-to-school supplies until Sept. 6. Teachers can use the discount after signing up for a Dollar General account, completing a teacher verification process and waiting 24 to 48 hours.

The discount applies to the purchase of pens, pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, scissors, binders, folders glue, rulers, backpacks, lunch boxes and more.

Office Depot
Through Sept. 30, teachers who are Office Depot OfficeMax Rewards members are eligible for a coupon that allows them to earn 20% back in rewards when completing in-store purchases.

Teachers can also receive a 40% discount for school supplies such as classroom posters, instructional materials and name tags when completing an in-store purchase. For the discount to apply, teachers must show a valid teacher ID at checkout.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Spelman College is latest HBCU to cancel tuition balances

Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

(ATLANTA) -- Spelman College announced it will use federal funding to clear outstanding tuition balances for the past academic year of to address the financial hardships of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The historically Black college based in Atlanta, Georgia, will also offer a one-time 14% discount on tuition for the 2021-2022 academic school year and rollback mandatory fees to the 2017-2018 rate.

"This reset to the lower tuition rates of four years ago will have a long-term impact on affordability," said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman, in a statement Tuesday.

The Spelman College financial relief comes after Clark Atlanta University, a neighboring HBCU in Atlanta, announced it would cancel outstanding tuition balances for the spring 2020 and summer 2021 semesters.

"We understand these past two academic years have been emotionally and financially difficult on students and their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why we will continue to do all we can to support their efforts to complete their CAU education," Dr. George T. French, President of Clark Atlanta University, said in a statement last Friday.

For Ta'Lar Scott, a 21-year-old junior at Clark Atlanta University, having her $500 tuition balance canceled was the fresh start she needed to re-enroll to finish her undergraduate degree in social work after taking a semester off.

Like thousands of HBCU students, Scott has relied on federal grants and student loans to pay for her college education. With aspirations of becoming a teacher and now as an expectant mother, paying for school expenses in addition to re-enrollment was so daunting she considered not attending the fall semester.

"I was going to take this semester off and it was really because I knew I had a balance," Scott told ABC News. "The university clearing my balance up kind of pushed me and let me know that I can do this. I'll be fine. Regardless, I'll have to learn how to adjust, which I've been doing all my life."

HBCUs received approximately $2.6 billion through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a $40 billion funding allocation set aside for higher education as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College are the latest of over 20 HBCUs using federal funding to provide financial relief and emergency funds for students in recent months. South Carolina State University, Delaware State University and Wilberforce University used federal COVID relief dollars to cancel student loan debt for eligible students.

ABC News' Jianna Cousin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Walmart announces plan to pay 100% of college tuition for employees

jetcityimage/iStock

(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) -- America's largest private employer announced on Tuesday that it will pay for college tuition and books for associates, in full.

In a press release, Walmart says with these changes, "approximately 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam's Club associates in the U.S. can earn college degrees or learn trade skills without the burden of education debt."

The company said that associates who are part of the program will also no longer be required to contribute a $1 per day fee, which had been in place since the program had initially launched.

Lorraine Stomski, the company's senior vice president of learning and leadership, said the move would create "a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families."

The company also noted it will add four academic partners, bringing the total number of institutions it works with to ten. The new partners include Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, and Pathstream.

The cost of education is still a leading barrier to earning a degree, with student loan debt in the U.S. topping $1.7 trillion. Walmart said its Live Better U program has had more than 52,000 associate participants since 2018, with 8,000 of them graduating.

Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, hailed Walmart for "setting a new standard for what it looks like to prepare workers for the jobs of the future."

Earlier this year, Walmart announced it would raise its starting pay to $11 per hour. That move, which affected approximately 425,000 employees, brought the company's average pay to $15 per hour.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ben Crump files lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson on behalf of Black women

Chinnapong/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump has filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, alleging the pharmaceutical giant marketed talcum-based baby powder specifically to Black women despite links to ovarian cancers.

Johnson & Johnson has denied the allegations, saying its marketing campaigns are "multicultural and inclusive." The company also denies that its products cause cancer, despite a Missouri appellate court last year ruling in favor of ovarian cancer victims suing the company as part of a separate lawsuit, claiming their condition was caused by asbestos in its baby powder and other talc products.

