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    Biden Highlights Small-Business Help, as Problems Persist With Lending Program

    President Biden visited a Black-owned flooring company as he continued his weeklong push to highlight the $1.9 trillion economic relief package.President Biden dropped by a flooring company in the Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday to promote an assortment of measures in his $1.9 trillion aid package that are aimed at helping small employers and their workers endure the pandemic’s economic shocks.But Mr. Biden’s most immediate and sweeping small-business initiative — changes he made last month to the Paycheck Protection Program — has been mired in logistical challenges. With the relief program scheduled to end in just two weeks, the effect of his modifications will be blunted unless Congress extends it.Last month, Mr. Biden abruptly altered the rules of the $687 billion program to make business owners who employ only themselves eligible for more money. The move was intended to address a clear racial and gender disparity in the relief effort: Female and minority owners, who are much more likely to run tiny businesses than larger ones, were disproportionately hobbled by an earlier rule that based the size of sole proprietors’ loans on their annual profit.Many companies were shut out of the program because of that restriction, while others got loans as small as $1. The administration switched to a more forgiving formula that lets those businesses instead use their gross income, a change that significantly increased the money available to millions of business owners. Its implementation, though, has been a mess.The program’s government-backed loans are made by banks. The largest lender, JPMorgan Chase, refused to make the change, saying it lacked the time to update its systems before March 31, the program’s scheduled end date. The second-largest lender, Bank of America, decided to update all of its applications manually, causing anxiety and confusion among its borrowers. Wells Fargo released its revised application on Tuesday and told borrowers with pending applications that they had just three days to reapply using the new form.Compounding the problem is that Mr. Biden’s change was not retroactive, which has prompted backlash from the hundreds of thousands of borrowers who got much smaller loans than they would now qualify for. Many have used social media or written to government officials to vent their anger.JagMohan Dilawri, a self-employed chauffeur in Queens, got a $1,900 loan in February. Under the new rules, he calculates that he would have been eligible for around $15,000. That wide gulf frustrated Mr. Dilawri, who has struggled to keep up on his mortgage, car loan and auto insurance payments since the pandemic took hold.“When the Biden administration came, they said, ‘We will be fair with everyone,’” he said. “But this is unfair.”Officials at the Small Business Administration, which manages the program, said only Congress could fix that disparity. Absent legislative action, loans that were completed before the rule was revised “cannot be changed or canceled,” said Matthew Coleman, an agency spokesman.On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, by an 81-to-17 vote.Despite the concerns, Mr. Biden was met with praise in Chester, Pa., when he visited Smith Flooring, a Black-owned business that supplies and installs flooring. White House officials said the shop cut payroll over the last year, from 22 union employees to 12, after revenues declined by 20 percent during the pandemic. It has survived, the officials said, thanks in part to two rounds of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress established last year during the Trump administration to help small businesses.“This is a great outfit. This is a union shop,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks. Its employees, he said, “work like the devil, and they can make a decent wage, a living wage.”The owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, secured their second loan from the program as part of one of the Biden administration’s changes, which created a two-week exclusive period for certain very small businesses to receive loans. They thanked Mr. Biden for his efforts and for visiting Chester.Mr. Biden’s aid bill, signed last week, added $7 billion to the program and funded others to help struggling businesses, including a $28 billion grant fund for restaurants. The law also set aside additional money for other relief efforts run by the Small Business Administration, including a long-delayed grant program for music clubs and other live-event businesses, which the agency said would start accepting applications early next month.Lenders are scrambling to carry out the administration’s changes to the Paycheck Protection Program and finish processing a flood of applications before March 31. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants called the deadline “unrealistic,” and 10 banking groups sent a letter to lawmakers urging Congress to give them more time.Advocacy groups are also calling, with increasing urgency, for both an extension and a fix to make the rule change for sole proprietors retroactive.Mr. Biden met with the owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, in Chester, Pa., on Tuesday.Doug Mills/The New York Times“We absolutely need those changes,” said Ashley Harrington, the federal advocacy director at the Center for Responsible Lending. In December, Congress made retroactive changes to Paycheck Protection Program loans for farmers that allowed those borrowers to recalculate and increase previously finalized loans..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.“To have that change be made for one group and not be made for another — especially for a group that has so many Black and Latino business owners that have struggled so much in this crisis — really raised alarms and red flags for us,” Ms. Harrington said.Some key Democratic lawmakers said they were willing to extend the date. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat who leads the House Small Business Committee, said she was working with the Small Business Administration and congressional Republicans “to find a path forward, whether that be through agency action or additional legislation.”