U.S. Supreme Court takes up Trump bid to revive Medicaid work requirements

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a bid by President Donald Trump’s administration to revive pilot programs adopted by the states of Arkansas and New Hampshire that allow work requirements to be imposed on people who receive healthcare under the Medicaid program for the poor.

The justices took up the administration’s appeals of rulings by a lower court that found the programs unlawful.  Seventeen other states are pursuing similar policies.

The administration said in court papers that the appeals court rulings cast a legal shadow on the efforts in those other states to adopt work requirements for Medicaid, a state-federal program that provides medical insurance for the poor. New Hampshire and Arkansas filed court papers in support of the administration.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 approved those projects as part of a push to put a conservative stamp on Medicaid, which was expanded in 37 states and the District of Columbia following the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to help provide coverage to millions more Americans.

The department gave the go-ahead for states to carry out test projects requiring able-bodied people on Medicaid to work or do volunteer work.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. coronavirus cases surpass eight million as infections spike nationwide

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus crossed 8 million on Thursday, rising by 1 million in less than a month, as another surge in cases hits the nation at the onset of cooler weather.

Since the pandemic started, over 217,000 people have died in the United States.

The United States reported 60,000 new infections on Wednesday, the highest since Aug. 14, with rising cases in every region, especially the Midwest.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. They have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges.

According to a Reuters analysis, 25 states have so far set records for increases in new cases in October.

All Midwest and Northeast states have reported more cases in the past four weeks than in the prior four weeks, with the number of new cases doubling in states like Wisconsin, South Dakota and New Hampshire.

In the Midwest, daily new cases hit a record on Wednesday with over 22,000 new infections. The positive test rate tops 30% in South Dakota and 20% in Idaho and Wisconsin.

Ten states on Thursday reported record increases in new cases, including Wisconsin with 4,000 new cases. “Our numbers are high and they’re growing rapidly,” state Health Secretary-Designate Andrea Palm told a news conference.

“We have now surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 patients who are in the hospital. In some regions of our state, our ICU beds are 90% or more full. Over the course of the past six weeks, our average daily deaths have more than tripled,” Palm added.

California remains the state with the most total cases followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Georgia. Those five states account for over 40% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the nation.

With both cases and positive test rates rising in recent weeks, New York City has closed businesses and schools in neighborhood hot spots despite protests from a small contingent of Orthodox Jews.

In addition to rising cases, hospitals in several states are straining to handle an influx of patients.

In the Midwest, COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high for a tenth day in a row on Wednesday. Nationally, the United States reported nearly 37,000 hospitalizations, the highest since Aug. 28.

Wisconsin, which reported record hospitalization on Wednesday, has opened a field hospital outside of Milwaukee to handle COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan, Shaina Ahluwalia and Chaithra J in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

As cold weather arrives, U.S. states see record increases in COVID-19 cases

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Nine U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases over the last seven days, mostly in the upper Midwest and West where chilly weather is forcing more activities indoors.

On Saturday alone, four states – Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin – saw record increases in new cases and nationally nearly 49,000 new infections were reported, the highest for a Saturday in seven weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming also set new records for cases last week.

New York is one of only 18 states where cases have not risen greatly over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday he is moving to shut non-essential businesses as well as schools in nine neighborhoods, starting on Wednesday. The lockdown would require the governor’s approval.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. Daytime highs in the upper Midwest are now in the 50’s Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

Montana has reported record numbers of new cases for three out of the last four days and also has a record number of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals.

Wisconsin has set records for new cases two out of the last three days and also reported record hospitalizations on Saturday. On average 22% of tests are coming back positive, one of the highest rates in the country.

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor mandated masks on Aug. 1 but Republican lawmakers are backing a lawsuit challenging the requirement.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have the highest new cases per capita in the country.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is one of several prominent Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus since President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Because of the surge in cases in the Midwest, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities operated by Aspirus in northern Wisconsin and Michigan are barring most visitors as they did earlier this year.

Bellin Health, which runs a hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said last week its emergency department has been past capacity at times and doctors had to place patients in beds in the hallways.

The United States is reporting 42,600 new cases and 700 deaths on average each day, compared with 35,000 cases and 800 deaths in mid-September. Deaths are a lagging indicator and tend to rise several weeks after cases increase.

Kentucky is the first Southern state to report a record increase in cases in several weeks. Governor Andy Beshear said last week was the highest number of cases the state has seen since the pandemic started.

