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News brief: Tulsa shooting, Corinthian student loans, inflation hits food banks

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We begin this morning with reports of another deadly mass shooting, this time in Tulsa, Okla.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Police there say a man carrying a rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a medical building on Wednesday afternoon, killing four people. The shooter then apparently took his own life. Here's Cliff Robertson, the CEO of Saint Francis Hospital, speaking to reporters.

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CLIFF ROBERTSON: We're an organization that believes in the power of prayer, and there is nothing more this community could do for us than to pray for the families and the loved ones and the victims of this senseless act.

MARTINEZ: This is a developing story, coming just a week after the shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 21. And over the Memorial Day weekend, a separate shooting in Taft, near Tulsa, killed one person and left another seven wounded.

MARTIN: Joining us now, reporter Beth Wallis from StateImpact Oklahoma. Beth, good morning.

BETH WALLIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about the latest developments from the shooting?

WALLIS: So when Tulsans woke up Wednesday morning, the city's focus was on honoring the victims and survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre - 101-year anniversary was actually on Tuesday and Wednesday. But a shooting happened around 4:53 p.m. at the Natalie Building on the Saint Francis Hospital campus in south Tulsa. There are five dead, including the shooter. And police believe the shooter died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And the killings drew a quick reaction from local representatives and federal officials, including the White House, which said President Biden had been briefed, and the White House also offered support to state and local officials.

MARTIN: And are police providing further details about just what happened, how the shooting took place?

WALLIS: Yeah. So it took place on the second floor of a hospital, and that floor also contains at least an orthopedic unit. Police also said they found a witness to the shootings, a person who they say was a potential victim, found in a closet in the hospital.

MARTIN: Do we know anything about the victims or the shooter at this point?

WALLIS: Officials haven't yet released the victims' names. And police say the shooter is between 35 to 40 years old. Police haven't yet identified a motive for the shooting.

MARTIN: It's impossible to ignore the fact that the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, just happened. Obviously, there the focus is on the disputed police response. Is that having any effect on how police in Tulsa are dealing with this shooting?

WALLIS: You know, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum actually praised the rapid collaboration and response from the various agencies involved, a point of controversy in Texas. Here local, state and even federal law enforcement were involved.

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G T BYNUM: I also want to express our community's profound gratitude for the broad range of first responders who did not hesitate today to respond to this act of violence.

WALLIS: But Mayor Bynum also said the time for policy discussions is in the future, and right now his thoughts are with the families of the victims. And in contrast to the Uvalde shooting, the police say their response time was about three minutes. Officials say about four or five minutes passed from when the shooter came into the building to when officers made contact.

MARTIN: Beth Wallis of StateImpact Oklahoma joined us from Tulsa. Thank you so much, Beth.

WALLIS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: OK, hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers who went to the now defunct Corinthian Colleges are getting help from the Biden administration.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, the U.S. Department of Education has announced it will erase all remaining federal student loans taken out by borrowers to attend a Corinthian campus from the school's founding to its abrupt closure. According to the agency, it is the single largest act of student loan forgiveness in history.

MARTIN: NPR correspondent Cory Turner joins us to talk about this. Hey, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start by having you remind us why these Corinthian students are getting their loans erased.

TURNER: During the Obama administration, the Ed Department really started going after predatory for-profit colleges, and Corinthian became kind of the poster child for this type of school. In 2015, the department found that Corinthian had engaged in widespread and pervasive misrepresentation - those are the department's words - about borrowers' future job prospects, including promises they would find a job. They falsified their public job placement rates, the department said, and they made pervasive misstatements to prospective students about the ability to transfer credits. Interestingly, Rachel, it was California's then-attorney general, Kamala Harris, who in 2013 sued Corinthian, and that kicked off a chain reaction at the state and federal level that ultimately led to Corinthian shutting down in 2015. And that's also one big reason Vice President Harris is going to be part of the official announcement of this move later today.

MARTIN: But, I mean, for years, Corinthian borrowers, Cory, have been able to ask the department to forgive their loans, right? How is this different?

TURNER: Yeah, I think this is the most interesting part, really. Under a provision, known as borrower defense, borrowers who have been defrauded by their college can apply to the Ed Department to have their loans discharged, and roughly 100,000 Corinthian borrowers have already done this. What's interesting about today's move is that it throws this application step out the window. So now the Biden administration is literally saying if you attended Corinthian between its founding in 1995 and its closing 20 years later, we will erase whatever is left of your loans automatically. The department estimates this is going to help more than half-a-million borrowers by discharging nearly $6 billion in debts, making it what the department says is the single-largest loan discharge it has ever done.

