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Economy
Tentacles of federal government shutdown spread across Georgia economy
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Tentacles of federal government shutdown spread across Georgia economy

Tentacles of federal government shutdown spread across Georgia economy
Walter Bland, whose company does contract work for the federal government in the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area and other federal sites that are on hold because of the shutdown, leads his crew while working in Deepdene Park on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Tentacles of federal government shutdown spread across Georgia economy

A cotton farmer in Cuthbert is waiting on federally backed loans and crop forecasts for planting season. A broker of small-business loans near Cartersville has halted construction of his home after much of his revenue evaporated. A researcher in Atlanta specializing in moon dust has a NASA contract on hold.

As the partial federal government shutdown approaches one month, the economic fallout is hitting the pocketbooks of more Georgians than the 16,000 federal workers furloughed in this state or working without pay.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump proposed a compromise with Democrats to reopen the government. He wants to trade temporary protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants for money to build his wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Trump’s proposal as a “nonstarter” moments before the announcement, signaling a swift end to the dispute appeared unlikely.

With roughly one quarter of the government without funding, some small businesses that rely on federal backing for loans are pausing plans. Other companies are waiting on patents and approvals for new products, including beer. Employers can’t confirm the immigration status of potential new hires because E-Verify, the U.S. government’s electronic verification system, is down. Backed-up security lines have snarled Hartsfield-Jackson, causing travelers to miss flights in the country’s busiest airport and raising fears about what could happen when Atlanta hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

The shutdown isn’t nearly as far reaching as the one that crippled the entire federal government for 16 days in 2013. But the ripple effects of the current impasse, already the longest on record, are undeniable. And while not dramatic, they expand over time, said Michael Wald, former senior economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The first day to seven days, the impact is minimal, then it progresses geometrically,” he said.

Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Tuesday the shutdown would slice the country’s economic growth by 0.13 percentage points for every week it lasts. That’s twice the impact he had predicted earlier.

Overall, Georgia stands to lose $489 million for every month the government is partially shut down, making it the eighth-hardest-hit state, according to an analysis by The Ascent, a financial company. Federal workers represent an estimated 3 percent of the state’s workforce.

Small businesses, farms hit

Doug Hood, who lives on 15 acres near Cartersville, says he’s lost between half and three quarters of his income during the shutdown. He brokers bank loans backed by the Small Business Administration, a lifeline for many startups. On the day the shutdown began Dec. 22, three loans he had brokered were put on hold. He says they ranged from $500,000 to $2.6 million for a manufacturing company, a real estate firm and an assisted living center. The manufacturer hasn’t bought the machine it planned, also postponing plans to hire 10 more workers.

“In the meantime, I can’t close loans. I can’t buy another cow,” said Hood, who also has a small farm. “We are building our own house and that’s been put on hold because we don’t have the money to do the plumbing.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed Hood and others before Trump’s latest proposal Saturday aimed at ending the funding impasse.

The SBA says it guaranteed 1,876 loans in Georgia totaling $1.4 billion in fiscal 2017. Most of the growth was in the hospitality, retail, healthcare, professional services, agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

Atlanta entrepreneur Jenny Bass, owner of Essve Tech in Alpharetta, says she was days away from buying another manufacturing company with an SBA-backed loan for several million dollars when the shutdown arrived.

“It is extremely frustrating. I have spent money on attorneys, accountants and real estate surveys and now it’s just stuck. The longer it drags on, the higher the risk that the deal won’t close.”

Georgia’s vast farm country has been particularly hard hit by the shutdown after an already tough 2018.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of nine Cabinet-level departments that has been shuttered. That has leftmany farmers unable to collect on earlier claims or file new ones for disaster assistance for crop losses or damage caused by October’s Hurricane Michael. The same goes for tariff relief from the trade war with China. Farmers also can’t apply for federally backed operating loans to get started on planting for 2019 or assistance loans to help them with expenses.

Dania Devane has been caught in the squabble. The Cuthbert resident dodged one disaster when she harvested her crop of peanuts before Michael stormed into southwest Georgia. But Chinese tariffs have hit her soybean and corn sales, and recent heavy rains damaged and kept her from harvesting some of her cotton, still hanging from bolls and degrading with every day of exposure to intransigent weather.

