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(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.”

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

 

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(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.

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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."

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(WASHINGTON) -- When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took what some viewed as a joyride to the edge of space earlier this week and then thanked the employees of his e-commerce empire for paying for it, the backlash against the richest man in the world was swift.

The anguish left behind from an economic shock induced by a global pandemic compounded animosity towards Bezos, whose fortune -- now topping $200 billion -- multiplied during the crisis. As millions of Americans struggled to pay rent, reports emerged that he had avoided paying income taxes. One lawmaker blasted his spaceflight on Twitter as "a monument to tax evasion and inequality." Tens of thousands signed a Change.org petition calling for Bezos not to return.

Bezos has argued his mission is "not about escaping earth" but building a "road to space" for the benefit of future generations. "We need to do that to solve the problems here on Earth," he said after the launch, which was also lauded for sending pioneering female pilot Wally Funk into space after her astronaut dreams were deferred in the ’60s because she is a woman.

The Amazon chairman's trip came just nine days after a similar suborbital jaunt from fellow billionaire Richard Branson, which seemed to cement the idea that spacefaring -- once revered by many as the pinnacle of human prowess and American ingenuity -- was just another playground for the ultra-wealthy and a reminder of the deep-rooted inequities that persist down on Earth.

But intrigue in what lies beyond our planet is indiscriminate, despite the vast wealth and racial disparities that have plagued space programs for decades. As a new commercial space industry officially launches with Bezos' and Branson's spaceflights, here is what some experts say may be left behind if equity in the cosmos is not considered.

'I represented a lot of hope': Space exploration 'for the people'

First-generation Mexican American Jose Hernandez grew up toiling alongside his migrant farmworker parents from a young age but, like Bezos, had lifelong dreams of visiting outer space.

"When I was 10-years-old, I was lucky enough to watch the very last Apollo mission on our black-and-white TV console with rabbit ear antennas," he told ABC News, recalling how he clung to the antennas "for dear life, trying to improve reception."

As he watched NASA's Gene Cernan step on the surface of the moon, Hernandez said he felt a "calling." He decided right then that he wanted to become an astronaut, saying, "Lucky enough, my parents were very supportive." He was rejected by NASA eleven times before on the 12th attempt, he was selected to be a part of the space agency's 19th class of astronauts.

In 2009, he launched aboard the second-to-last Space Shuttle mission and spent 14 days in orbit on the International Space Station. He sent the first Spanish-language tweet from the ISS.

Upon arriving back to Earth, Hernandez said he was surprised to find out he had become a hero in his community and one of the most-requested astronauts for speaking engagements at the time.

"The response, especially from the Hispanic community and Hispanic news media, was tremendous," he said. "I quickly realized that I, overnight, became a role model to a lot of kids."

Hernandez said he tried to embrace this role, and showed up at every event and school that he could, urging students of color to quite literally reach for the stars.

"I represented a lot of hope for a lot of people because it's one thing seeing an astronaut, it's another seeing someone that looks like you, that talks like you, that came from the same socio-economic background you're from," he said. "And yet, you see them with the flight suit. And so then they begin to visualize themselves in that flight suit."

"That's what my dad did when he empowered me, he said, 'I believe in you,'" Hernandez added. "That's what I tried to do with these kids, I said look at my story, I could trade poor stories with the rest of you, and I was able to make it and so can you."

Kate Howell, of the space exploration nonprofit Planetary Society, told ABC News that agencies like NASA sending humans on scientific and exploratory missions is "closest that we're going to get to space travel being for the people."

"If an astronauts sets foot on Mars, for example, that's kind of being done on behalf of all humankind," she said. "It's not just about that individual astronaut's experience, they're there on a mission to learn things, to discover things."

Howell said she thinks it is important to distinguish "space tourism" from "space science and exploration."

While Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are selling tickets for the first space tourists, both companies have expressed interest in assisting space agencies on science missions as well.

