Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve, for supplies and efforts to restructure it that began last year. Nearly $7 billion would create an agency meant to research diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer, Christopher Flavelle, Mark Walker, Dana Goldstein, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Margot Sanger-Katz, Lara Jakes, Noam Scheiber, Katie Benner and Emily Cochrane.

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With the U.S. Asylum System Closed to Many, Some Find Sanctuary in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico — some after arriving at the southwest border of the United States hoping to find a safe haven under President Biden, but hitting a closed door.

In March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever, officials said. And they predicted that the surging demand, evident in recent month, would continue, possibly reaching a total of 90,000 asylum requests by the end of the year, which would also be an all-time high.

The soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico are in part a reflection of the turmoil at the American border, where the Biden administration is struggling to deal with a surge in undocumented migration and has prevented many asylum seekers from presenting their cases to immigration officials.

Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, who have generally found asylum easier to achieve in Mexico than in the United States. Some have also been drawn by the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, and by possibilities of work and a degree of safety that they lacked at home.

has become a more attractive destination for migrants.

Mr. Trump accelerated this process with aggressive efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including strategies to discourage asylum seekers by making it more difficult for them to secure sanctuary. Among those efforts was a widely criticized policy called Migration Protection Protocols, or M.P.P., that forced those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in American courts.

slowdown in global migration, the number of asylum petitioners dropped to about 41,200 last year. But in the past several months, the volume has risen sharply once again.

This spike has dovetailed with a surge of migrants to the southwest border of the United States driven in part by economic misery that has deepened during the pandemic, two devastating hurricanes that wrecked swaths of Central America and an abiding hope, sometimes fostered by smugglers, that the new administration in Washington would loosen restrictions at the border.

But many migrants and refugees have arrived in Mexico only to find that access to the United States is not as easy as they were led to believe.

are being detained, processed and released into the U.S.

But American officials have continued to use an emergency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, to rapidly expel single adults, who have made up the majority of those caught at the border. Migrants’ advocates say the use of the rule has blocked many asylum seekers from applying for sanctuary.

Once again a tent encampment has cropped up near an official crossing in Tijuana, sheltering migrants hoping for a chance to present their cases to the American authorities.

Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”

Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.

Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.

“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.

And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.

Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.

“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”

The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.

“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”

Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting

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Sharon Matola, Who Opened a Zoo in the Jungle of Belize, Dies at 66

Sharon Matola’s life changed in the summer of 1981, when she got a call from a British filmmaker named Richard Foster. She had recently quit her job as a lion tamer in a Mexican circus and was back home in Florida, where she was poking her way through a master’s degree in mycology, or the study of mushrooms.

Mr. Foster had heard of her skills with wild animals, and he wanted her to work with him on a nature documentary in Belize, the small, newly independent country on the Caribbean side of Central America, where he lived on a compound about 30 miles inland.

She arrived in the fall of 1981, but the money for Mr. Foster’s film soon ran out. He moved on to another project, in Borneo, leaving Ms. Matola in charge of a jaguar, two macaws, a 10-foot boa constrictor and 17 other half-tamed animals.

“I was at a crossroads,” she told The Washington Post in 1995. “I either had to shoot the animals or take care of them, because they couldn’t take care of themselves in the wild.”

campaign against a hydropower dam planned in western Belize, which she said would destroy animal habitats in the jungle and drive up energy costs.

The case ended up in British court and drew international support from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. Government officials denounced Ms. Matola as an interloper and, as one put it, an “enemy of the state.”

The dam’s developer won the case, but Ms. Matola was right: Today, energy costs in Belize are higher, and the area around the dam remains polluted. The case earned her awards and invitations to lecture across the United States, particularly after the journalist Bruce Barcott wrote about her in his book “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird” (2008).

Ms. Matola announced in 2017 that she was stepping back from her daily roles at the zoo, handing off responsibility to her all-Belizean staff. By then her arms were tattooed with scars from countless bites and scratches, her body worn down by bouts of malaria and screw worms. Not long afterward she developed sepsis in a cut on her leg, which left her hospitalized for long stretches.

None of that seemed to matter. She did not want to be anywhere else, she often said, and she would insist until her death that she was “one of the happiest people on earth.”

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How Debt and Climate Change Pose a ‘Systemic Risk to the Global Economy’

How does a country deal with climate disasters when it’s drowning in debt? Not very well, it turns out. Especially not when a global pandemic clobbers its economy.

