Minority Entrepreneurs Struggled to Get Small-Business Relief Loans

Of the 1,300 Paycheck Protection Program loans that Southern Bancorp made last year, many went to customers who had been turned away by larger banks, Mr. Williams said.

In a recent Federal Reserve survey, nearly 80 percent of small-business owners who are Black or of Asian descent said their companies were in weak financial shape, compared with 54 percent of white business owners. And Black owners face unique challenges. While owners from all other demographics told the Fed that their main problem at the moment was low customer demand, Black respondents cited a different top challenge: access to credit.

When Jenell Ross, who runs an auto dealership in Ohio, sought a Paycheck Protection Program loan, her longtime bank told her to look elsewhere — a message that large banks like Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo delivered to many of their customers in the program’s frenzied early days.

Days later, she obtained a loan from Huntington Bank, a regional lender, but the experience stung.

“Historically, access to capital has been the leading concern of women- and minority-owned businesses to survive, and during this pandemic it has been no different,” Ms. Ross, who is Black, told a House committee last year.

Community lenders and aid organizations took a shoe-leather approach to filling the gaps.

Last year, the American Business Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group, worked with local nonprofits to create a “community navigator” program that sent outreach workers to Black, minority and rural businesses in Florida, Illinois, South Carolina and Texas. They plowed through roadblocks, Whac-a-Mole-style.

Language barriers were common. Many business owners had never sought a bank loan before. Several didn’t have an email address and needed help creating one. Some hadn’t filed taxes; the coalition hired two accountants to help people sort out their financials.

“Our folks literally went door to door and walked people through the process,” said Rebecca Shi, the group’s executive director. “It’s time-consuming.”

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Trump Aide Peter Navarro Doled Out Millions in Pandemic Contracts, Inquiry Finds

The Trump administration was so slow to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic that a top aide to President Donald J. Trump took matters into his own hands.

That aide, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s deputy assistant and trade adviser, personally steered hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for pandemic supplies to politically connected or novice companies, a preliminary investigation by House Democrats has found.

Mr. Navarro sounded an early alarm about supply shortages, according to emails and other documents released by a House committee overseeing the federal coronavirus response. In a memo dated March 1, 2020, he complained that “movement has been slow.”

After that, documents show, he prodded the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $96 million sole-source contract for respirators to AirBoss Defense Group, a defense industry supplier, telling a company executive “everything you requested is OK,” even though no contract had been signed.

Eastman Kodak Company, best known for its photography business, which then entered into a letter of intent in June 2020 to collaborate on the domestic manufacture of pharmaceutical agents, even though the company had no experience in that field.

Mr. Navarro also pushed for the Trump administration to award a $354 million contract to Phlow, a brand-new company in Richmond, Va., to manufacture generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients — an effort aimed at building up an American manufacturing base for products that were needed to treat Covid-19 but were made overseas. The Democrats’ investigation found that Mr. Navarro had been introduced to Phlow’s chief executive in November 2019.

“My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Mr. Navarro wrote to top federal health officials in March 2020. “This is a travesty. I need PHLOW noticed by Monday morning. This is being screwed up. Let’s move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can’t move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed.”

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Caution vs. Optimism

The news about the state of the pandemic in the U.S. has been largely positive in the past few months. The vaccines are highly effective, and millions of people are receiving doses each day. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply from their January peaks.

But infections are rising again. The U.S. has averaged 65,000 new cases a day over the past week — a 19 percent increase from two weeks ago. That puts the country close to last summer’s peak, though still far below January levels.

aren’t surprised. “For literally a month and a half, we’ve all been predicting that the second half of March is when B.1.1.7 would become the dominant variant in the United States,” says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. “And sure enough, here we are.”

The increase is not distributed equally. “New York and New Jersey have been bad and are not getting better, and Michigan’s cases are rising at an explosive rate,” Mitch Smith, a Times reporter covering the pandemic, said.

Hospitalizations are also rising rapidly in Michigan, with Jackson, Detroit and Flint among the metro areas experiencing the highest rates of new cases in the country.

The outlook is more encouraging in much of the West and South, though cases have started to tick up in Florida, where officials in Miami Beach instituted a curfew this month to prevent crowds of spring breakers from gathering.

while warning that “reckless behavior” could lead to more infections.

The solution, Jha believes, is honesty. “There’s been this debate throughout the whole pandemic: Should we be more optimistic or should we be more pessimistic? My personal strategy has been to just be honest with people,” he says. “Be honest with people and give it to them straight. I think most people can handle it.”

In other virus news:

the second day of Derek Chauvin’s trial, six people who were at the scene last year as Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck testified. The teenager who recorded the video at the center of the case said she sometimes lay awake at night, “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.” (Here are the takeaways from Day 2.)

