In the midst of the pandemic, the government gave unemployment benefits to the incarcerated, the imaginary and the dead. It sent money to “farms” that turned out to be front yards. It paid people who were on the government’s “Do Not Pay List.” It gave loans to 342 people who said their name was “N/A.”
As the coronavirus shuttered businesses and forced people out of work, the federal government sent a flood of relief money into programs aimed at helping the newly unemployed and bolstering the economy. That included $3.1 trillion that former President Donald J. Trump approved in 2020, followed by a $1.9 trillion package signed into law in 2021 by President Biden.
But those dollars came with few strings and minimal oversight. The result: one of the largest frauds in American history, with billions of dollars stolen by thousands of people, including at least one amateur who boasted of his criminal activity on YouTube.
39,000 investigations going. About 50 agents in a Small Business Administration office are sorting through two million potentially fraudulent loan applications.
Officials already concede that the sheer number of cases means that some small-dollar thefts may never be prosecuted. This month, Mr. Biden signed bills extending the statute of limitations for some pandemic-related fraud to 10 years from five, a move aimed at giving the government more time to pursue cases. “My message to those cheats out there is this: You can’t hide. We’re going to find you,” Mr. Biden said during the signing at the White House.
$5 trillion in relief money in three separate legislative packages — an enormous sum that is credited with reducing poverty and saving the country from a prolonged, painful recession.
But investigators say that Congress, in its haste to get money out the door, devised all three packages with the same flaw: relying on the honor system.
For example, an expanded unemployment benefit gave workers an extra $600 per week in federal jobless funds on top of what they received from their state. The program was funded by the federal government but administered by states, which often had loose rules around qualifying. Applicants did not need to provide proof they had lost income because of Covid-19; they simply had to swear it was true.
Read More on the Coronavirus Pandemic
A similar we’ll-take-your-word-for-it approach was used in two loan programs run by the Small Business Administration.
Paycheck Protection Program, in which the government guaranteed loans made by private lenders, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, in which the government itself gave out loans and smaller advance grants that did not have to be repaid. In both, the government trusted businesses to self-certify that they met key requirements.
using the email address of a burrito shop.
In the Paycheck Protection Program, private banks were supposed to help with the screening, since in theory they were dealing with customers they already knew. But that left out many small businesses, and the government allowed online lenders to enter the program. This year, University of Texas researchers found that some of those “fintech” lenders appeared less diligent about catching fraud.
turning fraud into a franchise — helping other people cook up fake businesses in order to get loans from the Economic Injury Disaster program.
Andrea Ayers advised one client to tell the government she ran a baking business from home, although she was not a baker, prosecutors said.
YouTube videos, where scammers offered to help for a cut of the proceeds. Some used the money on necessities, like mortgage bills or car payments. But many seemed to act out of opportunism and greed, splurging on a yacht, a mansion, a $38,000 Rolex or a $57,000 Pokémon trading card.
responsible for selling the card.
music video on YouTube, bragging in detail about how he had gotten rich by submitting false unemployment claims. His song was called “EDD,” after California’s Employment Development Department, which paid the benefits.
first reported by The Washington Post. In the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a watchdog found that $58 billion had been paid to companies that shared the same addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts or other data as other applicants — a sign of potential fraud.
“It’s clear there’s tens of billions in fraud,” said Michael Horowitz, the chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which includes 21 agency inspectors general working on fraud cases. “Would it surprise me if it exceeded $100 billion? No.”
The effort to catch fraudsters began as soon as the money started flowing, and the first person was charged with benefit fraud in May 2020. But investigators were quickly deluged with tips at a scale they had never dealt with before. The Small Business Administration’s fraud hotline — which had previously received 800 calls a year — got 148,000 in the first year of the pandemic. The Small Business Administration sent its inspector general two million loan applications to check for potential identity theft. At the Labor Department, the inspector general’s office has 39,000 cases of suspected unemployment fraud, a 1,000 percent increase from prepandemic levels.
But prosecutors face a key disadvantage: While fraud takes minutes, investigations take months and prosecutions take even longer.
pleaded guilty to mail fraud last month. His lawyers declined to comment.
first weeks of the pandemic, when the government gave out 5.8 million advance grants worth $19.7 billion in just over 100 days. In that program, fraud was easy to pull off, according to a government watchdog, which cited numerous loans given to businesses that were ineligible for funding.
Mr. Ware said he recently limited his agents to working 10 cases at a time, telling them: “You’re killing yourself. I have to protect you from you.”
told The New York Times in November.
“It’s a honey trap,” he added. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into that trap.” Mr. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison for participating in a ring that sought $20 million in fraudulent loans.