"A lot of people lump sort of all things space into the same category, or see this tourism industry as sort of the evolution of humanity's activities in space, but I really see them as separate endeavors," she said. "Space tourism, I think the criticisms that are being levied against that industry are fair, but humanity is still going to continue to explore space in scientific ways that do benefit everybody."

MORE: What to know about Richard Branson's spaceflight, as billionaires race to the cosmos
Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are some of the well-known names in the budding commercial space industry, but a slew of smaller firms are also emerging. In 2020, investors poured almost $9 billion into private space companies, according to a report earlier this year from consulting firm McKinsey.

While Howell says she doesn't see a near future where ordinary people who wants to experience space can easily go due to its cost -- despite the promises of democratizing space from Bezos and Branson -- others are attempting to find a way.

In what is being dubbed "the World’s first sponsored Citizen Astronaut Program," the nonprofit Space for Humanity is inviting all to apply for its "Humanity-1" program.

"What we're working to do is sponsor people from all over the world to go to space, so they can go and see and experience our planet as a planet floating in the universe," Rachel Lyons, the group’s executive, told ABC News.

The initiative foots the bill for the spaceflight ticket, astronaut training, travel and accommodations for those it sends to space.

"When astronauts go to space and they see and experience our planet, they come back down very often transformed human beings -- with a new care for what's happening on our planet," she said, referring to what researchers dub the "Overview Effect."

"Basically, we will be covering people to go and have this overview effect experience so they can come back down and then be like seeds of people around the world to go and share this perspective far and wide, because we believe that this is a perspective that we need to take on collectively in order to solve these challenges that we now face," Lyons said.

Humanity-1 participants will launch when the technology is ready via whatever flight provider that may be, she added, such as buying tickets from Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin.

"Space is not about a specific gender or specific race," Lyons said. "It's important to us to have everyone feel included in it, as everyone feel like a stakeholder in it."

The Planetary Society's Howell added that in the current state of the space tourism industry, where tickets have sold for millions of dollars, "You are going to see the racial disparities of wealth play into that."

"Most people who are going to be able to afford to go on these trips into space for fun, are going to be the people who have benefited from racial privilege," Howell said.

'Whitey on the moon'

Chris Smalls, an activist and former Amazon fulfillment center worker who was fired under contentious circumstances last March, said he was handing out water bottles to his former colleagues at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, when Bezos was taking his trip to space. Smalls has spent the past year protesting pandemic working conditions at Amazon warehouses, and is currently organizing a union drive at the same facility where he used to work.

Smalls said Bezos' thanking Amazon employees and customers for funding his space jaunt was "a slap in the face" to workers.

"We take it as disrespect, and all the money he was donating, giving out, and the fact that I'm outside of his facility in 90-degree weather handing out waters ... we honestly don't even care about it," Smalls said.

Smalls said that he did not even watch the live event, saying, "I'm in the middle of a union drive right now."

"We're focused on our mission, and our mission is to get organized to unionize and protect ourselves," he said.

Smalls, who is Black, called the billionaire space race "whitewashed."

Racial disparities in all aspects of the space sector have persisted since its inception. As the nation rushed to put a man on the moon during the original U.S.-Soviet space race in the '60s, Black Americans were still fighting for equal freedoms back on Earth with the simultaneous eruption of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated just one year before the moon landing.

The 1970 spoken word poem "Whitey on the Moon" by Gil Scott-Heron became a rallying cry criticizing government spending on the space program while basic needs for Black Americans were left unmet. "I can’t pay no doctor bill, but Whitey’s on the Moon," the poem -- which started trending on social media soon after Bezos took flight -- states.

"That's always been an issue, and it's going to continue to be an issue until we fix these root causes," Smalls said of the racial disparities in space.

Smalls says this is why his focus remains on unionizing Amazon, with the goal of providing better wages for all, and addressing the "massive wealth inequality at play" in the commercial space race.

"If we fixed the root causes, instead of everything trickling down you will see a trickle up, and hopefully that will also encourage more African Americans to explore options in space," he said. "We should also have the option to join when we want to."