  • Two Capitol Police officers are suing Donald Trump, claiming he is responsible for the physical and emotional injuries they suffered during the Jan 6. riot.

  • These photos show the conditions in an overcrowded border facility in Donna, Texas, that is housing more than 4,000 migrants.

  • A January airstrike by the French Army targeting militants killed 19 civilians in Mali, a U.N. report found. The attack intensified calls for about 5,000 French troops stationed there to leave.

  • G. Gordon Liddy, who concocted the bungled burglary that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon, died. He was 90.

  • The N.F.L. will add a 17th regular-season game, the first expansion of the league’s schedule since 1978.

  • The Final Four is set for the N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments, after No. 1 seeds in each bracket — Gonzaga for the men and Stanford and South Carolina for the women — won last night.

  • Under the Sea: “There’s no bottom, no walls, just this space that goes to infinity. And one thing you realize is there are a lot of sea monsters there, but they’re tiny.”

    Lives Lived: Alvin Sykes converted to Buddhism in his 20s and led a monk’s life in the name of social justice. Though he was not a lawyer, he devoted himself to prying open long-dormant murder cases from the civil rights era, including that of Emmett Till. Sykes died at 64.

    Satan Shoes.

    That outrage is by design, as The Times’s music critic Jon Caramanica writes. “What ‘Montero’ has caused — or rather, what Lil Nas X has engineered — is a good old-fashioned moral panic,” he writes. “The song, the video, the shoes — they are bait.”

    Lil Nas X found major fame in 2019 with his viral hit “Old Town Road.” But what has kept him relevant is the skill set he developed before that, as an ardent Nicki Minaj fan on social media. That experience made him a master at steering online conversations, a talent that translates well to pop stardom.

    “He is a grade-A internet manipulator and, provided all the tools and resources typically reserved for long-established pop superstars, he is perfectly suited to dominate the moment,” Caramanica writes. “‘Montero’ may or may not top the Billboard Hot 100 next week, but it will be unrivaled in conversations started.” — Sanam Yar

    play online.

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: ___ chowder (four letters).

    If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.


    Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow.

    P.S. President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for re-election 53 years ago today, the last time a U.S. president has done so. The Times covered the news with a front-page banner headline.

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    Covid-19 Live Updates: Birx Lashes Trump’s Pandemic Response, Speaking of Many Needless Deaths

    “so attentive to the scientific literature” and for not publicly correcting the president as he made outlandish claims about unproven therapies, whose disclosures may have been the most compelling.

    As of Sunday, more than 548,000 Americans have died from infection with the coronavirus. “I look at it this way,” she said. “The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge.”

    “All of the rest of them,” she said, referring to almost 450,000 deaths, “in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially” had the administration acted more aggressively.

    In what was in one of her first televised interviews since leaving the White House in January, she also described a “very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult” phone call with Mr. Trump after she spoke out about the dangers of the virus last summer. “Everybody in the White House was upset with that interview,” she said.

    After that, she decided to travel the country to talk to state and local leaders about masks and social distancing and other public health measures that the president didn’t want her to explain to the American public from the White House podium.

    Dr. Gupta asked if she was being censored. “Clearly someone was blocking me from doing it,” she said. “My understanding was I could not be national because the president might see it.”

    Several of the officials, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — who unlike the others is a career scientist and is now advising President Biden — blamed China, where the virus was first detected, for not being open enough with the United States. And several, including Dr. Redfield and Admiral Giroir, said early stumbles with testing — and the attitude within the White House that testing made the president look bad by driving up the number of case reports — were a serious problem in the administration’s response.

    And the problems with testing went beyond simply Mr. Trump’s obsession with optics. Admiral Giroir said that the administration simply did not have as many tests as top officials claimed at the time.

    “When we said there were millions of tests — there weren’t, right?” he said. “There were components of the test available but not the full deal.”

    A vaccination site at Cleveland State University in Ohio was expected to administer 6,000 shots a day shortly after it opened earlier this month. The state is among those expanding vaccinations to all adults.
    Credit…Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer, via Associated Press

    Chris Adams, 36, has spent the past year of the pandemic living with his grandparents in Wichita, Kan., and being “extremely strict” about social distancing. “I never went out,” he said.

    But starting Monday, when all adults in Kansas become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Adams plans to find a vaccination site where there is an available appointment. “What I’m looking forward to is seeing my friends again,” he said.

    Kansas is one of six states — Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas are the others — that are expanding eligibility for the vaccine to all adults on Monday. Minnesota will follow on Tuesday, and Indiana and South Carolina on Wednesday.

    Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas urged residents last week to seek out appointments, saying, “With the anticipated increase in supply from the federal government, we must get every dose of vaccine into arms quickly.”

    Even as vaccine eligibility continues to expand across America — nearly all states have pledged to make every adult eligible by May 1 — the United States has also reported an increase in new cases over the past week. About 75,000 new cases were reported on Friday, a significant increase from the 60,000 added the Friday before.

