Elizabeth MacDonough, the parliamentarian, will have to issue guidance on whether doing so is permissible under Senate rules.

If Democrats succeed, they could potentially use the reconciliation maneuver at least two more times this calendar year to push through more of Mr. Biden’s agenda.

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Contentious Union Vote at Amazon Heads to a Count

SEATTLE — By the end of Monday, thousands of yellow envelopes mailed to a squat brick building in Birmingham, Ala., will hold the fate of one of the most closely watched union elections in recent history, one that could alter the shape of the labor movement and one of America’s largest employers.

The envelopes contain the ballots of workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham. Almost 6,000 workers at the building, one of Amazon’s largest, are eligible to decide whether they form the first union at an Amazon operation in the United States, after years of fierce resistance by the company.

The organizers have made the case in a monthslong campaign that Amazon’s intense monitoring of workers infringes on their dignity, and that its pay is not commensurate with the constant pressure workers feel to produce. The union estimates that roughly 85 percent of the work force at the warehouse is Black and has linked the organizing to the struggle for racial justice.

Amazon has countered that its $15 minimum wage is twice the state minimum, and that it offers health insurance and other benefits that can be hard to find in low-wage jobs.

stopped construction on an office tower when Seattle wanted to tax the company, and backed out of plans to build a second headquarters in New York City after facing progressive opposition.

But the company has committed more than $360 million in leases and equipment for the Bessemer warehouse, and shutting down the vote of a large Black work force could publicly backfire, said Marc Wulfraat, a logistics consultant who closely tracks the company.

Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Wulfraat said that the election is a sign Amazon has work to do. “For most companies that end up with labor organizing in some capacity,” he said, “it didn’t come about because they were doing a fantastic job managing people.”

If the union loses, Amazon will lose at least one customer: Michael Render, the rapper who goes by Killer Mike. Appearing alongside Mr. Sanders on Friday, he said, “If that vote does not go through, if these conditions do not improve, I won’t be ordering from Amazon again.”

Sonam Vashi contributed reporting from Bessemer, Ala.

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What the people cleaning New York City’s subway want passengers to know.

Cleaning the New York City subway has always been a dirty job. But when the pandemic hit last spring, it became even more challenging. When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that trains be shut down overnight for cleaning, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority turned to contractors to help undertake the monumental task of scouring the trains in the nation’s largest transit system.

The thousands of workers the contractors hired — largely low-income immigrants from Latin America — were envisioned as a stopgap measure, as M.T.A. workers were falling ill and dying of the virus.

Nearly a year later, the workers are still toiling at stations all over the city. Some are paid as little as half as much as the M.T.A. employees who did the same work before the pandemic began, and many without access to health insurance.

Now, as the M.T.A. prepares to welcome more passengers, the workers are pushing back, raising concerns about their safety, salaries and working conditions.

The New York Times interviewed a dozen contract cleaners, including three who in late February met with Patrick J. Foye, the M.T.A.’s chairman and chief executive, to describe their job and share a list of “needs” with transit agency leadership.

Their accounts paint a picture of dismal working conditions and highlight their unequal treatment compared with transit cleaners, who are paid up to $30 an hour and enjoy health insurance and other benefits, uniforms and MetroCards to swipe themselves into the system.

Beatriz Muñoz, 38, cleaned trains for six months last year at the terminus of the Q line at 96th Street in Manhattan. When cars arrived that were closed to passengers because they had been sullied, “we were the ones who had to go in there,” she said. “We would be praying to God that we wouldn’t get sick.”

Their complaints appear to show how the M.T.A.’s contractors have relied on a labor force that has been desperate for work at a time when hundreds of thousands have lost jobs in cleaning, construction and restaurants.

An M.T.A. spokeswoman, Abbey Collins, said the agency was disinfecting the subway with the help of “licensed and reputable outside companies whose performance is monitored regularly.”

Ms. Muñoz was paid $20 an hour. She brought her own mask, gloves and soap to clean her rags, she said.

She and her co-workers were told not to drink beverages on the job so they would not need to use the bathroom. “It was an oven in the summer,” she said. “We had to sneak sips of water.”

When inspectors came, she said, no one said a word. “Truthfully, we were all afraid.”

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Fear of Inflation Finds a Foothold in the Bond Market

The so-called bond vigilantes may be back, 30 years after they led a sell-off in Treasury securities over the prospect of higher government spending by a new Democratic administration.

