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Morning news brief

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

Hundreds of thousands of Californians lost power, and tens of thousands have fled their homes. Major highways are closed up and down the state this morning due to flooding.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

California is in the middle of its fifth major storm since Christmas, and more storms are on the way. Here's California state climatologist Michael Anderson.

MICHAEL ANDERSON: These are interesting events in that each individually - not all that awe-inspiring in terms of, oh, my gosh, that's a monster storm. It's the fact that you're just having so many of them with little break in between them.

BROWN: Joining us from Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco, is KQED reporter Danielle Venton. Well, Danielle, it's been a wet night and morning up and down the state. How are these storms affecting folks where you are?

DANIELLE VENTON, BYLINE: Here in Sonoma County, we've had people die from falling trees, people rescued from getting their vehicle stuck in water, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to roads. And we've had a lot of people who live along the Russian River, which for decades has been a hot spot for flooding damage in the Western U.S., be displaced. I visited with some of these people to hear what they've been going through. I met Louis Britton, who lives in an RV in a town called Guerneville on the banks of the Russian River.

LEWIS BRITTON: And the area that I live floods at 30 feet. So, yeah, so I was like, well, I guess it's time to go.

VENTON: He's part of a group of evacuees who live in RVs or trailers who have come to a private park. It's really a kids playground. There's about 50 people, including about 20 children, and they've been living here for the last few days because where they normally park their homes, it's just too dangerous. They're getting support from the county such as food and water, and they've moved in port-a-potties.

BROWN: Yeah, Danielle, we know this area of Northern California is also where burn scar, lots of fires have happened. The rains are affecting folks throughout the state now. What are you hearing from other parts of California?

VENTON: Well, there's a 34-mile levee along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento that saw several breaches during the New Year's Eve storm. There's a lot of nervousness that it could breach again and flood nearby land and homes. Elsewhere, we're seeing serious floods with water inundating homes. In the Santa Cruz area, for example, a much beloved pier and wharf were destroyed. And of course, more recently, farther south, parts of Santa Barbara and the entire town of Montecito received orders to evacuate immediately Monday afternoon. Five years ago there, during similarly heavy rains, a huge debris flow killed more than 20 people. And, of course, that's what officials fear could happen again and what these evacuations are meant to guard against. At least if landslides happen, people won't be there this time. And in Los Angeles County, authorities issued a flash flood warning.

BROWN: Yeah.

VENTON: Some of the places affected include Long Beach, Malibu, Beverly Hills, downtown. Lots of roads and highways are closed this morning due to mudslides and debris in the road.

BROWN: Oh, my goodness. Last night the winds were so strong, Danielle, here in Southern California, in LA County. We've seen, of course, a serious drought over the years. How is all this affecting that? Are we moving out of it?

VENTON: Well, it's a little complicated. I mean, these rains are causing huge problems, but they're also really helpful for our water supply.

BROWN: Yeah.

VENTON: It's going to take a couple of months before we know how our supplies are looking going into summer.

BROWN: All right. That's KQED's Danielle Venton. Thank you.

VENTON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROWN: The Biden administration is unveiling a generous new student loan repayment plan today. Most current and new federal student loan borrowers will be eligible for the plan, and it could especially help low-income borrowers.

FADEL: But there's a catch. The agency tasked with implementing the plan might not have the money to pay for it.

BROWN: That's right. NPR's education correspondent Cory Turner joins us. He's been covering this story quite a bit. First, Cory, good morning. And what can you tell us about this new repayment plan from the Biden administration?

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Yeah, good morning, Dwane. It is a big rewrite of a previous plan that will mean $0 loan payments for anybody who earns less than $30,000 a year. Folks who borrowed $12,000 or less would receive loan forgiveness after 10 years of payments. That's new.

BROWN: Yeah.

TURNER: Borrowers will also no longer see interest explode their balances over time. But there are two challenges to this rollout. One, the regulatory rewrite process could take some time, you know, well into 2023. And two, there is the cost to implement it, which is unclear. What is clear is when the plan does roll out, the Office of Federal Student Aid is going to have to cut something else to pay for it.

BROWN: Yeah, unclear the cost to implement. So why is that? Why doesn't the federal government have the money?

TURNER: So the Office of Federal Student Aid, or FSA - it's a really small agency, relatively speaking, but it has a herculean job of managing the U.S. government's entire federal student loan portfolio. And it's in a sudden budget crisis. I spent the past few weeks talking about this with officials across government who were not authorized to talk to me - eight people in all. We talked about how this happened and how officials at FSA are right now behind closed doors really frustrated and scrambling to figure out how to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending. And what happened, Dwane, is that last month, when Congress and the White House agreed on this massive government funding bill for 2023, the omnibus, there was a fight over FSA's budget.