“For those sole proprietors who applied before the new rules took effect, we understand their concerns and are eager to work with Congress to resolve them,” said Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council and the White House’s point person on the relief program.Mr. Ramamurti said that “tens of thousands” of loans had been approved by around 4,000 lenders using the new formula, and that some large lenders — including the online lender Biz2Credit and two banks, Cross River Bank and Customers Bank, that make loans for dozens of partner companies — said they had successfully made the needed updates.But many applicants are struggling. Chase’s refusal to make the change provoked outrage on social media from its customers. “What a slap in the face,” one tweeted at the bank. “Please make this right,” another begged.And some Bank of America customers are mired in confusion over the bank’s process, which required loan seekers to apply in writing for an incorrect amount — one that used the older formula — and rely on the bank’s staff to correct their applications by hand.Asim Khan, an environmental consultant in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been trying for two weeks to get his Bank of America application untangled. He has spent hours on the phone and on hold. “I’ve had two reps tell me they’ve seen it work for people, but yet they can’t make it work for me,” he said. “It’s all super clumsy.”Bill Halldin, a Bank of America spokesman, said the bank was “working with each individual client to manually update their loan information, which is the best way for us to help them take advantage of the recently announced rule change.”While the program still has two weeks left, the big banks are already shutting down. Bank of America stopped accepting new applications last week, and Chase plans to close its application system on Friday. More

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    How the U.S. Got It (Mostly) Right in the Economy’s Rescue

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }Biden’s Stimulus PlanBiden’s AddressWhat to Know About the BillAnalysis: Economic RescueBenefits for Middle ClassShoppers at a mall in Los Angeles. Consumer spending is nearly back to its prepandemic level.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesAnalysisHow the U.S. Got It (Mostly) Right in the Economy’s RescueThough the recession has been painful, policymakers cushioned the pandemic’s blow and opened the way to recovery.Shoppers at a mall in Los Angeles. Consumer spending is nearly back to its prepandemic level.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyMarch 15, 2021Updated 2:31 p.m. ETWhen the coronavirus pandemic ripped a hole in the economy a year ago, many feared that the United States would repeat the experience of the last recession, when a timid and short-lived government response, in the view of many experts, led to years of high unemployment and anemic wage growth.Instead, the federal government responded with remarkable force and speed. Within weeks after the virus hit American shores, Congress had launched a multitrillion-dollar barrage of programs to expand unemployment benefits, rescue small businesses and send checks to most American households. And this time, unlike a decade ago, Washington is keeping the aid flowing even as the crisis begins to ease: On Thursday, President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion aid bill that will pump still more cash into households, businesses, and state and local governments.The Federal Reserve, too, acted swiftly, deploying emergency tools developed in the financial crisis a decade earlier. Those efforts helped safeguard the financial system — and the central bank has pledged to remain vigilant.The result is an economy far stronger than most forecasters expected last spring, even as the pandemic proved much worse than feared. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2 percent, from nearly 15 percent in April. Consumer spending is nearly back to its prepandemic level. Households are sitting on trillions of dollars in savings that could fuel an epic rebound as the health crisis eases.Yet not everyone made it into the lifeboats unscathed, if at all. Millions of laid-off workers waited weeks or months to begin receiving help, often with lasting financial consequences. Aid to hundreds of thousands of small businesses dried up long before they could welcome back customers; many will never reopen. Long lines at food banks and desperate pleas for help on social media reflected the number of people who slipped through the cracks.“The damage that has been done has occurred in a disparate fashion,” said Michelle Holder, a John Jay College economist who has studied the pandemic’s impact. “It’s occurred among low-income families. It’s occurred among Black and brown families. It’s certainly occurred among families that did not have a lot of resources to fall back on.”For many white-collar workers, Dr. Holder said, the pandemic recession may one day look like a mere “bump in the road.” But not for those hit hardest.“It wasn’t just a bump in the road if you were a low-wage worker, if you were a low-income family,” she said. “Their ability to recover is just not the same as ours.”Jesus Quinonez lost his job as a manager at a warehouse in the San Diego area early in the pandemic. He quickly found another job — with a company that shut down before he could begin work. He hasn’t worked since.It took Mr. Quinonez, 62, three months to fight his way through California’s overwhelmed unemployment insurance system and begin receiving benefits. Less than two months later, a $600-a-week unemployment supplement from the federal government expired, leaving Mr. Quinonez, his wife and his four children trying to subsist on a few hundred dollars a week in regular unemployment benefits.By January, Mr. Quinonez was four months behind on rent on the one-bedroom trailer he shares with his family. He had raided his 401(k) account, leaving no savings a few years before his intended retirement. Government nutrition assistance kept his family fed, but it didn’t help with the car payment, or pay for toilet paper.“I started falling behind on my bills, plain and simple,” he said.A closed storefront in Newark. Not everyone made it into the lifeboats unscathed.Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York TimesFor hundreds of thousands of small businesses, government aid dried up long before they could welcome back customers. Many will never reopen.Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York TimesBut in December, Congress passed a $900 billion aid package, which included a second round of direct checks to households and revived the expanded unemployment programs. By January, Mr. Quinonez was able to pay off at least part of his debt, enough to hold on to the trailer and his car. The next round of aid should carry Mr. Quinonez until he can work again.“As soon as they lift the restrictions and more people get vaccinated, I see things coming back good,” he said. “I expect to get a job, and I expect to continue working until I retire.”Whether Mr. Quinonez’s story — and millions more like it — should count as a success or failure for public policy is partly a matter of perspective. Mr. Quinonez himself is unimpressed: He worked and paid taxes for decades, then found himself subject to a decrepit state computer system and a divided Congress.