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Ten nuggets on the bipartisan budget deal

Now that the U.S. Senate has given final Congressional approval to a bipartisan budget deal, that solves everything on the budget, right? Sorry, Virginia, in this case, there isn't a legislative Santa Claus, as lawmakers will still have to do some work after the New Year to follow through on this agreement and keep the government running in mid-January.

Here are ten things that maybe you didn't know about the budget deal:

1. This deal does not prevent a government shutdown

I don't care how many times you have heard a member of Congress say it in the last week - this agreement does not prevent a government shutdown.   What it does do is lay the groundwork for that job, as this budget agreement has two basic parts - it sets out spending levels as part of the budget framework for what's known as the "budget resolution," and also includes changes to mandatory spending, which would save $85 billion over ten years.  

What it means is that when Congress reconvenes the week of January 6, the House and Senate will still need to approve a spending bill that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year (through the end of September) - or for a shorter time frame while an Omnibus spending plan is fashioned by the House and Senate Appropriations committees, using the budget framework of the budget resolution approved by the Congress in this deal - that allows for $1.012 trillion in discretionary spending in Fiscal Year 2014 and $1.014 trillion in Fiscal Year 2015.

While many of us will take time off over Christmas, committee staffers will be working out the specific details of the appropriations bills. So, while the chances of a shutdown seem very remote, there is still work to do in the halls of Congress on the actual budget bills in the New Year.   The deadline for action is January 15, 2014.

2. This deal does not get rid of sequestration

Yes, this bill would restore $62 billion in sequester cuts in 2014 and 2015 - but it leaves in place sequestration cuts and reductions as envisioned by the 2011 Budget Control Act in future years. Democrats had wanted to wipe away the entire sequester by enacting new tax increases, but that went nowhere in this bipartisan deal.

As for the yearly budget caps, the only changes made by this budget deal are in 2014 and 2015 - otherwise, the post-sequester caps are all the same. If you want to imagine a world without the sequester from 2016-2021, then add about $90-$100 billion more to the discretionary budget figures below:

2014 - $1.012 trillion
2015 - $1.014 trillion (+$2 billion)
2016 - $1.016 trillion (+$2 billion)
2017 - $1.040 trillion (+$24 billion)
2018 - $1.065 trillion (+$25 billion)
2019 - $1.092 trillion (+$27 billion)
2020 - $1.120 trillion (+$28 billion)
2021 - $1.146 trillion (+$26 billion)

3. The Pentagon will avoid another $20 billion in cuts

Because this deal restructures part of the sequester, the military will not be hit with the next scheduled round of automatic cuts, which would have totaled around $20 billion on January 15, 2014.

Instead of a budget cap of $498 billion in 2014, the Pentagon would get just over $520 billion in new budget authority; That ticks up slightly to $521 billion for 2015. It is basically a budget freeze for the Pentagon instead of an actual cut because of the sequester cuts.

4. This deal does not do anything on the debt limit

Even before the final vote in the Senate, Republicans in Congress have been making noise about a larger political battle over the debt limit. Officially, the debt limit extension approved by Congress earlier this year would extend it until February 7 - but the showdown may well go past that deadline.

So far, the budget deficit is running 22% below where it was a year ago, and if the Treasury Department can squeeze out some accounting maneuvers in the spring, the big influx of tax payments for the April 15 IRS deadline could well delay the need for a big legislative fight on the debt limit until the summer.

GOP lawmakers say they want to attach budget-cutting conditions to any debt ceiling increase; the White House again made clear on Wednesday that the President will not negotiate on that point.

5. A military retirement pay provision may be changed

Hours before the final vote in the Senate on the budget deal, key lawmakers in both parties made clear that they will push to make certain changes in a controversial provision that would limit the yearly cost of living increases for military retirement pay.

"Making decisions regarding future spending cuts will be difficult and painful, but the solution should require contributions from all Americans, not just our service members who have sacrificed so much," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).

"We can fix this," said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR).

There is no need to rush any fix, as the military retirement pay provision does not go into effect until late in 2015. Lawmakers would have to replace the $6 billion in savings under the plan, which is similar to proposals made by both parties to hold down the rate of yearly increase in Social Security and other government benefits.

While some like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said they found the move "objectionable," McCain also acknowledged that military retirement reforms must be considered if one is serious about making major changes in how the government spends money.   Just look back at the Simpson-Bowles report, which called the total elimination of the yearly COLA for military retirement pay - then at age 62, retired servicemembers would get a one-time "catch up" adjustment in their retirement pay.