Take Belize, Fiji and Mozambique. Vastly different countries, they are among dozens of nations at the crossroads of two mounting global crises that are drawing the attention of international financial institutions: climate change and debt.

They owe staggering amounts of money to various foreign lenders. They face staggering climate risks, too. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic pummeling their economies, there is a growing recognition that their debt obligations stand in the way of meeting the immediate needs of their people — not to mention the investments required to protect them from climate disasters.

The combination of debt, climate change and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy that may trigger a cycle that depresses revenues, increases spending and exacerbates climate and nature vulnerabilities,” according to a new assessment by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others, which was seen by The Times. It comes after months of pressure from academics and advocates for lenders to address this problem.

downgraded its creditworthiness, making it tougher to get loans on the private market. The International Monetary Fund calls its debt levels “unsustainable.”

nearly $600 billion in debt service payments over the next five years. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are important lenders, but so are rich countries, as well as private banks and bondholders. The global financial system would face a huge problem if countries faced with shrinking economies defaulted on their debts.s

“We cannot walk head on, eyes wide open, into a debt crisis that is foreseeable and preventable,” the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, said last week as he called for debt relief for a broad range of countries. “Many developing countries face financing constraints that mean they cannot invest in recovery and resilience.”

The Biden administration, in an executive order on climate change, said it would use its voice in international financial institutions, like the World Bank, to align debt relief with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, though it hasn’t yet detailed what that means.

flurry of proposals from economists, advocates and others to address the problem. The details vary. But they all call, in one way or another, for rich countries and private creditors to offer debt relief, so countries can use those funds to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to the effects of climate change, or obtain financial reward for the natural assets they already protect, like forests and wetlands. One widely circulated proposal calls on the Group of 20 (the world’s 20 biggest economies) to require lenders to offer relief “in exchange for a commitment to use some of the newfound fiscal space for a green and inclusive recovery.”

debts soared, including to China, and the country, whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, pared back planned climate projects, according to research by the World Resources Institute.

The authors proposed what they called a climate-health-debt swap, where bilateral creditors, namely China, would forgive some of the debt in exchange for climate and health care investments. (China has said nothing publicly about the idea of debt swaps.)

sinking under huge debts, including secret loans that the government had not disclosed, when, in 2019, came back-to-back cyclones. They killed 1,000 people and left physical damages costing more than $870 million. Mozambique took on more loans to cope. Then came the pandemic. The I.M.F. says the country is in debt distress.

Six countries on the continent are in debt distress, and many more have seen their credit ratings downgraded by private ratings agencies. In March, finance ministers from across Africa said that many of their countries had spent a sizable chunk of their budgets already to deal with extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and some countries were spending a tenth of their budgets on climate adaptation efforts. “Our fiscal buffers are now truly depleted,” they wrote.

In developing countries, the share of government revenues that go into paying foreign debts nearly tripled to 17.4 percent between 2011 and 2020, an analysis by Eurodad, a debt relief advocacy group found.

Research suggests that climate risks have already made it more expensive for developing countries to borrow money. The problem is projected to get worse. A recent paper found climate change will raise the cost of borrowing for many more countries as early as 2030 unless efforts are made to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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‘We Are Doomed:’ Devastation from Storms Fuels Migration

Honduras has barely begun to recover from two hurricanes that hit late last year. With relatively little disaster relief from the U.S., many are heading for the border.


SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Children pry at the dirt with sticks, trying to dig out parts of homes that have sunk below ground. Their parents, unable to feed them, scavenge the rubble for remnants of roofs to sell for scrap metal. They live on top of the mud that swallowed fridges, stoves, beds — their entire lives buried beneath them.

“We are doomed here,” said Magdalena Flores, a mother of seven, standing on a mattress that peeked out from the dirt where her house used to be. “The desperation, the sadness, that’s what makes you migrate.”

People have long left Honduras for the United States, fleeing gang violence, economic misery and the indifference of a government run by a president accused of ties to drug traffickers.

hit a 15-year high, part of a sharp uptick since Mr. Biden took office.

welcoming policies on immigration have drawn people at a time when they are especially desperate to leave.

recently tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to work with Central American leaders to better conditions in those countries.

Still, Mr. Biden has sent a clear message to anyone considering crossing the border in the meantime: “Don’t come over,” Mr. Biden said in a recent interview.