“Now that we need them, there’s no freaking help,” he said.Research from Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois, found that from June until Feb. 17, only 41 percent of unemployed workers had access to benefits. Some of the rest were unaware of their eligibility or couldn’t navigate the thicket of rules in their states. Others simply weren’t eligible. Asian workers, Black workers and those with less education were disproportionately represented among the nonrecipients.The gaps and delays in the system had consequences.“The impact of that is folks’ having to move out of their apartments because they have this money that’s supposed to be coming but they just haven’t received it,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. Others kept their homes because of eviction bans, but had their utilities shut off, Ms. Dixon added, or turned to food banks to avoid going hungry — measures of food insecurity surged in the pandemic.Still, the federal government did far more for unemployed workers than in any previous recession. Congress expanded the safety net to cover millions of workers — freelancers, part-time workers, the self-employed — who are left out in normal times. At the peak last summer, the state and federal unemployment systems were paying $5 billion a day in benefits — money that helped workers avoid evictions and hunger and that flowed through the economy, preventing an even worse outcome.The record of other federal responses is similarly mixed. The Paycheck Protection Program helped hundreds of thousands of small businesses but was plagued by administrative hiccups and, at least according to some estimates, saved relatively few jobs. Direct checks to households similarly helped keep families afloat, but sent billions of dollars to households that were already financially stable, while failing to reach some of those who needed the help the most — in some cases because they had not filed tax returns or did not have bank accounts.Beyond the successes and failures of specific programs, any evaluation of the broader economy needs to start with a question: Compared with what?Relative to a world without Covid-19, the economy remains deeply troubled. The United States had 9.5 million fewer jobs in February than a year earlier, a hole deeper than in the worst of the last recession. Gross domestic product fell 3.5 percent in 2020, making it among the worst years on record.Relative to the rosy predictions early in the pandemic — when economists hoped a brief shutdown would let the country beat the virus, then get quickly back to work — the downturn has been long and damaging. But those hopes were dashed not by a failure of economic policy but by the virus itself, and the failure to contain it.“If you want to think back on what we got wrong, really the fundamental errors were about the spread of the virus,” said Karen Dynan, a Harvard economist and Treasury Department official during the Obama administration. But relative to the outcome that forecasters feared in the worst moments last spring, the rebound has been remarkably strong. In May, economists at Goldman Sachs predicted that the unemployment rate would be 12 percent at the end of 2020 and wouldn’t fall below 6 percent until 2024. The same team now expects the rate to fall to 4 percent by the end of this year. Other forecasters have similarly upgraded their projections..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.The recovery proved so strong in part because businesses were able to adapt better — and Americans, for better or worse, were willing to take more risks — than many people expected, allowing a faster rebound in activity over the summer. But the biggest factor was that Congress responded more quickly and forcefully than in any past crisis — a particularly remarkable outcome given that both the White House and Senate were controlled by Republicans, a party traditionally skeptical of programs like unemployment insurance.Millions of laid-off workers waited weeks or months to begin receiving help, a lag that often left financial consequences.Credit…Bryan Woolston/ReutersLong lines at food banks provided a hint of the number of people who slipped through the cracks.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times“The dominant narrative about Washington and about legislating and public policy is one of dysfunction, one of not being able to rise to meet challenges, one of not being able to get it together to address glaring problems, and I think it’s a well-earned narrative,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “But when I look back over the last year, that is just not what I see.”Congress didn’t prevent a recession. But its intervention, along with aggressive action from the Federal Reserve, may have prevented something much worse.“We could have experienced another Great Depression-like event that took years and years to recover from, and we didn’t,” Dr. Strain said.Washington’s moment of unity didn’t last. Democrats pushed for another multitrillion-dollar dose of aid. Republicans, convinced that the economy would rebound largely on its own once the pandemic eased, wanted a much smaller package. The stalemate lasted months, allowing aid to households and businesses to lapse. Economists are still debating the long-term impact of that delay, but there is little doubt it resulted in thousands of business failures.“We had this grand success that policymakers acted so quickly in passing two significant pieces of legislation early in the pandemic, and then they flailed through the whole fall in just the most frustrating of ways,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “That was just such an unforced error and created confusion and needless panic.”But unlike in 2009, when Republican opposition prevented any significant economic aid after President Barack Obama’s first few months in office, Congress did eventually provide more help. The $900 billion in aid passed in late December prevented millions of people from losing unemployment benefits, and helped sustain the recovery at a moment when it looked like it was faltering.The $1.9 trillion plan that Democrats pushed through Congress this month could help the United States achieve something it failed to do after the last recession: ensure a robust recovery.If that happens, it could fundamentally shift the narrative around the pandemic recession. The damage was deeply unequal, and the economic response, though it helped many families weather the storm, didn’t come close to overcoming that inequity. But a recovery that restores jobs quickly could help workers like Mr. Quinonez get back on track.“It’s just a bad year, and you just close the page and move on and try to make the best of the new days and new years,” he said. “Things are going to get better.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Move Over, Nerds. It’s the Politicians’ Economy Now.