In the case of Mr. Oudomsine, the Pokémon card buyer, his lawyers argued in March that a judge should be lenient in deciding his sentence because the fraud had taken hardly any time at all.
“It is an event without significant planning, of limited duration,” said Brian Jarrard, who was Mr. Oudomsine’s lawyer at the time.
That did not work.
Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. of U.S. District Court sentenced Mr. Oudomsine to three years in prison, more than prosecutors had asked for, to “demonstrate to the world that this is the consequence” of fraud, according to a transcript of the sentencing.
Now, Mr. Oudomsine is appealing, with a new lawyer and a new argument. Deterrence, the new lawyer argues, is moot here because the pandemic-relief programs are over.
“There’s no way to deter someone from doing it, when there’s no way they can do it any longer,” said the lawyer, Devin Rafus.
Biden administration officials say they are trying to prepare for the next disaster, seeking to build a system that would quickly check applications for signs of identity theft.
“Criminal syndicates are going to look for weak links at moments of crisis to attack us,” said Gene Sperling, the White House coordinator for pandemic aid. He said the White House now aims to build a continuing system that would detect identity theft quickly in applications for aid: “The right time to start building a stronger system to prevent identity theft is now, not in the middle of the next serious crisis.”
In the meantime, the arrests go on.
Last week, prosecutors charged a correctional officer at a federal prison in Atlanta with defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program, saying she had received two loans totaling $38,200 in 2020 and 2021. The officer, Harrescia Hopkins, has pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
“You can’t have a system where crime pays,” said Mr. Horowitz, of the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “It undercuts the entire system of justice. It undercuts people’s faith in these programs, in their government. You can’t have that.”
The problem is that the alternative to a Fed response is, at the moment, not obvious. The Biden administration’s attempts at tamping down price increases — longer port hours, release of strategic petroleum reserves, calling out corporate price gouging — have mostly tinkered around the edges of the issue.
Those kinds of precise moves to counter inflation are what M.M.T. economists would recommend, though. Ms. Kelton laid out other suggestions M.M.T. economists have made in a recent blog post. Among them: Medicare for All, cutting the Pentagon budget, repealing some tariffs and unclogging the ports.
Not exactly “easy peasy,” to borrow a phrase of hers.
“M.M.T. was already pretty marginal,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist, noting that, in his view, most policymakers and prominent academics ignored it already. Even if policy in the pandemic effectively embraced the idea that you do not have to pay for your spending, that idea, he said, was also Keynesian.
And the M.M.T crowd, while dismissing the Fed’s role, has not come up with a clear and obviously workable idea for how to stem inflation, he argued, adding, “If you were open-minded, this would discredit it still further.”
In Washington, the suite of ideas has clearly been dealt a setback. Deficit concerns have returned. Mr. Biden’s sweeping policy agenda has not passed because Senator Joseph Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and member of his own party, has opposed it on concerns about government debt and inflation.
Despite that, some of M.M.T.’s proponents are still sounding celebratory.
“We’ve won the debate on the intellectual level — there are no flaws,” Mr. Wray said.
Flaws or not, there are questions.
Questions like: “Did Congress ‘experiment’ with MMT, and does the run-up in inflation mean that MMT has ‘failed’?”
For two years, the stock market has been largely able to ignore the lived reality of Americans during the pandemic — the mounting coronavirus cases, the loss of lives and livelihoods, the lockdowns — because of underlying policies that kept it buoyant.
Investors can now say goodbye to all that.
Come 2022, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates to fight inflation, and government programs meant to stimulate the economy during the pandemic will have ended. Those policy changes will cause investors, businesses and consumers to behave differently, and their actions will eventually take some air out of the stock market, according to analysts.
“It’s going to be the first time in almost two years that the Fed’s incremental decisions might force investors or consumers to become a little more wary,” said David Schawel, the chief investment officer at Family Management Corporation, a wealth management firm in New York.
At year’s end, the overarching view on Wall Street is that 2022 will be a bumpier ride, if not quite a roller coaster. In a recent note, analysts at J.P. Morgan said that they expected inflation — currently at 6.8 percent — to “normalize” in coming months, and that the surge of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was unlikely to lower economic growth.
16 percent gain during the first year of the pandemic. The index hit 70 new closing highs in 2021, second only to 1995, when there were 77, said Howard Silverblatt, an analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Shares on Friday fell slightly.
The market continued to rise through political, social and economic tensions: On Jan. 7, the day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, the S&P set another record. Millions of amateur investors, stuck at home during the pandemic, piled into the stock market, too, buying up shares of all kinds of companies — even those that no one expects will earn money, like the video game retailer GameStop.
What to Know About Inflation in the U.S.