The Federal Reserve has downplayed the risk of inflation, and many experts discount the danger of a sustained rise in prices. But there is an intense debate underway on Wall Street about the prospects for higher inflation and rising interest rates.

Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. If the trend continues, it will put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which recently won passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.

recall the 1990s, when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.

coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs that fiscal deficits are getting out of hand, especially if central bankers and others don’t act as a counterweight.

As bond prices fall and yields rise, borrowing becomes more expensive, which can force lawmakers to spend less.

“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”

Yields on the 10-year Treasury note hit 1.75 percent last week before falling back this week, a sharp rise from less than 1 percent at the start of the year.

plenty of slack in the economy.

That’s how Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and is a former top Fed official, sees it. Even if inflation goes up slightly, Mr. Blinder believes the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate.

“Bond traders are an excitable lot, and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”

Indeed, there have been rumors of the bond vigilantes’ return before, like in 2009 as the economy began to creep out of the deep hole of the last recession and rates inched higher. But in the ensuing decade, both yields and inflation remained muted. If anything, deflation was a greater concern than rising prices.

It is not just bond traders who are concerned. Some of Mr. Blinder’s colleagues from the Clinton administration are warning that the conventional economic wisdom hasn’t fully accepted the possibility of higher rates or an uptick in prices.

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.

Robert E. Rubin, Mr. Clinton’s second Treasury secretary, echoed that concern but took pains to support the stimulus package.

“There is a deep uncertainty,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview. “We needed this relief bill, and it served a lot of useful purposes. But we now have an enormous amount of stimulus, and the risks of inflation have increased materially.”

relatively loose for the foreseeable future. If higher prices do materialize, the Fed could halt asset purchases and raise rates sooner.

“We’re committed to giving the economy the support that it needs to return as quickly as possible to a state of maximum employment and price stability,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. That help will continue “for as long as it takes.”

While most policymakers expect faster growth, falling unemployment and a rise in inflation to above 2 percent, they nonetheless expect short-term rates to stay near zero through 2023.

But the Fed’s ability to control longer-term rates is more limited, said Steven Rattner, a veteran Wall Street banker and former New York Times reporter who served in the Obama administration.

“At some point, if this economy takes off bigger than any one of us expect, the Fed will have to raise rates, but it’s not this year’s issue and probably not next year’s issue,” he said. “But we are in uncharted waters, and we are to some extent playing with fire.”

The concerns about inflation expressed by Mr. Rattner, Mr. Rubin and others has at least a little to do with a generational angst, Mr. Rattner, 68, points out. They all vividly remember the soaring inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s that prompted the Fed to raise rates into the double digits under the leadership of Paul Volcker.

The tightening brought inflation under control but caused a deep economic downturn.

“People my age remember well the late 1970s and 1980s,” Mr. Rattner said. “I was there, I covered it for The Times, and lived through it. Younger people treat it like it was the Civil War.”

Some younger economists, like Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics, who is 36, think these veterans of past inflation scares are indeed fighting old wars. Any rise in inflation above 2 percent is likely to be transitory, Mr. Daco said. Bond yields are up, but they are only returning to normal after the distortions caused by the pandemic.

“If you have memories of high inflation and low growth in the 1970s, you may be more concerned with it popping up now,” he said. “But these are very different circumstances today.”

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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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Larry Summers Warned About Inflation. Fed Officials Push Back.

Federal Reserve officials pushed back on Thursday against concerns raised by two prominent economists — Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and Olivier J. Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund — that big government spending could overheat the economy and send inflation rocketing higher.

Those warnings have grabbed headlines and spurred debate over the past two months as details of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill came together. Mr. Summers in particular has kept them up since the legislation passed, saying it was too much on the heels of large spending packages last year. He recently called the approach the “least responsible” fiscal policy in 40 years while predicting that it had a one-in-three chance of precipitating higher inflation and maybe stagflation, or a one-in-three chance of causing the Fed to raise rates and pushing the economy toward recession.

But two leaders at the Fed, which is tasked with using monetary policies to keep inflation steady and contained, gave little credence to those fears on Thursday. Richard H. Clarida, the central bank’s vice chairman, and Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, both responded to questions specifically about Mr. Summers’s and Mr. Blanchard’s warnings.