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }Biden’s Stimulus PlanWhat to Know About the BillSenate PassageWhat the Senate Changed$15 Minimum WageChild Tax CreditAdvertisementContinue reading the main storyUpshotSupported byContinue reading the main storyMove Over, Nerds. It’s the Politicians’ Economy Now.Leaders of both parties have become willing to act directly to extract the nation from economic crisis, taking that role back from the central bank.March 9, 2021Updated 4:58 p.m. ETPresident Biden at a roundtable meeting where he listened to some Americans who would benefit from the pandemic relief measure.Credit…Samuel Corum/Getty ImagesAmerican political leaders have learned a few things in the last 12 years, since the nation last tried to claw its way out of an economic hole.Among them: People like having money. Congress has the power to give it to them. In an economic crisis, budget deficits don’t have to be scary. And it is better for both the economy and the democratic legitimacy of a rescue effort when elected leaders choose to help people by spending money, versus when pointy-headed technocrats help by obscure interventions in financial markets.Lawmakers rarely phrase things so bluntly, but those are the implications of a pivot in American economic policy over the last year, culminating with the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. It is set to pass the House within days and be signed by President Biden soon after. And while this vote will fall along partisan lines, stimulus bills with similar goals passed with bipartisan support last year.Leaders of both parties have become more willing to use their power to extract the nation from economic crisis, taking the primary role for managing the ups and downs of the economy that they ceded for much of the last four decades, most notably in the period after the 2008 global financial crisis.It is an implicit rejection of an era in which the Federal Reserve was the main actor in trying to stabilize the nation’s economy. Now, elected officials are embracing the government’s ability to borrow and spend — the “great fiscal power of the United States” as Fed Chair Jerome Powell has called it — as the primary tool to fight a crisis.“That’s really been the story of this recovery,” Mr. Powell said at a recent hearing. “Fiscal policy has really stepped up.”The new relief bill is similarly a rejection of the concerns of centrist economists, including the former Treasury secretary Larry Summers and the former I.M.F. chief economist Olivier Blanchard, that its size and structure invite inflation or other problems. Democratic lawmakers have concluded that the favorable politics of this plan outweigh such risks.If sustained, this assertion of control over economic management by elected leaders would be as momentous a change as the one that followed the Paul Volcker Fed in the 1980s.“This is an enduring regime shift,” said Paul McCulley, who teaches at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. “Having the tools of economic stabilization work a whole lot more through the fiscal channel and a whole lot less through the monetary channel is a profound, pro-democracy policy mix.”It is in distinct contrast with the experience after the 2008 financial crisis.There was a large 2009 fiscal stimulus action, but a mix of legislative politics and deficit concerns by some officials in President Barack Obama’s inner circle restrained its size. Many of its components were relatively invisible to the average voter. And when the economy remained weak into 2010 and beyond, Republicans and many Democrats focused on deficit reduction. “Stimulus” became a dirty word in Washington.The Fed stepped in, undertaking quantitative easing (essentially, buying bonds with newly created money) and other untested strategies in an effort to keep the expansion going.But central bankers’ tools are limited. They can adjust interest rates and push money into the financial system in hope of making credit easier to obtain. That can spur more investment and spending, which in turn can generate more jobs and higher wages.Sound circuitous? It is — the economics equivalent of a triple bank shot in billiards.In the 2010s, the strategy sort of worked. There was no dip back into recession, and the expansion was the longest on record, until the pandemic ended it. But it took years and years for the economy to return to health, and it was a deeply unequal recovery in which owners of financial assets saw the biggest gains. That the effort was led by unelected central bankers reduced its democratic legitimacy, by appearing as if it were merely an effort by elitist institutions to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.“You can do it and it can be successful, but the income and wealth inequality consequences of it will stink to high heaven,” Professor McCulley said. “You can do it that way, but it is anathema to democratic inclusion.”By contrast, fiscal authorities can spend money directly, funneling it where it is needed, without expectation of being paid back. The United States has done exactly that over the last year on a scale with no parallel since World War II.The new $1.9 trillion package includes, among other provisions, $1,400 payments to most Americans, a new child care tax credit that will put $300 per month in the bank accounts of most parents of a young child, help for those facing eviction or foreclosure, and billions of dollars in grants for small businesses. Public opinion polling finds it considerably more popular than other major domestic policy legislation in recent years.“For all the failures and weaknesses of American democracy over recent months, this is a dramatic demonstration of democracy’s power to act,” said Adam Tooze, a Columbia University economic historian who has written extensively of the aftermath of the financial crisis. “When it comes to delivering popular policies at the right moment, working on the basis of established constitutional norms, they’re doing that, which is infinitely to be preferred to an economic policy that depends on well-meaning enlightened technocrats.”Some lawmakers, especially on the left, have raised the notion that relying on congressional action to support the economy improves democratic legitimacy..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.“This legislation has everything to do with restoring the confidence of the American people in democracy and in their government, and if we can’t respond to the pain of working families today, we don’t deserve to be here,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of the Biden bill, known as the American Rescue Plan Act.Republicans unanimously opposed the Biden legislation, but it has not been quite the scorched-earth opposition to deficit-widening action seen during the Obama administration.A signing ceremony last April for one of the several rounds of pandemic relief that the Trump administration put together with bipartisan support last year.