Wall Street also remained bullish on business prospects in China despite Beijing’s growing tension with the United States and tightening grip on Chinese companies. Waves of coronavirus variants, from Delta to Omicron, and a global death toll that crossed five million did not deter the stock market’s rise; its recovery after each bout of panic was faster than the previous one.
“2021 was a terrific year for the equity markets,” said Anu Gaggar, the global investment strategist for Commonwealth Financial Network, in an emailed note. “Between federal stimulus keeping the economy going, easy monetary policy from the Fed keeping markets liquid and interest rates low, and the ongoing medical improvement leading to surprising growth, markets have been in the best of all possible worlds.”
400 private companies raised $142.5 billion in 2021. But investors had sold off many of the newly listed stocks on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq by the end of the year. The Renaissance IPO exchange-traded fund, which tracks initial public offerings, is down about 9 percent for the year.
Shares of Oatly, which makes an oat-based alternative to dairy milk, soared 30 percent when the company went public in May but are now trading 60 percent lower than their opening-day closing price. The stock-trading start-up Robinhood and the dating app Bumble, two other big public debuts, were down about 50 percent for 2021.
supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic. Prices for used cars skyrocketed amid a global computer chip shortage. As Covid-19 vaccination rates improved, businesses trying to reopen had to raise wages to attract and retain employees. Consumer prices climbed 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier — the fastest pace since 1982.
But even when “inflation” had become a buzzword worthy of a headline in The Onion, the stock market appeared slow to react to price increases.
“The market is on the side that inflation is transitory,” said Harry Mamaysky, a professor at Columbia Business School. “If it’s not and the Fed needs to go in and raise interest rates to tame inflation, then things could get a lot worse in terms of markets and economic growth.”
And that is what the Fed has signaled it will do in 2022.
When interest rates go up, borrowing becomes more expensive for both consumers and companies. That can hurt profit margins for companies and make stocks less attractive to investors, while sapping consumer demand because people have less money to spend if their mortgage and other loan payments go up. Over time, that tends to deflate the stock market and reduce demand, which brings inflation back under control.
loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains could also lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
Mr. McBride said the values of many stocks were being supported by extremely low yields on Treasury bonds, especially the 10-year yield, which has held to about 1.5 percent.
“If that yield moves up, investors are going to re-evaluate how much they’re willing to pay for per dollar of earnings for stocks,” he said. Even if corporate profits — which were strong in 2021 — continue to grow in 2022, he added, they are unlikely to expand “at a pace that continues to justify the current price of stocks.”
quicken the pace of pulling back on that aid, set to finish in March.
“The nightmare scenario is: The Fed tightens and it doesn’t help,” said Aaron Brown, a former risk manager of AQR Capital Management who now manages his own money and teaches math at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Mr. Brown said that if the Fed could not orchestrate a “soft landing” for the economy, things could start to get ugly — fast.
And then, he said, the Fed may have to take “very aggressive action like a rate hike to 15 percent, or wage and price controls, like we tried in the ’70s.”
By an equal measure, the Fed’s moves, even if they are moderate, could also cause a sell-off in stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier assets, if investors panic when they realize that the free money that drove their risk-taking to ever greater extremes over the past several years is definitely going away.
Sal Arnuk, a partner and co-founder of Themis Trading, said he expected 2022 to begin with something like “a hiccup.”
“China and Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine — if something happens there or if the Fed surprises everyone with the speed of the taper, there’s going to be some selling,” Mr. Arnuk said. “It could even start in Bitcoin, but then people are going to start selling their Apple, their Google.”
Wall Street likes what it’s hearing from Washington lately.
The S&P 500 inched to a new high on Thursday, continuing a rally aided by signs of progress in spending talks that could pave the way for an injection of some $3 trillion into the U.S. economy.
The index rose 0.3 percent to 4,549.78, its seventh straight day of gains and a fresh peak after more than a month of volatile trading driven by nervousness over the still-wobbly economic recovery and policy fights in Washington.
market swoon that began in September.
Share prices began to rise this month when congressional leaders struck a deal to allow the government to avoid breaching the debt ceiling, ending a standoff that threatened to make it impossible for the country to pay its bills. The rally has gained momentum as investors and analysts grow increasingly confident about a government spending package using a recipe Wall Street can live with: big enough to bolster economic growth, but with smaller corporate tax increases than President Biden’s original $3.5 trillion spending blueprint.
continuing supply chain snarls, higher prices for businesses and consumers and the Federal Reserve’s signals that it would begin dialing back its stimulus efforts all helped sour investor confidence. The S&P 500’s 4.8 percent drop in September was its worst month since the start of the pandemic.
