Tuesday, May 18, 2021

‘Miss Latinaverse’

“I think pageant girls just have a way of faking it until you make it, almost.”

Hannah Brown


By Alex P. Vidal


WHAT transpired in Florida, USA on May 16 was a “Miss Latinaverse” and not a Miss Universe competition, many people who followed the event have suspected.

We were all taken for a ride?

Even the most beautiful and most intelligent woman in the world who’s not a Latina would probably have no chance in that fateful night at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for Hollywood, Florida.

From the panel of judges to the hosts Olivia Culpo and Mario Lopez and the three lady side hosts to the intermission numbers, it was all a Latina or Latino show.

Latina Lives Matter?

To add insult, Florida, the state with 5,809,000 Hispanic and Latino population and is known to be a largely Latino territory in America, had been chosen to be the host.

Thus it probably explained why pre-pageant favorites like Miss South Africa, Miss USA, Miss Canada, Miss Great Britain, Miss Philippines, Miss Croatia, Miss Thailand, Miss Netherlands, Miss Denmark, among other none Hispanic candidates didn’t land in the top five.

Except for Miss India as a “consolation” (to camouflage the sham?) the Hispanics probably made sure the “Miss Latinaverse” crown wouldn’t be snatched away by a none Latina candidate this time ostensibly by sending all four: Miss Mexico, Miss Peru, Miss Brazil, Miss Dominican Republic to the last five finals.




Of course, this is just a suspicion and theory of many people who were not happy with the Q and A portion, which had heavily helped determine the winners.

The questions weren’t Miss Universe quality, to say the least.

They were predictable, answerable in basic and simple sentences with no need for jargon, and easy to decipher.

The topics thrown at the candidates about Covid-19 and the power of women in society could be easily answered in straight King’s English by candidates vying for a Miss Barangay contest in Ilocos Norte, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Leyte, Pampanga, Aklan, and Cotabato who are arguably much better in terms of diction and pronunciation.

The top five finishers could hardly express themselves intelligently and confidently and weren’t impressive with their answers despite the assistance of interpreters.

Imagine if they allowed Miss USA, Miss Great Britain, Miss South Africa, and Miss Philippines to slug it out in the final five with the same questions and pressure.

It could have been possible if they were in the ideal and vintage Miss Universe competition.

We’re sure our Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo would’ve given them real nightmare in the Q and A if she wasn’t toppled in the final 10.

But everything is now water under the bridge. 

Let’s move on and learn from the “Miss Latinaverse” telenovela.




AN email from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dated May 17, 2021 which he also shared to other New Yorkers:

Dear Alex, Last week, the CDC announced new guidance on mask use and social distancing for fully vaccinated individuals, and beginning Wednesday, May 19, New York State will adopt the new guidance. Until more New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, pre-K to 12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings will continue to follow State's existing COVID-19 health guidelines. New Yorkers have worked hard over the past year to keep others safe and that has paid off and we are ecstatic to take this next step in the reopening of our beautiful state. The people of New York and visitors alike should take solace in the lifting of mask requirements, but be respectful of those who may still feel safest wearing their mask in public. Business owners can establish policy within the broad framework as they see best. It's a great milestone and yet another incentive to get vaccinated if you haven't already.

Here's what else you need to know tonight:

1. COVID hospitalizations dropped to 1,581, the lowest since November 9. Of the 101,173 tests reported yesterday, 1,278, or 1.26 percent, were positive. The 7-day average percent positivity was 1.11 percent. There were 387 patients in ICU yesterday, down five from the previous day. Of them, 228 are intubated. Sadly, we lost 11 New Yorkers to the virus. 

2. As of 11am this morning, 61.8 percent of adult New Yorkers have completed at least one vaccine dose. Over the past 24 hours, 70,722 total doses have been administered. To date, New York administered 17,626,145 total doses with 52.2 percent of adult New Yorkers completing their vaccine series. 

3. Three new pop-up vaccination sites will open in collaboration with the MTA. Following a successful pilot, the new pop-up sites will be located at the following stations: 125th Street in Manhattan, Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport in Queens, and the LIRR's Hicksville train station. (See hours here.) If you get vaccinated at one of these stations, you will get a free 7-day MetroCard or commuter rail tickets. Four other pop-up sites (including Grand Central and Penn Station) will continue to operate. 