State health experts have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges. Over the last two weeks, Kentucky has reported nearly 11,000 new cases and has seen hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients rise by 20%.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

COVID-19 cases rise in U.S. Midwest and Northeast, deaths fall for third week

(Reuters) – Several states in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast have seen new COVID-19 cases increase for two weeks in a row, though nationally both new infections and deaths last week remained on a downward trend, a Reuters analysis showed.

The United States reported more than 287,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 6, down 1.4% from the previous week and marking the seventh straight week of declines. More than 5,800 people died from COVID-19 last week, the third week in a row that the death rate has fallen.

Nevertheless, 17 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks, according to the Reuters tally of state and county reports. They include Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, where between 10% and 18% of people tested had the new coronavirus.

In the Northeast, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York also reported increases in new cases for at least two weeks, though the positive test rate ranged from a low of 0.9% in New York to a high of 4.3% in Delaware — below the 5% level the World Health Organization considers concerning.

In some states, testing has increased as schools reopened. New York City, for instance, is testing 10% to 20% of students and staff every month. The University of Illinois is testing students twice a week.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a fifth week to 5.5%, well below a peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The United States tested on average 741,000 people a day last week, up 5% from the prior week, but down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

New Hampshire votes as Democratic presidential hopefuls seek momentum

By Simon Lewis and Amanda Becker

SALEM/ROCHESTER, N.H. – New Hampshire voters were casting ballots on Tuesday in the second contest in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg jostling to remain atop a crowded field after strong performances last week in Iowa.

A parade of Democrats seeking the right to face President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election made final pitches to voters in the small New England state that often plays an outsized role is determining party presidential picks.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has jumped to third place in opinion polls in New Hampshire after a debate last Friday, is looking to gain momentum from the primary while former Vice President Joe Biden hopes to avoid another disappointment after a fourth-place showing in Iowa. Senator Elizabeth Warren, third in Iowa, rounds out the top of the slate.

New Hampshire Democrats were hoping for smoother sailing after embarrassing technical problems in the Iowa caucuses delayed the release of those results for days.

The New Hampshire ballot has a list of 33 names, including candidates who dropped out weeks ago, but will not include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who entered the contest later and will face his first electoral test early next month.

Recent state polls showed Sanders leading the field, followed by Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

Supporters of Buttigieg, 38, greeted him at a Manchester polling place before dawn, waving blue and yellow “Pete 2020” campaign signs and chanting “President Pete.”

“It feels good out here,” Buttigieg said, smiling as reporters asked how he thought he would fare in the primary.

Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont in the Senate, won the New Hampshire primary handily over rival Hillary Clinton in his unsuccessful bid for the party’s nomination four years ago, securing 60% of the vote. In a crowded field this time, it is highly unlikely any of the candidates will draw that level of support by the voters.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, addressed a young crowd of more than 7,500 people on Monday night at the University of New Hampshire’s campus at Durham.

“This turnout tells me why we’re going to win here in New Hampshire, why we’re going to win the Democratic nomination and why we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of America, Donald Trump,” Sanders, 78, said.

Voters in New Hampshire and the rest of the contests in the state-by-state battle for the Democratic nomination will have to decide whether they want a moderate or a more left-leaning challenger to Trump. Sanders and Warren are the two progressive standard-bearers in the field, though Warren has been sliding in the polls. Like Sanders, New Hampshire voters are very familiar with Warren, who represents neighboring Massachusetts in the Senate. The moderates include Buttigieg, Klobuchar of Minnesota and Biden.

The prominent role of Iowa and New Hampshire, small and rural states with predominantly white populations, has come under increased criticism this year by Democrats for poorly representing the diversity of the party and the country.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The Feb. 22 caucuses in Nevada, which has a large Latino population, and the Feb. 29 primary in South Carolina, which has a large African-American population, will pose a new test for the 11 remaining Democratic candidates.

Biden in particular is banking on South Carolina, where he has enjoyed strong support among African-American voters. He served as vice president for eight years under Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president.

Support for Biden, the former front-runner in the race, has tumbled nationally since his poor performance in Iowa and he has said he might suffer another weak finish in New Hampshire.

Klobuchar, who arrived at a polling location in Manchester on Tuesday morning, noted her gradual rise in the polls and said she was prepared to keep fighting.

“I’m a different kind of candidate,” Klobuchar told CNN. “… I have also been able to bring people with me.”