It has made up for it in October, rising 5.6 percent this month. But it’s not just updates out of Washington that have renewed investors’ optimism.
The country has seen a sharp drop in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, raising, once again, the prospect that economic activity can begin to normalize. And the recent round of corporate earnings results that began in earnest this month has started better than many analysts expected. Large Wall Street banks, in particular, reported blockbuster results fueled by juicy fees paid to the banks’ deal makers, thanks to a surge of merger activity.
Elsewhere, shares of energy giants have also buoyed the broad stock market. The price of crude oil recently climbed back above $80 a barrel for the first time in roughly seven years, translating into an instant boost to revenues for energy companies.
debt limit, is a cap on the total amount of money that the federal government is authorized to borrow via U.S. Treasury bills and savings bonds to fulfill its financial obligations. Because the U.S. runs budget deficits, it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills.
When will the debt limit be breached? After Senate leaders agreed to a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling on Oct. 7, the Treasury estimated that the government can continue borrowing through Dec. 3. The deal sets up yet another consequential deadline for the first Friday in December.
Why does the U.S. limit its borrowing? According to the Constitution, Congress must authorize borrowing. The debt limit was instituted in the early 20th century so the Treasury did not need to ask for permission each time it needed to issue bonds to pay bills.
What would happen if the debt limit was hit? Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress that inaction on raising the debt limit could lead to a self-inflicted economic recession and a financial crisis. She also said that failing to raise the debt ceiling could affect programs that help millions of Americans, including delays to Social Security payments.
Do other countries do it this way? Denmark also has a debt limit, but it is set so high that raising it is generally not an issue. Most other countries do not. In Poland, public debt cannot exceed 60 percent of gross domestic product.
What are the alternatives to the debt ceiling? The lack of a replacement is one of the main reasons the debt ceiling has persisted. Ms. Yellen said that she would support legislation to abolish the debt limit, which she described as “destructive.” It would take an act of Congress to do away with the debt limit.
On Thursday, analysts spotlighted the news that the White House and congressional Democrats were moving toward dropping corporate tax increases they had wanted to include in the bill, as they hoped to forge a deal that could clear the Senate. A spending deal without corporate tax increases would be a potential boon to profits and share prices.
“A stay of execution on higher corporate tax rates would seem a potentially noteworthy development,” Daragh Maher, a currency analyst with HSBC Securities, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
An agreement among Democrats on what’s expected to be a roughly $2 trillion spending plan would also open the door to a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan moving through Congress. Progressives in the House are blocking the infrastructure bill until agreement is reached on the larger bill.
But the prospects for an agreement have helped to lift shares of major engineering and construction materials companies. Terex, which makes equipment used for handling construction materials like stone and asphalt, has jumped more than 5 percent this week. The asphalt maker Vulcan Materials has risen more than 4 percent. Dycom, which specializes in construction and engineering of telecommunication networking systems, was up more than 9 percent.
The renewed confidence remains fragile, with good reason. The coronavirus continues to affect business operations around the world, and the Delta variant demonstrated just how disruptive a new iteration of the virus can be.
Another lingering concern involves the higher costs companies face for everything from raw materials to shipping to labor. If they are unable to pass those higher costs on to consumers, it will cut into their profits.
“Thatwould be big,” Mr. McKnight said. “That would be a material impact to the markets.”
But going into the final months of the year — traditionally a good time for stocks — the market also has plenty of reasons to push higher.
The recent weeks of bumpy trading may have chased shareholders with low confidence — sometimes known as “weak hands” on Wall Street — out of the market, offering potential bargains to long-term buyers.
“Interest rates are relatively stable. Earnings are booming. Covid cases, thankfully, are dropping precipitously in the U.S.,” Mr. Zemsky said. “The weak hands have left the markets and there’s plenty of jobs. So why shouldn’t we have new highs?”
But Sergey Chernenko, an associate professor of finance at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, who was not involved in Dr. Howell’s research, said the new paper aligned with his own findings on race-based gaps in Paycheck Protection Program lending. At an economic conference next month, he will present a paper that concluded that Black-owned businesses were disproportionately left out of the relief program.
“This fits very well with and complements our finding that minority-owned businesses were less likely to get loans because of racial bias, and to the extent that they do get them, they’re more likely to get them from fintechs than banks,” Dr. Chernenko said.
The government designed the Paycheck Protection Program to be virtually risk-free for lenders: They would advance small companies up to $10 million — the size of the loan was based on the company’s head count and payroll — and the government would then pay off the loans in full for business owners that followed the rules. If the borrower defaulted, the government would still repay the lender. In theory, any lender should have been willing to lend to any qualified applicant.
