Coachella Won’t Require Masks, Testing, Or Vaccination When The Desert Music Festival Returns In April

When the Coachella outdoor music festival returns for the first time in two years this April, performers will be greeted by a sea of unmasked — and potentially unvaccinated — fans as the struggling concert industry stirs back to life.

Organizers said on Tuesday that attendees would not be required to wear masks or be vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which drew up to 125,000 fans a day to Southern California and was one of the biggest music festivals of the pre-pandemic era.

“There is no guarantee, express or implied, that those attending the festival will not be exposed to Covid-19,” Goldenvoice, a division of the global concert giant AEG Live, said on the Coachella website.

Goldenvoice noted, however, that the festival’s Covid policies may change “in accordance with applicable public health conditions.”

Goldenvoice also said on Tuesday that Stagecoach, a country music festival in Southern California, would have no requirements for guests to be masked, vaccinated or tested. The festival was set to run for three days in late April and early May.

It has been a turbulent two years for the concert and touring industries as a number of events were canceled because of the coronavirus. In the last year, since Covid vaccines became widely available, organizers have grappled with decisions over whether to hold the events at all and whether to require masks, vaccines and testing.

Over four days last summer, the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago ran at full capacity, with its 400,000 attendees being required to show either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. According to data released by the city after the festival, infection rates among the concertgoers were low.

Coachella did not run in 2020 or 2021, and was canceled three times over the pandemic, including a rescheduled date in the fall of 2020.

Before the pandemic, Coachella, which is widely seen as a bellwether for the multibillion-dollar touring business, had put on a show every year since 1999 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. It typically runs over two weekends in April.

The organizers of Coachella announced in January, after weeks of speculation, that the festival would be back this year. It is set to be headlined by Billie Eilish, Harry Styles and Kanye West.

Source: NY Times

Amsterdam’s Sex Workers Face Financial Stress As The Pandemic Continues

At first glance, a Saturday night in October may have looked like a pre-pandemic evening in Amsterdam’s famous red-light district.

Couples, tourists, and bachelor and bachelorette parties from all over the world browsed the bright posters of near-naked sex workers. Tall colonial-style brothel windows, laced with red-and-pink neon lights, illuminated the neighborhood. The rainy and windy weather had little impact on the massive crowd.

Behind each window, sex workers in lingerie used different techniques to grab potential clients’ attention. Some tapped the glass, others winked and blew kisses, and a few sat on barstools and scrolled through their phones.

“In Amsterdam, prostitution is number one,” Amanda, a sex worker who declined to use her real name, told ABC News at the time.

In early fall, the Netherlands had some of the country’s least strict COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic began. Life resembled what it was like before the coronavirus, but, for Amanda and other sex workers, it was clear that even with relaxed pandemic measures, business was slow. In fact, workers in the sex industry said they have been overlooked financially since the start of the pandemic.

Inside Amanda’s place of work, the ceiling was covered with red neon lights. A speaker blasted electronic music, making the space feel like a nightclub. At the right of the entrance was a small staircase leading upstairs, where Amanda met with clients. The second floor was furnished with only a twin-sized bed, a pillow and a dark sheet. Despite the vibrant ambience, she had only seen one client by 11 p.m.

“Yes, now COVID is a big problem in the work. Now it’s very down,” she said. Amanda shared that prior to 2020, she could make up to $1,400 per shift. She now made a fraction of that.

Although business was slow in October compared to years past, some sex workers at the time seemed optimistic about the end of the pandemic. That was before a spike in COVID cases in November and the Omicron variant caused the Netherlands to enter a new lockdown right before the holidays.

In response to the resulting economic stress, the Dutch government offered financial support to businesses and the self-employed until the end of March. While COVID restrictions were lifted last week for restaurants, bars and cafes, full relief for sex workers remains to be seen.

A late-2020 study conducted by the Prostitute Information Center, a nonprofit organization in the red-light district, and SekswerkExpertise, a resource network, found that many self-employed sex workers who applied for financial aid were rejected because they did not qualify under the government’s requirements for self-employers. Additionally, people in the business have been disproportionately impacted during the pandemic because curfews essentially criminalize sex work, making it difficult to earn income in a nightlife industry.

Zina Berlin, a Dutch sex-worker-rights advocate who works with the Prostitute Information Center, told ABC News that advocates have been calling on government leaders to provide curfew exemptions and additional financial support for sex workers. What they’re fighting for is beyond money – they’re fighting for their livelihood, she said.