4. Starting May 22, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets will have fully vaccinated fan sections. This will increase capacity at their 2021 NBA home playoff games at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. Individuals seated in the vaccinated sections will have to show proof of full COVID-19 immunization status, which can be provided through paper form (CDC card), digital application or the State's Excelsior Pass.  

5. The New York City Marathon will return for its 50th running this year on November 7. The NYC Marathon—the world's biggest—will return with 33,000 runners permitted. Registration for the marathon opens June 8. 

6. Radio City Music Hall will open its doors for the first time in over a year to host the Tribeca Festival's Closing Night film on Saturday, June 19. For this event, Radio City Music Hall will operate at 100 percent capacity with a fully vaccinated audience. The Tribeca Film Festival will be the first in-person film festival to take place in North America since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Additional details about the landmark event and screening for closing night will be announced soon.

Tonight's "Deep Breath Moment": A community came together amid beautiful weather to spend the weekend beautifying their city. Over 200 volunteers in Buffalo gathered in the University District to participate in a spring cleanup event. The volunteers from all over the city spent the sunny Saturday weeding, planting flowers, picking up trash and other cleanup-related tasks. Ever Upward, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)







Sunday, May 16, 2021

‘Defeat’ that made all Ilonggos winners

“Winning a pageant or sometimes simply participating in a contest can change your life. Outer beauty is just a part of the judgement, but what's important are your views and opinions that are shown to the world.”

—Lara Dutta


By Alex P. Vidal


THE word “defeat” doesn’t apply to the Miss Universe contest.

All contestants in this global beauty pageant are winners. 

The one who is crowned to wear the title of Miss Universe during the actual competition is chosen by the panel of judges based on combination of luck and performance; all contestants deserve the title except there’s a need to crown only one person to represent the organization in various outreach and ambassadorial programs and activities all-year long.

When Mexico’s Andrea Meza was crowned as the Miss Universe 2021 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on May 16, it didn’t mean she was better than our own bet, Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo, or the rest of the 73 other represenatatives from around the world.

The Filipinos, of course, are heart-broken that Rabiya Mateo didn’t make it in the top 10, but if we translate everything the 24-year-old model and pageant titleholder from Balasan, Iloilo had amassed in her scintillating stint as the Philippines’ representative in the premier global beauty pageant, it’s actually a victory for her and her family and for all the Ilonggos who had rooted for her from start to finish.




By being in the global stage for weeks and having attracted the attention of the powerful and influential world mainstream and social media, Rabiya Mateo became bigger than life from a virtual unknown less than a year ago.

Her name and image had reverberated in the pageant and entertainment world in a stunning fashion and, thus, she became a household celebrity even before she departed in the United States earlier in April. 

By being instant celebrity, her career both in teaching and modeling is expected to transform dramatically and skyrocket—and change her life for the better.

Rabiya Mateo’s perceived weaknesses, including the irrational bashing she regularly received from jealous and immature detractors, became part of her strengths, and she ended up being well-loved and admired by fans and those who believed in her capacity, talent and Cinderella-like journey from obscurity to stardom.

Never before did it occur that Ilonggos, as well as Filipinos in general, who have learned to love Rabiya Mateo in the entire planet were united in one common goal: cheer for her victory in Florida through the different social and mainstream media platforms.

Rabiya Mateo, her ever-supportive family, kasimanwas in the city and province of Iloilo, and kababayans as a whole who didn’t waver in their moral support and otherwise, have every reason to be proud of her after her nerve-wracking and spine-chilling exposure in Florida.

They say having reached the top 21 and having failed to land in the top 10 was a “defeat.”

We say it was a victory disguised in another monogram and circumstance. 

We salute Rabiya Mateo and thank her for making us all proud and standing 10 feet tall.




Email from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dated May 15 which he also shared with other New Yorkers:

Dear Alex, As we near the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, it is imperative that we vaccinate as many people as possible. Our numbers remain on the decline but COVID is still out there, and if we let down our guard, we risk losing all the progress we have made. Our providers are working hard to get more shots into arms, and I urge everyone who still needs to get their shot to do so quickly—for themselves and for everyone they care about and want to protect.