6. New federal workers also face retirement changes

Several listeners asked me why lawmakers focused on military retirement pay in this budget agreement, and not on the pensions of federal workers. My answer is simple - this budget deal does include provisions that limit civil service pensions, which would also save $6 billion (like the military retirement pay provision).

Under the plan, federal workers hired after January 1, 2014 would have to contribute a larger percentage of their pay for future pension benefits. Unlike the provision on military retirement pay, which does not take effect until late 2015, these changes begin immediately in the New Year.

Federal worker unions had tried to force changes in the plan, but it was obvious in the past few days that military retirees have much more clout in the Congress than the unions representing the federal civil service.

7. Companies with pensions face a bigger bill with Uncle Sam

Under the budget deal, companies that offer traditional pension plans will face another increase in pension insurance premiums for a second time in two years, bringing in $8 billion under this agreement.

The money goes to what's known as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a little-known government agency that steps in to cover pension payments for retirees when a company goes bankrupt.

The budget deal would force private sector companies that offer pensions to pay the feds $57 per covered worker in 2015, going up to $64 in 2016. Congress imposed higher fees last year that brought in $9 billion.

8. Why is the "Death Master File" in this budget deal?

Yes, there is a provision in this bill that deals with what is known as the Death Master File, which would help save $269 million over ten years.

This has to do with identity theft, as the Social Security Administration maintains a master list of Americans who have died. Some lawmakers argue that it is wrongly used by criminals, who gather information on people who have recently died, and then use it to steal their identities. This bill would restrict access to that death list.

"Last year, the IRS issued $3.6 billion in potentially fraudulent tax refunds, and criminals are still able to use the identities of deceased Americans to steal millions of dollars each year," wrote Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) in a letter last month.

9. Budget deal means more oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

It hasn't received much attention, but the budget deal does have provisions that give the green light to a 2012 agreement between the United States and Mexico, which will allow for the development of oil and gas resources which are located near the international sea borders of the two countries in the Gulf of Mexico.

The move certainly won't mean an immediate increase in drilling, but it will lay the groundwork for future joint ventures in the Gulf of Mexico, which is currently producing 17% of energy resources in the United States.

10. The deal could mean higher airline ticket prices

Whether you call it an "airline ticket tax" or an "aviation security fee" - commercial airline passengers will be paying more under this budget deal.

The security fee - instituted in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks - is currently at $2.50 for a non-stop flight; it is $5 for flights with multiple stops.

The new fee has no limit - in other words, there is no $5 cap for a multiple stop flight itinerary. Instead, the new fee/tax is $5.60 per flight segment.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that will bring in $12.6 billion over ten years. The airlines collect the money and then send it in to the Transportation Department, where it is put to use for airport security measures.