“When we write letters to the government, we try to really stress this,” Berlin said “It’s not just numbers; it’s not just money. If you lose your income, you lose your home; you can’t support your loved ones anymore. It breaks lives. It’s really individuals [who] suffer so much.”

A spokesperson for Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema told ABC News that the “city-funded care partner has put in a lot of effort in helping sex workers with COVID financial relief applications.” The city has “processed those applications as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

However, Iris, coordinator of the PIC, who identifies under a professional pseudonym, said they are currently continuing their 2020 research and are already finding similar numbers for 2021.

“Yes, there is aid for people registered at the [Netherlands] Chamber of Commerce. But only under strict conditions, that sex workers can’t adhere to,” Iris said. “Research has shown most sex workers don’t apply, as they don’t qualify and of those who try, many get rejected. Not only in Amsterdam, but in the entirety of the Netherlands. Sex workers who are forced by the government to work under the Opting-in system, don’t get any type of financial aid.”

Under the opt-in system, people can work for brothels or escort agencies without being considered an employee, allowing sex workers complete autonomy. Still, in this scheme, they are not considered self-employed, which prevents them from claiming self-employed benefits like coronavirus aid, forcing them to find help through other avenues.

In addition, Berlin said many workers are dealing with mental health challenges. She told ABC News three people she knew in the industry have died by suicide due to pandemic challenges, but she also emphasized that this is a resilient community.

“We also have an emergency fund that was created by sex workers themselves, so we can give some money and food to other sex workers, so we really try to be there,” she said. “There was an emergency helpline that was set up, so if people struggled, they could call and we would refer them to other organizations that could provide help. So, we really do our best as a community, and I think we have shown over these years how resilient we are.”

Still, other challenges are on the horizon. Sex workers are speaking out to keep the red-light district in the city after government officials proposed moving it due to tourists’ rowdy behavior.

Moreover, the Prostitute Information Center recognizes that sex work is often stigmatized, and they are combating stigmas by providing educational tours of the red-light district and lectures on sex worker experiences. The nonprofit hopes that sharing knowledge will create an easier path for better rights and protections.

While the start to the new year isn’t what many anticipated, the hope is that summer will bring better financial opportunities for people in the red-light district.

“Sex work is work. Even if you don’t agree with it, we still deserve the same rights and respect as other professions, and you don’t have to be a sex worker,” Berlin said. “You can let us be the sex workers.”

Source: ABC News

“We Feel Like We’ve Been Scammed.” OnlyFans Models Allege They Were Taken Advantage Of By “Managers” Who Claimed They Could Build Their Followings During The Pandemic

Like many people during the early months of the pandemic, Ari, 21, lost her job in the summer of 2020. She’d been working at a casino in the U.K., but government shutdowns forced her employer to lay her off. “I had to get money somehow,” she says.

Ari, whose full name has been withheld to protect her privacy, had an account on OnlyFans, a direct-to-consumer content platform popularized by online sex workers that exploded in popularity during the pandemic. But she’d never really worked to promote her account, until after she was laid off. She’d started to grow a minor following, raking in about $3,000 per month. Then another creator on OnlyFans, a woman we’ll call Cora, messaged her. She’d just gotten a new manager, Nathan Johnson, who’d promised her she could one day earn nearly $100,000 per month; he’d just lost a model, and he needed a new one to take over her Instagram account.

Ari was intrigued. She was somewhat familiar with Johnson, a 21-year-old social media advertising wunderkind of sorts who on his website touts press coverage from the New York Times (in which he was quoted in a piece on spammy Instagram cash giveaway accounts), Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. Johnson owned a model management company, NJAC LLC, and he was recruiting Ari via his Instagram account Enhancement, which has more than half a million followers on Instagram; in its bio, Enhancement promises to help earn creators $100,00 per month. Ari says Johnson also claimed to be partnered with Baddie, a popular Instagram page promoting OnlyFans creators. (When reached by Rolling Stone, Johnson declined to comment whether NJAC has any relationship with Baddie, though he said the two management companies shared employees at the time.)

