many dry months before touring and live events return at anything like prepandemic levels.

The grant program also offers help for Broadway theaters, performing arts centers and even zoos, which share many of the same economic struggles.

The Pablo Center at the Confluence, in Eau Claire, Wis., for example, was able to raise about $1 million from donations and grants during the pandemic, yet is still $1.2 million short on its annual fixed operating expenses, said Jason Jon Anderson, its executive director.

“By the time we open again, October 2021 at the earliest, we will have been shuttered longer than we had been open,” he added. (The center opened in 2018, at a cost of $60 million.)

The thousands of small clubs that dot the national concert map lack access to major donors and, in many cases, have been surviving on fumes for months.

Stephen Chilton, the owner of the 300-capacity Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, said he had taken out “a few hundred thousand” in loans to keep the club afloat. In October, it reopened with a pop-up coffee shop inside, and the club hosts some events, like trivia contests and open mic shows.

“We’re losing a lot less than we were losing when we were completely closed,” Mr. Chilton said, “but it’s not making up for the lost revenue from doing events.”

The Rebel Lounge hopes that a grant will help it survive until it can bring back a full complement of concerts. And if its application is not accepted?

“There is no Plan B,” Mr. Chilton said.

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Family Federal Education Loan Borrowers Get a Reprieve if They Have Defaulted

About a million student loan borrowers who were left out of earlier relief efforts are getting a reprieve — but only if they defaulted on their loans.

The Education Department said on Tuesday that it will temporarily stop collecting on defaulted loans that were made through the Family Federal Education Loans program and are privately held.

“Our goal is to enable these borrowers who are struggling in default to get the same protections previously made available to tens of millions of other borrowers,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

The change, however, still leaves millions of other borrowers in that program responsible for payments while the bulk of the country’s student loan borrowers have had theirs paused.

borrowers who are still making payments on those privately held F.F.E.L. loans or have fallen only a few months behind. There are around 5.4 million borrowers in that category, who together owe $134 billion, according to Education Department data.

Tuesday’s announcement is intended to prevent defaulted borrowers from having their tax refunds seized by the Treasury Department through a program that is often used to collect overdue student loan debts. Any seized refunds or wage garnishments that were taken since March 2020 will be retroactively refunded, the Education Department said.

The freeze will extend through Sept. 30, when collections are scheduled to restart on all federal student loans. Nearly everyone who is eligible for the freeze has taken advantage of it: Of the nearly 43 million people with federally owned loans, only 400,000 are still making payments, according to Education Department data.

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Biden Administration Ramps Up Debt Relief Program to Help Black Farmers

Representative James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who played an influential role in helping Mr. Biden secure the party’s presidential nomination, has also been a major voice highlighting the experience of Black farmers and helped drive the stimulus provisions, according to congressional staff aides.

The funding aims to address longstanding problems with discrimination at the Agriculture Department — particularly its refusal to grant farmers of color the same access to capital that helped tide over white farmers during difficult periods in history. Minority farmers have confronted other issues, like a lack of access to legal services that have complicated farm inheritances, and a lack of public investment in rural communities and on reservations, including in the water supply and roads and transportation to get farm products to market.

Those factors led to a substantial loss of land. While the number of farmers in the United States has fallen sharply over the past century as farms mechanized and more people found work in factories and offices, Black farmers suffered disproportionately.

According to Agriculture Department data, in 1920, the United States had 925,708 Black farmers, making up 14 percent of farmers in the country. But by 2017, only 35,470 of the nation’s more than two million farms were run by Black producers, or 1.7 percent.

Joe Patterson, 70, whose family has farmed in the Mississippi Delta for decades, said discriminatory lending had forced many Black farmers around him out of business over the years, and led to some lean times for his own family.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

“When it all boiled down to it, it was a lack of funds that kept the Black farmers down,” said Mr. Patterson, who spoke by phone from the cab of a tractor he had pulled over to the side of the road. “If we had the same amount of investment that the other farmers had, a lot of Black farmers would still be farming this date.”

He added, “But because they didn’t have those funds, each year would get worse and worse.”

Anthony Daniels, a Democrat in Alabama’s state legislature who serves on the board of One Country Project, a Democratic group focused on rural issues, said that many Black farmers were still suffering from burdensome debt, and that the stimulus provisions would help them pay off loans and related taxes.

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

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, by an 81-to-17 vote.

Despite the concerns, Mr. Biden was met with praise in Chester, Pa., when he visited Smith Flooring, a Black-owned business that supplies and installs flooring. White House officials said the shop cut payroll over the last year, from 22 union employees to 12, after revenues declined by 20 percent during the pandemic. It has survived, the officials said, thanks in part to two rounds of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress established last year during the Trump administration to help small businesses.

“This is a great outfit. This is a union shop,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks. Its employees, he said, “work like the devil, and they can make a decent wage, a living wage.”

The owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, secured their second loan from the program as part of one of the Biden administration’s changes, which created a two-week exclusive period for certain very small businesses to receive loans. They thanked Mr. Biden for his efforts and for visiting Chester.