The warning barely registers in parts of Honduras like Chamelecón, a sector of San Pedro Sula that is overrun by gangs and was pounded by both storms. Survivors of the disaster say they have no choice at all.

Months after the hurricanes, houses remain underwater. Gaping holes have replaced bridges. Thousands of people are still displaced, living in shelters or on the street. Hunger is stalking them.

pushed through nearly a billion dollars for the region in the late 1990s in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more people but wrought a comparable level of damage as the recent storms, aid workers say.

Immediate humanitarian aid could certainly help alleviate hunger, homelessness and other crises spurred by the storms, as it seems to have done after Hurricane Mitch.

undermined efforts to change their economies enough to give the poor a reason to stay at home.

embezzled American aid money through sham nonprofits. Mr. Hernández, the nation’s leader since 2014, has denied the allegations and has not been charged. A spokesman did not provide comment.

“We need to be aggressively addressing the levels of despair that the folks hit by these storms are facing,” said Dan Restrepo, a former top adviser to President Obama. “We need to go big now and we need to be loud about it, because that starts actually factoring into the calculus that people face today, which is, ‘Can I survive here or not?’”

People smugglers are already taking advantage of Mr. Biden’s presence in the White House to win new customers. Moving swiftly and loudly, Mr. Biden undid many of the harsh immigration policies pioneered by his predecessor.

Human traffickers in Honduras are enticing clients by promising a much easier journey north, touting Mr. Biden’s refusal to immediately expel children at the border and making grand promises about how friendly the new administration will be, according to interviews with smugglers.

One trafficker outlined his latest pitch to Honduran families thinking about leaving: “They opened everything back up, now you can get in again,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the illegal nature of his work. “If they catch you, they send you to Mexico. It’s not like before, where they sent you back to your country.”

He added that since Mr. Biden’s inauguration, he had sneaked 75 people across the American border illegally.

“Because of the new president, they are opening more doors,” he said. “It’s a free market. That’s how we see it.”

But rather than point to Mr. Biden, many Hondurans first blurt out their own president’s name as a reason to leave home.

Mr. Hernández’s brother was recently sentenced to life in prison by an American court for trafficking cocaine into the United States. Prosecutors said the president provided protection to his brother and other traffickers in exchange for cash.

For many Hondurans, the past few months in particular have provided a searing case study in how little they seem to matter to their government.

Jesus Membreño’s house was sheared off the side of a mountain in the storms, but with nowhere else to go, he built a shelter over a piece of the cement floor that was left behind.

“We received nothing from the government, not even a sheet of metal to replace our roof,” Mr. Membreño said.

He said he would head north alone in the coming weeks.

Residents in Canaan, a section of the Chamelecón suburb that was flattened in the hurricanes, say the government never even sent any tractors to clear the mud. So Ms. Flores and her neighbors are trying to feed their children by carving off pieces of their ruined homes and selling them as scrap metal.

“It’s enough to buy some beans or rice,” she said, traipsing through mud punctuated by the tips of children’s bicycles and other rubble. “No one, not one politician or government, has helped us.”

The first time Ms. Flores tried to get to the United States was after her ex-husband broke into her house and slashed her face and arms with a machete, in 2016, she said. She never made it.

The second time was this January, she said, after living with her children under an improvised tent after the storms damaged her home. The few possessions she had spent years accumulating — her stove, her fridge, her beds, her television — were swallowed by mud.

“It’s the sadness, the disappointment that hits you,” Ms. Flores said, “It’s very hard to see your home buried. I had nothing left.”

With six of her children, she joined the first migrant caravan of this year, in January, she said. They walked for miles, but turned back after barely eating for days and then getting tear-gassed and beaten by the Guatemalan police. That’s when she stopped believing Mr. Biden was going to welcome anyone with open arms.

“If that were the case, why would they have sent me home?” she asked.

So Ms. Flores used parts of her old wooden house to build a shelter on top of the earth that devoured everything she had.

Now she’s waiting for the next caravan to leave, driven not by hope but by despair.

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‘Mommy, I Have Bad News’: For Child Migrants, Mexico Can Be the End of the Road

Thousands of children, most from Central America, are making their way to the border, many hoping to meet parents in the United States. But for those caught in Mexico, there is only near-certain deportation.


CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The children tumbled out of a white van, dazed and tired, rubbing sleep from their eyes.

They had been on their way north, traveling without their parents, hoping to cross the border into the United States.

They never made it.