'Every world leader should take a trip'

Hernandez said he sees the commercial space race as ultimately a positive, bringing high-paying engineering jobs to the U.S. and carrying potential spin-off technological developments could benefit everyone on earth. He also says every dollar spent on space exploration by a private company is "one dollar less the taxpayer pays to NASA to explore space."

"We now have three companies that that can give access to humans into space without being involved with NASA for the first time," Hernandez said. "I think that that is a great achievement."

What he would like to see is more efforts to include diverse backgrounds at the top levels of management in these emerging commercial space firms, and in the cosmos. He called on Bezos, Branson and SpaceX’s Elon Musk to "in each flight, designate one seat to go so that it could fulfill a purpose." This could be as simple as sending artists, poets, regular people who meet the general physical requirements and "more than just geeky engineers" to experience space.

Virgin Galactic states on its website that its mission is to "open space to everybody" and has emphasized that its future astronauts come from "diverse backgrounds" but are united by "a shared passion for the democratization of space travel." Still, its tickets cost some $250,000. Branson has also said he hopes their work encourages and inspires the future generation.

"I really hope that there will be millions of kids all over the world who will be captivated and inspired about the possibility of them going to space one day," he stated.

Blue Origin has launched a charitable foundation, Club for the Future, which distributed $1 million grants to 19 space-based charities from the funds raised through the sale of Blue Origin’s first commercial ticket to space. Club for the Future has the goal of inspiring young people to pursue careers in STEM fields and help invent the future of life in space.

Like many astronauts have reported, Hernandez said seeing the "the sun's rays hit the Earth's atmosphere, clearly delineated from space" scared and awed him -- and made him appreciate the planet with a new urgency.

In addition, the farmworker-turned-astronaut also said that he was hit with an inexplicable awe almost immediately after arriving in space, as he flew over North America and saw the continent out his window.

"What struck me in awe is that you can see Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, but you can't see where Canada ended and the U.S. began, you can't see where the U.S. ended and Mexico began," he said. "I said, 'Wow, borders are human-made concepts designed to separate us and how sad, because from this perspective, we're just one down there.'"

"Now that we have this space tourism industry going, I think it should be a requirement that every world leader take a trip so they can see what I saw," he said. "And I'll guarantee you that our world would be a much better place than it is today."

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(NEW YORK) -- With landfills receiving millions of tons of textile waste each year -- and growing -- the environmental impact of clothing has become the fashion industry's dirty little secret.

Today, more people are paying attention to this worsening issue and have zeroed in on the impact of rental clothing subscription services. These companies, such as Rent the Runway, Nuuly and Le Tote, give people the option to keep their clothes in an ongoing rotation, so they can swap their sweatpants for a pair of borrowed designer trousers. All they have to do is subscribe, select a few of their favorite looks, wear them and then return them later -- some brands even offer an option to buy the pieces.

But while many of these companies have been marketed as a greener way to dress by contributing to a more circular, recycled economy, a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters questions how sustainable the logistical processes behind rental clothing subscription services actually are.

The study found that renting clothes could potentially cause the highest impact to global warming when compared to keeping a piece of clothing for an extended period of time or reselling it, which the study suggested impact the environment the least. The study said that rental services can impact the environment via increased transportation needs, such as shipping and packaging, as well as through the constant cleaning needed to maintain the clothes between each renter.

How does transportation play a part?

The transportation sector -- including cars, trucks, boats, railroad and commercial aircraft -- is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which said it contributed to 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.

Most of the items used through rental companies are delivered through these transportation modes, but as the study suggests, delivery via a bike or another lower carbon-emitting vehicle could help to reduce emissions into the environment.

Some top rental clothing services, such as Rent the Runway, have implemented alternative methods for passing off the clothes, including a network of physical drop-off locations to consolidate inbound shipments from customers while also trying to mitigate the use of high carbon-emitting vehicles.

The company has also partnered with traditional carriers and implemented other non-traditional return methods such as a network of swap stops to consolidate inbound shipments from customers.