Mr. Biden’s aid bill, signed last week, added $7 billion to the program and funded others to help struggling businesses, including a $28 billion grant fund for restaurants. The law also set aside additional money for other relief efforts run by the Small Business Administration, including a long-delayed grant program for music clubs and other live-event businesses, which the agency said would start accepting applications early next month.

Lenders are scrambling to carry out the administration’s changes to the Paycheck Protection Program and finish processing a flood of applications before March 31. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants called the deadline “unrealistic,” and 10 banking groups sent a letter to lawmakers urging Congress to give them more time.

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

“Now that we need them, there’s no freaking help,” he said.

Research from Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois, found that from June until Feb. 17, only 41 percent of unemployed workers had access to benefits. Some of the rest were unaware of their eligibility or couldn’t navigate the thicket of rules in their states. Others simply weren’t eligible. Asian workers, Black workers and those with less education were disproportionately represented among the nonrecipients.

The gaps and delays in the system had consequences.

“The impact of that is folks’ having to move out of their apartments because they have this money that’s supposed to be coming but they just haven’t received it,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. Others kept their homes because of eviction bans, but had their utilities shut off, Ms. Dixon added, or turned to food banks to avoid going hungry — measures of food insecurity surged in the pandemic.

Still, the federal government did far more for unemployed workers than in any previous recession. Congress expanded the safety net to cover millions of workers — freelancers, part-time workers, the self-employed — who are left out in normal times. At the peak last summer, the state and federal unemployment systems were paying $5 billion a day in benefits — money that helped workers avoid evictions and hunger and that flowed through the economy, preventing an even worse outcome.

The record of other federal responses is similarly mixed. The Paycheck Protection Program helped hundreds of thousands of small businesses but was plagued by administrative hiccups and, at least according to some estimates, saved relatively few jobs. Direct checks to households similarly helped keep families afloat, but sent billions of dollars to households that were already financially stable, while failing to reach some of those who needed the help the most — in some cases because they had not filed tax returns or did not have bank accounts.

Beyond the successes and failures of specific programs, any evaluation of the broader economy needs to start with a question: Compared to what?

Relative to a world without Covid-19, the economy remains deeply troubled. The United States had 9.5 million fewer jobs in February than a year earlier, a hole deeper than in the worst of the last recession. Gross domestic product fell 3.5 percent in 2020, making it among the worst years on record.

Relative to the rosy predictions early in the pandemic — when economists hoped a brief shutdown would let the country beat the virus, then get quickly back to work — the downturn has been long and damaging. But those hopes were dashed not by a failure of economic policy but by the virus itself, and the failure to contain it.

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Unemployment Claims Fall, Fueling Economic Hope

The second year of the coronavirus pandemic is starting with rising hopes for the economic outlook — and a long way to go.

Positive signs are emerging as restrictions on businesses lift and the pace of vaccine distributions ramps up. But millions remain unemployed, and many economists are cautioning that a return to pre-pandemic conditions could take months, if not years.

That reality became all the more evident on Thursday, when the Labor Department reported that a total of 709,000 workers filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits in the week that ended March 6. Though the figure was 47,000 lower than the week before — and touching the lowest levels of the last year — it was still extraordinarily high by historical standards.

“The story week in and week out is that magnitude steals the show,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the career site Indeed. The report “really paints the picture of long-term joblessness,” she said, adding, “That is the reality for millions of Americans and is going to be a hurdle for the recovery to clear.”

final approval to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, which will inject the economy with a fresh surge of federal aid. The legislation, signed by Mr. Biden on Thursday, includes an extension of federal jobless benefits, which could provide a stopgap measure of relief for those still out of work as the labor market begins to heal in earnest after months of uneven improvement.

employers added 379,000 jobs in February, an unexpectedly robust number that reinforced confidence in the strength of the economic recovery roughly one year into the pandemic-induced downturn. The gains came largely in the hard-hit leisure and hospitality industries.

“The pieces are falling into place for a more substantial improvement in the labor market,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo.

As vaccination rates climb, the weather warms up and additional government help arrives, many economists foresee a more positive trajectory.

“We’re seeing a huge pickup in hiring,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with the employment site ZipRecruiter. “I think for many employers, it’s becoming real, and for many job seekers it is as well.”

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Inflation Fear Lurks, Even as Officials Say Not to Worry

While the Biden administration’s ambitious effort to salve the pandemic’s deep economic wounds made its way through Congress, proponents insisted that funneling $1.9 trillion to American households and businesses wouldn’t unshackle a long-vanquished monster: inflation.

Officials at the Federal Reserve, responsible for balancing the job needs of Americans with price pressures that could erode their buying power, have said there is little cause for worry.

Yet as the legislation moved toward the finish line, inflation prospects increasingly influenced political commentary and Wall Street trading.