Crump, perhaps best known for representing the family of George Floyd after his murder by Derek Chauvin, filed the suit Tuesday in New Jersey with his legal partner Paul Napoli on behalf of members of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The council, founded in 1935, is a nonprofit that advocates for and empowers women of African descent and their families.

"I would be remiss if I did not say exactly what this lawsuit is about. It is about the lives of our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our nieces, and our wives, and how they were sinisterly targeted by Johnson and Johnson," Crump said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the suit. "This multi-billion-dollar corporation, their corporate executives know about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer."

"Black women have always been the backbone of this country, standing up for everyone, but receiving the least amount of respect," he added. "Well, it is time that we stand up for Black women."

At the news conference, victims who lost family members to ovarian cancer tearfully spoke out about the impact these deaths have had on their lives.

Lydia Huston said her mother died of ovarian cancer in 2014. She remembers the mother of two and grandmother of eight as a "phenomenal cook" who "loved to take care of the people that she loved."

"We had a routine and it involves hygiene, a very clean home and a very clean body," she said. "And just like deodorant, soap, lotion, and toothpaste, talcum powder was a part of the daily routine that she had for over 35 years."

"I miss her dearly, and I want justice for her," Huston said.

Janice Mathis, the executive director of the NCNW, added in a separate statement that "generations of Black women" used Johnson & Johnson products as part of their daily routines.

"This company, through its words and images, told Black women that we were offensive in our natural state and needed to use their products to stay fresh," she said. "Generations of Black women believed them and made it our daily practice to use their products in ways that put us at risk of cancer -- and we taught our daughters to do the same."

Johnson & Johnson has denied that its baby powder products cause cancer, but has previously said that it is facing more than 20,000 lawsuits over its talcum products. Despite assurances it is safe, the company stopped selling talc-based baby powder in 2020 in the U.S., citing reduced demand due to misinformation and litigation advertising.

In June 2020, an appellate court in Missouri upheld more than $2 billion in damages against Johnson & Johnson, saying the company knew there was asbestos in its baby powder. In June of this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear the company's appeal of the Missouri verdict.

The company told ABC News in a statement that independent scientific testing has proved its products do not cause cancer. A Journal of the American Medical Association report released last year found "no statistically significant link" between use of powder in the genital area and risk of ovarian cancer.

"We empathize with anyone suffering from cancer and understand that people are looking for answers. We believe those answers can be better understood through science -- and decades of independent scientific testing by medical experts around the world has confirmed that our products are safe, do not contain asbestos, and do not cause cancer," Johnson & Johnson told ABC News in a statement Tuesday.

"The accusations being made against our company are false, and the idea that our Company would purposefully and systematically target a community with bad intentions is unreasonable and absurd," the statement added. "Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, and our campaigns are multicultural and inclusive."

"We firmly stand behind the safety of our product and the ways in which we communicate with our customers," the company said, noting that more information can be found at www.FactsAboutTalc.com.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'Made in America' companies create new products from recycled material

iStock/Nastco

(NEW YORK) -- Companies across the country are not letting American-made material go to waste.

The Ford auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan, is donating more than $100,000 worth of leather scraps discarded from car seats and giving them to local small businesses in Detroit.

Detroit non-profit Mend On The Move, which employs women survivors of abuse, is the recipient of some recycled leather and founder Joanne Ewald said it makes all the difference.

“Having this leather donated to us ... it’s so huge,” Ewald said. “It is opening opportunities for us to create pieces that we have never done before.”

Mend On The Move empowers survivors of abuse to create and sell things like earrings, ornaments and more, all made from the used auto parts and salvaged car seat leather.

Since the pandemic began, the company said it has been able to hire two new employees. Employee Jessica Canupp said that when customers buy from Mend On The Move, they’re not only supporting small businesses, but also people.

“You are supporting people who are in need right now during the pandemic and local businesses,” Canupp told ABC News.

Another Detroit-based company, Pingree Detroit, also benefits from the recycled Ford leather. The team of eight co-owners transforms the leather into wallets, bags and more.