Detained by Mexican immigration officers, they were brought to a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez, marched in single file and lined up against a wall for processing. For them, this facility about one mile from the border is the closest they will get to the United States.

“‘Mommy, I have bad news for you,’” one of the girls at the shelter, Elizabeth, 13, from Honduras, recalled telling her mother on the phone. “‘Don’t cry, but Mexican immigration caught me.’”

a growing wave of migrants hoping to find a way into the United States. If they make it across the border, they can try to present their case to the American authorities, go to school and one day find work and help relatives back home. Some can reunite with parents waiting there.

But for those caught before crossing the border, the long road north ends in Mexico.

If they are from elsewhere in the country, as a growing number are because of the economic toll of the pandemic, they can be picked up by a relative and taken home.

But most of them are from Central America, propelled north by a life made unsustainable by poverty, violence, natural disasters and the pandemic, and encouraged by the Biden administration’s promise to take a more generous approach to immigration.

They will wait in shelters in Mexico, often for months, for arrangements to be made. Then, they will be deported.

by the thousands.

“There is a big flow, for economic reasons, and it will not stop until people’s lives in these countries improve,” said José Alfredo Villa, the director of the Nohemí Álvarez Quillay shelter for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez.

In 2018, 1,318 children were admitted into shelters for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez, the local authorities said. By 2019, the number of admissions had grown to 1,510 children, though it dipped to 928 last year because of the pandemic.

But in the first two and a half months of this year, the number has soared to 572 — a rate that, if kept up for the rest of the year, would far surpass 2019, the highest year on record.

When children enter the shelter, their schooling stops, the staff unable to provide classes for so many children coming from different countries and different educational backgrounds. Instead, the children fill their days with art classes, where they often draw or paint photos of their home countries. They watch television, play in the courtyard or complete chores to help the shelter run, like laundry.

71 percent of all cases involving unaccompanied minors resulted in deportation orders. But many never turn up for their hearings; they dodge the authorities and slip into the population, to live lives of evasion.

Ecuadorean girl who died by suicide at another shelter in Juárez in 2014 after being detained. She was 12, and on her way to reunite with parents who had lived in the Bronx since she was a toddler.

In mid-March, two weeks after her arrival, Elizabeth celebrated her 13th birthday at the shelter.

As shelter staff cut the cake for Elizabeth — the children are prohibited from handling sharp objects — three more children were dropped off by the immigration authorities, just hours after the eight who had arrived that morning. They watched cartoons as they waited for shelter officials to register them.

Elizabeth’s best friend since she arrived, Yuliana, 15, was by her side, apprehended by the Mexican authorities in December when she tried to cross the border carrying her 2-year-old cousin and tugging on the hand of her 4-year-old cousin. Yuliana is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, one of the most violence-wracked cities in the world.

Both girls said they had seen a parent struggle to put food on the table before making the tough decision to migrate to the United States. And both felt that their failure to cross had upturned the tremendous expectations that had been placed on them: to reunite with a lonely parent, to work and to send money to family members left behind.

For the girls, home is not a place — Honduras or the United States. Home is where their families are. That is where they want to be.

“My dream is to get ahead and raise my family,” Yuliana said. “It is the first thing, to help my mother and my brothers. My family.”

The day she left San Pedro Sula to join her father in Florida, she said, her mother made her promise one thing.

“She asked me never to forget her,” Yuliana said. “And I answered that I could never, because I was leaving for her.”

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Brother of Honduras President Sentenced to Life in Drug-Trafficking Case

The brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday after he was convicted on drug-trafficking charges in a trial that underscored allegations the president has helped turn Honduras into a violent narco-state.

Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel, who said there were no mitigating circumstances to lighten the sentence of the former Honduran legislator. The judge said that Mr. Hernández had acted as a facilitator, providing bribes to politicians in the impoverished Central American nation, including President Hernández.

Evidence at the trial in Manhattan federal court showed that Juan Antonio Hernández had smuggled some 185 tons of cocaine to the U.S. during a career spanning at least 11 years. He was convicted in October 2019.

“Here, the trafficking was indeed state-sponsored,” said Judge Castel, reading a statement as he imposed the sentence. He noted that Juan Antonio Hernández had brazenly stamped his initials “T.H.” for Tony Hernández on the cocaine he imported to the U.S. The judge also ordered him to forfeit $138.5 million.

Analysts say that the life sentence for the president’s brother is another reminder that Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, poses a major problem for President Biden as he tries to stop a surge of migrants from the region. Biden officials have said that fighting corruption in Central America is key to their efforts to reduce migration flows.