Ari thought there were a few red flags — Johnson’s company didn’t have its own website, and she didn’t speak with him on the phone. But Cora, who’d been with Johnson for a month, seemed to be making a lot of money, and Ari was lured by Johnson’s promises of helping her grow her Instagram and OnlyFans following. “[Cora] said you really want to be famous,” Johnson wrote in WhatsApp messages provided to Rolling Stone. “And that’s perfect cause that’s what we make people.”

“Yessss I wanna be rich,” Ari responded.

“Well perfect cause I want to be rich too lol,” Johnson responded.

Ari signed with Johnson, and for a few months, she says, he appeared to deliver on his word, with Ari making $75,000 in the first month. Then she realized he wasn’t actually giving her insight on how to grow her page or what type of content to post; according to Ari, he was just advertising her content on Instagram meme pages. (In a conversation with Rolling Stone, Johnson disputed this: “of course we advised on strategy,” he says.) Plus, her earnings were dropping; one month, she says, she only made $10-$15,000 out of $50,000 of earnings. When she confronted Johnson about this, he said he was spending much of that money on ads, but when Ari asked for proof of how much he was spending, he refused to show her any invoices or documentation, citing company secrets. And according to texts provided to Rolling Stone, he also publicly posted sexually explicit content that she had intended to only sell privately, though he apologized promptly after doing so. Ari says Johnson also pressured her to produce more content, though Johnson denies this, providing text messages to Rolling Stone that he did give her time off when she requested it.

After Ari says she heard from another model that Johnson was not, in fact, partnered with Baddie, she’d had enough. “I realized he was taking too much from me and i felt it wasn’t worth it to continue carrying on,” she says. In February, she sent Johnson a WhatsApp message saying she wanted to terminate their contract. He responded by threatening to take legal action against her if she continued to post content on social media, referring to a sunset clause in the contract she’d signed. “All no competes and clauses of early termination will be applied, and appropriate action will be taken if they are not! Thanks for your time with NJAC,” he wrote in response, adding that Ari would also have to forfeit the previous 30 days’ worth of income.

Johnson tells Rolling Stone he only made such threats under pressure of a lawyer, and had no intention to enforce them. “I’m a reasonable person. I was like, ‘This is what the contract says,’ not, ‘this is what I want to do,’” he says. “She was being very emotional and not very respectful during that conversation.” He also says NJAC’s contracts no longer include sunset clauses or non-competes, though he declined to provide Rolling Stone with a copy of the updated contract. 

After Ari left Johnson, she says, he continued to post as her under her Instagram and OnlyFans accounts and reselling explicit content she had already sold to her followers at a vastly reduced rate, leading to subscribers complaining about her scamming them. It was at this point that she hired attorney Anibal Luque to send a cease-and-desist to Johnson. When Johnson kept posting, Luque sent another one. (Johnson says he had agreed with Ari beforehand that he could post on the account for 30 days afterward, and stopped immediately after receiving the initial letter from her lawyer. He says he did not receive a follow-up letter because he was out of town at the time.)

In the months since she left Johnson, Ari says she’s heard from nearly half a dozen models who had similar experiences with him, including Cora, who also left after she alleges Johnson took 60-70 percent of her income. “Nathan was a very nice guy, until you didn’t comply with his agenda,” Cora says.

Another model who worked with Johnson, who we’ll call Natasha, also signed up with Johnson after losing her job in May of 2020 due to Covid (it was, in fact, Ari who inherited her Instagram account when she left NJAC). When she signed with him, she agreed to give him a whopping 66 percent of her earnings. But like Ari, she alleges she saw far less than 33 percent of her total earnings. “When I asked him about it he told me that all the money spent on ads came off the top,” she says. “I thought that was pretty normal being new to the industry and everything. I didn’t really question it.” She asked him to show her a spreadsheet showing the ad costs, which Johnson provided, but says that something didn’t add up. Natasha posted a video on her OnlyFans saying she was creating a new account. Johnson continued posting as Natasha to her OnlyFans and Instagram using some of her old content, which Johnson says was also written into her contract, and sent her a cease-and-desist for violating the non-compete.

When reached for comment, Johnson says the majority of his models (NJAC now has 30) have had positive experiences with his agency. He attributes his spats with former models to a combination of miscommunication and youth and inexperience with the adult industry. “It’s sad they feel I did them so wrong when, compared to what other people would do, i did what a good person would do, which is only do what was agreed on and that’s it,” he says. He attributes Ari’s negative experience with NJAC to her producing less content and being dissatisfied about her income, having inherited her Instagram account from a model who made almost twice as much as her. “When you put a dollar sign essentially on your body, it’s kinda fucked up,” he says. “Her seeing her income [plummet], that can discourage you a lot.” He also noted that Ari reached out to Johnson shortly after threatening him with legal action, asking if she could pay him to retweet her OnlyFans link onto one of his Twitter pages.