Cleaner, greener cleaning methods and practices

When it comes to keeping the clothing fresh, some apparel companies have relied heavily on dry cleaning, while others have found environmentally friendlier practices.

Women's monthly clothing rental subscription company Nuuly says it uses a custom-built cleaning facility along with dry and wet cleaning methods. The company told ABC News that more than 60% of its products are cleaned with non-alkaline and phosphate-free cleaning solutions, which are gentler on the environment when compared to traditional household detergents.

Rent the Runway says it uses similar methods, along with biodegradable detergents that are free from added fragrances and zeolites. The company said it does not use any halogenated cleaning solvents such as perchloroethylene. After cleaning, most pieces pass through a steam tunnel with temperatures between 248 and 302 degrees and are immediately sealed in plastic to protect them from subsequent handling.

Rent the Runway said it encourages customers to keep the plastic out of landfills by sending it back along with their garments. From there, the company said the plastic is recycled through a third-party partner, which in turn uses the plastic for wood-alternative building and decking materials.

Both Nuuly and Rent the Runway also say they make use of recyclable garment bags as opposed to big boxes and packing materials.

"Our goal is to power a new future for fashion, one in which women buy less and wear more, disrupting a centuries-old industry and contributing to a more sustainable future for the industry," Anushka Salinas, president and chief operating officer of Rent the Runway, told GMA. "We are focused on shifting customer behavior, improving our operations and transforming the dynamics of the industry to drive positive change."

The company also said it's making progress in these areas by inspiring a customer base that buys less clothing and keeps clothing in rotation for as long as possible, thereby shifting the focus on the industry from high volumes and low price points -- which are generally found through fast fashion brands -- to quality, durability and utilization.

While these sustainability efforts from rental clothing companies have to be considered in the grander scheme, some experts agree that the bigger issue has to do with overall mass textile production.

The study only looked at cotton-based jeans and not other textiles

While the study examined how extended use, reselling, recycling the textile materials and renting them could potentially be harmful to the environment, it also highlighted limitations in the research and areas of future exploration. Specifically, it noted that the study was only conducted on cotton-based products and that research into clothing made from synthetic fibers might have resulted in different findings.

Some experts also agree that jeans, which were primarily used for this study, are one article of clothing that's rarely rented.

"They're the kind of thing you buy and wear a couple of times a week for at least a year, if not five," Alden Wicker, a journalist and founder of sustainable fashion website EcoCult, told GMA. "Renting is great for items that you would only wear a few times or even just once, like cocktail dresses and evening gowns."

Mass textile production and manufacturing likely hurts the environment more than rental clothing

In 2018, landfills received 11.3 million tons of municipal solid waste textiles, which equates to 7.7% of all municipal solid waste that was landfilled, according to the EPA.

The study published in Environmental Research Letters says that developing "more efficient recycling options" for textiles will not be able to reduce this amount of waste on their own.

"Currently, reduction of the total amount of products in the circuit is the most efficient way to steer the sector toward more sustainable practices," the study said. "Reduce and Reuse strategies are the most practical for achieving such goals."

Timo Rissanen, an associate professor in fashion and textiles at the University of Technology Sydney, told GMA that people urgently need to reduce total fashion production and consumption.

"We are in the early stages of a human-induced planetary catastrophe, and our collective cognitive dissonance in the face of that is alarming," he said. "Rental clothing should not be employed purely to satiate a hunger for novelty and to prop up the current, inherently unsustainable worldview and levels of consumption."

Whether you're looking to try rental clothing services or not, there are eco-concious fashion advocates such as Clare Press, a sustainable fashion influencer and host of the "Wardrobe Crisis podcast," who serve as guides for people looking to dress more sustainably.

"I think rental has an important role to play in making fashion circular by keeping clothes in use for longer while satisfying consumer desire for novelty," Press told GMA. "Do I prefer renting fashion over buying a $10 dress from Shein? Absolutely."

"Resist being told what to do by pop culture, big media and fast fashion," she added. "It's much more interesting and inspiring to make your own style decisions and wear what makes you happy."