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Jobless Claims Fall to Lowest Point in the Pandemic: Live Updates

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell last week to 657,000, a decrease of 100,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the lowest weekly level of initial state claims since the pandemic upended the economy a year ago.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 684,000.

In addition, there were 242,000 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits, a decrease of 43,000.

Unemployment claims have been at historically high levels for the past year, partly because some workers have been laid off more than once.

“The labor market will benefit from a reopening, but it will take time for a complete recovery,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics. “The economy is doing well, but the job market is still far away from where it needs to be.”

Although the pace of vaccinations, as well as passage of a $1.9 trillion relief package this month, has lifted economists’ expectations for growth, the labor market has lagged behind other measures of recovery.

Still, the easing of restrictions on indoor dining areas, health clubs, movie theaters and other gathering places offers hope for the millions of workers who were let go in the last 12 months. And the $1,400 checks going to most Americans as part of the relief bill should help spending perk up in the weeks ahead.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said she hoped for consistent employment gains but her optimism was tempered by concern about the longer-term displacement of workers by the pandemic.

“We’ve passed the point where you can just flip a switch and the lights come back on,” she said. “We need to see a sustained increase in hiring, which I think we will see, but the concern is that it won’t be so robust. It takes longer to ramp up than it does to shut down.”

Most of United’s new flights will connect cities in the Midwest to tourist destinations.
Credit…Sebastian Hidalgo for The New York Times

United Airlines plans to add more than two dozen new flights starting Memorial Day weekend, the latest sign that demand for leisure travel is picking up as the national vaccination rate moves higher.

Most of the new flights will connect cities in the Midwest to tourist destinations, such as Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; Portland, Maine; Savannah, Ga.; and Pensacola, Fla. United also said it planned to offer more flights to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America in May than it did during the same month in 2019.

The airline has seen ticket sales rise in recent weeks, according to Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning and scheduling. Customers are booking tickets further out, too, he said, suggesting growing confidence in travel.

“Over the past 12 months, this is the first time we are really feeling more bullish,” Mr. Gupta said.

Airports have been consistently busier in recent weeks than at any point since the coronavirus pandemic brought travel to a standstill a year ago. Well over one million people were screened at airport security checkpoints each day over the past two weeks, according to the Transportation Security Administration, although the number of screenings is down more than 40 percent compared with the same period in 2019.

Most of the new United flights will be offered between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend aboard the airline’s regional jets, which have 50 seats. The airline said it would also add new flights between Houston and Kalispell, Mont.; Washington and Bozeman, Mont.; Chicago and Nantucket, Mass.; and Orange County, Calif., and Honolulu.

All told, United said it planned to operate about 58 percent as many domestic flights this May as it did in May 2019 and 46 percent as many international flights. Most of the demand for international travel has been focused on warm beach destinations that have less-stringent travel restrictions.

“That is one of the strongest demand regions in the world right now,” Mr. Gupta said. “A lot of the leisure traffic has sort of shifted to those places and it’s actually seen a boom in bookings.”

Delta Air Lines issued a similar update last week, announcing more than 20 nonstop summer flights to mountain, beach and vacation destinations. Both airlines have said in recent weeks that they have made substantial progress toward reducing how much money they are losing every day.

“Institutions that focus on diversity and do it well are the successful institutions in our society,” said Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair.
Credit…Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said on Thursday that the central bank was trying to make its economic employee base more racially diverse and he was not satisfied with its progress toward that goal so far.

“It’s very frustrating, because we have had for many years a strong focus on recruiting a more diverse cadre of economists,” Mr. Powell said while speaking on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” after being asked about a New York Times story on the Fed’s lack of Black economists. “We’re not at all satisfied with the results.”

Only two of the 417 economists, or 0.5 percent, at the Fed’s board in Washington were Black, according to data the Fed provided to The Times earlier this year. By comparison, Black people make up 13 percent of the country’s population and 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who graduate as Ph.D. economists each year.

Across the entire Fed system — including the Board of Governors and the 12 regional banks — 1.3 percent of economists identified as Black. The Fed has been making efforts to hire more broadly, Mr. Powell said, including by working with historically Black colleges.

“It’s a very high priority,” Mr. Powell said of hiring more diversely. “Institutions that focus on diversity and do it well are the successful institutions in our society.”

