The Sunday Subject – December 19, 2021

Welcome to Subject’s weekly news roundup. We present you the essential headlines, local and beyond.

Western New York has been chosen as a finalist for the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better Challenge.”

The initiative is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in the spring to help the nation recover from the economic downfall of the pandemic. It will deliver massive investments of federal stimulus money to bolster local economies across the country. Twenty to thirty of the finalists will be chosen next year to receive $100 million each. If Buffalo is chosen, the money would train more than 1,600 Western New Yorkers for tech careers over three years, prepare the region to potentially become a national hub in industries such as vaccine production and utility infrastructure, and clean up and redevelop properties on Buffalo’s East Side to use as manufacturing sites, among other things. The local tech cluster could “revolutionize the region’s manufacturing sector, revitalize Buffalo’s East Side and train the next generation for good paying jobs,” said Senator Chuck Schumer in an interview last Sunday.

Since March 2020, more than 198,500 Western New Yorkers have contracted Covid-19 and 3,090 have died of it.

The number of Western New Yorkers hospitalized with Covid-19 has increased in November to levels not seen since the spring. Cases and hospitalizations rose in early spring, peaked in mid-April, then declined until July. The July uptick has continued into the fall. The share of Western New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated lags behind the figure for New York State as a whole.

Less than a week after an Elmwood Ave. Starbucks became the chain’s first location to unionize, two locations in Boston have also filed to form unions.

The organizers sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, citing Buffalo’s union as an inspiration, stating that unionizing their Boston locations “is the best way to contribute meaningfully to our partnership with the company.” 

On Wednesday Congress approved a $2.5 trillion debt limit increase.

The legislation allows the government to continue borrowing to finance its spending without further action by Congress until after the midterm elections in 2022. Averting the threat of a first-ever federal default until at least 2023, the legislation passed over Republican opposition. Now that the debt limit has been addressed, Democrats in the Senate hope to focus on passing a $2.2 trillion social safety net, climate and tax package. 

Amidst talks of potentially moving the Bills’ stadium from Orchard Park to downtown, Mayor Brown has voiced support for keeping the stadium as is.

“The stadium being built in Orchard Park in the early ’70s is considered one of the great planning mistakes of this region. But some mistakes that are over 50 years old, it’s hard to undo those mistakes,” Brown said. The Common Council, several business leaders and many city residents have spoken out in favor of a downtown stadium for years. Negotiations between the Buffalo Bills, New York State and Erie County are ongoing, but details remain undisclosed.

Congress has ended this tumultuous year with even more divisions.

While Democrats did make notable achievements, they were overshadowed by the Jan. 6 attack and its ramifications, and a sense that Congress was not rising to important challenges. Nonetheless, notable successes in 2021 include a $1.9 trillion pandemic aid plan that included a $300-per-child income support that slashed poverty rates; a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law that had evaded the two previous presidents; the confirmation of 40 judges in Biden’s first year, the most of any president since Reagan; and a House inquiry that has begun to reveal more about the Jan. 6 riot. But still, few are satisfied. Republicans, aided by Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, succeeded in obstructing much of Biden’s agenda, including a major attack on voting rights. Additionally, hopes to pass a $2 trillion social safety net and climate change bill through the Senate by Christmas looks all but failed, while other promises to revise the nation’s crippled immigration laws, force the conversion of electric utilities to renewable energy, and strengthen gun safety laws and reform policing rules appear unlikely.