“They have both correctly pointed out that the U.S. has a lot of fiscal support this year,” Mr. Clarida said on an Institute of International Finance webcast. “Where I would disagree is whether or not that is primarily going to represent a long-term, persistent upward risk to inflation, and I don’t think so.”

9.5 million jobs that were lost during the pandemic are still gone — and that the effect of the government’s relief spending would diminish over time. He also said that while spenders had pent-up demand, there was also pent-up supply because the service sector had been shut for a year.

“At the Fed, we get paid to be attentive and attuned to inflation risks, and we will be,” Mr. Clarida said. But he noted that forecasters didn’t see “undesirable upward pressure” on inflation over time.

Mr. Evans told reporters on a call that he wasn’t sure what “overheating” — the danger that top economists have warned about — actually meant.

“First off, there’s a conversation of is this the best way to spend money,” he summarized, adding that he didn’t have anything to say about that. “But then there’s sort of like, ‘Oh, this is so much that it is going to overshoot potential output, and there’s a risk that we’re going to get overheating, and then inflation.’”

He continued: “What is the definition of overheating? It’s a great word, it evokes all kinds of images, but it’s kind of like potential output is always a strange concept anyway. Can output be too high?”

a decade when inflation spiraled up and out of control in America, Mr. Evans said. “This isn’t the ’70s. We’ve had trouble getting inflation up.”

Inflation has been weak in the United States, and in advanced economies broadly, the past two decades. To try to keep that from turning into a bigger problem, the Fed has been working to “re-anchor” consumer and market expectations to prevent inflation slipping lower. The central bank announced last year that it would begin to aim for 2 percent annual price gains on average over time, allowing for periods of greater increases.

Still, no Fed policymaker wants inflation to suddenly spike, eroding consumer purchasing power. If that happened, the Fed might have to lift interest rates rapidly to slow down the economy, throwing people out of work and possibly causing a recession. That’s what Mr. Summers and Mr. Blanchard are warning about.

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.

The $1.9 trillion measure that the Biden administration ushered through Congress added to a $900 billion relief package enacted in December and a $2 trillion package last March.

Mr. Blanchard, in a March 5 post on Twitter, compared the fresh government spending to a snake swallowing an elephant: “The snake was too ambitious. The elephant will pass, but maybe with some damage.”

He more recently said that he had “no clue as to what happens to inflation and rates” but that there is a lot of uncertainty and that things “could go wrong.”

Feb. 4 Washington Post column that, while it was hugely uncertain, “there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation.”

He said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week that “we are running enormous risks.”

But Fed officials don’t think big government outlays will be enough to rewrite the world’s low-inflation story. And if it does stoke a slightly faster pickup, that might be a welcome development.

Mr. Clarida acknowledged that price gains were likely to speed up over the next few months, but said he expected most of that “to be transitory” and for inflation to return to “or perhaps run somewhat above” 2 percent in 2022 and 2023.

“This outcome would be entirely consistent with the new framework we adopted in August 2020,” he said.

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Unemployment Claims Are Lowest Since Pandemic Began

The Fed changed its policy framework last year to focus on “shortfalls” from full employment, rather than “deviations.” In practice, that means it does not plan to raise interest rates just because the labor market heats up — for instance, if unemployment drops below historically normal levels — so long as inflation is under control.

“The more vibrant the labor market is, the more likely it is to be an inclusive, vibrant labor market,” Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “We’re not going to prematurely cut off a vibrant labor market.”

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.

There have been false starts before, namely a burst of growth that faded as the virus worsened in the fall, but last week’s drop in claims was still notable for its size. In February, the economy remained more than nine million jobs short of where it was before the pandemic.

Unemployment claims have been at historically high levels for the past year, partly because some workers have been laid off more than once. Still, the bottom line is that the data recently has been favorable, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“Weekly numbers have been choppy but we’ve been on a downward trend since mid-January,” he said. “As more business owners see a reopening will come, they are more willing to hang on to staff.”

Between the state and federal programs, the number of new jobless claims last week was just under 900,000 after being stuck for months above one million a week.

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.

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Biden’s Task: Overhaul the Economy, as Fast as Possible

WASHINGTON — After a two-month, $2 trillion sprint to pass aid for an economy still hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic, President Biden is finally set to detail his “Build Back Better” agenda next week in Pittsburgh. Its name, carried over from the 2020 campaign, has become a catchall phrase that cabinet officials and junior aides use to describe all manner of plans to overhaul American capitalism.