So sources tell me while Republican negotiators did float a roughly 20% increase for FSA, they wanted the White House to put in writing that the money would not be spent on implementing the big debt relief plan that's currently on hold at the Supreme Court, just in case the court allows it to proceed. The problem is, according to Democrats, both sides had agreed not to add new conditions like this to the omnibus. They're called riders. So when Republicans insisted on a debt relief rider anyway, Democrats said, look, you agreed to the deal - no new riders. We're sticking to it. What matters most to borrowers - in the end, they failed to compromise, and FSA did not get a dollar more than the budget amount they got last year.

BROWN: Wow. Cory, we're talking about the federal - the Office of Federal Student Aid, or FSA, as it relates to them cutting to save money. Where are we at there?

TURNER: Yeah. So FSA can find a way to pay for this big, ambitious new repayment plan. But borrowers could and will see cuts or delays to other student loan reforms supposed to happen this year. You know, there's a big review and update of millions of borrower records in July. That could be delayed. It's currently revamping the FAFSA student aid form to make it easier for families to complete. That's probably untouchable. There could be a delay in new contracts for loan servicers. I'm also hearing basic functions could be hit. You know, borrowers might spend a lot more time on the phones.

BROWN: Yeah. That's NPR's Cory Turner. Thanks, Cory.

TURNER: You're welcome, Dwane.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROWN: We're learning more about the shooting at a Virginia elementary school that left one teacher wounded. Police say a 6-year-old boy pulled the trigger.

FADEL: Newport News police described the teacher as a hero for what she did after she was shot on Friday. But troubling questions are emerging about how to move forward in a case where the suspect is a first-grader.

BROWN: Yeah. We're joined by Ryan Murphy of member station WHRO in Norfolk. He's been following this story. Ryan, good morning. You know, it's rare, of course, to have such a young child shoot a teacher. What are police saying about how he got the gun?

RYAN MURPHY, BYLINE: Well, Dwane, we learned yesterday from a new briefing from the chief that the boy took the gun from his home. It was his mother's gun. She had bought it legally. They rolled out some more information, filling in some gaps in the timeline for us. You know, we know he showed up to school with the gun. He pulled it out during class, pointed it at his teacher while she was doing a lesson. You know, there wasn't a fight or a struggle over the gun. He just fired it once, ended up hitting her in the hand and then in the chest.

BROWN: Yeah. This teacher - popular on campus, Abby Zwerner - what do we know about her condition at this point?

MURPHY: Well, her condition sounds like it's improving. Initially, she was listed with life-threatening injuries. She's now stable. She's apparently talking. The chief said he'd talked to her a couple of times. Apparently, the first question she had was asking how her students were.

BROWN: Yeah. Yeah. What more have we learned about that 6-year-old boy? I mean, we know, as we said at the beginning of this, rare for such a young child to be involved in such a heinous incident.

MURPHY: Yeah. So we didn't learn a whole lot more about him personally, but we do know he was taken into police custody pretty quickly after the shooting happened. Since then, he's been detained by police. They put him under a temporary detention order. That's, in Virginia, the same kind of order they use to get people experiencing mental health crises into treatment. He's being examined by child psychologists at a medical facility for the moment. He'll probably be there a couple of days more before they decide where to go with this.

BROWN: Yeah. And given his age, 6, how are authorities pursuing this case?

MURPHY: Well, it's one of those things the police chief said we're going to take this slow, and they'll be having to - have to see what the psychologists say once they're done evaluating him. Police Chief Steve Drew said that they could bring him in front of a judge after the evaluations are done and the detention order runs out. That seems really unlikely. We've been speaking to some legal experts. They say they've never seen a child this young charged in a case like this. So if he doesn't get taken in front of a judge for charges, there are other options from there - you know, getting the boy more mental health services, looking at his home situation, deciding if he needs to be moved elsewhere. You know, the school superintendent yesterday said there's only been a couple of other cases of kids this young deliberately shooting someone at school. So, you know, getting a resolution in this case is going to be pretty tricky. There's not a whole lot of precedent.

BROWN: Yeah. Ryan Murphy of member station WHRO, thank you.

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

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Dwane Brown
Dwane Brown is a multiple award-winning newscaster for NPR and joined the network in December 2015. He is the first newscaster to broadcast from NPR West in Culver City, California. His newscasts air during All Things Considered.