Read More

News

  • One man is glad to be alive after he thought he was going to die when his car went into a retention pond Thursday morning.  >> Read more trending news The incident happened around 10 a.m. when the man lost control of his vehicle in the area of State Road 417 and Narcoossee Road near Lake Nona, Florida.  The driver, Alex Morales, said that when he realized he was out of control at about 75 mph, he tried to overcorrect and ended up going into the water.  Officials said a road ranger noticed the car in the pond while on patrol. He then jumped into the pond and broke a window with a tool to save Morales. Both Morales and the ranger are said to be doing fine.  The Orlando Fire Department said it will likely recognize the rescuer for his actions once more information becomes known. 
  • An Arizona woman is suspected of driving drunk on the rims of her tires with two young children in the car, police said. >> Read more trending news  Ashley May Marquee Campbell, 24, was arrested Sunday evening and charged with extreme DUI and two counts of child abuse, KNXV-TV reported. El Mirage police saw a car driving with front and back tires so deflated that the car was driving on its rims, the news station reported. An officer pulled the car over and allegedly found that Campbell was driving with two children in the car. The 2-year-old child was restrained properly, but the 3-month old baby was not, police said. Campbell’s blood-alcohol content level was .154, police said. The legal limit in Arizona is .08.
  • A species of giant tortoise last seen more than 100 years ago and thought to be extinct was spotted on a Galapagos island Sunday, according to the government of Ecuador. >> Read more trending news  The Fernandina giant tortoise was found for the first time since 1906 by an expedition of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, and researchers believe there may be more of the tortoises alive on Fernandina Island. 'This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other turtles, which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species,' the director of the Galapagos National Park, Danny Rueda, said in a press release. Scientists transported the adult female, thought to be around 100 years old, back to the Giant Turtle Breeding Center in Santa Cruz for genetic testing to verify that she is, in fact, one of the Fernandina Island species of giant tortoise. >> Trending: 6 signs of climate change and why it’s already here Fernandina is the third-largest island in the Galapagos archipelago, and its volcano, La Cumbre, is one of the world’s most active.  
  • A judge on Thursday set bail for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett at $100,000 after he was arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of lying to authorities when he reported last month that he had been assaulted early on Jan. 29 by a pair of men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him. >> Read more trending news At a news conference Thursday, police said Smollett sent himself a threatening letter and later paid two brothers to attack him in an effort to further his career. “This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary,” Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. Update 5 p.m. EST Feb. 21: “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been released from jail after posting bond. Smollett walked out of the Cook County jail in Chicago about two hours after a hearing in which the judge set his bond at $100,000. The actor walked out in a group of people and to a waiting SUV. He didn’t speak to the large media contingent waiting outside. Update 3:50 p.m. EST Feb. 21: In a bond proffer read in court Thursday, authorities laid out the investigation into Smollett’s allegation that he was attacked by a pair of men on Jan. 29, a report police have since determined to be false. In the proffer, which was also read at a news conference with Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier, authorities said Smollett went so far as to point out cameras that he believed would capture the assault to the brothers he hired to fake the attack. Police said the camera was pointed another way during the incident. Update 3:05 p.m. EST Feb. 21: A judge ordered Smollett be held on $100,000 bond at a hearing Thursday, according to WBBM-TV. Smollett was also ordered to give up his passport and to undergo pre-trial monitoring, the news station reported. Update 12 p.m. EST Feb. 21: In a statement released to WBBM-TV, officials with 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said they were “evaluating the situation” after Smollett was arrested early Thursday and accused of faking an attack against himself to boost his career. “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process,” the statement said. Smollett is expected to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. local time (2:30 p.m. EST) Thursday. Update 11:15 a.m. EST Feb. 21: President Donald Trump responded on Twitter Thursday morning to reports that police had arrested Smollett on suspicion of filing a false police report. “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?” the president wrote. Smollett told police he was attacked early on Jan. 29 by a pair of white men who yelled that he was in “MAGA country” -- an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make American Great Again” -- and that they hit him in the face, poured an “unknown substance” on him and wrapped a rope around his neck, The Associated Press reported. Police arrested Smollett early Thursday on a charge of disorderly conduct after officers said they uncovered evidence he orchestrated the attack to boost his career. Update 11:05 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Police said Thursday that a pair of brothers who were arrested and later released in connection to the Jan. 29 incident confessed to authorities that they had been paid by Smollett to fake an attack on him. “They punched him a little bit, but as far as we can tell, the scratches and bruises that he had on his  face were self-inflicted,” police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference. According to officials, Smollett paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the attack, with another $500 promised later. Johnson said officers had by Thursday obtained a copy of the check Smollett paid to the men. “One of the brothers worked on ‘Empire,’ so they had a relationship, an association,” Johnson said. “He probably knew that he needed somebody with bulk. ... (The brothers) did it because of the financial aspect of it.” Police said the brothers confessed to their roles in the attack in the 47th hour of their 48-hour holds after police arrested them last week. On Thursday, officers called