It didn’t work out that way. Many banks limited their loans to their current customers, which was a hurdle for owners who lacked business checking accounts or loans. But even Black owners who had accounts were noticeably more likely than those of other races to end up with a fintech loan, Dr. Howell and her co-authors found.
The effects were strongest in parts of the country with higher levels of racial animus, which the study measured with variables like the extent of local housing segregation and the prevalence of racially charged Google searches.
The researchers tested — and found little evidence for — other common hypotheses about the program’s racial lending disparities. Even after controlling for variables like the applicant’s ZIP code, industry, recent revenue, affinity for online lenders, and loan size and approval date, the gap persisted.
This was not the case, they found, at the nation’s biggest banks. After researchers controlled for those elements, Black-owned businesses appeared to be just as likely as any other to get a loan from Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.
Federal Reserve officials indicated on Wednesday that they expect to soon slow the asset purchases they have been using to support the economy and predicted they might raise interest rates next year, sending a clear signal that policymakers are preparing to curtail full-blast monetary help as the business environment snaps back from the pandemic shock.
Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, said during a news conference that the central bank’s bond purchases, which have propped up the economy since the depths of the pandemic downturn, “still have a use, but it’s time for us to begin to taper them.”
That unusual candor came for a reason: Fed officials have been trying to fully prepare markets for their first move away from enormous economic support. Policymakers could announce a slowdown to their monthly government-backed securities purchases as soon as November, the Fed’s next meeting, and the program may come to a complete end by the middle of next year, Mr. Powell later said. He added that there was “very broad support” on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee for such a plan.
Nearly 20 months after the coronavirus pandemic first shook America, the Fed is trying to guide an economy in which business has rebounded as consumers spend strongly, helped along by repeated government stimulus checks and other benefits.
markets on edge. In the United States, partisan wrangling could imperil future government spending plans or even cause a destabilizing delay to a needed debt ceiling increase.
Mr. Powell and his colleagues are navigating those crosscurrents at a time when inflation is high and the labor market, while healing, remains far from full strength. They are weighing when and how to reduce their monetary policy support, hoping to prevent economic or financial market overheating while keeping the recovery on track.
“They want to start the exit,” said Priya Misra, global head of rates strategy at T.D. Securities. “They’re putting the markets on notice.”
Investors took the latest update in stride. The S&P 500 ended up 1 percent for the day, slightly higher than it was before the Fed’s policy statement was released, and yields on government bonds ticked lower, suggesting that investors didn’t see a reason to radically change their expectations for interest rates.
The Fed has been holding its policy rate at rock bottom since March 2020 and is buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies that work together to keep many types of borrowing cheap. The combination has fueled lending and spending and helped to foster stronger economic growth, while also contributing to record highs in the stock market.
fresh set of economic projections on Wednesday, laying out their predictions for growth, inflation and the funds rate through the end of 2024. Those included the “dot plot” — a set of anonymous individual estimates showing where each of the Fed’s 18 policymakers expect their interest rate to fall at the end of each year.
last released in June. This was the first time the Fed has released 2024 projections, and officials expected rates to stand at 1.8 percent at the end of that year.
sharply higher in recent months, elevated by supply-chain disruptions and other quirks tied to the pandemic. The Fed’s preferred metric, the personal consumption expenditures index, climbed 4.2 percent in July from a year earlier.
Fed officials expected inflation to average 4.2 percent in the final quarter of 2021 before falling to 2.2 percent in 2022, the new forecasts showed.
Central bankers are trying to predict how inflation will evolve in the coming months and years. Some officials worry that it will remain elevated, fueled by strong consumption and newfound corporate pricing power as consumers come to expect and accept higher costs.
Others fret that the same factors pushing prices higher today will lead to uncomfortably low inflation down the road — for instance, used car prices have contributed heavily to the 2021 increase and could fall as demand wanes. Tepid price increases prevailed before the pandemic started, and the same global trends that had been weighing inflation down could once again dominate.
“Inflation expectations are terribly important, we spend a lot of time watching them, and if we did see them moving up in a troubling way” then “we would certainly react to that,” Mr. Powell said. “We don’t really see that now.”
The Fed’s second goal — full employment — also remains elusive. Millions of jobs remain missing compared with before the pandemic, even after months of historically rapid employment gains. Officials want to avoid lifting interest rates to cool off the economy before the labor market has fully healed. It’s difficult to know when that might be, because the economy has never recovered from pandemic-induced lockdowns before.
“The process of reopening the economy is unprecedented, as was the shutdown at the onset of the pandemic,” Mr. Powell said on Wednesday.
Given those uncertainties, the Fed is likely to move cautiously on raising interest rates. And while Mr. Powell teed up a possible November announcement that the Fed would start slowing its bond-buying, even that is subject to change if the economy does not shape up as expected — or if major risks on the horizon materialize.