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York TimesAs evidenced by previous rounds of pandemic relief, there has been enough common ground between Democrats and Republicans to reach bipartisan agreements of relatively large scale, including the $2 trillion CARES Act enacted last March.“A relief package like this one might not have been everything both parties wanted, but a compromise deal that provides help to Americans is better than no deal at all,” said Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, at the outset of the House debate on a $900 billion bipartisan bill in late December.All in all, Congress and the Trump and Biden administrations have authorized about $6 trillion in pandemic relief spending over the last year, about 28 percent of 2019 G.D.P. (Less than that will ultimately be spent, because the economy’s improvement has left some programs with more money allocated than they needed.)The bipartisan agreement around many of the components of the pandemic aid legislation suggests a future model for how the United States government responds to economic crises. For example, in the past the federal government has extended the duration that jobless people are eligible for unemployment insurance payments during recessions, but has not expanded the size of those payments.The CARES Act, by contrast, increased unemployment checks by $600 a week, aiming to replace the income lost by those forced out of work. Subsequent legislation has included smaller increases. Economists generally say that this has been a well-targeted policy that has helped temporarily jobless people to keep paying their bills — and has softened the collapse of demand in the economy.“We’re at a watershed moment where this type of tool will be used in future recessions,” said Constance Hunter, chief economist of the global accounting firm KPMG. “What we did here is different and unique, and we are going to learn whether it was effective at providing a bridge to the other side of the pandemic.”There are risks in the Biden administration’s approach, of course. If the concerns described by Mr. Summers and Mr. Blanchard about the size of the new relief bill materialize, and the result is excessive inflation or some type of crisis, Democrats will pay a price for their actions.But that’s the thing about democracy: It has much clearer mechanisms for holding elected officials accountable for their economic policy decisions than it does for scrutinizing appointed experts for their interest rate policies. If Americans don’t like the results, they have a straightforward way to make it known: at the ballot box in November 2022 and November 2024.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Gov. Phil Murphy Unveils N.J. Budget Plan With No New Taxes

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesRisk Near YouVaccine RolloutNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyHow New Jersey Averted a Pandemic Financial CalamityA $44.8 billion spending plan unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy calls for no new taxes and fully funds the state pension program for the first time since 1996.Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey released a $44.8 billion budget on Tuesday that shows better-than-expected revenue projections.Credit…Pool photo by Anne-Marie CarusoFeb. 23, 2021Updated 3:07 p.m. ETIt has been five months since New Jersey officials issued warnings about a coronavirus-related financial calamity. The dire outlook contributed to lawmakers’ decisions to increase taxes on income over $1 million and to become one of the first states to borrow billions to cover operating costs.But the doomsday forecast has since brightened considerably, officials said, enabling the Democratic governor, Philip D. Murphy, to unveil a $44.8 billion spending plan on Tuesday that calls for no new taxes, few cuts and tackles head-on a chronic problem — the state’s underfunded pension program — for the first time in 25 years.The governor also said there would be no increase in New Jersey Transit fares.“The news is less bad,” the state’s treasurer, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, said. “I wouldn’t say it’s good, but it’s less bad.”The governor’s election-year financial blueprint relies on better-than-expected revenue from retail sales and high-earners, who have lost fewer jobs during the pandemic than low-income workers and are reaping the benefits of a prolonged Wall Street rally.The $38 billion that New Jersey and its residents have received in federal stimulus funding, a short-term extension of a corporate tax and a $504 million windfall from the so-called millionaire’s tax also helped, Ms. Muoio said.The release of New Jersey’s proposed 2022 fiscal year budget comes as Congress continues to debate President Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus relief package. The proposed package includes considerable funds for states and municipalities as well as grant and loan programs for small businesses.Other states have seen similarly strong signs of an economic rebound even as cases of the virus have spiked nationwide over the last several months and the nation’s death toll surpassed 500,000 on Monday.Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that large sectors of the economy were adapting to the pandemic better than originally expected and that December’s economic aid package had helped.Mr. Murphy, who is running for re-election in November, said the spending plan was designed to not only enable the state to scrape through the pandemic, but to help it emerge stronger.“This is the time for us to lean into the policies that can fix our decades-old — or in some cases centuries-old — inequities,” the governor said Tuesday in a budget address, which he delivered virtually.A key pillar of the budget is a proposal to fully fund the state’s public sector pension obligations for the first time since 1996.The state has not set aside the full amount of its pension obligation for 25 years, leading $4 billion in extra debt to accrue over time, Ms. Muoio said. Under a deal brokered with the Legislature, Mr. Murphy had been on track to fully fund the state’s share by the 2023 fiscal year. But the spending plan released on Tuesday sets aside $6.4 billion for the pension system, accelerating full funding by a year.“New Jersey is done kicking problems down the road,” the governor said. “We are solving them.”Under the plan, the state’s surplus, which proved to be a vital resource during the first wave of the pandemic, would not grow, officials said, but would remain at about the same level it was at the end of 2020.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Kamala Harris: Women Leaving Work Force During Pandemic Is a 'National Emergency'