Here's what else you need to know tonight:

1. COVID hospitalizations dropped to 1,767. Of the 203,852 tests reported yesterday, 2,068, or 1.01 percent, were positive—the lowest since October 10. The 7-day average percent positivity was 1.22 percent. There were 415 patients in ICU yesterday, down 18 from the previous day. Of them, 247 are intubated. Sadly, we lost 25 New Yorkers to the virus. 

2. As of 11am this morning, 61.2 percent of adult New Yorkers have completed at least one vaccine dose. Over the past 24 hours, 140,551 total doses have been administered. To date, New York administered 17,306,771 total doses with 51.0 percent of adult New Yorkers completing their vaccine series. See additional data on the State's Vaccine Tracker.

3. The Thunder on the Buffalo Waterfront Air Show will take place at Buffalo's Outer Harbor on June 19 and 20, 2021. The outdoor event, sponsored by the Vein Treatment Center, features a range of military and civilian aerial performers. This year's show will be a ticketed event, with reduced capacity and social distancing measures in place to ensure a safe return of the exciting Western New York tradition. 

4. The New York State Museum, Library, and Archives in Albany will reopen Monday, May 17. The State Education Department's Cultural Education Center reopens to the public on Monday, May 17, with new COVID-19 protocols in place and adjusted hours. Learn more.  

5. See how Excelsior Pass can help you be a part of NY's safe reopening. To help revitalize New York's economy safely, the State launched Excelsior Pass—a free and voluntary platform for businesses and individuals that can be used to easily access secure proof of a recent negative COVID test or vaccination.

Tonight's "Deep Breath Moment": A few weeks ago, we wrote about a peregrine falcon couple nesting on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. We can share the happy update that the falcons' eggs have hatched and the chicks are healthy. You can keep up with the peregrine falcon family on the bridge's Falcon Camera. Ever Upward, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)










Alex P. Vidal Quotes


Alex P. Vidal Quotes


Thursday, May 13, 2021

God’s plans for Rabiya Mateo


“I may or may not win the crown. But one thing is for sure: I’m gonna make you proud.”

Rabiya Mateo, Miss Universe Philippines 2020


By Alex P. Vidal


RABIYA Occe├▒a Mateo, 24, described internationally as “Filipino-Indian model and pageant titleholder”, was relatively unknown before she was crowned as the Miss Universe Philippines 2020.

Now, the Ilongga beauty from Balasan, Iloilo is on top of the world regardless of who will be crowned as the Miss Universe 2020 during the 69th edition of the Miss Universe competition at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on May 16, 2021.

Even if she was not yet the Miss Universe crown holder, she’s already the toast of the pageant world; lucrative modeling and endorsement contracts may be waiting on the horizon. 

And if popularity should be the basis for selecting the next Miss Universe, Mateo was already a runaway winner based on the number of her followers in the social and mainstream media, and the abundant glowing adulation from both her fans and admirers.

Coming from a very humble beginning and a family that had longed for a father figure, Mateo, an underdog both in life and in pageant competitions, vaulted into stardom in the Miss Universe Philippines competition when the world was besieged by the pandemic and people paid little attention to how she amassed the spectacular victory in Baguio City.




God indeed has chosen another underdog in this field to rise to the occasion and make a king-sized difference in a competitive world.

He has big plans for Mateo who will certainly never be the same again after the Miss Universe competition—win or lose.

This reminds us of what Robert Morris had emphasized that the great paradox of living the blessed life is when we give without thought to whether or not we will receive, then we receive.

Truly, nothing feels blessed about being broken. 

“In fact,” Charles Stanley once said, “certain circumstances in life hurt so intensely that we think we will never heal. But blessing can come in the wake of our being broken." 

In the video, uploaded by the Miss Universe Organization on May 13 (May 12 in the US), Mateo was asked about her pageant journey. She admitted that she was never really a favorite and was a dark horse going into the Miss Universe Philippines competition.

“Nobody noticed me. When I won, I received different comments. There were people who did not expect me to do well, who thought I cheated,” quipped Mateo, who will vie for the country’s fifth Miss Universe crown. “That’s why I needed to do well in Miss Universe, I needed to do well in this competition.”