    States in the Northeast have accounted for about 30 percent of the nation’s new cases over the past two weeks, up from 20 percent in the first couple of weeks in February.

    In New York, there has been an average of 8,426 new cases a day, an 18 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. In New Jersey over the past week, there have been an average of 4,249 new cases reported daily, a 21 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier. And on Friday, Vermont set a single-day case record with 283 new infections; it is the first state to set a case record since Jan. 18.

    For many, the vaccine cannot come soon enough.

    Nicole Drum, 42, a writer in the Kansas City, Kan., metro area, cried on Friday when she found out that she would be eligible to get the vaccine as early as Monday. She started calling pharmacies and looking online for available appointments “within minutes of the news breaking,” she said.

    Ms. Drum called about 10 places without success. She had more luck on a county website, and booked an appointment for Wednesday.

    She said she planned to wear a special T-shirt saying “I believe in science” to her appointment. “I got myself a fun I’m-getting-the-vaccine outfit,” she said, laughing.

    She also plans to take her 4-year-old son with her, because she wants him to see “how research and science and people coming together can really help stem these kinds of things,” she said.

    “I want him to know that there’s no need to be afraid all the time of big scary things, because there are always helpers trying to figure this out,” Ms. Drum said. “While the solution might be something that’s a jab in the arm that hurts a little bit, it’s worth it.”

    Members of the World Health Organization’s team investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrived at the Wuhan Institute of Virology last month.
    Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    The Biden administration has expressed concern over the Chinese government’s role in drafting a forthcoming World Health Organization report about the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken suggested that Beijing had too much influence over the report, which is being compiled for the global health agency by a team of international experts as well as by Chinese scientists. Several of the Chinese scientists hold official positions or work at government-run institutions.

    “We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” Mr. Blinken said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    Mr. Blinken’s remarks come as the Chinese government works to take control of the narrative before the release of the report, which will explore several theories for how the virus initially spread to humans.

    China has been criticized for withholding raw data and repeatedly delaying a visit by the team of W.H.O. experts. The government in January finally allowed the W.H.O. team to visit the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first coronavirus cases were detected in late 2019.

    At a briefing with more than 100 foreign diplomats from 50 countries on Friday in Beijing, Chinese officials said the government had been transparent.

    W.H.O. officials have acknowledged difficulties in compiling the report and say it will be released soon.

    “It is, in a way, a painful process to get to the finishing line,” Peter K. Ben Embarek, a food safety scientist with the World Health Organization who is leading the team of experts, said at a news conference on Friday. “But the content is now complete.”

    GLOBAL ROUNDUP

    A vaccination centre at a mosque in London, on Sunday. Britain has given over 30 million vaccine doses.
    Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters

    Britain, which has now given a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to more than 30 million people, began a gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions for most of its population on Monday.

    People in England are now allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to six, or two households, after the end of a stay-at-home order in force since early January.

    Outdoor sports facilities, like tennis and basketball courts and swimming pools, are also opening in England. Nonessential retail and outdoor dining are set to return from April 12. Students returned to classes earlier this month. Elsewhere in Britain, Scotland and Wales have also begun easing stay-at-home orders, and Northern Ireland is set to review on coronavirus restrictions next month.

    For many in Britain, the easing was a cautious optimistic note after months lockdown, the nation’s third. The current lockdown began in January, after a new variant of the coronavirus swept the country, with as many as 60,000 daily cases and 1,800 daily deaths at its winter peak. On Sunday, the country reported 3,862 cases and 19 deaths, according to a New York Times database. London has so far reported no deaths from the virus on Sunday, according to Public Health England. If no reports are added later — the figures are not yet finalized — it would be the capital’s first day without a virus death since September. Officials are hoping a slow lifting will largely remove restrictions on socializing in England by June 21.

    Travel abroad for English residents, however, remains banned, with a task force reviewing the rule next month. Officials cautioned that people should still work from home where possible and minimize contact.

    In other news from around the globe:

    Yan Zhuang contributed reporting.

    Passengers heading to Hawaii from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this month.
    Credit…Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Palakiko Chandler took their little cousins to Nanakuli Beach on Oahu last weekend and noticed something they hadn’t seen in a while: a parking lot full of rental cars. The tourists were back.

    “It was just so packed,” said Mr. Chandler, 27 and a Native Hawaiian. “Me and my cousins were looking at each other like, should we just go home?” The youngest cousins needed several reminders to keep their distance from strangers for virus safety.

    For much of the pandemic, Hawaii had some of the strictest rules for visitors in the United States, requiring a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving in the islands. The policy took a heavy economic toll on a state that depends heavily on tourism, but it was lauded for its success in limiting the impact of the virus for months.