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesVaccine RolloutSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story2.5 Million Women Left the Work Force During the Pandemic. Harris Sees a ‘National Emergency.’“In one year,” Vice President Kamala Harris said, “the pandemic has put decades of the progress we have collectively made for women workers at risk.”On a video call with women’s advocacy groups and lawmakers on Thursday, the vice president painted a dire picture of the situation that millions of American women are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesFeb. 18, 2021, 5:50 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris said on Thursday that the 2.5 million women who have left the work force since the beginning of the pandemic constituted a “national emergency” that could be addressed by the Biden administration’s coronavirus relief plan.That number, according to Labor Department data, compares with 1.8 million men who have left the work force. For many women, the demands of child care, coupled with layoffs and furloughs in an economy hit hard by the pandemic, has forced them out of the labor market.“Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully,” Ms. Harris said on a video call with several women’s advocacy groups and lawmakers, essentially reiterating the argument she made in a Washington Post op-ed published last week. On the call, the vice president painted a dire picture of the situation that millions of American women are facing during the pandemic. “In one year,” she said, “the pandemic has put decades of the progress we have collectively made for women workers at risk.”“Women are not opting out of the work force,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said after attending the panel. “They are being pushed by inadequate policies.”As part of its $1.9 trillion relief plan, the Biden administration has outlined several elements that officials say will ease the burden on unemployed and working women, including $3,000 in tax credits issued to families for each child, a $40 billion investment in child care assistance and an extension of unemployment benefits.Ms. Harris said on Thursday that the package would “lift up nearly half of the children who are living in poverty in our country,” a claim backed by a Columbia University analysis of the plan.A recent Quinnipiac poll showed broad support for the Biden administration’s proposal, but so far, Republicans have not embraced it. Democrats aim to pass the plan using a fast-track budgetary process known as reconciliation, which would allow them to push it through the Senate with a simple majority. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, unveiled his own child tax credit proposal this month, but it was promptly panned by colleagues in his party.“I think that there is absolute reason to believe that Republicans should support this,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who participated in the call. But she added that her party had ensured that the proposal could go forward without the Republicans.Child care remains an issue for working mothers, and it was a major theme of the round table on Thursday. Nearly 400,000 child care jobs have been lost since the outset of the pandemic, Ms. Harris said. The closings of small businesses and the loss of millions of jobs have created the “perfect storm” for women, particularly for Black business owners, she added. “The longer we wait to act,” she said, “the harder it will be to bring these millions of women back into the work force.”The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Biden and the Fed Leave 1970s Inflation Fears Behind

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerVaccine RolloutAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyBiden and the Fed Leave 1970s Inflation Fears BehindAdministration and Fed officials argue that workers not getting enough stimulus help is a larger concern than potential spikes in consumer prices.Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell has brushed off concerns about inflation, saying the bigger risk to the economy is doing too little rather than doing too much.Credit…Pool photo by Susan WalshJim Tankersley and Feb. 15, 2021Updated 5:54 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — Presidents who find themselves digging out of recessions have long heeded the warnings of inflation-obsessed economists, who fear that acting aggressively to stimulate a struggling economy will bring a return of the monstrous price increases that plagued the nation in the 1970s.Now, as President Biden presses ahead with plans for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, he and his top economic advisers are brushing those warnings aside, as is the Federal Reserve under Chair Jerome H. Powell.After years of dire inflation predictions that failed to pan out, the people who run fiscal and monetary policy in Washington have decided the risk of “overheating” the economy is much lower than the risk of failing to heat it up enough.Democrats in the House plan to spend this week finalizing Mr. Biden’s plan to pump nearly $2 trillion into the economy, including direct checks to Americans and more generous unemployment benefits, with the aim of holding a floor vote as early as next week. The Senate is expected to quickly take up the proposal as soon as it clears the House, in the hopes of sending a final bill to Mr. Biden’s desk early next month. Fed officials have signaled that they plan to keep holding rates near zero and buying government-backed debt at a brisk clip to stoke growth.The Fed and the administration are staying the course despite a growing outcry from some economists across the political spectrum, including Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary and top adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations, who say Mr. Biden’s plans could stir up a whirlwind of rising prices.No one better embodies the sudden break from decades of worry over inflation — in Washington and elite circles of economics — than Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair and current Treasury secretary. Ms. Yellen spent the bulk of her career fighting in a war against inflation that economists have been waging for more than a half century. But at a time when the American economy remains 10 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic levels, and millions of people face hunger and eviction, she appears to be ready to move on.President Biden and Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, are pursuing a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to help struggling households and businesses make it through the pandemic downturn.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times“I have spent many years studying inflation and worrying about inflation,” Ms. Yellen told CNN earlier this month. “But we face a huge economic challenge here and tremendous suffering in the country. We have got to address that. That’s the biggest risk.”In the guarded language of a Fed chair, Mr. Powell used a speech last week to push back on the idea that the economy was at risk of overheating. He said that prices could show a brief pop in the coming months, as they rebound from very low readings last year, and he said the economy could see a “burst” of spending and temporarily higher inflation when it fully reopened. But he said he expected such increases to be short-lived — not the sustained spiral that many economists worry about.