The Fed chair was also asked about how he would rate the central bank’s sweeping efforts to rescue the economy as markets melted down at the start of the coronavirus outbreak last year. In addition to cutting its policy interest rate to near zero and rolling out an enormous bond-buying program, the Fed set up a series of emergency lending programs to funnel credit to the economy.

Rolled out over a frantic few weeks, the programs included ones that the Fed had never tried before to backstop corporate bond and private company loan markets.

“I liken it to Dunkirk,” Mr. Powell said, referring to the rapid evacuation of British and Allied forces from France in World War II. “Just get in the boats and go.”

Despite the speed of the decision-making, Mr. Powell said that he looked back on the results as positive.

“Overall, it was a very successful program,” he said. “It served its purpose in staving off what could have been far worse outcomes.”

Esther George, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said she expected inflation to “firm,” given time.
Credit…Ann Saphir/Reuters

Esther George, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, says that although the outlook for growth has improved as vaccinations increase and the government rolls out relief packages, the path of the pandemic remains a major question hanging over the U.S. and global economies.

“We’re not out of this yet,” Ms. George said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s hard to know what the dynamics will be on the other side.”

Ms. George said she was focused on labor force participation as a sign of the job market’s strength more than the headline unemployment rate, which has fallen to 6.2 percent from a 14.8 percent peak but misses many people who aren’t looking for new jobs after losing theirs during the pandemic. Participation, the share of people working or looking, remains a hefty two percentage points below its prepandemic levels.

“That might be the thing I really watch in the coming months,” she said.

Ms. George expects inflation to “firm,” but that the process is likely to take a while, she said, and it is “too soon to say” whether it will end with a more meaningful rise. Some prominent economists have begun to warn that prices, which have been low for decades, could rise rapidly as the government spends big and the Fed keeps rates at rock bottom to support the economic recovery.

“Wages are a very telling factor in a story about inflation,” Ms. George said.

Many economists look for faster growth in compensation as a signal that inflation is sustainable, not just driven by short-lived supply constraints or temporary quirks in the data.

Ms. George’s colleagues, including Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, have been clear that they expect prices to move higher this year but will not necessarily see that as an achievement of their inflation goal. The Fed redefined its target last year and now aims for 2 percent annual price gains, on average, over time.

Ms. George did not venture a guess of when the Fed will hit its three criteria for raising interest rates: full employment, 2 percent realized price gains and the expectation of higher inflation for some time. Some Fed officials expect to raise rates next year or in 2023, but most of them expect the initial increase to come even later.

Dan Gilbert, the chief executive of Quicken Loans, which has been based in Detroit since 2010.
Credit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans founder, has spent more than a decade putting billions into downtown Detroit. Now he’s broadening his scope.

The Gilbert Family Foundation and the Rocket Community Fund, the philanthropic arm of Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage company, announced on Thursday a $500 million investment in Metro Detroit, to be spent over the next 10 years. The first $15 million will be put toward paying off property tax debt of low-income homeowners who qualified for Detroit’s Pay As You Stay initiative.

Quicken Loans has been based in Detroit since 2010, and Mr. Gilbert and his real estate firm, Bedrock, have spent billions buying and redeveloping properties there. Those efforts have been praised for revitalizing a downtown area of roughly seven square miles, but also criticized by some who contend they did not do enough to help those who live in the rest of the city.

“We feel like we’ve made Detroit into a tech boomtown,” said Mr. Gilbert. But he acknowledged that some may have felt left behind. “This can bridge that,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert added that his focus outside of Detroit’s city center stems from his work on President Barack Obama’s Blight Removal Task Force in 2014 as the city was emerging from bankruptcy. “Property taxes was the No. 1 issue that was causing the blight foreclosures,” he said.

Detroit’s housing crisis dates to “racial covenants” in the 1920s. In the mid-2000s, the city became a center of risky lending that defined the financial crisis, with subprime lending accounting for three-fourths of the mortgages in the city. (Quicken Loans settled a lawsuit with the Justice Department for its own lending practices during that time, but admitted no wrongdoing.)

The economic crisis that followed toppled a city already grappling with a dwindling population and shrinking revenue. Those who paid for the recovery were largely low-income housing owners — in many cases Black — whom the city was also accused of overtaxing. Poverty rates ascended and city services deteriorated as a result.

The investment announced on Thursday is an effort to address the lingering effects of the crisis. Twenty thousand families qualify for the tax-relief program, said Mr. Gilbert’s wife, Jennifer, who founded the Gilbert Family Foundation with her husband.