them “victims,” and not offenders in the attack. Johnson said the brothers are cooperating witnesses and that, “Mr. Smollett is the one who orchestrated this crime.” “I think the fact that this was staged and that Jussie hired these two guys to stage this ... put them in a really tough party as well, to the point where now they were arrested for a hate crime,” Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said Thursday. “Only because of just the incredible work by the entire team did we get to the point where we were able to get the truth from them.” Update 10:20 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Police said Thursday that Smollett sent himself a threatening, homophobic letter in the days before he reported he was attacked by a pair of assailants in downtown Chicago. “This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary,” Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. “Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism” to boost his career, Johnson said. “We do not, nor will we ever tolerate hate in this city.” Update 9:55 a.m. EST Feb. 21: WBBM-TV obtained Smollett’s booking photo after he was arrested Thursday morning on a charge of disorderly conduct in falsifying a police report. Police are expected to provide more information in the case at a news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. local time (10 a.m. EST) Thursday. Update 6:42 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Smollett has turned himself in to Chicago police on a charge of felony disorderly conduct in falsifying a police report, The Associated Press is reporting. Update 8:50 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Smollett’s Chicago attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, released a statement following the indictment: “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.” Update 7:44 p.m. EST Feb. 20: The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Jussie Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report on Jan.29. The charge is a Class 4 felony that carries a possible prison sentence of 1-3 years, but he could also receive probation. The bond hearing has been set for 1:30pm Thursday according to WLS-TV. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that detectives will make contact with his attorneys and negotiate a surrender for his arrest. Update 5:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20:  “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is now considered a suspect and detectives are presenting case to grand jury according to the Chief Communications Officer for Chicago Police Department. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted the news on Wednesday after Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and detectives. Update 4:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20: A police official said lawyers for Jussie Smollett are meeting with prosecutors and police investigators about the reported attack on the “Empire” actor.  Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Associated Press the meeting was taking place Wednesday afternoon. He declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for Smollett’s phone and bank records. Update 2:20 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Officials with 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment on Wednesday denied reports Smollett was being written out of “Empire” in a statement released to WBBM-TV. “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the statement said. The comment followed reports that Smollett's role on the show was being slashed amid investigations into the actor's report that he was attacked in Chicago last month. Authorities continue to investigate. Update 9:30 a.m. EST Feb. 20: Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself Monday from the investigation into the reported attack against Smollett, according to WMAQ-TV. In a statement emailed to the station, a spokesperson for Foxx’s office said First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats would instead serve as acting state’s attorney in the case. “Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” the statement said, according to WMAQ-TV. No further information was provided on the reason behind for the recusal. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday that authorities determined a tip they were investigating about a possible sighting of Smollett and the brothers who were previously suspected in the attack were unfounded. “It was not supported by video evidence obtained by detectives,” Guglielmi said. Original report: Authorities are investigating a tip that Smollett was seen in an elevator in his apartment building with two men who have since been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack in downtown Chicago, and were subsequently released without charges, police told The Associated Press. The men, who were identified by attorney Gloria Schmidt as brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, were released without charges Friday after police said new evidence surfaced in the case, according to CNN and police.  >> 'I will only stand for love': 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett performs in California after attack Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Associated Press a person who lives in the building or who was visiting someone there reported seeing the Osundairo brothers with Smollett on the night he was attacked. Guglielmi told the AP that as of Tuesday, officers had yet to confirm the account. Smollett told officers he was attacked around 2 a.m. Jan. 29, as he was walking downtown near the Chicago River. He said two men yelled that he was in “MAGA country” -- an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make American Great Again” -- and that they hit him in the face, poured an “unknown substance” on him and wrapped a rope around his neck, The Associated Press reported. >> Jussie Smollett's attorneys say he will not meet with investigators, despite reports Guglielmi told the AP that Smollett still had a rope around his neck when officers first made contact with him after the alleged attack. Last week, police announced that the 'investigation had shifted' following interviews with the brothers and their release from custody without charges. Police have requested another interview with Smollett. They have declined to comment on reports that the attack was a hoax, a claim Smollett’s attorneys have denied. 'Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,' Smollett’s attorneys said in a statement late Saturday. Authorities continue to investigate. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • This story has been updated. A previous version of this story cited Colorado State University’s Prion Research Center as finding a primate link, but their research did not touch on macaque monkeys. We have included a separate study from prion researchers with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to address this association. Deer across North America are dying from a mysterious disease that gradually destroys the animal’s nervous system. » RELATED: Killer herpes from Florida monkeys could pass to humans, scientists warn And scientists are concerned that the infection could make its way to humans.  Chronic wasting disease — or “zombie deer disease” — was first observed in 1967 in Fort Collins, Colorado, and has since infected wild herds in 24 U.S. states and Canada, as well as in South Korea and Norway, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of January 2019, 251 counties in 24 states reported CWD in free-ranging deer and elk (or cervids). The following states have reported the disease: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. A whopping 42 counties in Nebraska reported CWD as of Feb. 19. “CWD passes from animal to animal through prions, misfolded proteins that cause other proteins to misfold around them,” NPR previously reported. “Different prion diseases tend to only harm certain species, but can evolve to overcome those limitations.” In some herds, as many as half of the animals carry prions. But direct contact isn’t the only way prions are transmitted.  According to the New York Times, sick animals and cadavers can spread prions through plants and soil, which could be coated with deformed proteins for years, perhaps even decades. » RELATED: Here’s why monkeys have been sexually interacting with deer, study says An animal infected with the disease can live two years before signs of symptoms, such as a vacant stare, thick saliva, exposed ribs, or drooping heads, become visible. There have been no reported human illnesses due to the disease, and scientists don’t have conclusive evidence that infected meat has ever harmed people, suggesting a “species barrier” between humans and deer. But wildlife authorities in Colorado and Pennsylvania are pushing for hunting regulations to fight the spread of the disease among their local deer populations, according to the Denver Post. But an ongoing study is raising concerns. “Out of five monkeys that were fed infected white-tailed-deer meat, three tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to Canadian news outlet The Tyee. The outlet cited a long-term study led by Stefanie Czub, a prominent prion researcher with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in which 18 macaque monkeys were exposed to CWD in a variety of ways: “by injecting infected material into the brain; through contact with skin; by feeding them infected meat; and intravenously.” According to the AP, that’s “the first time that the disease has been found to spread to primates through the consumption of infected meat,” Live Science reported. “The assumption was for the longest time that chronic wasting disease was not a threat to human health,” Czub told The Tyee. “But with the new data it seems we need to revisit this view to some degree.” The ongoing research was funded by the Alberta Prion Research Institute at the University of Calgary and began in 2009. » RELATED: Cobb workers rescue a deer found inside a water treatment tank Research led by Mark Zabel, associate director at Colorado State University’s Prion Research Center, also found that the prions involved in the “zombie disease,” which scientists have only known about for 50 years, are probably still evolving, “which leads us to believe it's only a matter of time before a prion emerges that can spread to humans,” NPR reported. Mad cow disease, for example, is a prion disease that rooted from scrapie, a deadly disease that afflicts sheep. Once the prions were passed to cows, the cows developed a prion disease of their own (mad cow disease). And when humans ate the beef from those sick cows, they developed prions in their own brains. As of 2016, according to the Food and Drug Administration, 231 people had died from the condition. Zabel believes the only way to get rid of CWD prions is to set controlled fires. But, “there’s a lot that we still don’t know and don’t understand about the disease,” Zabel said in an interview with the New York Times. According to Michael Miller, senior wildlife veterinarian for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, mule deer submission more than tripled toward the end of 2017, and CWD continues to be prevalent in Colorado. Public health officials in the area have been monitoring for CWD and other human brain-wasting diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. But over the past 21 years, rising rates of both diseases haven’t impacted human health. Still, Matt Dunfee, head of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance in Colorado, told NPR, 'if you are hunting in an area where CWD is found, have your animal tested. If it comes back positive, don't eat the meat.' Read the full study published in the “Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews” at mmbr.asm.org.
  • A Syrian family who escaped violence in their homeland in 2017 lost all seven of their children to a house fire in Canada early Tuesday morning. Halifax police officers, firefighters and emergency responders were called out just before 1 a.m. Tuesday to the family’s rented home in the Spryfield community, where they found parents Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho outside the home. Officials with the Halifax Regional Police said the children’s mother escaped the blaze with minor injuries, but Ebraheim Barho suffered life-threatening injuries.  He remained in critical condition Thursday, Canada’s Global News reported. >> Read more trending news The family’s next-door neighbor, Danielle Burt, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) she awoke to a loud noise in the early morning hours.  “I heard a huge bang (as) I was laying in bed with my daughter, followed by a woman screaming,” Burt told the CBC. “So I jumped up out of bed and looked out the back window, and all I could see was flames shooting out from the back door going out onto their deck.” Burt grabbed her own four children and ran outside, where she was among several neighbors who called 911, the CBC reported.  “It happened all so fast,” Burt said. “The house went up really quickly.” Later that morning, officials confirmed the horrific news that the couple’s children, including their Canadian-born 4-month-old son, died in the fire, which the CBC described as the most deadly blaze in recent Nova Scotia history.  