She may or may not win, but Rabiya Mateo has already made many Filipinos proud of her with her beauty and intelligence combined with gracefulness and humility seldom found in any beauty crown holder.

Good luck, Rabiya. 

May the full force of our prayers and moral support give you the coveted Miss Universe 2020 crown.




An email dated May 13, 2021 sent by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo which he also shared to other New Yorkers:

Dear Alex, Late last night, the New York State Clinical Advisory Task Force approved the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12 - 15-year-olds. This approval allowed us to begin administering the vaccine to this newly eligible age group today. Reminder: All New York State vaccination sites are open for walk-in appointments to all eligible individuals. You can also make an appointment online through the Am I Eligible tool or by calling 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). Let's get vaccinated, New York.

Here's what else you need to know tonight:

1. COVID hospitalizations dropped to 1,852. Of the 204,531 tests reported yesterday, 2,216, or 1.08 percent, were positive. The 7-day average percent positivity was 1.25 percent. There were 433 patients in ICU yesterday, down 30 from the previous day. Of them, 258 are intubated. Sadly, we lost 22 New Yorkers to the virus. 

2. As of 11am this morning, 60.9 percent of adult New Yorkers have completed at least one vaccine dose. Over the past 24 hours, 111,885 total doses have been administered. To date, New York administered 17,166,220 total doses with 50.4 percent of adult New Yorkers completing their vaccine series. See additional data on the State's Vaccine Tracker.

3. The moratorium on disconnecting utilities is extended until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted or December 31, 2021. This week, I signed legislation extending a moratorium that prevents utility companies from disconnecting utilities to residential households and small businesses that are struggling with their bills due to pandemic-related hardship. The moratorium is extended for a period of 180 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted or 180 days after December 31, 2021, whichever is earlier. 

4. I signed legislation protecting New Yorkers' COVID stimulus payments from debt collectors. All relief payments to New Yorkers under these federal acts, including stimulus payments, tax refunds, rebates, and tax credits to support individuals and children qualified for or received prior to the effective date, will be protected.

Tonight's "Deep Breath Moment": A 10-year-old boy earned the title of National Chess Master, becoming the 28th youngest person to do so. Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi, a refugee from Nigeria, won the New York state chess championship in 2019 and has continued to hone his skills to win the national title on May 1. Next up in Tani's chess ambitions is to become the world's youngest grandmaster. Ever Upward, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)





Forgotten news

“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

—Lord Northcliffe


By Alex P. Vidal


CALLING some investigative journalists. 

We are increasingly worried that because of the sustained and continuous media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020, all other relevant and head-turning issues in government like graft and corruption, oppression, abuse of power may have been swept under the rug if not totally forgotten.

There must also be a sustained vigilance and equal coverage of the other subject matters with compelling public interests.

News about the pandemic—how the local and national leadership painstakingly handle the campaign to vaccinate the vast majority of the population, what vaccine has arrived and will be used in the country, who are in the priority list, the protocols on wearing of mask and social distancing, etcetera—has occupied almost all the media platforms in the kind of cohesion, alacrity and dispatch never been done in the history of media reportage.

So dense and urgent may have been the reports about the statistics and data of cases and casualties in the pandemic that some watchdog organizations have even lost track of the number of those victims of summary execution in the name of campaign against illegal drugs.

Except for the tumultuous stand-off in the West Philippine Sea between David and Goliath, no other regular stories as earthshaking as the COVID-19 mayhem has cascaded in the enclaves of major media outlets for quite a long time.




While the public was mired on the horror and terror brought by the pandemic and nobody was watching, some cunning and dishonest public officials may have silently emptied the cookie jars and siphoned millions of pesos.

While public attention was heavily on the pandemic, crooks and their minions in government may have laughed their way to the bank.

Before the horrifying pandemic, which has killed more than three million people worldwide as of the latest count came, stories about dishonesty and rapaciousness involving taxpayers’ money were still episodic.  

The role of the media is critical in promoting good governance and controlling corruption, as emphasized by World Bank’s Rick Stapenhurst.

It not only raises public awareness about corruption, its causes, consequences and possible remedies but also investigates and reports incidences of corruption. 