The worries reflect expectations of a rapid economic expansion as businesses reopen and the pandemic recedes. Millions are still unemployed, and layoffs remain high. But for workers with secure jobs, higher spending seems almost certain in the months ahead as vaccinations prompt Americans to get out and about, deploying savings built up over the last year.

said in an interview with Bloomberg Television last week.

In addition to the $1.9 trillion about to pour forth, Mr. Dimon said, $1 trillion in savings that piled up during the pandemic remain unspent.

The inflation fixation has been one driver behind a sharp sell-off in government bonds since the start of the year, pairing with a stronger growth outlook to push yields on 10-year notes up to about 1.5 percent, from below 1 percent. Bonds, like stocks, tend to lose value when inflation expectations grow, eroding asset values.

“I would not buy 10-year Treasurys,” Mr. Dimon said.

The volatile bond trading prompted several unnerving days on Wall Street last week. High-flying tech stocks — previously seen as a haven for those chasing market-beating yields — were particularly upended, though broad share indexes remain near record highs.

“I would suspect there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to see rates going up,” Mr. Dimon said. “And people are starting to worry about that.”

Mr. Powell said this month, making it clear that he expected the coming increase to be transitory.

The Fed earned an inflation-fighting reputation in the 1970s and 1980s, when it eventually contained runaway prices with double-digit interest rates that caused a recession. But price gains have been slow for decades, and Mr. Powell and his colleagues have been working to ensure that consumers and businesses don’t start to expect ever-lower inflation.

Healthy economies tend to have gentle price increases, which give businesses room to raise wages and leave the central bank with more room to cut interest rates during times of trouble. If inflation drops too low, it risks price declines that are especially painful for debtors, whose debts stay the same even as prices and wages fall.

Fed officials revised their framework for setting monetary policy last summer, saying that instead of shooting exactly for 2 percent inflation, they would aim for 2 percent on average — welcoming inflation that runs faster some of the time.

Inflation is expected to increase in the coming months as prices are measured against weak readings from last year. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the Consumer Price Index to hit an annual rate of 2.9 percent from April through June, easing to 2.5 percent in the three months after that before easing gradually to year-over-year gains of 2.2 percent in 2022, based on the median projection.

the index rose 0.1 percent.

Gasoline prices alone were up 6.4 percent in February. But over all, the data matched projections, suggesting that inflation remains under control, despite a recent rise in prices for commodities like oil and copper. Stock markets rose on the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average reaching a new high.

“Outside of another buoyant advance in energy prices in February, consumer price inflation remains very tame,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics.

The inflation concerns among some investors are a turnaround from the aftermath of the 2007-9 recession, which was followed by a decade of frustratingly slow growth in the United States and Europe. For much of that time, deflation, or falling prices, was a leading cause of anxiety among investors and economic experts.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

Now there is a belief that economic growth will ramp up at least temporarily, thanks to relief from Capitol Hill and increased vaccinations across the country.

The about-face was noted Wednesday by the economist Bernard Baumohl in a letter to clients. “If you suddenly feel the ground shaking beneath you, it’s not because an earthquake struck,” he wrote. “What you’re experiencing is a wild stampede of Wall Street bulls trampling over their previous softer economic forecasts and now charging ahead with near frothy upward revisions to G.D.P. growth and inflation projections for 2021.”

he said this month. “When they arrive, we will consider raising interest rates. We’re not intending to raise interest rates until we see those conditions fulfilled.”

Fed officials have been less concrete about what might prod them into slowing their vast bond purchases, which they have been using to make many types of borrowing cheaper and bolster demand. Officials have said they would like to see “substantial” progress before tapering off their buying, and have repeatedly said they will signal any change far in advance.

The Fed will meet in Washington next week and release a fresh set of policymakers’ economic projections next Wednesday. Although the Fed looks at the Consumer Price Index, it bases its policy on a different gauge of price trends, which tends to run slightly lower.

“It is possible that participants will project higher 2021 inflation, especially if the Fed staff forecast incorporates policy effects on inflation or a reopening demand surge in select categories,” Goldman Sachs economists wrote last week. “Signaling awareness of these transient boosts to inflation in advance might make it easier for Fed officials to credibly downplay them later.”

The Goldman analysts expect the Fed’s projections to suggest that it might make one rate increase in 2023. Previously, Fed officials had not penciled in any rate increases through the end of that year.

Over the long term, inflation can be a concern because it hurts the value of many financial assets, especially stocks and bonds. It makes everything from milk and bread to gasoline more expensive for consumers, leaving them unable to keep up if salaries stall. And once inflation becomes entrenched, it can be hard to subdue.

But most mainstream economists doubt that a sustained bout of troublesome inflation is on its way.

“The inflation narrative has switched to concerns about rising prices,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “For the Fed, price response to the economy reopening is seen as transitory and is unlikely to cause too much angst, given inflation pressures are not expected to be sustained.”

And Mr. Dimon, the JPMorgan Chase chief, signaled that inflation fears needed to be put in perspective. “I would put that on the things to worry about,” he said, but “I wouldn’t worry too much about it” — certainly not compared with taming the pandemic itself.

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