Press said that even though she loves new clothes, that doesn't mean she should be buying new pieces every week.

"Maybe what makes you feel best will be re-wearing much-loved clothes you already own," she said. "Quality over quantity, and styling what you already have in new ways."

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(WASHINGTON) -- Just one week after parents across the United States began to receive the first of new monthly child tax credit payments, they are being warned to look out for fraud.

The Internal Revenue Service issued a warning urging parents to be aware of criminals trying to steal their personal and financial information.

"Cyber criminals use every opportunity to try to scam people out of money," the agency said in a statement Wednesday. "With the Advance Payments of the Child Tax Credit going out to eligible taxpayers, the IRS warns folks to be aware that thieves may use these payments as bait."

Specifically, the IRS says parents should be on the lookout for phone calls, emails, text messages and messages on social media asking to verify information in order to receive the child tax credit payments.

Parents are also advised not to take the bait of any pre-recorded, urgent or threatening messages warning about a lawsuit or arrest, or any requests to make a payment using a gift card, wire transfer or crypto currency.

"Remember…the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information," the agency said. "When it comes to phone calls, remember the IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent or threatening messages. For example, if you get a voice mail saying a warrant will be issued for your arrest… this is not the IRS."

In most cases, parents do not need to do anything to receive the monthly payments.

The IRS is using information from people's 2019 or 2020 tax return to automatically enroll them for advance payments.

For people who have not previously filed taxes, the IRS has created a new online tool that allows non-filers to report their information.

There is also help on the IRS website for people who do not have a bank account.

The IRS website also has more information on how to report tax scams.

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(NEW YORK) -- They’re young, successful and making good money. Some call them HENRYs, short for “high earners, not rich yet.”

Usually in their 20s and 30s, these young people make more than $100,000 a year. The median household income in the U.S. is about $70,000 a year, according to 2019 census data.

Although some people might believe HENRYs are living the American dream, experts say that their six-figure salary might not go so far when factoring in student debt, rent and personal spending.

A recent study revealed that 70% of millennials are living paycheck-to-paycheck, a larger share than any other generation. 33% of millennials live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to pay their bills.

In interviews with ABC News, some HENRYs said that while they aren’t at that point yet, they can understand why many others feel that way.

Ben Gaut, 33, works as a technology consultant in Atlanta. He said that being in the group of so-called HENRYs was a “position [he] always wanted to be in.” However, he says the “not rich yet” part was not something he expected would be delayed.

For Gaut, a big part of that delay is due to his six-figure student loan debt.

“I don't want to make any sort of mistake,” he said. “But there's still work to be done to get to those goals that I had built up in my mind of what would happen at that point.”

In New York City, 30-year-old Turner Cowles has a similar story. He works as an investor educator and makes more than $105,000 a year, but student loan debt eats up so much of his income that at times he says he feels like he’s paying a second rent.

“If this is how I'm feeling now… oh my God, what is somebody who makes the poverty line feeling?” Cowles said. “What is somebody who's making 30, 40 [or] 50 grand a year and also living in Brooklyn -- how do they feel?”

The average student loan debt in the U.S. is nearly $40,000 per person, according to EducationData.org.

Priya Malani is the founder of Stash Wealth, a financial planning firm that works exclusively with HENRYs. She says they typically have double that amount in student loan debt.

“The average HENRY comes to us with around $80,000 in student debt,” she said. “They've accumulated additional degrees, they've been in school longer and so they have greater debt.”

Courtnie Nichols, 34, doesn’t have high student loan debt, but even with the $300,000 combined salary she and her husband make annually in Virginia, they feel like they must be careful with their money.

“I own my own business. My husband has a high net worth on his own with his job. So when you look at all the tangibles on paper, it's like, ‘Oh, they've got a lot of money,’” she said. “But, for instance, six years ago, we were hit with a tax bill of almost $10,000. … We had an emergency fund. But now it's like our whole emergency fund is gone, wiped out with one tax bill. So now we're starting over. It's like, as soon as … you take a few steps forward, you take a few steps back.”