“The start of tapering would be delayed if the debt ceiling standoff is unresolved and markets are in turmoil,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note following the meeting.
Yet Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed was not equipped to ride to the rescue if lawmakers could not resolve their differences.
“It’s just very important that the debt ceiling be raised in a timely fashion,” Mr. Powell said, adding that “no one should assume the Fed or anyone else can protect markets and the economy in the event of a failure” to “make sure that we do pay those, when they’re due.”
Distressed homeowners with loans owned by private banks or investors should contact their mortgage servicer to see what options they’re offering. Some of them have followed a framework similar to federally backed loans, but others’ terms may be murkier.
No matter what type of loan you have, the most important action to take now is to reach out to your mortgage servicer to find out when your payments will resume and how much they will be. If you cannot afford them, the servicer can lay out your options. For more guidance, you can also seek out a housing counselor.
The changes made to food stamps — now largely known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — during the pandemic were complicated.
But one significant change, a 15 percent bump in benefits for all recipients, runs only through Sept. 30. So if you currently receive SNAP benefits, they may go down then. (Congress is considering an extension, SNAP policy experts said, and other changes unrelated to the pandemic — including a regular inflation adjustment, along with a potential change to the basket of food that benefits are based on — could also help offset any potential cuts.)
A number of other temporary changes will remain in many states for several more months.
Those changes increased benefits for the program, which is federally funded but run through the states. Beneficiaries have received emergency allotments, which increased their monthly benefits to the maximum amounts permitted or higher. All told, the average daily benefit per person rose to $7 from $4 by April of this year, according to Ellen Vollinger, legal director at the Food Research & Action Center.
Access to the program also became somewhat easier: Certain college students became eligible, unemployed people under 50 without children weren’t subject to time limits and there were fewer administrative hurdles to remaining enrolled, experts said.
The extra allotments can continue to be paid as long as the federal government has declared a public health emergency, which is likely to remain for at least the rest of the year. But the state administering the benefits must also have an emergency declaration in place, and at least six states — Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Carolina — have either ended or will soon begin to pull back that extra amount, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The discussion could shape the path ahead for economic policy, helping to determine how much support President Biden has for infrastructure spending proposals and how patient the Fed can be in removing emergency monetary policy supports.
“This is the largest year-over-year increase in prices since the Great Recession, and massive stimulus spending is a contributing factor,” Senator Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho, wrote on Twitter. “Proposals for further federal spending, coupled with job-killing tax hikes, are not the remedy for economic recovery.”
The White House has been focused on alleviating bottlenecks where it can, reviewing the supply chain for semiconductors and critical minerals used in all sorts of products. But controlling inflation falls largely to the Fed.
The data comes less than a week before the central bank’s June meeting, which will give the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, another opportunity to address how he and his colleagues plan to achieve their two key goals — stable prices and full employment — in the tricky post-pandemic economic environment.
“The Fed has never said how big a reopening spike it expected, but we’re guessing that policymakers have been surprised by the past two months’ numbers,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note following the release.
The big policy question facing the Fed is when, and how quickly, it will begin to slow its $120 billion in monthly government-backed bond purchases. That policy is meant to keep borrowing of all kinds cheap and stoke demand, and because it bolsters stock prices, markets are very attuned to when central bankers will taper it.
Mr. Powell and his colleagues have repeatedly said that they need to see “substantial” further progress toward maximum employment and stable inflation that averages 2 percent over time before they pull back from that policy.
Isabella Casillas Guzman, President Biden’s choice to run the Small Business Administration, inherited a portfolio of nearly $1 trillion in emergency aid and an agency plagued by controversy when she took over in March. She has been sprinting from crisis to crisis ever since.
Some new programs have been mired in delays and glitches, while the S.B.A.’s best-known pandemic relief effort, the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly ran out of money for its loans this month, confusing lenders and stranding millions of borrowers. Angry business owners have deluged the agency with criticism and complaints.
Now, it’s Ms. Guzman’s job to turn the ship around. “It’s the largest S.B.A. portfolio we’ve ever had, and clearly there’s going to need to be some changes in how we do business,” she said in a recent interview.
When the coronavirus crisis struck and the economy went into a free fall last year, Congress and the Trump administration pushed the Small Business Administration to the forefront, putting it in charge of huge sums of relief money and complicated new programs.
confusing, often-revised loan terms and several technical meltdowns — the program enjoyed some success. Millions of business owners credit it with helping them survive the pandemic and keep more workers employed.