Devane would typically go to the local Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency to start loan processes and get crop forecasts for next year, but the shutdown foiled those plans.

“A lot of the smaller farmers are not going to be able to get a loan for this year,” she said. “And we don’t know what to do.”

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced some FSA offices would reopen for three days to perform “certain limited services” for farmers and ranchers, mostly cleaning up paperwork from last year. There was no immediate word on when they would start new loans or process disaster assistance.

The White House also has tried to lessen the impact of the shutdown in recent days by calling back thousands of other federal workers earlier deemed non-essential. That includes more than half of the Internal Revenue Service’s furloughed employees who are needed to process tax returns and will work without pay for now.

Federal contractors go without, transportation slows

A sprawling ecosystem of federal contractors for shuttered agencies are getting pinched. Roughly a quarter of Rock Spring Restoration’s scheduled work is with the federal government and those contracts are now on hold. That includes projects in the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area and other forests, where the small company gets rid of invasive species, shores up eroding streambanks and hills and replants areas with native Georgia plants.Walter Bland, Rock Spring Restoration’s owner, says there’s enough other work in the pipeline at the moment but that the shutdown could become a bigger problem if it drags on.

“This is just a really good example of how our political system is failing,” said Bland as his six-man crew cut trees Thursday at Deepdene Park alongside Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta.

The shutdown has reached space policy analyst Laura Seward Forczyk, the founder of the Atlanta-based Georgia Space Alliance and consulting firm Astralytical. Her company’s private-sector contracts have included studies on atmospheric satellites and how dirt from the surface of Mars or the moon could be used for rocket propellant. A project with NASA, however, is up in the air.

“The deadline was supposed to be March. Now it’s who knows when,” said Forczyk. “My NASA civil servant partners aren’t allowed to work on anything while they’re furloughed.”

The economy is moving more slowly - literally - amid transportation bottlenecks.

One of the most visible impacts is at Hartsfield-Jackson, where TSA agents, forced to work unpaid during the funding lapse, are calling in sick in growing numbers, triggering long security lines. Delta Air Lines’s planned debut of the Airbus A220 later this month will likely be delayed due to the shutdown. Chief Executive Ed Bastian warned Tuesday the shutdown had cost the Atlanta-based company $25 million in revenue in January as fewer government contractors and employees traveled.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has delayed $92 million worth of contracts for two dozen highway projects, including several bridge maintenance projects in metro Atlanta. More funding could be halted at a February board meeting should the impasse continue, according to a department spokeswoman.

Moody’s Investors Service has warned the creditworthiness of U.S. transit systems could deteriorate if the funding lapse continues, “leading to weaker financial positions, deferred capital projects and higher annual debt service costs.”

MARTA services in Atlanta will continue to operate normally during the shutdown, a spokeswoman said, but ongoing transit projects are a different story. MARTA pays for such projects with local funding and then requests federal reimbursement, which can’t happen with Transportation shuttered. That could force the transit system to choose eventually between using reserves or selling bonds — or delaying projects.

In Savannah, officials say it’s business as usual at the port. But Chatham Area Transit is grappling with a funding lapse while rehabbing the four ferries that dart between downtown and Hutchinson Island. Curtis Koleber, CEO of Chatham Area Transit, said it was about to make its final payment on the first boat to its vendor using federal grant money. That’s when the Transportation Department’s online portal went dark because of the shutdown. The local transit authority had to draw down its own funds to cover the costs.

Some Georgia companies could get a lift. Atlanta-based Kabbage, which gives cash advances to small businesses, has seen “very robust” growth in January, said Rob Rosenblatt, head of lending. He says it’s hard to tell how much of the new business is related to the shutdown, but he suspects some traffic from companies that would have gone to the SBA for loans.

Still, Kabbage would prefer to grow its business “the old-fashioned way,” Rosenblatt said. “We’d rather not gain our business and be the beneficiary of a government shutdown. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

Staff writer Jennifer Brett contributed to this report.