The effectiveness of the media, in turn, depends on access to information and freedom of expression, as well as a professional and ethical cadre of investigative journalists.




An email from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dated May 12, 2021, which he also shared to other New Yorkers:

Dear Alex, The COVID numbers continue to trend in the right direction. For the first time since November 15, COVID hospitalizations have dropped below 2,000. Our statewide positivity rate dropped to 1.10 percent—the lowest since October 17. On top of that, 50 percent of adult New Yorkers have completed their vaccine series. We are hitting critical milestones but we must keep up this progress in our fight against the virus.

Here's what else you need to know tonight:

1. COVID hospitalizations dropped to 1,928. Of the 165,892 tests reported yesterday, 1,830, or 1.10 percent, were positive. The 7-day average percent positivity was 1.28 percent. There were 463 patients in ICU yesterday, down 28 from the previous day. Of them, 270 are intubated. Sadly, we lost 26 New Yorkers to the virus. 

2. As of 11am this morning, 60.7 percent of adult New Yorkers have completed at least one vaccine dose. Over the past 24 hours, 116,093 total doses have been administered. To date, New York administered 17,054,335 total doses with 50.0 percent of adult New Yorkers completing their vaccine series. See additional data on the State's Vaccine Tracker.

3. In anticipation of Memorial Day, beaches and pools will operate with six-foot social distancing. That means more capacity for beachgoers and swimmers as we approach the summer. New York State's goal is to reopen them to 100 percent capacity by July 4.

4. Five new pop-up vaccination sites will open soon at public transit stations in the Buffalo and Niagara areas. The sites will welcome walk-ins on a first-come-first-serve basis and administer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The NFTA will provide a free seven-day transit pass to people who get vaccinated at these sites. More details to come soon. 

5. For the first time in 105 years, fans can watch Major League Baseball in Buffalo. On June 1, the Toronto Blue Jays will play opening day at Sahlen Field (their temporary home) with a fully vaccinated fan section. Approximately 50 percent of the stadium's available seating will be used for fully vaccinated fans (who will be seated normally), with the remainder of seats designated for unvaccinated fans (who will be socially distanced). This model will allow 2,000 additional fans to enjoy games in Buffalo. Sahlen Field will also serve as a free vaccination site for anyone going to the game who wants to get the vaccine.  

Tonight's "Deep Breath Moment": Artist Maya Lin has set up a new art installation in New York City to raise awareness about climate change. This "Ghost Forest" installation in Madison Square Park uses barren Atlantic White Cedar trees from the Pine Barrens to demonstrate how rising sea levels affect our forests. The otherworldly exhibit will be on display until November 14. Ever Upward, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)




Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Beating a tax deadline

 “You don't pay taxes—they take taxes.”

Chris Rock


By Alex P. Vidal


IT’S a big relief that I beat the extended deadline for the filing of my income tax for 2020 despite some pesky “unforeseen circumstances”, which I managed to solve in the eleventh hour with the help of the magnificent TurboTax, a software package for preparation of American income tax returns, produced by Intuit.

Thank you, TurboTax.

In the United States, there’s a saying that it’s better to commit manslaughter than not to pay your income tax. It’s a fundamental duty.

Any tax evader will go to the calaboose if caught by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the revenue service of the United States federal government responsible for collecting taxes and administering the Internal Revenue Code, the main body of federal statutory tax law.

Thus Americans rarely attempted to dodge paying income tax—unless they wanted to spend a jail term.

Since 1950, individual income taxes have been the primary source of revenue for the U.S. federal government. Together with payroll taxes (used to fund social programs like Social Security and Medicare), income taxes amount to roughly 80 percent of all federal revenue, and are the essential fuel on which our government runs.

History’s Sarah Pruitt wrote that the history of income taxes in the United States goes back to the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln signed into law the nation’s first-ever tax on personal income to help pay for the Union war effort. 

After it was repealed a decade later, Congress tried again in 1894, enacting a flat rate federal income tax. 

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional the following year, because it didn’t take into account the population of each state.



Then in 1909, Pruitt explained, Congress passed the 16th Amendment, which allowed the federal government to tax individual personal income regardless of state population. 

