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Fighting fire with fire by building border wall out of hemp?

(POLITICS) Is there any irony in hemp being one of the most industrial plants? No on would think so except when it could be used to stop marijuana in “The Wall”.

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Show of hands, how many of you believe people eating tide pods was this year? Seems at least five years ago, right? That’s because 2019 was a humdinger when it comes to the pace of the news cycle. And due to that, you might have missed this little tidbit about The Wall, Steve Bannon and hemp, of all things.

After President Trump legalized hemp almost a year ago, this plant started sprouting up in farms across the country. According to Quartz, hemp experienced a planting surge of 368 percent in 2019 as compared to 2018 planting data. Of course, you can chalk that up to the explosion of the CBD industry. But there are other industrial uses for this hearty plant. Enter hempcrete and The Wall.

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly enamored with hempcrete, a concrete compound made with 40 percent hemp byproducts. Bannon is on record telling Vice News that “I’m obsessed with the hempcrete. I think this plant has got tremendous entrepreneurial aspects to it, and it’s innovative.”

There’s more evidence to suggest Bannon considered hempcrete for The Wall. After Bannon raised millions of dollars to build his own private border wall in May, he told Politico reporters that, “Do you understand the irony of using hempcrete to keep out marijuana?” That got us wondering: could there be a hempcrete border wall? Some analysts say that it could be possible, in theory.

“One million acres of hemp builds Trump’s wall and $700 million buys the hemp, a pittance compared to overall construction estimates ranging from $15 billion to $70 billion,” wrote Chris Bennett in reporting for Ag Web Farm Journal.

$700 million would be a huge boon for cannabusiness — that is if supply could keep up with demand. US Farmers have only grown a little under 130,000 acres of hemp this year. For a hempcrete wall to be even slightly feasible, farmers would have to massively step up supply OR import the crop from overseas. That doesn’t gel well with Trump and Bannon’s trade agenda, does it? Plus, the price point, while much better than non-hempcrete construction estimates, is still much more than the 22 million managed to raise during Bannon’s GoFundMe effort this year.

Looks like without funding assistance from the feds and an incentive for farmers to grow more hemp, hempcrete border wall is just another pipe dream.

Alexandra Bohannon has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Oklahoma with a concentration in public policy. She is currently based in Oklahoma City, working as a freelance filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. Alexandra loves playing Dungeons and Dragons and is a diehard Trekkie.

Politics

Evictions are mounting, affecting renters and landlords

(POLITICS) Eviction moratoriums both ending and extending are causing ripple effects of economic trouble for renters and landlords.

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The United States continues to struggle to find a balance between public health protections to slow the spread of coronavirus and economic measures to prevent Americans from bankruptcy as a result.

While eviction bans initially provided relief for renters who lost jobs and couldn’t afford rent payments, the effects bounced up to property owners who lost those payments. Though the first coronavirus stimulus package renter protections extended to landlords, property owners say banks are still expecting mortgage payments as the relief expires. Many worry the expiration of the additional $600 added to unemployment will exacerbate the problem.

In Texas, the statewide eviction moratorium ended in May. Unlike other major cities which chose to use funds from the federal coronavirus stimulus package to pay for legal representation for tenants, Houston let local protections for tenants expire with the moratorium.

In Houston, there is little recourse for tenants served with an eviction notice. Tenants only have five days to appeal, and there is no legal defense for a tenant who can’t pay at least one month’s rent to the court registry. As a result, tenants facing eviction often surrender and leave. Unfortunately, the result is tenants moving in temporarily with friends and family while they look for new housing, causing overcrowding and presenting a health risk to everyone involved. The CDC has specifically named “poverty and crowding” as a top risk factor for COVID-19.

However, not all evictions are the result of unpaid rent. Marie Baptiste, a landlord in Randolph, Massachusetts reported to the Boston Globe that she has lost recourse against a tenant who not only stopped paying rent long before the pandemic started, but caused water damage and a rat infestation. The tenant argues the structural problems were her reason for withholding rent.

Consequently, Baptiste says she is now $19,000 in the hole for this property, and can do nothing about it. In July, Governor Charlie Baker extended the eviction moratorium to mid-October. In a survey conducted by MassLandlords, one-fifth of landlords are uncertain how they will keep up with mortgage payments. Many fear they will be forced to sell or face foreclosure without relief.