“We’re also honored to work alongside Ford to give these underutilized materials new life,” co-owner Nathaniel Crawford II told ABC News.

Employee and lead sewer Rayne Rose said the business opens up opportunities in the community.

“We believe that anything is possible and if we see a better way, we’ll find a way to make it happen and to make our neighborhood stronger,” said Rose.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How to navigate rental car shortages, rising gas prices on your next trip

Alexander_Photo/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- The rapid rebound in leisure travel is fueling a nationwide rental car shortage and price hikes at the pump.

If you're planning on hitting the road this summer, here's what experts say you can do to avoid any potential speed bumps:

Don't wait to rent a car

At the height of the pandemic, rental car companies sold off half of their fleets, and when demand came roaring back they had trouble getting their hands on new cars due to the semiconductor shortage.

"We are in the heart of the car rental apocalypse right now," Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of AutoSlash.com, said. "And I'd love to say that we're going to see it get better sometime soon, but it doesn't look like it."

He explained rental car locations in destinations like Hawaii, Alaska or anywhere near the national parks are completely sold out of cars right now. And if you can find a car, the rates are two to three times the normal rate.

Travel booking app Hopper said demand for rental cars is up 495% since January, and rental car prices are up 95% from the start of the year.

Given all the challenges, Weinberg recommended travelers start planning now if they need to rent a car anytime this summer, and certainly if they want to get away for Labor Day.

"We recommend people check pricing for rental cars before they book their airfare and hotels," he said.

Avoid trying to book a rental car during peak travel times

If you are still working remotely or have flexible travel dates, AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmund said you are more likely to find a rental car.

"You might have more luck booking a car on the weekdays versus the weekends," she said. "It's just a little more planning this year."

She also recommended working with a travel agent who can tell you what weeks might have a little lower travel volume.

"If you're flexible with your dates, and you can consider different times, it will go a really long way in helping," Edmund said.

Consider renting a U-Haul or van

Some travelers have turned to renting U-Hauls or vans given the rental car shortage.

"The times call for being creative," Weinberg said.

Car rental company Hertz has a lot of cargo vans available, which they are giving customers a sizable discount on compared to traditional rental cars.

The only downside to consider is these vans only have two seats, and they are very large, so they might not be the best option if you are relying on city parking at your destination.

Look into peer-to-peer renting platforms like Turo

If there are no available cars at traditional rental car companies, or the prices are too high, you can try platforms like Turo that allow you to rent cars straight from the vehicle's owner.

Many travelers in Hawaii have told ABC News that Turo was the only way they could get a car for a reasonable price.

But Weinberg urges potential renters to be cautious.

"We've heard some horror stories," he said. "People being left high and dry who had reservations then at the last minute the host cancels on them because they realize that they can get more money from someone else."

Budget for higher gas prices

Early on in the pandemic, national gas prices were sitting at around $2 per gallon on average for regular, but earlier this week they reached $3.17, according to AAA.

"What's really driving this is higher demand as we see people hitting the roads for summer vacation," Edmund told ABC News. "We are seeing demand at some of the highest rates in a few years."

AAA expects gas prices to remain at around $3 throughout the summer, which is the highest rate they have seen in a "few years."

"We've seen travelers offset these costs with cheaper activities once they reach their destination or packing food instead of eating out as much," she said.

Consider planning a trip to a city that has public transportation or ride-share options

If the cost of a rental car and gas is daunting, you can consider traveling to a destination like New York City or Washington, D.C., that has a variety of public transportation options.

Most trains and buses are running their pre-pandemic schedules, but masks are required until September.

You can also try calculating how much ride-share apps like Uber or Lyft would cost if you used them during your trip instead of renting a car. Depending on how much you leave your hotel, or the distance of your activities, it might be cheaper.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How this single mom got out of debt and retired at 41

Courtesy Lakisha Simmons

(NEW YORK) -- Lakisha L. Simmons, Ph.D., was a 36-year-old working mom of two young sons when she got divorced in 2017.