The required number of states ratified the amendment in 1913, and Americans have been required to pay federal income taxes ever since.

By law, Pruitt pointed out, any American whose gross income is over $10,000 (or $25,000 for married couples filing jointly) or who earned more than $400 from self-employment must file a federal income tax return. 

There are also a number of other circumstances that might require Americans to file, including selling your home or owing taxes on money you withdrew from your retirement account. 

In Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, residents aren’t required to pay federal income tax if their income is only from sources within Puerto Rico, but they do pay Social Security, Medicare, import, expert and commodity taxes, for a total federal tax bill of more than $3 billion per year, according to the New York Times.

Pruitt wrote that back in 1913, Congress chose March 1 as the official due date for paying taxes, but a few years later they moved it to March 15 (for no apparent reason). 

In 1955, another tax overhaul pushed back the deadline an entire month, to April 15, giving the government more time to hold on to tax dollars before paying any refunds it might owe. In the case that April 15 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, Tax Day becomes the first succeeding business day after that date.

The federal income tax system is designed to be progressive, added Pruitt, which means the more taxable income you make, the higher the tax rate. 

Taxpayers can often reduce the amount of tax they owe by using various tax credits, deductions and exclusions (or loopholes).

Tax rates have varied widely over the years, especially for the nation’s highest earners, ranging from an initial low of around 7 percent in 1913 to a top rate of 91 percent in the early 1960s. 



In 2016, taxpayers in the top tax bracket (income level) paid a tax rate of 39.6 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center; they included some 860,000, or 0.5 percent of the total number of U.S. households. 

Nearly 80 percent of U.S. households were in the 15 percent bracket or lower, including those Americans with no taxable income and those who don’t file tax returns.

Because the United States has a marginal tax rate system, Pruitt explained that not all of an individual’s income may be taxed at the same rate. 

When we earn enough income to put us into a higher tax bracket, only the extra income in that bracket is taxed at the higher rate, not all of our income. 

For individuals in the highest tax bracket, their first dollars of income are taxed in the lowest bracket, and they go up from there, explained Pruitt.

Most Americans pay their taxes as they go through the year, rather than in one lump sum on Tax Day. Employees often have their income tax deducted from each paycheck and sent directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), while self-employed workers are required to pay estimated taxes quarterly. At the end of the year, if you’ve paid more than what you owe, the federal government will issue you a tax refund. The IRS typically sends out refunds within 21 days of receiving tax returns, but in some cases it can take as long as eight weeks, Pruitt stressed.

In late 2018, then President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which represented the most significant change to the tax code in more than 30 years. 

The bill lowered tax rates in five out of the seven tax brackets, starting in 2018 and going through 2025. 

While it increased the standard deduction for both individuals and married couples filing jointly, the new law eliminated the personal exemption, which every individual had been entitled to claim on their tax return (provided they weren’t someone else’s dependent).

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)

Monday, May 10, 2021

A letter from President Biden

“Letters had always defeated distance, but with the coming of e-mail, time seemed to be vanquished as well.”

—Thomas Mallon


By Alex P. Vidal


I WAS a little bit worried when I recently received a letter from the Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service in Austin, Texas.

I thought it had something to do with my “late” federal income tax filing, which I earlier learned was extended from April 15, 2021 to May 17, 2021.

When I opened the letter, it contained my name and address below the letterhead that read: “THE WHITE HOUSE Washington Notice Date: April 29, 2021 Notice Number: 1444-C (en-sp).”

Read part of the letter signed by President Joseph R. Biden Jr.: “My fellow American, On March 11, 2021, I signed into law the American Rescue Plan, a law that will help vaccinate America and deliver immediate economic relief to hundreds of Americans, including you.

“A key part of the American Rescue Plan is direct payment of $1,400 per person for most American households. With the $600 direct payment from December, this brings the total relief payment up to $2,000. This fulfills a promise I made to you, and will help get millions of Americans through this crisis.”

Americans who got a stimulus check from the federal government during the third round of direct payments this spring can also expect a letter from President Joe Biden.

The IRS said about 78 million of Mr. Biden's letters had been mailed as of April 30 and the mailings would continue as it processed more of the stimulus payments. 

Mr. Biden informed the recipient how much he or she was eligible to receive under the new law. 