But Ari says Johnson is an example of a manager exploiting those who wish to enter the fledgling creator industry, who overpromises to his models and then blames them when he fails to deliver. “We just feel like we’ve almost been scammed by this man,” she says, referring to herself and other models who’ve come forward. “He seemed to be taking far too much and when we wanted to quit he made it really hard for every model.”

Ari is one of hundreds of thousands of content creators who have joined OnlyFans, a custom content platform popularized by sex workers that has more recently been embraced by more mainstream influencers and creators, many of whom are posting more vanilla content. Though OnlyFans launched in 2016, after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, newly unemployed people started flocking to OnlyFans in droves, with the platform reporting a 75-percent increase in new sign-ups in April 2020 alone; by December 2020, it had gone up to 85 million users. (As of January 2022, that number is 170 million.) A shoutout by Beyoncé in her “Savage” remix, as well as mainstream celebrities like Bella Thorne joining the platform, helped to lend OnlyFans mainstream visibility; it has also arguably contributed to the platform starting to push sex workers out, with OnlyFans announcing in Aug. 2021 that the website would start prohibiting sexually explicit content due to pressure from payment processors. (It later reversed this decision following outcry from creators on the site.)

OnlyFans’ increased popularity has translated into an emerging cottage industry of third parties, such as agencies, consultants, and managers, looking to show newcomers the ropes and make a few bucks in the process. Prior to the pandemic, only major stars (primarily, adult performers with huge followings) would hire someone to manage their OnlyFans by sending fans DMs or posting content for them, says Amberly Rothfield, a marketing and business consultant for online content creators. “Before the pandemic it was just major stars and their boyfriends who ran their accounts,” Rothfield, who uses “xie” and “xir” pronouns, says. “Then a girl would be like ‘Hey, your boyfriend is running your account, would he like to run mine, I’ll give him a percentage.’ More and more people started getting into it.”

Yet as the platform has exploded, OnlyFans managers have since become “little mom-and-pop businesses” taking a small cut of a creator’s earnings in exchange for managing their content. “The pandemic happened and I skyrocketed,” says Dominique Bradley, owner of Bad Bunny Agency, which manages OnlyFans content creators. In addition to managing about 15 models directly, Bradley makes YouTube videos advising creators and managers on how to make money on OnlyFans. “The coronavirus increased the amount of people at home, increased the amount of people who have money able to spend, and the number of people who need to pay their bills. And that created a huge opening in the marketplace.”

But as modeling agencies pop up, bad actors are increasingly flooding the space as well. Last December, for instance, a number of models came forward to allege that the firm Unruly Agency, which manages prominent creators and OnlyFans influencers, as well as an affiliated firm called Behave, used deceptive recruiting practices to entice creators and, in some cases, posted nude or sexually explicit content without their consent. One model filed suit against the agency for alleged financial blackmail and inappropriate behavior, such as posting an illicit video of her to her OnlyFans page without her consent and rerouting her payment information to the agency’s own bank accounts. And nearly half a dozen OnlyFans creators Rolling Stone spoke with shared similar stories about other managers and agencies. (Referring to this and another lawsuit against the agency, Buzzfeed quoted a representative for Unruly saying that the claimsin the lawsuits “are broadly stated and not supported by any evidence.”)

Some of these supposed managers flooding the OnlyFans space use model recruitment as an opportunity to try to get free sexually explicit content. In August 2020, for instance, an OnlyFans creator named Josie, then 23, says she was contacted by another OnlyFans creator on a “like-for-like” Twitter DM thread, a common method for creators to encourage each other to follow each other and promote their content. The woman told Josie she had an opportunity for her with the modeling agency Infinite Possibilities, which was setting up a 3D holographic magazine, and set her up with a man who identified himself via text as CEO Russel Andrey. They got in touch on WhatsApp to set up a phone call. “Very quickly, before we started the interview, he said, ‘You’re not wearing too many clothes, right?’” Josie says.