The HENRYs who shared their stories with ABC News said they weren’t looking for sympathy and recognize they’re better off when compared to so many struggling Americans. But many said they feel like the benchmark for upward mobility has changed.

"The funny thing is I'm spending more on rent than I would on a mortgage. Because my debt to income ratio is based on my student loan debt, so I'm kind of in this catch-twenty-two of spending more money for a wonderful place to live, but I'm not building any equity, so I'm in this kind of position that seems.. difficult it's difficult to to kind of come to terms with."

The Consumer Price Index, which measures what consumers pay for everyday goods and services and is often looked at as an inflation barometer, jumped 5% over the last 12 months -- the largest increase since August 2008.

Another factor is sky-high living costs. The median price for a home in the U.S. has spiked 23.4% in just one year, and it’s particularly high in cities where many HENRYs live, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The median price for a home in the San Francisco metro area is $1,200,000. In Los Angeles, it’s $682,400; in New York, it’s $514,200; and in Washington D.C., it’s $498,100, according to the National Association of Realtors.

There’s also a desire among high-earners to enjoy some luxuries alongside their hard work, even though not all spending comes from a desire to keep up with others’ success. There are some social elements, like “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out,” culture.

“At 30-something, you would think that in our peer group we are the top of the totem pole. But that is not the case in our circle of friends,” Nichols said. “But we will be like, ‘We have a healthy income, we're building, but we're not quite there.’”

A phenomenon known as “lifestyle creep” happens when people’s lifestyles change as their income increases, and certain luxuries someone used to enjoy turn into their perceived necessities.

“The truth of the matter is that even when you do cut back, there's still this level of almost anxiety,” Cowles said.

Malani said that young people may see friends buying homes or upgrading their cars, for example, but don’t realize that they may be dealing with credit card debt.

“So you just think, ‘Wow, if they can do it, I should be able to do it, too,’ and it becomes this cycle that's very, very difficult to break,” Malani said.

Jennifer Castillo is a 34-year-old lawyer and blogger from Washington, D.C. She calls herself a HENRY, bringing in about $130,000 a year. She said she hasn’t yet felt squeezed financially and that she is looking to redefine some of the more negative connotations associated with HENRYs.

“I'm so happy to sort of embrace the HENRY title because it speaks to the potential to your own particular financial goals, what you want your wealth building legacy to be,” she said.

Although her online persona shows her living the high life, she said there’s a story behind every post. For example, she pointed to a Gucci belt, saying she’d planned to buy it for two years.

“When you look at my Instagram or you look at my blog, it may appear that I sort of subscribe to this ‘buy it, I'll do it all,’ lifestyle,” Castillo said. “But it really is a highlight reel. … Nothing that I buy is on a whim. I'm always, like, planning for my purchases. I always save up for them.”

For Castillo, the upcoming birth of her first child is her financial priority, she says.

“I think the biggest shift in my budget is going to be I'll [have] a lot less money to my fun account,” she said. “I've been looking at costs and daycare is expensive, nannies are expensive. Like, every child care option that I have -- I work full time -- is expensive. So … that's where the sacrifice is going to lie.”

Experts say financial counseling can also make a huge difference. Nichols reached out to Stash Wealth last year. Now, she knows where every dollar goes.

“I know every month how much I can spend on my credit card. Like to the exact penny, I know how much wiggle room we have,” she said.

No matter how they got there, the HENRYs who shared their stories believe that financial freedom is within their reach.

“My favorite part of the acronym is the ‘not rich yet’ part,” Castillo said, “because it speaks to the future potential of someone that's a high earner.”

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(NEW YORK) -- Daimler has announced its brand Mercedes-Benz will go all-electric by 2030, where market conditions allow, and the company will invest over $45 billion between 2022 and 2030 for research and development into battery electric vehicle technology.