Biden, also appearing on CNN, pressed the point that he can win over black and working-class voters and that no one in the South will vote for a democratic socialist.

Warren started her day by visiting a polling location in Portsmouth. She handed out donuts to volunteers and took photos with voters, along with her husband Bruce Mann and dog Bailey.

In Manchester, voter Sara Lutat said she cast her ballot for Buttigieg.

“I think he’s the one who can beat Trump,” she said.

Fellow Manchester voter Rebecca Balzano called Buttigieg “too new, too young” and said she voted for Sanders.

(Reporting by John Whitesides, James Oliphant, Simon Lewis and Amanda Becker in New Hampshire; Writing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Simao)

No Iowa caucus results spark Democrat frustration

By Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – The Democratic Party’s effort to choose an election challenger to Donald Trump got off to a chaotic start in Iowa, with officials blaming “inconsistencies” for an indefinite delay in the state’s caucus results and the president gloating over his rivals’ misfortune.

Long lines and big crowds were reported in some of the more than 1,600 schools, community centers and other locations on Monday night and problems with a new mobile app designed to report the vote forced state party officials to verify the data by other means.

Some Democratic candidates left for New Hampshire, which hosts the next nominating contest on Feb. 11, without a winner announced in Iowa. The chaos was likely to increase criticism from Democrats who have long complained the rural state with a largely white population has an outsized role in determining the presidential candidate.

Shortly after midnight, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price told reporters to expect results later on Tuesday in the state, the first to hold a nominating contest.

The party said it had to make “quality checks” after finding “inconsistencies” in the reporting of the data from caucus sites, sparking frustration among Democrats and criticism from Republicans.

Trump, a Republican, mocked the Democrats, calling the caucus confusion an “unmitigated disaster” in a Twitter post on Tuesday. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.”

The delay prompted two leading candidates in the Iowa race, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, to release their own tallies.

It was unclear when official results would be released.

Some local officials reported having trouble using the mobile app to report results, but when they turned to the traditional method – the telephone – they were put on hold and could not get through.

“We haven’t had that problem before that I know of. Normally we’ve called it in and got right through,” said Donna Crum, chair of the Democratic party in Mills County, Iowa.

Iowa Democratic Party officials said they were confident in their ability to ensure accurate results, citing a paper trail to validate the votes.

INAUSPICIOUS START

It was an inauspicious beginning for Democrats as the party’s 11 contenders began the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

But Republicans in Iowa have their own history of chaos. On the night of the party’s 2012 caucuses, Mitt Romney was declared to have won by eight votes. But the party said two weeks later that Rick Santorum had won by a 34-vote margin. Romney went on to be the nominee.

“Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” said Roger Lau, campaign manager for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

A source in Buttigieg’s campaign said the delay would “delegitimize” the win and dampen the immediate benefits of a strong night. Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s general counsel, Dana Remus, told state party officials in a letter there were widespread failures in the party’s system of reporting results.

After more than a year of campaigning and more than $800 million in spending, the results in Iowa were expected to begin to provide answers for a party desperately trying to figure out how to beat the businessman-turned-president.

Voters had to choose whether to back someone with appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans, like moderates Biden, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota, or someone who energizes the party’s liberal base and brings out new voters, like progressives Sanders and Warren.

DECLARING VICTORY

With no results to celebrate or mourn, the candidates spun their own upbeat view of the outcome. The Sanders campaign released what it said were its internal numbers collected at 40% of precincts, showing him in first, ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and Biden in fourth place.

“I have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced, and when those results are announced I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” Sanders told cheering supporters.

Buttigieg told his supporters in Iowa that “we don’t know the results” but was looking ahead to the New Hampshire contest.

“By all indications, we are going to New Hampshire victorious,” he said.

Several of the candidates, including Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, headed to New Hampshire immediately after the caucuses. Sanders planned to fly there on Tuesday morning.

“Of course we don’t know the results yet – minor problem – but we know we did incredibly well,” Klobuchar told supporters at the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport.

At the caucus sites in Iowa, voters had gathered in groups by candidate preference in a public display of support. If a candidate did not attract 15% of voters, the total needed to be considered viable, that candidates’ supporters were released to back another contender, leading to a further round of persuasion.

Even if one candidate eventually wins by a commanding margin in Iowa, Democrats may still lack clear answers as the race moves on to the other three early voting states of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina later in February.