“By preserving that wealth, we also preserve opportunities for intergenerational wealth transfer,” she said. “The stability of the home allows for people to then focus on other economic opportunities that allow them to thrive.”

After the first $15 million of the initiative is spent paying back taxes of low-income homeowners, the remaining funds will be focused on, among other things, home repair and narrowing the digital divide.

The community will be vital for input, including those who qualify for the initial tax relief. “We can learn a lot about where we want to invest next and how best we can positively impact them and their lives,” Ms. Gilbert said.

A Nike store in Beijing on Thursday. Nike shares fell in premarket trading after it was criticized on Chinese social media over a statement it made about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.
Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

U.S. stock futures dipped on Thursday even as the latest weekly data on state unemployment claims showed that they fell to their lowest level since the start of the pandemic.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 657,000, a decrease of 100,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 684,000. Economists have been expecting the numbers to fall as the vaccine rollout continues and the effects of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package emerge.

European stocks were lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 index was down 0.8 percent and the FTSE 100 in Britain fell 1 percent.

“We are here to help our small businesses, and that is why I’m proud to more than triple the amount of funding they can access,” said Isabella Casillas Guzman, the Small Business Administration’s administrator.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic can soon borrow up to $500,000 through the Small Business Administration’s emergency lending program, raising a cap that has frustrated many applicants.

“The pandemic has lasted longer than expected,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the agency’s administrator, said on Wednesday. “We are here to help our small businesses, and that is why I’m proud to more than triple the amount of funding they can access.”

The change to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program — known as EIDL and pronounced as idle — will take effect the week of April 6. Those who have already received loans but might now qualify for more money will be contacted and offered the opportunity to apply for an increase, the agency said.

The Small Business Administration has approved $200 billion in disaster loans to 3.8 million borrowers since the program began last year. Unlike the forgivable loans made through the larger and more prominent Paycheck Protection Program, the disaster loans must be paid back. But they carry a low interest rate and a long repayment term.

Normally, the decades-old disaster program makes loans of up to $2 million, and in the early days of the pandemic, the agency gave some applicants as much as $900,000. But it soon capped loans at $150,000 because it feared exhausting the available funding. That limit — which the agency did not tell borrowers about for months — angered applicants who needed more capital to keep their struggling ventures alive.

The agency has $270 billion left to lend through the pandemic relief program, James Rivera, the head of the agency’s Office of Disaster Assistance, told senators at a hearing on Wednesday.

Jane Fraser in 2019. “The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” she told Citigroup employees.
Credit…Erin Scott/Reuters

Complaints of “Zoom fatigue” have emerged across industries and classrooms in the past year, as people confined to working from home faced schedules packed with virtual meetings and often followed up by long video catch-ups with friends, reports Anna Schaverien of The New York Times.

But Citigroup, one of the world’s largest banks, is trying to start a new end-of-week tradition meant to combat that fatigue: Zoom-free Fridays.

The bank’s new chief executive, Jane Fraser, announced the plan in a memo sent to employees on Monday. Recognizing that workers have spent inordinate amounts of the past 12 months staring at video calls, Citi is encouraging its employees to take a step back from Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms for one day a week, she said.

“The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” Ms. Fraser wrote in the memo, which was seen by The New York Times.

No one at the company would have to turn their video on for any internal meetings on Fridays, she said. External meetings would not be affected.

The bank outlined other steps to restore some semblance of work-life balance. It recommended employees stop scheduling calls outside of traditional working hours and pledged that when employees can return to offices, a majority of its workers would be given the option to work from home up to two days a week.

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Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández Faces Questions in Drug Trial’s Wake

He received briefcases stuffed with cash. He held clandestine meetings with drug traffickers in a rice factory. He sought to invest in a cocaine lab. He vowed to flood the United States with drugs. And he did all of this while pursuing the highest office in Honduras.

These were some of the accusations made about President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras in a federal courtroom in New York this month.

Mr. Hernández, who has repeatedly denied any association with drug traffickers, was not standing trial in the case and has not been charged with any crimes. Rather, Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, a Honduran citizen, was the defendant; he was convicted on Monday on all counts, including conspiracy to traffic cocaine and arms possession.

most trying to reach the United States.

Credit…U.S. District Court

The trial added to the growing mound of evidence gathered by federal prosecutors in recent years that casts Mr. Hernández as a key player in Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry. The proceedings led analysts to believe that formal charges against Mr. Hernández himself may not be far away.