According to screengrabs of WhatsApp messages Josie shared with Rolling Stone, Andrey encouraged her to send one-minute videos of herself wearing “minimal clothing.” Josie says he then asked her to write a positive review of his portfolio on Google Reviews, which she did, and then suggested they set up a FaceTime “training.” “He wanted me to show off my skills, my talent, over the phone with him watching… I think what he wanted me to do was masturbate on video chat with him, [because] he told me to get my toys and I was gonna want to get naked,” says Josie. “I was like, ‘I can see where this is going.’”

Josie told Andrey she wasn’t interested and then told a friend about the application process, who suggested to her that she was being scammed in exchange for providing Andrey with free content. An embarrassed Josie edited her Google review to call the company out, only to receive a reply saying the agency had done a background check on her and found trafficking and drug charges against her (which would have been impossible, she says, because she never gave Andrey her real name). Since then, “I’ve heard a lot about fake training where people can go to OnlyFans models and say, ‘we can make you a real model, just go for this training,’ and it turns out the training is just collecting a whole bunch of your work for free,” she says. (Andrey did not reply to requests for comment.)

Other aspiring OnlyFans modeling agents appear to simply be trying to capitalize off the platform’s boom, without having the knowledge or skill set to do so. Roxie Sinner, 18, was living at home with her parents and selling premium content on Snapchat when a 22-year-old man named Samer Morcy DM’ed her on Instagram. Morcy claimed to be a model manager with an agency called Bombshell. “At the time I didn’t know anything about the industry. I just wanted to make money to move out,” she says. So when Morcy asked for 34 percent of her earnings in exchange for promoting her on Instagram and preventing her content from being leaked, she didn’t bat an eyelash. “Honestly, I thought he’d ask for 50,” she says. (The standard in the industry, Rothfield says, is between 5 and 15 percent.)

Then Roxie started noticing the checks Morcy was sending her were less than she expected. When she confronted him about it, she says he admitted he was taking 50 percent, a number she says they had not agreed to. She also received DMs from an anonymous person addressed to her legal first name, saying Morcy had been impersonating her on Snapchat and selling her nudes without her consent. “That’s when I really lost my shit,” she says. She confronted him over text, where he denied impersonating her and claimed she had agreed to 50 percent to start with.

The next day, Roxie says, she woke up to realize she had been logged out of her OnlyFans. When she managed to get in touch with a representative, they said she had tried to delete her own account. Though OnlyFans eventually gave her back access to the account, she estimates Morcy still owes her about $16,000, and never got a “single cent” back. “He knew I was a naive little child,” she says. “He knew I’d go along with everything he said.”

Lora is another OnlyFans creator based outside the U.S. who claims to have been contacted by Morcy on Twitter last spring. She says Morcy represented himself as an agent employed at Veno Management, a firm that specializes in managing growth for models and influencers. “He promised that I would be in the top one percent in a few months of working with them. That did not happen,” she says. Lora also shared with Rolling Stone a copy of the contract she signed upon starting work with Morcy, which lists the agency as Bombshell Magazine Limited, or BML, Agency. A search for Bombshell Magazine Limited yielded one Facebook page with three likes, which lists an Orlando, Florida address as headquarters for the company; that address is the same as the address on Morcy’s driver license.

When contacted by Rolling Stone, Veno Management denied any involvement with Morcy. “Veno Management is a social media management agency that is absolutely in no way, shape or form associated with the individual you have mentioned as ‘Samer Morcy’,” the company said in a statement. When reached for comment, Morcy denied any wrongdoing while he was working as a manager for OnlyFans models, and said that the anonymous DMs were written by a former friend who was trying to smear his reputation.

Part of the reason why the OnlyFans space is so rife for exploitation is because of the stigma attached to the sex industry in general. Many who have joined OnlyFans within the past two years are completely new to the adult industry, and thus are concerned about being outed to their family or friends. It is not unheard of for this to happen to content creators when the relationship goes south, says Rothfield. “If you try to leave it’s basically, ‘I know who you are, I know where you live, it would be a shame if this info came out,’” xie says.