“That’s really not going to mean very much,” Mr. Powell said, noting that inflation has trended lower for decades. “Inflation dynamics will evolve, but it’s hard to make the case why they would evolve very suddenly, in this current situation.”A small but influential group of economists is questioning that view — in particular, calling for Mr. Biden to scale back his economic aid plans, which include sending direct payments to most American households, increasing the size and duration of benefits for the long-term unemployed and spending big to accelerate Covid vaccine deployment across the country.They argue that the size of the package outstrips the size of the hole the coronavirus has left in the economy. With so many dollars chasing a limited supply of goods and services, the argument goes, purchasing power could erode or the Fed might need to abruptly lift interest rates, which could send the economy back into a downturn.“It’s hard to look at all those factors and not conclude there’s going to be inflationary pressure,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who supported relief efforts earlier in the recession but was among the first economists to warn Mr. Biden’s plans could set off price spikes. “My worry is that by pushing the economy so hard, that will lead to some overheating.”The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    A Year of Hardship, Helped and Hindered by Washington

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerVaccine RolloutA Year of Hardship, Helped and Hindered by WashingtonFor Kathryn Stewart, a struggling single mother in Michigan, the past year showed how much safety net programs can help — and how the nation’s fickleness about them can add confusion and uncertainty to fear and worry.Credit…Supported byContinue reading the main storyFeb. 14, 2021Updated 2:57 p.m. ETWhen the coronavirus pandemic struck last March, Kathryn Stewart was working at a gas station in rural Michigan and living in her mother’s trailer with eight relatives, three dogs and a budget with no room for error. Her mother, who is disabled, soon urged her to quit to avoid bringing home the disease. Ms. Stewart reluctantly agreed, wondering how she would support herself and her 10-year-old son.An expanded safety net caught her, after being rushed into place by Congress last spring with rare bipartisan support.To her surprise, Ms. Stewart not only received unemployment insurance but a weekly bonus of $600 more than tripled her income. A stimulus check offered additional help, as did a modest food stamp increase. Despite opaque rules and confounding delays, the outpouring of government aid lifted her above the poverty line.Six months later, after temporary aid expired and deadlock in Washington returned, Ms. Stewart’s benefits fell to a trickle, and she was all but homeless after a family fight forced her from the trailer to a friend’s spare room. She skipped meals to feed her son, sold possessions to conjure cash and suffered anxiety attacks so severe they sometimes kept her in bed.Just as Ms. Stewart finally found a job, celebration turned to shock: The state demanded that she repay the jobless aid she had received, claiming she had been ineligible. That left her with an eye-popping debt of more than $12,000.“I spent the whole day just trying to breathe,” Ms. Stewart said the day the notice arrived. “I’m really confused about the whole thing. I’m trying not to panic.”At times during 2020, Kathryn Stewart was bringing in more money than ever because of government aid programs. At other times, when the aid dried up, she and her son went hungry.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesIn the robust aid she received and its painful disappearance, Ms. Stewart’s experience captures both sides of the gyrating federal efforts to fortify the safety net in a crisis of historic proportions.As the virus ravaged jobs last spring, rapid federal action protected millions of people from hardship and showed that government can be a powerful force in reducing poverty.Yet the expiration of aid a few months later also underscored how vulnerable the needy are to partisan standoffs in an age of polarized government. Gaps in aid left families short on food and rent, uncertainty made it impossible to plan and confusion joined fear and worry.In his first weeks in office, President Biden appears to have both lessons in mind. A benefit extension passed in December expires next month, and he is urging Congress to spend big and move fast to keep 11 million workers from losing unemployment aid. Democrats are advancing his $1.9 trillion plan for stimulus and relief with a fast-track procedure that limits their policy options but increases the odds of avoiding more whipsaw delays.Critics of the spending warn it swells the national debt and erodes incentives to work. Supporters say the government’s impact has rarely seemed so direct: When help flowed at extraordinary levels, poverty fell. When it ended, poverty rose.“This could be a watershed moment,” said H. Luke Shaefer, who runs a poverty research center at the University of Michigan. “We showed how much government can do to mitigate hardship, even if the effort didn’t last.”Ms. Stewart and her son, Jack, had to rely at one point on a friend for housing.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesWith millions still depending on government aid in a weak recovery, Ms. Stewart’s experience over the past 10 months highlights the stakes. As her complex life shows, the causes of poverty often run deep, and some lie beyond the reach of a government check. But the aid, while it lasted, broke her fall, and she is now back on her feet.In recent weeks, Ms. Stewart, 36, has been working at an Amazon warehouse and fighting Michigan’s efforts to recoup her unemployment benefits. She said she was “super happy” to no longer be at risk from another Washington impasse.An introspective woman, insightful about her hardships but distant from politics, she wonders how federal help has at once been so generous and so unsteady — a question that weighs on millions of Americans now waiting to see whether Congress moves quickly enough to sustain their benefits.“It made a huge difference in our lives,” Ms. Stewart said. “But it starts and stops and it’s really confusing. You feel helpless when you’re being helped by the government.”Should another crisis arise, she said, “I hope the government has a better plan.”Anxiety, Solitude and Then the PandemicMs. Stewart grew up accustomed to hardship and inventive in her responses. In a family too poor for vacations, she created her own by tagging along on her stepfather’s tractor-trailer runs. When he fought with her mother, she sheltered in closets. When he left, her mother tried to quell the family’s hunger with diet pills. Ms. Stewart was in grade school when panic attacks started, which she blamed on the conflict.An unsupervised adolescence followed in Grand Rapids, where Ms. Stewart slept in parks with runaways. She liked the literature of bohemians and rebels — Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Wilde — but left school at 16 and lived in her car. Short on formal education, Ms. Stewart was long on curiosity and peripatetic instinct, which carried her from Ireland to California in between seasonal work at Michigan resorts. She dyed her hair unusual colors. She gave herself tattoos. She covered her walls with the surrealist works of Salvador Dalí, in shared faith that “you create your own reality.” Fearful of forgetting, Ms. Stewart kept a memory box, which included a middle-school note, a ukulele pick and clippings from her first mohawk.CreditMs. Stewart’s shift at an Amazon warehouse starts at 1:20 a.m. “I’m a number but a number with a paycheck,” she said.