Whoever remains in the race by Super Tuesday on March 3, when 15 states and territories vote, will also confront billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is skipping the early states in favor of focusing on states rich in delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax, Tim Reid, Simon Lewis, Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson; Writing by John Whitesides and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller and Giles Elgood)

Several states wary of $48 billion opioid settlement proposal

Several states wary of $48 billion opioid settlement proposal
By Tom Hals and Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Several U.S. states that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic are pushing back on a proposed $48 billion settlement framework that would resolve thousands of lawsuits against five drug companies accused of fueling the addiction crisis.

The proposal would bring an end to all opioid litigation against AmerisourceBergen Corp<ABC.N>, Cardinal Health Inc<CAH.N> and McKesson Corp<MCK.N>, drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Inc<TEVA.TA><TEVA.N>, and Johnson & Johnson<JNJ.J>.

The companies have proposed paying $22.25 billion cash mostly over 18 years, while services and drugs to treat addiction valued at $26 billion by the companies would be provided over the coming decade, mostly by Teva.

Officials in states such as Ohio, New Hampshire and West Virginia — all hard hit by the deadly drug addition crisis — voiced concerns about the proposal.

James Boffetti, the associate attorney general for New Hampshire, said in an interview he was troubled that payments were stretched over many years.

“The concern is, I think, the states need money now to create the infrastructure for treatment,” he said.

Small states fear the money will be divvied up by population rather than need.

“Any global opioid settlement that doesn’t reflect the unique and unprecedented damage imposed on West Virginia through the opioid epidemic should be DOA,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Some 400,000 U.S. overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017 were linked to opioids, according to government data. Roughly 2,600 lawsuits have been brought nationwide by states, local and tribal governments.

The three distributors in a joint statement said they were committed to finalizing a global settlement and would continue working with the other parties on the details of the framework. Teva declined to comment.

J&J said in a securities filing on Wednesday the deal would lower third quarter profit by $3 billion.

The proposal, announced on Monday, was hammered out by the companies and attorneys general in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

It will need broad support among state attorneys general and will have to overcome opposition from the lawyers representing local governments that sued. Those lawyers declined to sign on when presented the proposal last week.

Under the settlement framework, money for each state would be divvied up, with 15% going to the state treasury, 15% for local governments that filed lawsuits and 70% going to a proposed state fund aimed at addressing the crisis.

Boffetti predicted it would takes weeks for states to determine whether they back the settlement framework.

North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, acknowledged that a detailed term sheet needs to be developed.

“There are a lot of details and mechanics that need to be added to it,” Stein told Reuters in an interview. “That will happen in the coming weeks.”

The proposal did win a major supporter on Tuesday. Tom Miller of Iowa, the longest-serving attorney general, publicly backed the proposal, calling the framework “an important step in addressing the crisis.”

Colorado’s attorney general, Phil Weiser, called it a “very promising development.”

The lawsuits accuse distributors of failing to flag and halt a rising tide of suspicious orders and drugmakers of overstating the benefits of opioids while downplaying the risks.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing. Drugmakers say their products carried government-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks of opioids, while distributors argue their role was to make sure medicines prescribed by licensed doctors were available for patients.

The proposed deal has widened a fault line between attorneys general and local governments.

Cities and counties generally hired private attorneys to bring their cases, and attorneys general want to limit the amount of the settlement that goes to pay private lawyers. The attorneys for local governments also generally opposed Teva contributing opioid treatment drugs to the settlement, instead of cash, in part because of concerns that the framework placed an inflated value on those drugs.

Last week’s talks failed to reach a global deal, and on Monday, the three wholesale distributors and Teva struck a last-minute $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over opioids.

North Carolina’s Stein said he looked forward to resolving concerns about the proposal and warned that settling lawsuits individually was unsustainable.

“If we proceed on the current path and each county and city brings their case and extracts whatever amount they may be able to get from these companies, the companies will end up bankrupt,” he said. “The opioid crisis is a national problem that demands a national solution.”

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Nate Raymond in Boston, Massachusetts; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Sandra Maler)

Trump administration will allow states to test Medicaid work requirements

U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Women in Healthcare panel hosted by Seema Verma (R), Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017.

By Yasmeen Abutaleb

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Thursday it would allow states to test requiring some Medicaid recipients to work or participate in community activities such as volunteering or jobs training as a condition of eligibility for the government health insurance program for the poor.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance making it easier for states to design and propose test programs that implement such requirements. States must propose such changes through waivers and receive federal approval.