--------------------------------------------

Federal agencies without funding:

• Department of Agriculture, including Farm Service Agencies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

• Department of Commerce

• Department of Homeland Security, including the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection and Federal Emergency Management Agency

• Department of Housing and Urban Development

• Department of Interior, including the National Park Service

• Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation

• Department of State

• Department of Transportation

• Department of Treasury, including the Internal Revenue Service

• Environmental Protection Agency

• Federal courts

• NASA

• National Science Foundation

Federal agencies with funding:

• Department of Defense, including military bases

• Department of Education

• Department of Energy

• Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

• Department of Labor

• Department of Veterans Affairs

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News

  • A California girl managed to avoid a man following her in a car as she walked through a Vacaville neighborhood by hiding behind a parked truck. >> Read more trending news  Home surveillance video captured the incident, which happened earlier this month, and shows the girl being followed by a dark colored Pontiac driven by an adult man. The girl is clearly trying to avoid the man as he repeatedly turns around and tries to approach her. Vacaville police Capt. Matt Lydon said when the girl first noticed she was being followed, she walked to a different neighborhood and the driver followed.  Trending: Children find their lost puppy hanging from noose in woods behind home “As she walked into the adjacent neighborhood, she saw the Pontiac again,” Lydon said, according to KRON-TV. “She hid behind a parked truck on the street as the male went up and down the street a couple of times attempting to get her attention and attempting to have a conversation with her.” The video shows the girl hide behind the truck as the car repeatedly drives by, backs up and stops as the driver tries to engage in a conversation with her. >> Trending: Opossum found living in 7-year-old’s bedroom for 3 days before parents find it  When the car appears to drive off, the girl takes off running. Police are hoping someone may be able to help identify the driver and the car.
  • Nine explosions hit multiple churches, hotels and other locations in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 300 people and injuring hundreds more, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. >> Read more trending news  The victims included at least four Americans, State Department officials said Monday. Here are the latest updates:  Update 11:30 p.m. EDT April 23: Police said the death toll in the Easter attacks has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58. The prime minister warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large. Update 1 p.m. EDT April 23: Sunday’s bombings claimed the lives of 45 children, officials with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund said Tuesday in a statement. “Many children have lost one or both parents, and countless children have witnessed shocking and senseless violence,” UNICEF officials said. More than 320 people were killed and 500 injured in the bombings. Update 7:11 a.m. EDT April 23: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the deadly Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, the Guardian and the Washington Post are reporting. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. Update 5:55 a.m. EDT April 23: Sri Lankan officials said the death toll from Sunday’s bombings has risen to 321, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The news came as Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the attacks were “carried out in retaliation” for the deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand last month, according to The Associated Press. So far, at least 40 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, authorities said. Meanwhile, the country observed a day of mourning, including a three-minute moment of silence Tuesday morning. Mass burials also were held in Negombo, the Guardian reported. Officials have declared a state of emergency in Sri Lanka, giving military officials “enhanced war-time powers,” the AP reported. Authorities also are facing criticism amid reports that a top police official sent a letter April 11 to four security agencies warning that terror group National Towheed Jamaar was planning suicide bombings at churches, the AP reported. Update 9:45 p.m. EDT April 22: Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, issued a statement in response to the bombings.  “Today as a nation we mourn the senseless loss of innocent lives this past Easter Sunday. I would like to thank the military and police forces, the medical personnel and all those who have worked bravely and tirelessly without concern for their own safety, to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. It is imperative  that we remain unified as Sri Lankans in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.” A three-minute moment of silence for the victims of the explosions will be held at 8:30 a.m. local time, according to BBC reporter Azzam Ameen. Update 8 p.m. EDT April 22: The two Australians who officials said had been killed in the explosions have been identified by a family member. Sudesh Kolonne told Australian Broadcasting Corp. his wife, Manik Suriaaratchi, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexendria were killed in an attack in Negombo, which is north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Kolonne said he was outside when the explosion happened. “I heard a huge noise and I jumped into the church and I saw that my wife and my daughter were on the floor,” he said. “I just saw my daughter on the floor and I tried to lift her up, (but) she was already dead. And (then) exactly the same… next my wife is there.” Kolonne said he and his family moved from Melbourne to Sri Lanka in 2014 when his wife started a consultancy business.  “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “We used to go to that church every Sunday. We never expected this.” Update 4:50 p.m. EDT April 22: A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed to The AP that the agency is providing assistance with the investigation into the bombings. She would not provide specifics. Update 3:50 p.m. EDT April 22: In an email to parents, officials at Sidwell Friends, a private school in the Washington-area, confirmed one of their students was killed in Sunday’s bombings, The Washington Post reported. School officials identified the student as Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, a fifth-grade boy who had been on leave in Sri Lanka for the last year, according to the Post. “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year,” school officials said in the letter. “We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School.” State Department officials said earlier Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s attacks. Officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had also been killed in the bombings. Update 3 p.m. EDT April 22: Officials with the U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s bombings in Sri Lanka. The department said that in addition to those killed, several others were seriously injured. Officials gave no details about the identities of the victims, citing privacy concerns. Earlier Monday, officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had been killed in the bombings. Pearson CEO John Fallon said Dieter Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel in Sri Lanka for a business trip. Update 2:10 p.m. EDT April 22: President Donald Trump said he spoke Monday to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after a series of bomb attacks in the country. In a tweet, Trump said he told Wickremesinghe “the United States stands by him and his country in the fight against terrorism.” “(I) also expressed condolences on behalf of myself and the People of the United States,” Trump wrote. Earlier Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed the government would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Update 1:50 p.m. EDT April 22: Sri Lankan President Maithrpala Sirisena declared April 23 a national day of mourning in a statement obtained Monday by The Associated Press. In the statement, Sirisena said he planned to meet with foreign diplomats to seek international assistance. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier Monday that the U.S. would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Officials said nearly 40 foreign tourists from 11 countries were killed in Sunday’s attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.  Update 11:20 a.m. EDT April 22: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday mourned the victims of Sunday’s bomb attacks in Sri Lanka and promised the government would provide “all possible assistance” to Americans and Sri Lankans alike. Related: Sri Lanka attacks: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? “We urge that any evil-doers be brought to justice expeditiously and America is prepared to support that,” he Pompeo said. “We also stand with the millions of Sri Lankas who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please.” Pompeo confirmed that Americans were among those killed in Sunday’s attack, though he didn’t specify the number of American victims. “It’s heartbreaking that a country which has strived so hard for peace in recent years has been targeted by these terrorists,” he said. Related: Sri Lanka attack: Danish billionaire loses three of his four children in bombings Update 9:50 am. EDT April 22: A Denver man has been identified as one of the nearly 300 people killed Sunday in bombings in Sri Lanka, his employer confirmed Monday. Dieter Kowalski worked as senior leader of the operation technical services team for Pearson, an education management company. Though the company is based in England, Kowalski worked in Pearson’s Denver office, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.  “Colleagues who knew Dieter well talk about how much fun he was to be around, how big-hearted and full-spirited he was,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement shared with company employees and posted Monday on LinkedIn. “They tell of a man to whom we could give our ugliest and most challenging of engineering problems, knowing full well that he would jump straight in and help us figure it out. Dieter, they tell me, was never happier than cheer-leading for our customers and our company and inspiring people in the best way he knew how – by helping them to fix things and doing it with joy, happiness and grace.” Fallon said Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel Sunday for a business trip. Update 7:55 a.m. EDT April 22: Three children of Anders Holch Povlsen, who owns Bestseller clothing, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. The 46-year-old Danish billionaire, who is also the largest shareholder in ASOS, and his family were on vacation in Sri Lanka, the AP reported. Authorities said 39 foreigners were among the 290 people killed in Sunday’s attacks.  