Without protections for both tenants and individual property owners, the eviction moratoriums could have long-term consequences for housing in large cities. Urban centers, already struggling with rent inflation and lack of affordable units as large developers take over, could see this problem exacerbated for years to come. It is imperative that the next stimulus package consider how relief for both renters and property owners can be leveraged to prevent these challenges.

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Politics

COVID-19: NAR’s fight for independent contractor relief

(POLITICS) Economic relief is on its way for the self-employed and independent contractors like Realtors, with NAR pushing politicians to pay attention.

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Earlier this week the U.S. Senate passed an unprecedented $2 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package. The bill is now in the U.S. House and is expect to be signed by the President without any issues.

Self-employed and independent contractors have been anxious about the bill since talks began. It would not be the first time theses types of workers were left out of key economic legislation. As the majority of the nation’s realtors are self-employed or commission-based, they have been hit hard by the economic effects of COVID-19.

Just last week home buyer disinterest tripled; few are looking to buy a home right now and social distancing restrictions have made it difficult to attract new clients or show property.

Realtors want to do their part to stop the spread of the virus, but just like everyone else, they need support during this difficult time.

During the last several weeks, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has been in constant discussion with lawmakers to ensure that these groups are taken into account for the economic relief package.

NAR Senior VP of Government Affairs, Shannon McGahn stated, “We have worked closely with Congressional leaders and the administration during the past several weeks to ensure all three bills bring relief to the self-employed, independent contractors, and small businesses. The real estate industry is responsible for millions of jobs and is key to our national recovery.”

The economic relief package includes $350 billion for the Small Business Administration 7(a) loan program. Under the terms, eligible small businesses, which in this case are those that have 500 employees or fewer, can receive up to $10 million toward mortgage interest, rents, utilities, and payroll costs. A portion of these loans will be forgivable.

In addition to relief through the loan program, self-employed and independent contractors will be able to take advantage of unemployment insurance benefits. This program could cover benefits for up to 39 weeks, a huge relief as many find themselves and their businesses suddenly devoid of cashflow.

This is the third relief package to be signed into law, with a fourth expected to be signed in the coming months. These are stressful COVID-19 times and no bill will ever be perfect, but some relief is on its way. 
 

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Politics

COVID-19: Senate passes the relief bill, now it’s in the House’s hands

(POLITICS) Many people heard that the Senate passed a relief bill, but don’t quite understand that it’s not a done deal. Now the House gets to add their input.

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The House can’t seem to agree on the COVID-19 relief bill. Yesterday, the Senate and the White House came to an agreement on a $2 trillion economic stimulus package. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has publicly stated that the House will be reviewing the bill, but there is no commitment as to whether the bill will pass or not. The Hill reported that some House Democrats are concerned that they have not provided any input.

What’s in the measure?

According to CBS News, the actual text of the measure hasn’t been released, but they did get information from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about some of the contents:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits to boost the maximum benefit and to give laid-off workers full pay for four months
  • Direct payments to individuals making less than $99,000
  • $130 billion for hospitals
  • $367 billion in loans for small business
  • $150 billion for state and local governments
  • $500 billion for large businesses
  • Creates an oversight board to govern large loans
  • Prohibitions to prevent President Trump and family from getting federal relief

Will the measure pass?

Pelosi has said that this relief bill is a big improvement over the Republican’s first proposal. It seems as if she is working hard to move the measure through the House, but given the current state of politics, it’s hard to believe that anything will be done without some debate. 

Many Democrats have pushed for a food stamp increase, which is not in the current measure. However, the Democrats did win on the oversight board that protects the employees of the companies who are getting loans. Money for states was another Democrat victory in the current measure.

If the bill can pass the House unanimously, lawmakers won’t have to vote on the floor.

If the House can’t agree, the House will need to reconvene and amend the Senate measure or pass their own measure.

Under the COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine issues, it might be difficult to get anything done quickly. The urgency is real, but so is the responsibility. Representatives want the money to do what Congress intends, not for CEO compensation or stock buyouts.

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