MARTIN: So can you walk us through what the Biden administration has done overall on student loan forgiveness and how this particular discharge with Corinthian Colleges fits into Biden's promises on federal student debt relief?

TURNER: Biden has already made some big changes, big fixes to the public service loan forgiveness program, also to a separate loan discharge program for borrowers with permanent disabilities. And in all, including today's news, the Biden administration has approved $25 billion in loan forgiveness for 1.3 million borrowers. It is not clear, though, Rachel, what this says, if anything, about the possibility of broader student loan forgiveness. You know, pressure has certainly been building on the White House, which has repeatedly leaked to reporters that Biden wants to forgive or plans to forgive $10,000 per borrower with some loose income limits. But I've also heard from a few sources that that decision has not yet been made.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's education correspondent Cory Turner. Cory, thank you.

TURNER: You're welcome, Rachel.

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MARTIN: Inflation has reached levels not seen in decades.

MARTINEZ: And that has more people turning to food banks, which themselves are struggling with higher food costs that complicate meeting the spiking demand. Skyrocketing inflation has surprised even the Federal Reserve's leaders, and President Biden met with Fed Chair Jerome Powell this week to find solutions to slow rising prices.

MARTIN: NPR's Jennifer Ludden has been talking with people trying to make ends meet in this moment. She joins us now. Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: Let's talk about demand. We always remember, you know, these very, very long lines at food banks early in the pandemic. What's the situation now?

LUDDEN: Well, you know, some people have not stopped going. I mean, I think this is worth noting that just even before inflation spiked, food insecurity was still higher than before the pandemic. And keep in mind that inflation really started ticking up just when pandemic emergency aid was starting to run out for many people. But when I visited a food pantry in Norfolk, Va., there were also newcomers. One standing in the line outside was Justine Lee. She's a bank teller. And she says these days she's haggling with her 11-year-old daughter over even small things, like which chips they can afford.

JUSTINE LEE: Yeah, we're back and forth. You know, like, no, what about Kroger brand? I want Dorito. I was like, well, it's not on sale right now.

LUDDEN: She and others say they're cutting back on gas by consolidating errands, even canceling medical appointments that are just too far away. There was one man there. He was just so upset to be at this food pantry. He told me, I have a really good job. He's a supervisor at a radiator installation company. But he says, I've got four kids, and I can't afford to feed them.

MARTIN: Wow. So what does all this mean for the food banks that have to serve all these folks?

LUDDEN: It is absolutely blowing up their budgets. I spoke with Christopher Tan. He is CEO at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. He said, first, donations from grocery stores are way down. That's partly because of their supply chain problems. So that means food banks have to buy more things on the open market at these inflated prices. And by the way, they also face supply chain delays. Some things are taking months to arrive. Plus, Tan says, you know, his fuel costs for delivery trucks have doubled.

CHRISTOPHER TAN: With inflation, if you're a private business, what do you do? You pass on the cost, and inflation gets even worse, right? So you just keep passing it on, but you at least try to make up for it. We don't get to do that. We don't get to say, like, we're going to double the cost of our food 'cause doubling the cost of our food is still zero.

LUDDEN: Now, Tan says so far, his operation is getting by off a spike in financial donations that they were grateful to get last year. But that will only last so long. Around the country, some food banks are dipping into emergency reserves. They're limiting how often people can visit or how much food they can get.

MARTIN: So this week, the Biden administration and some officials there admitted that record-high inflation is dragging on longer than they first thought it would. Where does that leave food banks if prices don't come down soon?

LUDDEN: Yeah. Feeding America runs a network of programs around the country. It has asked Congress for another round of emergency aid that it says they need to help all these operations buy food. But the group's president, Katie Fitzgerald, says the problem of hunger really goes beyond this crisis, that she says it's a symptom of wider inequalities. You know, 30 to 40 years ago, charitable food was for true emergencies. But then the cost of housing, health care, education all skyrocketed, while wages for most people lagged.

KATIE FITZGERALD: And today we're seeing a lot of folks that are kind of budgeting in charitable food into their monthly budget. And when that is happening in this country, something is fundamentally wrong because a lot of these folks are working.

LUDDEN: And she says that's a problem that won't go away just because the inflation rate comes back down.

FITZGERALD: NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thanks for this reporting. We appreciate it.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.