Welcome to the first edition of High Impact Policy Review, or HIPR! My name is Arushi Gupta, and I started this newsletter because I realized that being constantly inundated with political news makes it hard to understand what really matters, and that many issues receive far less coverage than they deserve, given the impact they have. For example, although the U.S. is one of the largest foreign aid donors and approximately 10 percent of the world population lives in extreme poverty (on less than $1.90 a day!), we rarely talk about the foreign aid decisions that can and do change their lives completely.
This biweekly (every 2 weeks) newsletter will (i) provide updates on U.S. policies relevant to potentially high-impact cause areas, such as foreign aid, farmed animal welfare, and criminal justice reform and (ii) inform you of potentially high-impact U.S. policy opportunities that I see around! I’ll do my best to cover the most neglected and important policy news I become aware of — the decisions that impact a large number of individuals (human or non-human), but which don’t always reach the front-page headlines. For that reason, I won’t always include the biggest news, unless it’s very important, because it’s likely stuff you’re already hearing about!
For the first edition of the newsletter, I’ve included news dating from mid-January 2021. Following editions will cover the two weeks of news between editions (and will be a bit shorter). Make sure to subscribe for future editions!
- The Biden administration has officially committed $4 billion to Covax, the global effort to fund and deliver COVID-19 vaccines around the world, particularly to lower-income countries. Vaccinating the rest of the world quickly is critical for a number of reasons, and this commitment is a step to getting there, but arguably the more important (and cheaper) thing that Biden can do might be opening up some of the intellectual property rights on the vaccines to manufacturers in other countries. And while we’re funding Covax, Biden is not planning to share vaccine supply with Mexico if requested.
- Pres. Biden rescinded a regulation that barred U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform or promote abortions. The regulation, known as the “Mexico City policy,” was first put into place in 1984, and typically changes with the party of the president. The new move also came with a reinstatement of funding to the United National Population Fund. The constant churn with this regulation between administrations has led many organizations to view the U.S. as an unreliable funder. The Biden administration is hoping to fix this by cementing the change with help from Congress, but this is unlikely with the Senate filibuster in place and 60 votes needed.
- The State Department reversed the Yemen Houthi movement’s terrorist designation. The Trump Administration named the rebel group a terrorist organization on the last day that Pres. Trump was in office. It was a move which experts said would make it more difficult for international relief groups to work in Yemen, as “it stopped food and other critical aid from being delivered inside Yemen and would have prevented effective political negotiation.”
- The U.S. designated the military takeover in Myanmar a coup, which, under U.S. law, requires the U.S. to restrict their foreign aid to the nation.
- The U.S. formally extended the critical START nuclear treaty with Russia for five years, two days before it was set to expire. It also offered to restart conversations with Iran on a nuclear deal, though it is still unclear if they are willing to talk. These are both important steps, but there is still a lot more that the administration could do to decrease nuclear risk.
- Pres. Biden bombed Syria. Besides being a humanitarian nightmare, some experts believe this will make it harder to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. And as with many presidential military actions before, there is concern that this may have not been legal.
- Sen. Markey and Rep. Lieu reintroduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act, noting concerns following the insurrection on January 6.
- Pres. Biden has temporarily paused the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab of Emirates in response to the situation in Yemen.
Farmed Animal Welfare
- Tom Vilsack was recently confirmed as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture by the Senate. Here’s an explainer on the fight over Biden’s tapping of Vilsack for the position, and here are some thoughts on how Vilsack could impact animals. Sen. Booker, Warnock, and Luján have been newly assigned to the Senate Ag Committee. The appointment of Booker, a longtime farmed animal advocate, is of particular interest. The House Ag’s subcommittee chairs were also announced as were other key figures for the USDA.
- Pres. Biden withdrew a rule proposed by the Trump Administration to increase the line speed of chickens at meatpacking plants. This is a big win for chickens and meatpacking workers.
- Bill Gates’s climate-focused umbrella organization, Breakthrough Energy, released a host of policy solutions related to alternative protein.
- Tyson Foods has been under serious scrutiny. It is paying $221.5 million to settle complaints over price-fixing allegations, resolving a four-year legal battle over alleged collusion in the chicken industry. Members of Congress sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to provide updates on its investigation into complaints filed against Tyson for false and misleading advertising claims. Pilgrim’s Pride is paying $107.9 million for price-fixing as well.
- The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation into the widespread coronavirus infections and deaths in meatpacking plants, and sent letters requesting documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), JBS USA, Tyson Foods, and Smithfield Foods. Here’s some coverage of the investigation.
At the state and local level:
- California introduced a bill that would provide financial and technical assistance to small to midsize farms transitioning from raising animals or growing animal feed to plant-based agriculture.
- New York City released Food Forward NYC: A 10-Year Food Policy Plan, which declares that the City will reduce meat on citywide menus.
- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams released The New Agrarian Economy, which urges a shift toward a plant-rich food system and strengthening of alternative protein production.
- Pres. Biden issued many climate-related executive orders in the first weeks of his presidency. I won’t go into all the details here because, well, there are a lot, but the actions are largely being welcomed by climate change experts. Here’s another high-level summary, and an up-to-date tracker.
- Denver, Colorado is considering implementing approval voting in local elections, thanks in part to the work of the Center for Election Science. If you’re not familiar with approval voting, find out more here! St. Louis voted to implement approval voting in November, and got to put it to use for the first time on March 2!
- Just this year, 43 states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 253 bills to restrict voting access - over four times the amount at the same time last year. On the other hand, 704 bills with provisions that expand voting access have been introduced, prefiled, or carried over. After the historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election and the expansion of voting access with widespread voting-by-mail during COVID, it looks like this year may be another eventful one in the endless fight over expanding/restricting voter rights.
- The House is expected to pass the For the People Act today, which includes a number of voting reforms, including automatically registering people to vote, restoring the voting rights of felons, mandating two weeks of early voting, encouraging voting-by-mail and expanding absentee ballot drop boxes. It would also require states to set up independent redistricting commissions to prevent partisan gerrymandering. Its total passage depends on Senate filibuster reform.
- The Supreme Court’s decision to return the case McCoy v. Alamu back to the lower court for reconsideration indicates a shift in their thinking on qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields civil servants from accountability for misconduct. While the doctrine hasn’t changed, their decision tells lower courts to raise the bar for conduct that receives qualified immunity.
- A proposed amendment to the For the People Act to allow those who are incarcerated to vote (not just felons who’ve been released) failed in the House.
- The House introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act, a comprehensive bill to address a variety of immigration issues, including a path to citizenship for the estimated 10.4 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S (but again, will need a filibuster reform to pass).
- The Biden administration proposed raising the refugee ceiling from 15,000 under the previous administration to 62,500. However the President has yet to sign the declaration making it official, forcing more than 250 refugees to cancel their flights as they wait for his signature.
- The administration broke its promise to halt deportations within their first 100 days in office, in new ICE guidelines. Immigrant advocates, including the ACLU, were disappointed by the development.
- Obviously, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill has finally passed the House. I won’t discuss it too much because I’m sure you’re reading about it everywhere, but it’s yet to be seen what will make it to Biden’s desk (particularly, the $15 minimum wage increase). The WaPo has a good summary.
- The FDA has said that COVID vaccines updated for variants won’t need the same lengthy testing as the originals; they’ll go through a quick approval process similar to the yearly flu vaccine. This is big news to make the battle against the new variants work!
- Speaking of variants, we were doing very little testing for those until recently, making it impossible to know if dangerous variants from other countries were spreading in the US, or whether we had new ones of our own. The CDC is now starting a national surveillance system for coronavirus variants, and sequencing is ramping up.
- Vaccines delivery has been steadily increasing and is now averaging nearly 2 M/day; and 300M doses (enough for every American adult) are expected by the end of May - a huge jump from the expectations just three weeks ago!
- This is happening in part because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine approval is leading to a boost in vaccine supply, with the US government to deliver 3.9M doses of it this week.
- The hacking of water systems in a small Florida town illustrates the need for more cybersecurity investment in utilities like water and energy.
- Sen. Romney introduced the Family Security Act, “one of the most generous child-benefit packages ever, regardless of political party.” The act has the potential to seriously reduce child poverty in the U.S.
- The Good Food Institute is hiring for an Associate Director of Legislative Affairs on a rolling basis. Cause area: climate, farmed animal welfare
- Consumer Reports is hiring a Senior Policy Counsel, Climate, Energy and Sustainability Policy. Cause area: climate
- Earthjustice is hiring a Legislative Representative/Counsel, several litigation positions, and more. Cause area: climate
- Bluebonnet Data is looking for part-time, student Data Fellows until March 7. Cause area: electoral politics
- Fair and Just Prosecution is hiring for a Research and Policy Fellow. Cause area: criminal justice reform
- The Brennan Center for Justice is hiring for a Research & Program Associate until March 22. Cause area: criminal justice reform
- Cornell Tech’s Digital Life Initiative is hiring for their Technology Law and Policy Fellowship. Cause area: technology policy
- Nuclear Threat Initiative is hiring summer interns for their Global Biological Policy and Programs, Global Nuclear Policy Program, and more, until March 8. Cause area: biosecurity, nuclear risk
- Council on Strategic Risks is hiring for their Fellowship for Ending Bioweapons, until March 31. Cause area: biosecurity
- Ploughshares Fund is hiring a Policy Analyst until March 15th. Cause area: nuclear risk
- Council on Foreign Relations is hiring several summer interns in foreign policy. Cause area: foreign policy
Interested in learning more on how to increase your engagement with high-impact U.S. policy? Check out a list of resources on the HIPR website!
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Until next time,