In the weeks ahead, the president’s strategic choices will show the country what “building” really means, to him.

Mr. Biden’s forthcoming proposals, which aides and documents suggest could cost as much as $4 trillion over the next decade, are a pivot to the core economic agenda he campaigned on: rebuilding infrastructure, revitalizing America’s competitiveness in emerging industries and reducing the barriers that hold back men of color and women in the workplace.

Mr. Biden will have the benefit of momentum in pushing them, and of a political moment that seems ripe for another large spending bill. Democrats are riding high on the public approval ratings for their coronavirus relief bill across the country. Even the most conservative Democrats in the Senate are eager to spend big again to address infrastructure concerns that have festered for a decade, and to combat widened income inequality that has helped fuel the rise of populist politicians in both parties.

low-carbon energy economy.

toured the Mississippi River to celebrate projects built with money from an $800 billion economic stimulus bill that had passed seven years before. He stopped at a port, a bus and train terminal, and a rail yard where he declared, “I’m a railroad guy.”

In his campaign, he spoke frequently of the need to build more in the United States to improve the economy and better compete with international rivals like China in a host of emerging industries like fifth-generation cellular networks, known as 5G, and advanced battery manufacturing. Like President Donald J. Trump before him, he has set ambitious goals to reverse a decades-long slide in American factory employment, pledging to create at least five million new jobs in manufacturing and innovation. Aides say he is particularly fond of repeating his pledge to install 500,000 electric-car charging stations across the country.

The “Build Back Better” plan that his economic advisers recommended Mr. Biden pursue this week would lead with those physical investments: a combination of spending and tax incentives on traditional infrastructure, high-growth industry cultivation and carbon-reducing energy investment that documents suggest could top $2 trillion.

But Mr. Biden’s economic advisers emphasize that the economy needs more than construction to increase productivity and achieve the president’s goals. They argue that it also needs investments in education, like universal prekindergarten and free community college, and in efforts to relieve the burdens of caring for family that often hamper working women. Those initiatives are included in the second half of the proposal that aides took to Mr. Biden this week, along with extensions of newly expanded tax credits meant to fight poverty.

 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.

“This next package is really about investing in our future and making the kind of smart investments that we know will increase growth,” Ms. Rouse said at a White House news briefing. “And we want that growth to be widely shared.”

“These aren’t simply women’s issues,” she said. “They affect all families, the ability of our economy to recover and our nation’s competitiveness.”

Inside the administration, aides disagree on the likelihood that both halves of the plan — the physical piece and the human piece — could pass Congress this year. Some see hope that Republicans, spurred by the business community, could join an effort with Democrats to muster 60 votes to pass a bill that spends heavily on roads, bridges, water systems and other traditional infrastructure. Some Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key swing vote, have insisted that Republicans be involved in the effort.

But most Democrats in and outside the White House see little chance, if any, of a large bipartisan bill taking shape. They point to early opposition from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who has called the proposals a likely “Trojan horse” for tax increases, and whose aides have begun labeling them a “Green New Deal” in disguise, even before Mr. Biden releases the details.

Lobbyists following the process closely expect Mr. Biden to allow Senate moderates to effectively test the proposition, giving them a fixed time to line up 10 Republicans behind an ambitious infrastructure bill that would almost certainly need to be financed by something other than the tax increases on the wealthy and corporations that the administration favors.

At the same time, Democratic leaders will most likely prepare to move at least one part of Mr. Biden’s plans quickly through the budget reconciliation process, which allows senators to skirt the filibuster and pass legislation with a bare majority, as they did for the coronavirus relief bill. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said in an interview that he is drawing up legislative text for tax increases to fund the Biden spending: “I’m going to start rolling out specific proposals so that people can have ideas about how they might proceed,” he said.

Moving on a party-line basis could leave all or most of the “human” programs behind, some in the administration fear. But analysts in Washington suggest many of them could eventually be rolled into an epic, single bill, perhaps costing $3 trillion and offset in part by tax increases on corporations and the rich, which would pass with only Democratic votes.

The idea, said Jon Lieber, a former aide to Mr. McConnell who is now managing director, United States, for the Eurasia Group in Washington, is that by moving fast and aggressively, Mr. Biden might be able to strong-arm even reluctant Democrats, who see their political fates tied to the continuing success of the administration in the polls.