Within the industry itself, hiring someone to manage your OnlyFans carries a fair amount of stigma. Rothfield compares the manager cottage industry to a Fight Club: “it’s just something you don’t talk about.” Because the ostensible purpose of OnlyFans is to connect content creators directly to their followers, there’s a belief among many fans that if creators hire someone to answer their DMs or post content for them, they’re “scamming” or “catfishing” consumers — even though the practice of hiring social media managers is widespread, if not standard, in the mainstream entertainment industry. “People sign up for OF because they want the one-on-one connection with you. They think they’re talking to you,” says Jessica Sage, an online sex worker and stay-at-home parent. Sage briefly hired a manager two years ago after her following grew, only to terminate the relationship when, she says, without her consent, he started offering her subs custom content that she was not comfortable making. “I realized they wanted to do things to help their pockets,” she says. “I felt like at the end of the day, [the relationship] would hurt me more than it would benefit me.”

For those just starting an OnlyFans, hiring a manager may at first seem like a good way to navigate an unfamiliar industry. Autumn Nelson, a popular content creator who goes by @ColorsOfAutumn on Instagram, was approached by her current manager on Instagram in 2017, when the influencer industry was just starting to take off. “I never thought I could be one of those people with a large Instagram. I was just a technician who worked in health care,” she says. “But I thought, why not? Let’s just try it and see what happens.” She says with his help, she reached 10,000 followers within a week, completely organically. She now has 1.2 million Instagram followers and a sizeable following on OnlyFans, where her manager takes an eight-percent commission to post content for her and respond to pay-per-view messages. She has also started managing models on an Autumn’s Angels Instagram account, inviting models to sign up for OnlyFans using her referral link, a common way for creators to make money. (OnlyFans has a program that offers five percent of a new model’s first-year earnings to the creator who referred them.)

Despite her own success, however, Nelson cautions OnlyFans newcomers against hiring someone to outsource their content management off the bat. Prior to hiring her current manager, she says, she had a bad experience with a former manager who coerced her into videos that she “wasn’t comfortable with at all,” which ended up being posted on the website ManyVids without her consent for additional profit. The manager, she alleges, also sent photos to her family and tried to sell foot fetish videos to a private client. “As you build your platforms, you kinda can determine who’s trustworthy or not,” she says. “I would say don’t go with a program you see ads for online. Find an individual you see as trustworthy, preferably a female, who understands how personal and uncomfortable it can be posting your nude content online.”

In theory, OnlyFans itself discourages creators from sharing their passwords and other account info. In a statement, OnlyFans tells Rolling Stone: “All creator accounts on OnlyFans must be owned by and be registered in the name of the creator and be paid out to the creator’s bank account. The platform has no involvement in any agreements made between creators and third party managers off of the platform.”

But Rothfield says that as the manager industry grows, OnlyFans could afford to be much more responsive to creators who may find themselves getting fleeced by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. “In our experience working with them they haven’t been the most receptive or involved,” says Luque, Ari’s attorney. “When we’ve tried to get things taken down it hasn’t been the most fruitful.” Rothfield says that she is seeing an increasing number of creators get locked out of their accounts and seek out xir help for recovering them. With OnlyFans, xie says, “you kinda just have to pray. You email support and you hope they get back to you.”

But as more and more aspiring adult content creators join OnlyFans, and more and more aspiring entrepreneurs gravitate to the platform to make a few bucks, some content creators are warning newbies to steer clear of people claiming to be agents or managers. “They make all these promises: ‘You’re gonna grow so much, you’re gonna make thousands of dollars and be super successful,’” says Sage. “But at the end of the day it’ll benefit them more than it benefits you.”

Source: Rolling Stone

EDD Wants Its Unemployment Money Back — Clawback Program Requires People Who Got Unemployment Assistance To Prove They Were Working Or Seeking Work

A musician who lost all her unemployment documents when her home burned in a wildfire. An arborist who filed for unemployment assistance a year before the pandemic began. A tattoo artist who can’t prove he was working because he ran a cash operation.

These are just a few Californians caught in a state dragnet to recover money from fraudulent unemployment claims.

Late last year, California’s Employment Development Department launched a clawback program, requiring some 1.4 million people who received federal pandemic unemployment assistance to retroactively prove they were working or seeking work. That program, which ended in September, was aimed at helping people who don’t usually qualify for unemployment benefits because they are freelancers or small-business owners.

As of Jan. 4, one out of five recipients who received the notice has responded. The state says a majority have been deemed eligible and won’t have to repay, but some are unable to provide documentation, leaving them on the hook to repay benefits that could add up to tens of thousands of dollars. If they can’t pay, the state could collect the money in a variety of ways, such as wage garnishments or taking them to court.