The letter, written in English and Spanish, also included a phone number and IRS website address, where eligible recipients can track the status of their check.




The one-page letter has started arriving in the mailboxes of recipients, and mailed by the Internal Revenue Service but written on White House stationery and includes Mr. Biden’s signature at the bottom.

It is similar to a letter that former President Donald Trump sent out last year, prompting accusations that he was politicizing the IRS, according to USA Today.

Addressed to “My fellow American,” the letter touted Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that provided emergency assistance to eligible Americans, including direct payments of up to $1,400.

“When I took office, I promised the American people that help was on the way,” Biden wrote. “The American Rescue Plan makes good on that promise.”

The IRS said in a statement that the letter was required under the American Rescue Plan, but it later issued an updated statement that deleted that sentence, reported the USA Today.




The agency said the original statement contained “a technical error.” The law directs the Treasury Department to notify those who are eligible for a stimulus check but doesn't explicitly state who should send that notice.

A government watchdog group that slammed Mr. Trump for sending out his letter after the first round of stimulus payments said Mr.  Biden’s letter also was a bad idea.

"While what we see here from President Biden is not as bad as what we saw from President Trump—namely insisting the checks feature his signature, potentially delaying them at the worst possible time – that doesn't make it good,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Mr.  Trump started “a troubling trend of using taxpayer resources to send self-serving letters to the public,” Libowitz said. “Biden would be smart to put this practice out to pasture along with a lot of the behavior from his predecessor.”

About 163 million stimulus checks totaling about $384 billion have been distributed to those who are eligible for the money since Mr. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law in March. 

Most of the money was distributed via direct deposit, but about 850,000 people received a paper check because the IRS reportedly didn’t have direct deposit information for them.




I received another latter dated May 10, 2021 from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo which he also regularly sent to other New Yorkers:

Dear Alex, As the progress in the fight against COVID continues, we are taking new action to bring the vaccine directly to New Yorkers. From May 12 through May 16, eight new pop-up vaccination sites will open at MTA stations in the New York City, Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions. Getting a shot at these pop-up sites also comes with a perk: You will get a free seven-day MetroCard or a free round-trip Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North ticket. The more New Yorkers are vaccinated, the safer our state is for everyone, and we'll continue to pursue all avenues to encourage people to get vaccinated. So stop by an MTA pop-up site, roll up your sleeve and let's get vaccinated, New York.

Here's what else you need to know tonight:

1. COVID hospitalizations dropped to 2,016. Of the 110,541 tests reported yesterday, 1,580, or 1.43 percent, were positive. The 7-day average percent positivity was 1.40 percent. There were 493 patients in ICU yesterday, down 18 from the previous day. Of them, 301 are intubated. Sadly, we lost 27 New Yorkers to the virus. 

2. As of 11am this morning, 60.2 percent of adult New Yorkers have completed at least one vaccine dose. Over the past 24 hours, 112,510 total doses have been administered. To date, New York administered 16,826,409 total doses with 48.9 percent of adult New Yorkers completing their vaccine series. See additional data on the State's Vaccine Tracker.

3. Nassau Coliseum will have a fully vaccinated fan section for the New York Islanders playoff games which are anticipated to start on May 19. To end the Islanders' last season at the Coliseum, 50 percent of the Coliseum will be used as a fully vaccinated fan section with attendees spaced approximately 3 feet apart—an unoccupied seat between each party—in assigned, seated sections that are designated solely for fully vaccinated individuals. Playoff tickets go on sale tomorrow, May 11. 

4. All SUNY and CUNY schools will require vaccinations for all in-person students beginning Fall 2021. This requirement is subject to the FDA providing a full approval for the vaccine, beyond the current emergency use authorization. Certain medical and religious exemptions will be permitted. I encourage all private colleges & universities to require vaccinations as well.

Tonight's "Deep Breath Moment": This Mother's Day weekend, foster care parents in New York City were honored for their care and service. May is also National Foster Care Month and the Children's Village, a charitable organization, awarded five foster care parents awards for their contributions towards the children they fostered. Sharon Johnson received the "Longest Service Foster Parent" award; she has been caring for foster children for more than 35 years. Ever Upward, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)