“It’s yet another nail in his coffin,” said Eric L. Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation and an expert on Latin America. “But more than what this means for Juan Orlando, this sends another message to the people of Honduras that there’s no future for them, and what’s the point of hanging around?”

The swirl of corruption allegations around Mr. Hernández has been building for years.

In 2017, international observers documented many irregularities in his election to a second term, prompting weeks of violent protests around the country. The opposition said he should not have been on the ballot in the first place, arguing that Mr. Hernández had unfairly stacked the Supreme Court with his supporters, who then lifted the nation’s constitutional ban on re-election.

More recently, federal prosecutors in the United States have sought to show that the president built a symbiotic relationship with drug traffickers who provided financial support for his political ascent in return for protection from prosecution.

was convicted in federal court in New York on drug trafficking charges and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

The accusations made by American government lawyers over the years have made for a jarring contrast with the United States’ continued political support for Mr. Hernández, who has cast himself as a willing partner in the effort to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In testimony during the trial this month, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, who once ran a violent drug gang called Los Cachiros, testified that in 2012 he gave $250,000 in cash to Mr. Hernández — transferring it by way of the president’s sister, Hilda Hernández — in exchange for the promise that he would not be arrested and extradited to the United States. Mr. Hernández, at the time, was running for his party’s presidential nomination.

Another witness, a Honduran accountant who testified under the pseudonym José Sánchez, said he witnessed Mr. Hernández accepting bribes from Mr. Fuentes and negotiating access to the drug trafficker’s cocaine lab during meetings at the offices of Graneros Nacionales, the biggest rice producer in Honduras.

“I couldn’t believe what I was watching,” Mr. Sánchez said of an encounter in 2013, when Mr. Hernández was running for president on his party’s ticket. “I was looking at the presidential candidate meeting with a drug trafficker.”

Mr. Sánchez said that in those meetings, Mr. Hernández was twice given bribes of cash stuffed into briefcases, one with $15,000 and the other with $10,000. The accountant said he was personally responsible for counting the cash: $20 bills wrapped in rubber bands.

Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School.

Mr. Hernández has denied the allegations of corruption and has argued that the testimony in the Fuentes case, as in the trial of his brother, came from unreliable witnesses who were trying to punish him for his efforts to clean Honduras of drug trafficking. Moments after the jury returned its verdict on Monday, he took to Twitter to defend himself, citing what he called an “unprecedented 95 percent reduction” in drug trafficking across Honduras.

The trial played out in Honduras against the backdrop of presidential and congressional campaigns that have further underscored the degree to which corruption riddles the political system.

Charles Call, an associate professor of peace and conflict resolution at American University in Washington.

Following the verdict this week, Hondurans expressed a sense of fatigue, and widespread cynicism that anything would change.

“We do not live in a state of law,” said Edwin Kelly, 35, a data analyst from La Ceiba who lamented “the power of the narco-president.”

The latest revelations might, though, drive even more migrants to head north.

There are many reasons more Honduras have been leaving in recent years, among them insecurity and poverty, said Mr. Olson, of the Seattle International Foundation.

“But there’s a meta-story, which is the failure of government,” he said “We need to give the people of Central America a sense of hope. And that starts with fighting corruption and ending this ridiculous theft of Hondurans’ future.”

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Senior U.S. Officials Visit Mexico, Guatemala to Address Migrant Surge

Senior White House officials are visiting Mexico and Guatemala this week in a bid to curtail a surge of migrants at the U.S. southern border that is raising pressure for the Biden administration to take more aggressive measures.

The high-level meetings to discuss migration and development in southern Mexico and Central America come as apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are on pace to hit highs not seen in 20 years.

The Biden administration is now leaning more on Mexico’s authorities to turn migrants back before they can reach the U.S. border. The government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced last week restrictions on nonessential travel across its border with Guatemala, a measure it said was to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

But a parade conducted on Friday by hundreds of Mexican immigration agents and National Guard officers near Mexico’s southern border showed that the enforcement efforts were focused on stopping migrants from reaching the U.S. before they come close.

Mexico’s latest enforcement campaign comes as the Biden administration agreed to supply its southern neighbor with 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca ’s Covid-19 vaccine, a request that represented a priority for the Mexican government, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said last week. “The U.S. also has common concerns with us,” he added, referring to migration.

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