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesIn her mid-20s, Ms. Stewart married and had a son, Jack, but her husband left and her anxiety grew. “Over the years I’ve gotten real anxious — almost afraid of people,” she said. “I’m an empath — if someone else feels bad, I feel bad.”Still, Ms. Stewart worked, most happily in solitude.By 2019, Ms. Stewart was a night janitor and living with her sister in Grand Rapids. Her sister fell behind on the rent and insisted they move in with their mother, five hours away in rural Ossineke. Ms. Stewart grudgingly succumbed. “We all rely on each other, which is good except for us not getting along,” she said.With four children and conflicting parenting styles, the trailer proved crowded and tense. When Ms. Stewart found work as a gas station cashier — $10 an hour, 20 hours a week — she welcomed the escape as much as the pay.A few weeks later, the coronavirus hit.Against All Odds, Help Was on the Way As the virus spread in early March, President Donald J. Trump insisted it posed no threat. “Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring,” he tweeted. By the next week, Disneyland and Broadway were padlocked and the stock market notched its worst daily loss in decades.While the need for Washington action was clear, the risks of an impasse were great. Liberal Democrats controlled the House, conservative Republicans held the Senate, and Mr. Trump derided the House speaker as “Crazy Nancy” Pelosi. Yet within a few weeks, they agreed on a $2.2 trillion plan.One surprise was how much it did for the poor, a class not known for political clout. Even the poorest families fully qualified for stimulus payments — $1,200 for adults, $500 for children (some Republicans had proposed giving them less) — and at the Democrats’ insistence, Congress greatly expanded jobless benefits.The existing program was filled with gaps: It covered only about a quarterof the jobless and replaced less than half their lost wages. Congress widened coverage, temporarily adding part-time workers, independent contractors and others typically excluded. And for four months it gave everyone on jobless aid a large bonus: $600 a week.The payments were more than many workers had earned on the job. Critics said the aid would discourage the jobless from seeking work, but urgency prevailed. “Gag and vote for it anyway,” the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, advised fellow Republicans. The Senate vote was 96 to 0.Approving aid was one thing, delivering it another. Most stimulus checks arrived automatically and fast, though people who did not file tax returns had to contact the Internal Revenue Service — a procedural hurdle that kept payments from about eight million potentially eligible people, mostly low-income. Households with undocumented immigrants were barred from stimulus checks, which excluded about five million spouses and children who were citizens or legal residents.Unemployment insurance proved harder to get. With nearly 40 million claims in nine weeks, the state-run programs were overwhelmed. Computers crashed. Phone lines jammed. Governors called in the National Guard to process requests.Food shortages soared, especially among families with children as school closures deprived millions of meals. Lines outside food banks stretched for miles.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Democrats to Unveil Up to $3,600 Child Tax Credit as Part of Stimulus Bill

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskVaccine InformationCalifornia Anti-Vaccine ProtestsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDemocrats to Unveil Up to $3,600 Child Tax Credit as Part of Stimulus BillThe credit would send monthly payments to millions of Americans under certain income thresholds for a year starting in July.“This money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone’s head or food on their table,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York TimesEmily Cochrane and Feb. 7, 2021, 5:20 p.m. ETWASHINGTON —  Top House Democrats are preparing to unveil legislation that would send up to $3,600 per child to millions of Americans, as lawmakers aim to change the tax code to target child poverty rates as part of President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus package.The proposal would expand the child tax credit to provide $3,600 per child younger than 6 and $3,000 per child up to 17 over the course of a year, phasing out the payments for Americans who make more than $75,000 and couples who make more than $150,000. The draft 22-page provision, reported earlier by The Washington Post and obtained by The New York Times, is expected to be formally introduced on Monday as lawmakers race to fill out the contours of Mr. Biden’s stimulus plan.“The pandemic is driving families deeper and deeper into poverty, and it’s devastating,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and one of the champions of the provision. “This money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone’s head or food on their table. This is how the tax code is supposed to work for those who need it most.”The credits would be split into monthly payments from the Internal Revenue Service beginning in July, based on a person’s or family’s income in 2020. Although the proposed credit is only for a year, some Democrats said they would fight to make it permanent, a sweeping move that could reshape efforts to fight child poverty in America.The one-year credit appears likely to garner enough support to be included in the stimulus package, but it will also have to clear a series of tough parliamentary hurdles because of the procedural maneuvers Democrats are using to muscle the stimulus package through, potentially without Republican support.With House Democratic leadership aiming to have the stimulus legislation approved on the chamber floor by the end of the month, Congress moved last week to fast-track Mr. Biden’s stimulus plan even as details of the legislation are still being worked out. Buoyed by support from Democrats in both chambers and a lackluster January jobs report, Mr. Biden has warned that he plans to move ahead with his plan whether or not Republicans support it.Republicans, who have accused Mr. Biden of abandoning promises of bipartisanship and raised concerns about the nation’s debt, have largely balked at his plan because of its size and scope after Congress approved trillions of dollars in economic relief in 2020.The Coronavirus Outbreak More