The odds of a large bill passing this year, Mr. Lieber said, are “very, very, very, very good. What would stop them?”

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Powell and Yellen Tell Senators Economic Support Is Still Needed

America’s top two economic officials told senators on Wednesday that the economy is healing but still in a deep hole and that continued government support is providing a critical lifeline to families and businesses.

The remarks by Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, and Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury Secretary and Mr. Powell’s immediate predecessor at the Fed, before the Senate Banking Committee echoed their testimony before House lawmakers on Tuesday.

Mr. Powell said in his remarks that the government averted the worst possible outcomes in the pandemic economic recession with its aggressive spending response and super-low Fed interest rates.

“But the recovery is far from complete. So at the Fed, we will continue to provide the economy the support that it needs for as long as it takes,” he said.

the recently passed $1.9 trillion relief package, said responding to a crisis with a needed surge of temporary spending without paying for it was “appropriate.”

“Longer-run, we do have to raise revenue to support permanent spending that we want to do,” she said.

She said expanded unemployment insurance, part of the recent relief package, does not seem to be discouraging work and is needed at a time when the labor market is not at full strength.

“While unemployment remains high, it’s important to provide the supplementary relief,” Ms. Yellen said, noting that the aid lasts until the fall. She said the aid should be phased out as the economy recovers.

The Biden administration is also making plans for a $3 trillion infrastructure package, and Republicans on the committee expressed concern about the mounting deficits facing United States.

 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.

“I do worry that the Fed may be behind the curve when inflation inevitably picks up,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said during his opening remarks.

But Mr. Powell has consistently pushed back on warnings about runaway inflation and did so again on Wednesday.

stuck in the Suez Canal, but also in general as the economy reopens — he struck a similarly unconcerned tone.

“A bottleneck, by definition, is temporary,” he said.

He also batted back concerns about a recent increase in market-based interest rates. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes, a closely watched government bond, has moved up since the start of the year.

“Rates have responded to news about vaccination, and ultimately, about growth,” Mr. Powell said. “That has been an orderly process. I would be concerned if it were not an orderly process, or if conditions were to tighten to a point where they might threaten our recovery.”

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Joe Biden touts $1.9tn Covid rescue package on anniversary of Affordable Care Act

Joe Biden marked the 11th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act with a trip to Ohio on Tuesday, touting his efforts to reverse many Trump-era measures aimed at weakening the landmark health reform law, and pledging that his $1.9tn Covid rescue package would build on the ACA’s promise.

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The administration also extended a special enrollment period for registering for subsidized health insurance coverage until 15 August, from the previous deadline of 15 May. The extension will give Americans who lost health coverage during the pandemic more time to sign up, and allow more Americans to take advantage of new federal subsidies to reduce insurance premiums granted under the new relief package.

Biden visited Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital to mark the anniversary and promote a $100m grant the hospital received under the program, known as Obamacare, to upgrade its radiation oncology department.

The visit comes as Biden and other top White House officials are hitting the road on the Help is Here tour to promote the $1.9tn Covid-19 relief bill, Biden’s first major legislation. The measure provides short-term subsidies that deliver discounts for nearly everyone who buys insurance under the program.

“We have a duty not just to protect it, but to make it better and keep becoming a nation where health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few,” Biden said in a speech on Tuesday. “Millions of families will be able to sleep a little more soundly at night because they don’t have to worry about losing everything if they get sick.”

Many of Biden’s trips have been to politically critical states. Democrats, who hold a bare majority in the Senate, are hoping to compete in 2022 for a seat being vacated by retiring Ohio Republican Rob Portman. Biden lost the battleground state to Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats see healthcare as a winning issue.

The Affordable Care Act – the signature legislative achievement of Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president – has survived repeated attacks from Republicans, on Capitol Hill and in the courts. It is expanding under Biden’s watch.

Biden signed several executive orders reversing actions by Trump, who failed in his repeated vow to repeal Obamacare.

Republicans oppose extensive government involvement in insurance markets and have criticized the cost and quality of healthcare under the program.

There are about 28 million Americans without health insurance, down from about 46.5m in 2010, when the ACA was passed, according to federal figures.

During last year’s presidential election campaign, Biden proposed a healthcare plan that would allow Americans to choose between their private insurance plans and government-sponsored public options. He took criticism from the liberal arm of the Democratic Party, which felt his proposals were too mild.

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