Leaders at the Al-Barakah Masjid mosque, which the Barho family attended, identified the children as Ahmed, 15, Rola, 12, Mohammed, 9, Ghala, 8, Hala, 4, Rana, 3, and baby Abdullah. Their funeral was being planned for as soon as the children’s bodies are released by investigators.  “Please pray for this family, for the father to survive, for the wife to be OK soon, for these little kids to rest in peace,” Imam Abdallah Hussein wrote on Facebook. Imam Ibrahim Al-shanti, who presides over the mosque, said Kawthar Barho told him she’d gone downstairs to prepare formula for her infant son when she found the first floor of the house on fire. She screamed for her husband, who ran downstairs and tried to extinguish the blaze. When he couldn’t douse it, he pushed his wife away from the flames and tried to save their children, Al-shanti told Global News. The HEART Society, an East Hants-based refugee team that sponsored the family when they arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017, also posted about the lost children.  “It is with great heartbreak we confirm that all seven children of the Barho family perished in an overnight fire,” a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon reads. “The children’s father was badly injured trying to rescue the children, and he is in critical condition.” Warm welcome away from danger The family was warmly welcomed to East Hants, a city in Hants County, Nova Scotia, Sept. 29, 2017, by a group of people waving Canadian flags and giant cardboard maple leaves at the Halifax Stansfield International Airport. The Enfield Weekly Press captured their arrival on video, which showed the Barho parents and their older children smiling broadly at members of their new community.  “Although the Barho family moved to Spryfield in October, they missed the people of East Hants and planned to move back next week,” the HEART Society’s Facebook post read. “The four school-aged children were really looking forward to returning to their schools, Elmsdale District School and Riverside Education Centre.” At the time of their deaths, the two oldest children attended Rockingstone Heights, an elementary and junior high school, and the younger school-aged children, Mohamad and Ghala, attended Central Spryfield Elementary School.  “This is a tremendously difficult day for both school communities and we ask media to refrain from contacting each school at this time so they can focus on supporting the needs of their students and staff,” a statement from officials with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education stated.  Additional staff was put in place at both schools to help students deal with the loss of their classmates, the statement read.  Central Spryfield administrators tweeted their thanks Wednesday to the community for the outpouring of support being shown as the school dealt with the “unimaginable loss.” They quoted the children’s book “Charlotte’s Web.” “You have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing,” the quote read.  Rockingstone Heights’ staff members also tweeted their thanks, saying they felt the support and appreciated the kindness being shown. Burt said the Barho children had become good friends with her own since the family moved in next door last fall.  “They were just over at our house yesterday,” Burt told the CBC the day of the fire. “It’s just something out of a horror movie that you just never would wish on anybody.” The HEART Society thanked everyone in the communities where the family lived for making them feel welcome during their time in Nova Scotia.  “Many people, far too many to name, helped bring the Barho family to East Hants and get settled,” the organization’s post read. “For the past year and a half, the children have been able to enjoy life as kids should be able to: Going to school, riding bicycles, swimming, having friends, running in the yard, celebrating birthday parties and hanging out with the neighbors on their porch swing.  “They loved every minute of it, and it seems impossible we won’t hear their laughter and feel their hugs again.”  Imam Ibrahim Al-shanti, who presides over the family’s mosque, described the children as “lovely” and said the family had been filled with hope as they started life in their new country. He said Kawthar Barho is struggling to cope with the loss of her children as her husband now fights for his life.  “We have all hopes that they will survive this,” Al-shanti told the news agency.  About 20 members of Halifax’s Syrian community had shown up at the hospital since the fire to offer the couple their support, the imam said.  ‘It won’t get any easier’ Support has also poured in from across Canada and beyond as government officials expressed their own grief over the children’s deaths. Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, told CBC settlement organizations have brought in crisis counselors to counsel those in the community who have been impacted by the devastating fire.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended a candlelight vigil for the children in Halifax Wednesday night, also grieved the loss in a statement.  “Words fail when children are taken from us too soon, especially in circumstances like this,” Trudeau wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter. “My heart goes out to the survivors of the horrible fire in Halifax this morning, and the loved ones who are mourning this tremendous loss.” A GoFundMe page set up by the Spryfield community has raised more than $450,000 of its $1 million goal in two days. The funds are intended to help the children’s parents restart their lives.  The HEART Society is also dedicating all donations received during the month of February to helping the Barhos move forward. The organization’s fundraising page can be found here.  Halifax officials said the investigation into the fire that killed the Barho children could take months. It’s the second fire in Nova Scotia in the past 14 months that killed multiple children, the CBC reported.  The Jan. 7, 2018, fire in Pubnico Head that killed three siblings, Mya Prouty, 7, Jayla Kennedy, 4, Winston Prouty, 4 months, and a cousin, Mason Grant, 7, who was staying over for a sleepover, was caused by heat from the chimney of the home’s wood stove, the CBC reported last February. The siblings’ parents, Phil Prouty and Emma Kennedy, also survived that blaze.   Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum told the news agency firefighters who responded to the fire at the Barho’s rented home found heavy flames on both floors that made it challenging to fight. The house was gutted and the roof destroyed. Fire officials have also called in crisis counselors for the first responders, according to Halifax District Fire Chief Mike Blackburn.   “They’ll process this over time, but it’s very, very difficult and it’s not going to get any easier,” Blackburn told the CBC.