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Drug Reform

The first major reform to over-the-counter drug regulation since 1972 will streamline oversight of these medications that 4 in 5 Americans use as a first response to minor ailments. The new federal law, which had bipartisan support, updates the process FDA uses to regulate consumer products such as cold and cough treatments, pain relievers, and antiperspirants and is intended to help the agency move faster to protect consumers from unsafe drugs. It also allows manufacturers to more easily market innovative products. Pew staff compiled evidence outlining the benefits of reforms and helped create a coalition of medical organizations, drug manufacturers, and consumer groups to support the effort.

Payday Loans

Virginians can now obtain safer and less costly small loans, thanks to the Fairness in Lending Act, which reforms the state’s payday and auto title loan market. Research from Pew’s consumer finance project and a grassroots coalition of community, faith, and business leaders helped achieve bipartisan support for the legislation, which is expected to save Virginia consumers an estimated $100 million annually. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Ralph Northam (D) moved up the law’s enactment date by six months to Jan. 1, 2021, to help sooner during a time when many are struggling financially.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds AFP via Getty Images

Marine Conservation

In August, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to adopt an ecosystem-based approach that considers the marine environment as a whole to set annual fishing quotas for menhaden, a species so vital to the East Coast marine food web that it is often called the most important fish in the sea. The standards are based on “ecological reference points” that account for the needs of the forage fish’s many predators, such as striped bass, osprey, and whales, and were developed based on research supported by the Pew-managed Lenfest Ocean Program.

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Economy

The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the U.S. economy last year, and the financial pain was especially hard on lower-income Americans, according to a Pew Research Center study released in September. A third of lower-income adults said they or someone in their household had lost a job because of COVID-19, compared to 26% of middle-income and 14% of upper-income adults. Also notable: Thirty-seven percent of lower-income earners reported that they or someone in their household was forced to take a pay cut because of the outbreak, and 35% said they had visited a food bank. Here, cars wait in line at a food distribution site near Orlando, Florida, last November.

NPS/Kristen M. Caldon Flickr Creative Commons

National Parks

The biggest investment in our national parks in nearly 65 years was achieved last year when President Donald Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act on Aug. 4, following its bipartisan passage in Congress. Over a five-year period, the act will direct up to $6.65 billion for priority repairs within national parks (like these at the Grand Canyon) and nearly $3 billion for repairs within national forests, national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. Pew provided data and built a coalition that generated broad public support for the bill, which is financed by mineral revenues from development on federal lands and waters rather than taxpayer revenue.

In partnership with Lyda Hill

Trust in Government

Amid a year defined by the pandemic and the accompanying economic recession, just 20% of Americans said they trust the federal government to do the right thing, continuing a decade of historic lows in the public’s trust in government. Yet a majority want the government to play a major role in everything from keeping the country safe from terrorism (91%) to ensuring access to health care (65%) and alleviating poverty (62%), according to the most recent study of attitudes about government from the Pew Research Center.

State Fiscal Health

Although states collectively began 2020 with the largest fiscal cushion in at least two decades, COVID-19 forced many to dip into their rainy day savings. Research and analysis from Pew’s state fiscal health team is helping to lay critical groundwork for federal relief legislation as well as future state planning. The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs relied on Pew analyses to help cope with fiscal challenges resulting from the pandemic. Pew’s home state of Pennsylvania also launched a new long-term fiscal scorecard that included three key indicators pulled from Pew’s work: state tax revenue volatility, rainy day funds, and state personal income.

Jacob Biba The New York Times/Redux

Broadband

As the coronavirus forced people to begin working and attending school remotely across the U.S., many parts of the country without broadband access struggled to adjust—at least 18 million Americans, mostly in rural areas, lack a reliable high-speed internet connection. Some states turned to data from Pew’s broadband research initiative to help formulate solutions: Texas and Colorado both referenced the importance of stakeholder outreach and engagement in efforts to expand broadband, which Pew findings have shown as critical to success. And two organizations that inform lawmakers—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families and the National Lieutenant Governors Association—also cited the importance of Pew’s findings.

Lexey Swall for The Pew Charitable Trusts

Philadelphia

Pew’s hometown shows some strengths in its small and midsize business environment yet lags behind a dozen other major cities in new business formation, self-employment, and business density, according to a report from Pew’s Philadelphia research and policy initiative. Small and midsize businesses—defined as those with 499 or fewer employees—totaled nearly 23,000 establishments, employed 4 in 10 workers, and paid half of all business taxes in the city, according to pre-pandemic data. The report illuminates growth patterns and vulnerabilities that can help city and state officials weigh policy responses.

Kerry Trapnell for The Pew Charitable Trusts

Australia

Two new Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) developed by Ngadju and Ngururrpa peoples and approved by the Australian Government in October will conserve 18 million acres of Western Australia’s Outback, providing a long-term framework for active management of the natural and cultural values of these lands by Traditional Owners. This addition of the 11-million-acre Ngadju IPA in the Great Western Woodland (shown) and the 7-million-acre Ngururrpa IPA in the Great Sandy Desert means that 78 declared IPAs now cover 183 million acres of deserts, woodlands, rainforests, rivers, wetlands, and coastal habitats in Australia. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ long-term investment in the country’s Indigenous land management— principally via Country Needs People, a network of more than 40 Indigenous organizations—played a key role in supporting Traditional Owners to establish these new reserves.

The Lingering Effects of the Pandemic