Seema Verma, the agency’s administrator, said the policy guidance came in response to requests from at least 10 states that have proposed requiring some Medicaid recipients to work or participate in activities that may include skills training, education, job search, volunteering or caregiving. Those states include Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Arizona, Indiana and Utah.

Certain Medicaid populations would be exempt from the rules, including those with disabilities, the elderly, children and pregnant women. Verma also said states would have to make “reasonable modifications” for those battling opioid addiction and other substance use disorders.

“This gives us a pathway to start approving waivers,” Verma said on a call with reporters on Wednesday. “This is about helping those individuals rise out of poverty.”

Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement commonly known as Obamacare, 31 states expanded Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, adding millions of people to the rolls.

Republicans have repeatedly failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, a top campaign promise of President Donald Trump. Instead, the Trump administration has sought to weaken the program through executive orders and administrative rules.

The Obama administration opposed state efforts to implement work requirements in Medicaid because it could result in fewer people having access to health insurance.

For instance, Kentucky last year proposed work requirements for able-bodied adults to get insurance and establishing new fees for all members based on income. A study found the proposal would reduce the number of residents on Medicaid by nearly 86,000 within five years, saving more than $330 million.

Republicans argue that Medicaid was created to serve the most vulnerable and has become bloated under Obamacare. Verma and other Republicans said implementing work and community engagement requirements could help improve health outcomes by connecting people with jobs and training.

(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 as opioid overdoses surged: CDC

A used container of the drug Narcan used against opioid overdoses lies on the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States dipped in 2016 as the number of deaths due to opioid drug overdoses surged and total drug overdose deaths rose 21 percent to 63,600, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

Life expectancy fell to 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015, the second annual decline in a row and the first two-year decline since a drop in 1962 and 1963.

Opioid-related overdose deaths have been on the rise since 1999, but surged from 2014 to 2016, with an average annual increase of 18 percent, to become a national epidemic. From 2006 to 2014 the rise was only 3 percent annually on average and between 1999 to 2006 averaged 10 percent per year.

In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid-related overdoses, up 28 percent from 2015, while the number of deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as fentanyl and tramadol, more than doubled to 19,413, the CDC said.

The 2016 rate of overdose deaths was up across all age groups but was highest rate among people aged 25 to 54.

West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

The number of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, which include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, was 14,487 in 2016.

As the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic has worsened, many state attorneys general have sued makers of these drugs as they investigate whether manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful marketing behavior.

President Donald Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which senior administration officials said would redirect federal resources and loosen regulations to combat abuse of the drugs. However, he stopped short of declaring a national emergency he had promised months before, which would have freed up more federal money.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

Windy rainstorm whips U.S. Northeast, cutting power to hundreds of thousands

Storm Summary has been initialized for the deep low pressure system which is bringing damaging winds, heavy rain across the Northeast, even some snow over West Virginia.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Fierce winds and heavy rain downed trees and knocked out power across the U.S. Northeast, halting trains during the Monday morning commute and leaving neighborhoods from Boston to Washington in the dark.

Wind gusts of 82 miles (131.97 km) per hour were reported on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, while steady rain from Sunday into Monday dumped up to 4 inches (10.16 cm) of water across New England, said National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“There has been quite a bit of wind, and when the ground gets wet like this, trees fall,” Chenard said.

Amtrak train service between Boston and New Haven, Connecticut, was suspended early on Monday as crews scrambled to clear branches and restore power, authorities said.

Connecticut commuters piled onto buses or sought alternative routes after Metro-North Railroad suspended service on its New Canaan line and on its Danbury line, which it said on Twitter was hampered by a mudslide and related signal problems.

More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost electricity overnight throughout the Northeast, including about 300,000 customers in Massachusetts, 270,000 in New Hampshire, 142,000 in Rhode Island, 30,000 on New York’s Long Island, 56,000 in Maine and 35,000 in Vermont, according to local media.

Early on Monday, traffic lights in parts of Washington remained dark due to power outages.

The storm hit the East Coast on the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. That late-season hurricane killed at least 159 people in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, and damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes.

The National Weather Service said the heaviest rains and winds ended late on Monday morning, but lighter precipitation and some gusts would persist throughout the day.

“The biggest potential now is for more trees to come down and for minor-to-moderate river flooding in eastern New York and much of New England today into tomorrow,” Chenard said.

It was not immediately known how long it would be until power is fully restored.

 

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)