Meanwhile, a vehicle parked near St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the churches that was bombed Sunday, exploded Monday as police tried to defuse three bombs inside, according to the AP. At least 87 bomb detonators have been found in Colombo, officials said. Police have detained at least 24 suspects in connection with Sunday’s bombings. Update 5:15 a.m. EDT April 22:  Government officials said the National Thowheed, a Sri Lankan militant group, was responsible for Sunday’s deadly attacks, the Guardian is reporting. However, a government spokesman said an “international network” helped the attackers. Seven suicide bombers caused six of the nine explosions Sunday, a forensic analyst told The Associated Press. Authorities also said a second Chinese citizen and two Australian citizens were among those killed in Sunday’s attacks. So far, the dead include citizens of the United States, India, Britain, China, Australia, Japan and Portugal, the AP reported. Meanwhile, a Sri Lanka military official said crews defused a homemade pipe bomb discovered late Sunday on a road to the airport outside Colombo, the AP reported. Update 12:10 a.m. EDT April 22: The death toll in the bombings has increased to 290 and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. Among those killed are five Indians, who were identified in tweets from India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, The AP reported. China and Portugal also said they lost citizens, and the U.S. said “several” Americans were also killed in the bombings. The AP reported Sri Lankan officials said they would examine reports that intelligence failed to heed or detect warnings of a possible suicide attack.  “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence,” Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said in a tweet, according to The AP. “Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”  Update 9:50 p.m. EDT April 21: Japan has confirmed at least one citizen death and four injuries from the bombings. The country has issued a safety warning to Japanese people in the country, telling them to avoid mosques, churches and public places like clubs, malls and government offices, The AP reported. Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka and sent his condolences to victims of the explosions. He also said Japan was committed to “combating terrorism.” Update 5:40 p.m. EDT April 21: The Associated Press reported that, according to internet censorship monitoring group NetBlocks, social media has been blocked across the country after the attacks. Most services, including YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have been temporarily blacked out to curb false information spread, according to Sri Lankan officials. According to NetBlocks, such blackouts are usually ineffective. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Sri Lanka shuts down social media in wake of Easter attacks “We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms,” Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said in a statement to The AP. “People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.” Update 3:28 p.m. EDT April 21: Police have 13 suspects in custody, impounded a vehicle they believed was used by suspects and located a safe house used by the attackers.  Related: Photos: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens No one has claimed responsibility for what Sri Lankan officials have described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Update 9:28 a.m. EDT April 21: Police have so far arrested three people in connection to the blasts, The Guardian reported. A motive for the bombings is still unclear, investigators said.  Update 8:46 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 207 people were killed and 450 hurt in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Officials said eight blasts targeted three churches, three hotels, a guesthouse and an area near a Dematagoda overpass, the AP reported. Authorities reportedly have arrested seven people in connection with the incidents. Update 8:07 a.m. EDT April 21: Sri Lankan officials say at least 190 people, including at least 27 foreigners and two police officers, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the eight explosions, which rocked at least three churches and three hotels, as well as a guesthouse, officials said. Update 7:35 a.m. EDT April 21: President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to the Sri Lankan people Sunday morning. “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka,” Trump tweeted. “We stand ready to help!” Update 7:19 a.m. EDT April 21: Hours after explosions at Sri Lankan churches and hotels left dozens dead and hundreds more injured, Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his annual Easter message at the Vatican. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Pope denounces attacks during Easter blessing “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community (of Sri Lanka), wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” Francis told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, according to Vatican News. He later added: “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished, and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.” Every year after leading Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report:  Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Britney Spears appeared on Instagram on Tuesday evening to tell her fans that “all is well.” >> Read more trending news In the very brief Instagram video, Spears checked in, saying she “just needed time to deal,” but promised that she would be back very soon. “I wanted to say hi, because things that are being said have just gotten out of control!!! Wow!!! There’s rumors, death threats to my family and my team, and just so many things crazy things being said. I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear. These fake emails everywhere were crafted by Sam Lutfi years ago... I did not write them. He was pretending to be me and communicating with my team with a fake email address. My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment 🌸🌸🌸 You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want! Your love and dedication is amazing, but what I need right now is a little bit of privacy to deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way. If you could do that, I would be forever grateful. Love you” Earlier this month, Spears checked herself into a mental health facility as her father, Jamie Spears, continues to have health issues, according to TMZ. The celebrity news site reported that, according to unnamed sources, the singer has been distressed over her father’s illness, which the site claims is not getting better. In January, Spears announced that she was putting her planned Las Vegas residency — and the rest of her career — on hold for the sake of her father. The 37-year-old Spears has sons aged 13 and 12. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Children as old as 12, and even 13, may find themselves back in car booster seats under new legislation signed into law by Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee. >> Read more trending news  The new law updates children’s car seat regulations, requiring all children under 4 feet, 9 inches tall to ride in car booster seats.  According to House Bill 1012, children are required to sit in booster seats in vehicles “until the vehicle lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly, typically when the child is between the ages of eight and twelve years of age, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or must be properly secured with the motor vehicle's safety belt properly adjusted and fastened around the child's body.” The new law also requires all children under 13 to ride in the back seat and requires children under 2 to ride in rear-facing car seats. “Children aged 2 to 4 can be forward-facing in a car seat until they reach the specifications for a booster seat,” according to the new law. >> Trending: Opossum found living in 7-year-old’s bedroom for 3 days before parents find it  People in violation of the law can be ticketed.
  • An Ohio 9-year-old boy performing in drag at a Lancaster bar prompted an Ohio lawmaker to introduce a bill to expand the definition of child endangerment. State Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, introduced House Bill 180 to prohibit a performance in a bar where a child simulates sexual activity. The business could lose its liquor license and the parent could face misdemeanor criminal charges, if the bill becomes law. >> Read more trending news “Given our heightened focus on human trafficking and the role money plays in trafficking children, I knew I had to take action to make sure this activity does not occur again,” Schaffer said. “We can do better to protect innocent children and we must do better.” Related: Video of the boy’s performance Jacob Measley has been performing as Miss Mae Hem for several months, according to The (Toledo) Blade. His performance includes cartwheels, high kicks, splits and dancing in costume. He got interested in drag queens while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality TV show, with his mom, Jerri Measley, The Blade reported. She could not be reached for comment on this story. Video of a Dec. 1, 2018 performance at JD Hendersons bar in Lancaster led to complaints and an investigation by Lancaster police and state agencies, said Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler. No law violations were found, he said. After the investigations ended, a “social media outbreak” occurred when a website purporting to be the city of Lancaster made it sound like it was an ongoing issue, Scheffler said. “It was all dead, gone, over. Investigation found no violations. Then someone anonymously on this site posted inaccurate information.” The posting led to threats of violence and demands to close the bar from people across the country, the mayor said. “It got really nasty.”
  • A Georgia woman has pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing her husband and four children, and stabbing a fifth child, who survived, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office said. >> Read more trending news Isabel Martinez, 35, entered guilty pleas to five counts of murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of cruelty to children Tuesday. Martinez's defense attorney, Don Geary, said she pleaded guilty, but mentally ill. Martinez called 911 on July 6, 2017. When paramedics arrived at her Loganville home, they found Martinez with her wrists slashed. Martinez’s husband, Martin Romero, 33, was found stabbed to death, along with 10-year-old Isabela Martinez, 2-year-old Axel Romero, 7-year-old Dacota Romero and 4-year-old Dillan Martin-Romero. Diana Romero, then age 9, was found with stab wounds, but survived. Diana Romero told a DFCS worker that Martinez began stabbing the children first; when Martin Romero tried to stop her, Martinez stabbed him, according to a DFCS report. Martinez was not crying or screaming as she killed her family members, and told Diana Romero that she was “going to the sky to see Jesus,” Diana Romero told a DFCS worker. Martinez confessed to the killings in the following hours and was arrested, according to the DA’s office. Later, she claimed a “family friend” committed the stabbings in her Loganville home, but she did not give police the name of that alleged friend.  The Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office declined to seek the death penalty in this case in part due to Martinez’s “apparent mental issues,” District Attorney Danny Porter said in 2018. Family and neighbors said Martinez was depressed in the weeks before she killed her family. Her father had died and Martinez was unable to attend the funeral in Mexico. She worried that he would go to hell because he practiced witchcraft, her brother-in-law, Orlando Romero, told the AJC. She told a Department of Family and Child services worker after her arrest that she felt a “devil-like spirit” was trying to take her children when they were playing in the ocean near Savannah shortly before the killings.  Martinez was sentenced to five life sentences with the possibility of parole plus 21 years after entering her plea Tuesday, according to the DA’s office.