"I stayed in the family home with the boys and all of the bills were suddenly mine, all alone," Simmons told Good Morning America. "That brought back rushing all of the feelings [of financial insecurity] from when I was a girl, that I was alone and in this world trying to figure it out by myself again."

Simmons said she decided to "get serious" about her finances, a decision that changed the course of her life.

Now 41, Simmons, of Nashville, Tennessee, retired this year from her job as a college analytics professor. A self-taught investor, Simmons has amassed a nearly $1 million fortune and opened her own business, BRAVE Consulting, where she focuses on helping women of color obtain financial freedom.

"With the divorce, I thought I have to buckle down and get serious or I’m paycheck to paycheck and I can’t do that with two little people depending on me," said Simmons. "I thought I can't ever let this happen again."

Here are the steps Simmons says she took to reach her own financial freedom.

1. I buckled down on budgeting: "I did the budgeting when we were married but the budget was loose and I knew I had to buckle down," said Simmons. "I created a Google sheet and I started entering from the top down, which was my paycheck, my gross salary."

"Then I went to the next section and added in every single expense that I had to pay every month," she said. "Then I was able to look at that list and realistically say what is nonessential and I cut it, like cable and spending for clothes and shoes."

2. I sold my family home and moved to a townhome: "The biggest expense on my list was my mortgage, so that had to go," said Simmons. "I sold the house and moved into an apartment and that saved me $1,200 per month. I ended up buying a townhouse and the mortgage is less money than what my rent was and it’s way less than what the mortgage on the house was."

Simmons said selling her house taught her a lesson about budgeting by determining what you value.

"If you value a house on a hill that’s on an acre of land, then cut other ways and keep your family home," she said. "For me, I didn’t value the home. It was a burden and so it had to go."

3. I discovered the FIRE method: Simmons says that when she took a close look at what she valued, that included independence and more time for her children and herself, which ultimately led her to realize she wanted to retire early.

She says following the FIRE method, or Financial Independence, Retire Early, helped her reach that point.

There are different variations of the FIRE method, including the "lean FIRE," which Simmons followed and which requires extreme frugality and lifestyle changes to retire early, and the "fat FIRE," which involves people maintaining their original standard of living but investing and saving up to retire early.

Simmons' detailed budgeting allowed her to be able to know her yearly expenses, which she then used to plan how much money she would need to save to retire early.

4. I educated myself on investing: Simmons already had some money invested when she started budgeting, but she doubled down on teaching herself how to maximize her extra cash instead of leaving it in bank accounts.

She maxed out her 401(k) retirement account, contributed to a Roth IRA and also began contributing to a 457(b) account, another tax-advantaged retirement account she learned she was eligible for as a teacher.

She also invested any extra money in the S&P 500 index fund, where it could continue to grow.

"If you educate yourself about how the stock market works and you only invest money that you don’t need right now, after you’ve fully funded your emergency savings account, you’ll get a return over the long term," said Simmons. "This is my strategy as a single woman."

5. I continually cut down my monthly expenses: Simmons says the Google sheet she created at the start of her budgeting journey is something she constantly fine-tunes.

"I look at it once or twice a week and look line-by-line and say, ‘How can I reduce this amount?,'" she said. "For example, the first thing I cut was the cable and then I went to my grocery bill and looked for lower-cost grocery stores. Then I cut my mobile phone bill and now my pre-paid bill is only $180 for the entire year."

Simmons values time with her children, so she said she takes them on experiences like bike rides, picnics and local getaways instead of focusing on material items.

"What I want people to understand is that I never feel deprived," she said. "It's not depriving yourself. It’s just looking at what you value."

6. I started side hustles: As Simmons went along in her financial journey, she found ways to make extra money by teaching others what she had learned.

In addition to launching BRAVE Consulting, where she offers group workshops and online tools, Simmons also wrote a book, The Unlikely AchieveHer: 11 Steps to a Happy and Prosperous Life.

She also works with Personal Capitol, an online financial company, as a Financial Hero, helping with the company's financial education efforts.

"The mindset I’m instilling in my sons now is, 'What can you do to create your own money?,'" said Simmons. "It is all worth it."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rhode Island Features

COVID-19

image of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Weather

 

RI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

On Facebook