“They are going to want money back from me that I don’t have,” said Donna Casey, a musician who could owe EDD more than $30,000 after losing her home in the August Complex fire in 2020. “What are they going to do to me, put me in jail? At least I’ll have a place to live.”

Policy experts had warned against the clawback program, noting it would hurt poor Californians who were already disproportionately sidelined from the job market by the pandemic.

Even former federal prosecutor McGregor Scott, hired by the state to lead a separate investigation into large-scale unemployment fraud, expressed skepticism that the effort would recoup much of some $20 billion lost to fraudulent claims, including millions of dollars of state-approved payments to prison inmates. Advocates suggested letting claimants like Casey keep the money regardless of proof, but the state is holding firm.

That’s left many Californians in a bind.

Some who were contacted by EDD said they are terrified of losing their homes. Many are furious that the responsibility fell on them after they already received the money. And others simply don’t know where to turn for help.

Casey had lost gigs and stopped selling homemade jewelry at festivals when the lockdown began. Then she lost all her documentation when her house in Trinity County burned in a wildfire, just after her daughter died of a lung infection.

Unemployment was a lifesaver as Casey searched for work throughout the pandemic, including applying to an Amazon warehouse. But, at 67-years-old, she couldn’t lift enough to qualify for the job.

Casey, however, never thought she might have to pay back her benefits.

Now living in Berkeley with one of her daughters, Casey has some photos of her old business cards that she’ll send to the agency. She also hopes EDD will speak with the music groups she played with – but she worries that won’t cut it.

Similarly, at the start of the pandemic, Sasha Emery was living in an RV partly paid for by federal emergency funds after her Paradise home burned down. After finally getting into affordable housing during the pandemic, she signed up for unemployment when the few available jobs didn’t pan out.

When the notice arrived asking for proof or repayment, shock turned into tears. All Emery has to offer are records of her dire situation: food stamps, Medi-Cal documentation and potentially the federal assistance she received after the fire.

If a recipient can’t offer the necessary proof, and cannot repay the funds at once or in installments that could include 3% interest, EDD may seek the money in a number of ways. The agency could put a lien on property, take up to 25% of a recipient’s wages, withhold state and federal tax refunds or lottery winnings, deduct benefits from future unemployment or state disability insurance benefits, or file a lawsuit.

Source: The OC Register

TikTok Party ‘Adrian’s Kickback’ In Huntington Beach Deteriorates Into Unlawful Assembly, Curfew Declared

Adrian’s Kickback, the improptu birthday party organized in Huntington Beach, California via TikTok and other online sites that went massively viral, deteriorated into a small-scale riot on Saturday.

Police declared an “unlawful assembly” late on Saturday “due to unruly crowds” and declared an emergency curfew from 11:30 PM for all individuals within the area of Beach Boulevard to Goldenwest and Pacific Coast Highway to Yorktown in Huntington Beach.

The gathering, originally scheduled for Saturday night, turned into a two-day affair when several thousand party-seekers showed up on Friday night in the beach area to pre-game the event. At least a thousand attendees were at both nights.

Most of the revelers merely enjoyed being in a large, post-pandemic gathering of peers. But soon, a few began confronting a large police presence in the area, setting off fireworks. A few bottles were reportedly thrown at the police, increasing the tensions.

Authorities finally began to disperse the crown when some climbed on top of beach lifeguard towers and increased the use of fireworks, the Orange County Register reported. Pepper balls and tear gas were deployed in some cases.

At least one person was reportedly arrested but no other details were given.

EARLIER: Huntington Beach, California is bracing for what could be the TikTok Woodstock.

An online post on TikTok has gone viral, promoting a birthday party called Adrian’s Kickback, set for Saturday night in the usually sleepy beach town. The party takes its name from a song by Adrian Hour, an Argentinian DJ and music producer.

So far, the post has generated more than 3 million views, and the chatter of who’s going, how to get there, and music videos created in support of the event are mushrooming.