Economists are skeptical about whether the program’s results justify its huge cost, but Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden both embraced the effort as a centerpiece of their economic rescue plans. As the pandemic stretched on and the economy plunged into a recession, the Paycheck Protection Program morphed into the largest business bailout in American history. More than eight million companies got forgivable loans, totaling $788 billion — nearly as much money as the government spent on its three rounds of direct payments to taxpayers.
Fraud is a major concern. Thousands of people took advantage of the rushed program’s minimal documentation requirements and sought illicit loans, according to prosecutors, to fund gambling sprees, Lamborghinis, luxury watches, an alpaca farm and a Medicare fraud scheme. The Justice Department has charged hundreds of people with stealing more than $440 million, and scores of federal investigations are active. (During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Guzman promised that she would “prioritize the reduction of fraud, waste and abuse.”)
There were other problems. Female and minority business owners were disproportionately left out of the relief effort. A last-minute attempt by Mr. Biden to make the program more generous for solo business owners came too late to help many of them. This month, a new emergency popped up: The program ran short of money and abruptly closed to most new applicants.
“There was no warning,” Toby Scammell, the chief executive of Womply, a company that helps borrowers get loans, said of the latest debacle. His company alone has more than 1.6 million applicants caught in limbo.
low-interest disaster loans of up to $500,000 and new grant funds, created by Congress, for two of the hardest-hit industries: the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant for live-event businesses and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. (The hotel industry is pushing for its own version.)
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Each required the agency to create policies and technology systems from scratch. The venue program has been especially rocky. On its scheduled start day, in early April, the application system completely failed, leaving desperate applicants hitting refresh and relying on social media posts for information and updates.
“I turned to my associate director and said, ‘I figured something like this would happen,’” said Chris Zacher, the executive director of Levitt Pavilion, a nonprofit performing arts center in Denver. The Small Business Administration revived the system three weeks later and has received 12,200 applications, but it does not anticipate awarding grants until late May.
have turned into primal screams of pain. (“I SERIOUSLY CANNOT TAKE THIS WITH SBA ANY LONGER” is one of the milder replies.) She said she understood the urgency.
“It’s definitely unprecedented — across the board, across the nation — and we are seeing multiple disasters at the same time,” she said. “The agency is highly focused on just still responding to disaster and implementing this relief as quickly as possible.”
This is Ms. Guzman’s second tour at the Small Business Administration. When President Barack Obama picked Maria Contreras-Sweet in 2014 to take over the agency, Ms. Guzman went along as a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff. The women had met in the mid-1990s. Ms. Guzman, a California native with an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, was hired at 7Up/RC Bottling by Ms. Contreras-Sweet, an executive there.
“I was always impressed with her ability to handle jobs with steep learning curves — she has a quick grasp of complex concepts,” Ms. Contreras-Sweet said.
Ms. Guzman spent her first stint at the agency focused on traditional projects like its flagship lending program, which normally facilitates around $28 billion a year in loans. The time, the job is radically different.
community navigators” program, which will fund local organizations, including nonprofits and government groups, to work closely with businesses owned by people with disabilities or in underserved rural, minority and immigrant communities. It’s an expansion of a grass-roots effort by several nonprofits to get vulnerable businesses access to Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Ms. Guzman said she was bullish about that effort and other agency priorities, like expanding Black and other minority entrepreneurs’ access to capital — but first, like the clients it serves, the Small Business Administration has to weather the pandemic.
And to do that, it has to stop shooting itself in the foot.
The much-awaited second attempt at opening the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fund was preceded by one final debacle: The agency announced — and then, less than a day before the date, abandoned — a plan to open the first-come-first-served fund on a Saturday. For those seeking aid that has not yet arrived, the incident felt like yet another kick in the teeth.
Ms. Guzman said she was aware of the need for her agency to overcome its limitations and rebuild its checkered reputation.
“This is a pivotal moment in time where we can leverage the interest in small business to really deliver a remarkable agency to them,” she said. “I value being the voice for the 30 million small and innovative start-ups around the country. What I always say to my staff is that I want these businesses to feel like the giants that they are in our economy.”
WASHINGTON — From California to Virginia, many states that faced devastating shortfalls in the depths of the pandemic recession now find themselves flush with tax revenues because of a rebounding economy and a soaring stock market. Lawmakers who worried about budget cuts are now proposing lucrative increases in school spending, tax cuts and direct payments to their residents.
That turnaround is partly the product of strong income tax receipts, particularly in states that heavily tax high earners and the wealthy, whose finances have fared well in the crisis. The unexpectedly rosy picture is raising pressure on President Biden to repurpose hundreds of billions of dollars of federal aid approved this year, in order to help fund a potential bipartisan infrastructure deal.