“The EV shift is picking up speed - especially in the luxury segment, where Mercedes-Benz belongs. The tipping point is getting closer and we will be ready as markets switch to electric-only by the end of this decade,” said Ola Källenius, CEO of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, in a statement.

The company announced Mercedes-Benz will sell BEVs in all segments they serve by 2022. By 2025, all new cars will be all-electric in markets that have charging technology and customers will be able to purchase an electric version of every model the company makes. 

In markets that cannot sustain a charging network, Mercedes-Benz could still sell internal combustion engines. 

Daimler says they will launch three new Mercedes-Benz electric-vehicle architectures in 2025; the MB.EA, which will cover medium to full-sized passenger cars; the AMG.EA, which will cover performance cars, and the VAN.EA, which will cover vans and light commercial vehicles. 

In addition, the company says it is developing the Vision EQXX, an electric vehicle, that will have a range of over 600 miles, which would be the longest range for an EV. 

The announcement comes a week after the European Union adopted new climate proposals to limit greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. One of the proposals was reducing car emissions by 55% by 2030 and 100% by 2035, meaning all new cars purchased will have to be zero-emission. 

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(WASHINGTON) -- When the pandemic hit Alexandria, Virginia, the economic outlook was bleak.

In April 2020, the city projected a budget shortfall of up to $100 million as businesses shut down and workers lost their jobs, eliminating key revenue from sales, tourism and income taxes.

“Early on it was catastrophic for us,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson told ABC News. “Every week, unfortunately, I was getting a notification from hotels, large restaurants, telling us that they were shedding workers.”

But a year later, those dire budget projections still haven’t become a reality. In fact, the city just passed its spending plan for the first tranche of $30 million in aid it had received from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The proposal includes investments in infrastructure, food assistance and a guaranteed basic income pilot program giving out $500 to about 150 families.

“We're working on a variety of different ways to try to help our residents: food insecurity, housing insecurity [and] other efforts to ensure that they get back on their feet in the aftermath of this,” Wilson said.

It’s a story playing out from coast to coast. Thanks to generous federal relief funds, a rebound in consumer spending and stock market gains, state and local governments that had predicted economic calamity are now finding themselves flush with cash.

“So far, we are seeing that a lot of states [that] talked about how they were going to have to raise all sorts of taxes and cut all sorts of spending, and it didn't happen,” Richard Auxier, a senior policy associate at the Tax Policy Center, told ABC News.

Auxier said that while it’s too soon to say that states are out of the woods, federal support has helped keep them afloat during the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan Act passed in March included $350 billion in direct aid to state, local and tribal governments. A Treasury Department spokesperson told ABC News about $200 billion of that funding has already been paid out.

Unlike the previous two COVID-19 relief laws, there are fewer restrictions on how states can use the money, which must be obligated by 2024 and spent by 2026.

“By the time the third major piece of legislation came around in 2021, there was a big desire to give them that freedom, to have some slack on how they want to spend it,” Auxier said.

President Joe Biden is now urging some cities to use some of the funds toward fighting crime -- for example, by paying overtime to police officers.

The Cherokee Nation is receiving $1.8 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act as well. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told ABC News the funding is going toward $2,000 stimulus checks for every resident, as well as investments in mental health, broadband internet and a new hospital.

“The number one plan was to get relief directly to our citizens,” Hoskin told ABC News.

In the meantime, 13 Republican state attorneys general are suing the Biden administration because they want to use the federal aid to fund tax cuts, which is one of the few restrictions under the current law.

“It's not a matter for the federal government to decide Arkansas's own tax structure,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge told ABC News. “That's where the federal government's overreaching.”

In Maryland, Comptroller Peter Franchot established a working group to determine where the federal money has been going. He said the funding has been a “game-changer” that it helped the state avoid bankruptcy. But he added that it’s clear some of the money isn’t going to the hardest-hit communities that need it the most.

“Some of it will be well spent, [but] a lot of it probably won't be,” Franchot told ABC News. “That's the nature of having a fire hydrant of cash come into the state suddenly.”

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