The online chatter has caught the eye of authorities in Huntington Beach.“We are actively monitoring multiple social media posts advertising a large gathering on the beach this weekend,” the Huntington Beach police posted on Twitter. “The safety & well-being of our residents, visitors, businesses & motorists is paramount, which is why the Huntington Beach Police Department (HBP) .is taking significant steps to prepare for the potential influx of visitors, including working closely with our regional public safety partners. Toward that end, the HBPD will also be strictly enforcing all applicable laws & ordinances throughout the weekend.The beach party can be traced back to a video that was posted on May 19 by the TikTok page adrian.lopez517, Adrian Lopez. The caption says, “pop out n celebrate my bday‼️‼️‼️ #partynextdoor #turnitup #SpotlightAPI #beach #projectx #function.”

The video shows a dancing scene and says the party will take place at Huntington Beach at the firepits with a 7:30 PM start. “BYOE!! Repost!!” the video caption says.

As of this writing, it is unclear who “Adrian” actually is, and several people have tried to claim the mantle.

Source: Deadline Hollywood

Six Homeless People Were Paid To Fill Disposable Cameras During UK Lockdowns, With Images Now Going On Display In London Exhibition

An exhibition showcasing photographs from homeless people during the UK’s coronavirus lockdowns has given them an income boost and provided an “utterly unique” perspective on the pandemic.

Out Of Home was devised by photography hobbyist Dan Barker and his wife Lucy Wood, whose photographs have featured in the Royal Academy.

The couple paid six people £20 for each camera they filled with photographs.

The pictures, taken from largely empty streets across usually bustling London, are now on display in an outdoor exhibition at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The images are also being sold as individual prints and have even been compiled into a 65-page book.

The profits from all these uses will go to the photographers, with a portion also going to the church near Trafalgar Square, to aid its work in helping the homeless.

“The work they’ve produced is utterly unique… people like you and me showing what life has been like, without a home, at a time we were all told to ‘stay at home’,” Mr Barker told the PA news agency.

Joe Pengelly, a homeless man based in Covent Garden, would usually sell The Big Issue but was unable to due to coronavirus restrictions.

Instead he has been reliant on a combination of the £300 he receives each month in benefits and begging on predominantly empty streets.

“Obviously, the income’s a good thing, but it’s not the main thing… now I’ll get known for something other than just begging or being homeless,” the 32-year-old told PA.

“There’s another side to me, and hopefully people will see that… there’s another side to everyone on the streets.”

Mr Pengelly has been staying in a hostel for £120 per month during the pandemic, but he said the temporary accommodation is “the sort of place that can kick you out without an excuse”.

“When the lockdown started it was a nightmare… it was like a nuclear bomb had wiped out all but a tenth of London’s population,” Mr Pengelly added.

“(The hostel) might sort a roof over your head, but it still doesn’t sort out where, where you’re going to get any finance from.”

Mr Pengelly said he was most proud of a photograph he took of three police officers in high-visibility jackets as they asked him to move along.

He also picked out a perspective shot taken while he was reading a book on the street in his sleeping bag.

Government statistics show the average age of death for a homeless woman in the UK is 43, and Mr Barker said Kelly’s death highlights the difficulties of living on the streets, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Another man who took part, Darren Fairbrass, said the public’s perceptions of homeless people changed during the pandemic.

“People have changed… they seemed to think because I’m homeless and sleeping on the streets that I must have this Covid virus,” the 37-year-old said.

“People seemed to get scared if I was to approach them. Thankfully there were still a few that treated me as if I was a human still, and stopped, even just for a chat.”

Mr Fairbrass said life “completely disappeared” from central London during the lockdown, but the cameras made life easier and provided for him and his dog, Indie.

“I’ve lost count how many cameras I have actually filled, I just know it’s a lot and have had fun doing them and made life out here a bit easier,” he added.

Those who took part in the project were told to take pictures of things they find interesting, and not to spend more than one hour and 45 minutes on it each day – to ensure the work was paid at the London Living Wage.

They were given one camera per day, but this was flexible where pay could help, and altogether thousands of photographs were taken.

The exhibition Out Of Home is free and open from Thursday to Sunday and on bank holidays.

Source: Shropshire Star

Are DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates, Grubhub, Good For Restaurants?

While indoor dining has dropped way down during the pandemic, food delivery has grown considerably. DoorDash and Uber Eats, the two largest delivery apps by market share both saw their sales double from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.

But while it might be an easy decision for customers to use these third-party delivery apps, the decision for restaurants is not so easy. There is a lot to consider, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

To find out more, watch CNBC’s deep-dive into the pros and cons of third-party delivery apps for restaurants.