Last week, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, suggested that Mr. Biden and Republican negotiators look to “some of the funding that’s been sent to states already under the last few bills” to help pay for that agreement. “They don’t know how to use it,” Mr. Romney said. “They could use that money to finance part of the infrastructure relating to roads and bridges and transit.”
Some economists and budget experts support that push, arguing that the money could be better spent elsewhere and that states’ spending plans could add to a risk of rapid inflation breaking out across the country. Other researchers and local budget officials say that the federal aid is rescuing harder-hit cities and states, like New York City and Hawaii, from a cascade of layoffs and spending cuts.
$1.9 trillion economic assistance package that Mr. Biden signed in March. They say the aid will help ensure that the economic rebound does not repeat the years of state and local budget cutting that followed the 2008 financial crisis, which slowed the recovery from recession and contributed to millions of Americans waiting years to reap its benefits.
“We still feel strongly that the state and local plan is critical to ensuring we have a strong insurance policy for the type of strong growth we want, the type of equitable recovery the country deserves,” Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden who oversees fulfillment of the March assistance package, said in an interview, “and to coming back from the 1.3 million jobs lost at the state and local level.”
Even if the administration wanted to recoup or divert the funds, it is unlikely that it could repurpose the money or make significant changes to how it is used without congressional action.
The debate over the state and local funding comes as Mr. Biden navigates a critical week of negotiations with Republicans over infrastructure in search of a deal, and as he prepares to travel to Cleveland on Thursday to speak about the economy. How to pay for any new spending is a primary hurdle in the talks, with Mr. Biden pushing to raise taxes on corporations and Republicans preferring increased user fees like the gas tax.
Repurposing unspent funds could help advance an agreement, particularly given Republican opposition to bankrolling state aid in previous rescue packages. Democrats pushed hard to include lucrative financial assistance for states, cities and tribes in Mr. Biden’s rescue bill. Republicans fought those efforts, warning they would serve as a “bailout” to high-tax, high-spend liberal states. They also cited a series of projections from Wall Street firms and other analysts suggesting that many states’ revenues were faring better than officials had feared in the early months of the pandemic.
do not need more federal money. That is particularly true in states that do not rely primarily on the tourism or hospitality industries for tax revenues. Those with progressive tax systems that have caught surging revenues from investment income enjoyed by wealthy residents — like Silicon Valley moguls — are also faring well.
California officials expect a $15 billion surplus this fiscal year, after fearing a $54 billion shortfall. Virginia has seen nearly $2 billion in unanticipated revenues. As has Oregon, where economists recently upgraded the state’s revenue forecasts — moving it from projected deficits to surplus — in a report that surprised and delighted many lawmakers.
“It’s extremely surprising,” said Mark McMullen, the Oregon state economist.
“Obviously, when the shutdowns first set in and we saw these catastrophic employment losses, we treated them as a normal recession in our forecasts,” he said.
But surging income tax revenues and several rounds of federal assistance have now put the state “above our prepandemic forecasts,” Mr. McMullen added.
The strong revenue figures come as more federal relief money is just beginning to roll out the door. The Treasury Department began sending funds to states this month and has so far distributed more than $100 billion — about half of what is available to be disbursed immediately. Local governments are expected to receive the rest next year, although states still experiencing a sharp rise in unemployment will get a lump sum right away.
as a much lower risk than Mr. Summers does.
Other analysts warn that state budget situations could sour if the stock market dips sharply or economic growth fizzles. Many cities, like New York, have struggled with sluggish tax revenues and still are reliant on federal to help avoid further layoffs.
New York expects to receive more than $22 billion in Covid-19 federal aid, according to the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission. Despite the funds, the city is still anticipating budget gaps in the coming years, the result of declining revenues like property taxes.
In retrospect, said Lucy Dadayan, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center, the March law should have included “more targeted funding” for the states and cities that need it most.
$8.8 billion from the federal government. Ben Watkins, the director of the Florida Division of Bond Finance, said the state was using the relief money to invest in infrastructure and water quality projects and directing some of its surplus funds to hurricane preparedness.
He described the windfall as staggering.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Mr. Watkins said, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s not excessive.”
States have substantial leeway in how they use the money, though they are prohibited from using the funds to subsidize tax cuts. Several Republican-led states have sued the Treasury Department, arguing that the restriction infringes on state sovereignty.
The lawsuits do not appear to be slowing the delivery of the funds. Ohio failed to win an injunction blocking the restrictions from being enforced this month, and Missouri had its case thrown out of court after a federal judge said the state did not demonstrate that the law caused it harm.
$26 million corporate tax cut last week, and lawmakers have told The Omaha World-Herald that they believe that by keeping the federal funds in a separate account from the state’s general fund, they will be in compliance with the law.
Nicholas Fandos and Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.