    Now, though, Hawaii has reopened for travelers: A negative test within 72 hours of arrival lets them skip the quarantine in most places. At least 28,000 people arrived in Hawaii on each of the last two Saturdays, according to state travel data —  the most in a day since the pandemic began, and not far from typical prepandemic levels.

    The influx has residents worried. Some have been posting on social media for months, pleading with mainlanders not to come, or if they do, to be mindful of the islands’ isolation and limited resources. The state has a total of 3,000 hospital beds for its population of 1.4 million, and has among the fewest I.C.U. beds per capita of any state; they were often mostly full even before the pandemic.

    Hawaii’s precautions did not keep the virus out completely: The islands had a holiday surge, like the rest of the country, and parts of the state are struggling with outbreaks now. Daily new case reports have doubled since late February, with some recent clusters focused on tourism workers. Hospitalizations have increased 17 percent in the last two weeks.

    “The looming concerning things are the variants,” said Dr. Damien Kapono Chong-Hanssen of the Kauai Community Health Center. “The California variant has been implicated in what’s happening in Maui right now. Maui is not looking better.”

    Mainlanders are making the trip anyway. “Hawaii is again packed with tourists,” wrote the travel site The Points Guy. Favorite sites are sold out, check-in lines are long, and the lines for outbound flights are getting longer.

    Tourists are crowding popular beaches without wearing masks or paying much attention to social distancing. Some visitors have gotten rowdy. A pair of arriving tourists were sent home after trying to pay a bribe to avoid the testing requirement.

    The situation is worsening the irritation that many state residents feel toward vacationers. Now the tourists aren’t just crowding the island and driving up prices, they say, they are also heedlessly risking everyone’s health.

    “Hawaiians and locals alike have always seen the disrespect that tourists bring to our islands,” Mr. Chandler said. “This is kind of the last straw. You’re coming to our home and you’re endangering us during a pandemic.”

    The tension is especially prevalent among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, who face greater risk for Covid-19 and higher rates of chronic disease than average.

    “Local people are tired of being treated a certain type of way,” said Charles Kaua Taylor-Fulton, 20, who lives on Oahu. “When tourists come, they can be very rude or entitled. There’s just a sense of entitlement.”

    Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa said the state’s case numbers are not exploding, at least not yet. But she said she would like to see travelers exhibit the same commitment to wearing masks that locals have. “It’s a matter of constantly educating the tourists,” she said.

    Still, the high travel season is just getting started, and restrictions are continuing to ease. Bars have reopened in parts of the state and outdoor weddings are now allowed to welcome up to 100 guests.

    “We can already see into the future of summer,” Mr. Chandler said, “and it’s going to be packed.”

    Office buildings in Manhattan have remained quiet as about 90 percent of their workers continue working remotely.
    Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

    A year after the coronavirus spurred an extraordinary exodus of workers from New York City office buildings, what had seemed like a short-term inconvenience is now becoming a permanent shift in how and where people work. Employers and employees have both embraced the advantages of remote work, including lower office costs and greater flexibility for employees, especially those with families.

    Beyond New York, some of the country’s largest cities have yet to see a substantial return of employees, even where there have been less stringent lockdowns, and some companies have announced that they are not going to have all workers come back all the time.

    In recent weeks, major corporations, including Ford in Michigan and Target in Minnesota, have said they are giving up significant office space, while Salesforce, whose headquarters occupies the tallest building in San Francisco, said only a small fraction of its employees would be in the office full time.

    But no city in the United States, and perhaps the world, must reckon with this transformation more than New York, and in particular Manhattan, an island whose economy has been sustained, from the corner hot dog vendor to Broadway theaters, by more than 1.6 million daily commuters.

    About 90 percent of Manhattan office workers are working remotely, a rate that has remained unchanged for months, according to a recent survey of major employers by the Partnership for New York City, which estimated that less than half of office workers would return by September.

    Across Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the country’s two largest central business districts, there has never been a greater proportion of office space for lease — 16.4 percent, much higher than in past crises, including after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008.

    As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.

    Some of the largest and most enduring companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., which has more than 20,000 office employees in the city, have told their work forces that the five-day office workweek is a relic. The bank is considering a model in which employees would rotate between working remotely and in the office.

    Other large businesses, including the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the marketing group Omnicom Group and the advertising giant WPP, have searched for subtenants to take over significant chunks of their Manhattan offices.

    The loss of workers has caused the market value of commercial properties that include office buildings to plunge nearly 16 percent, prompting a sharp decline in the tax revenue that pays for essential city services.

    The vaccine, which requires only a single shot, comes from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen subsidiary.
    Credit…Stephen Zenner/Getty Images

    Johnson & Johnson said on Monday that it would supply its one-shot vaccine to African Union member states, as the continent experiences a slow rollout of vaccines, an uptick in cases and worries about new virus mutations.

    The pharmaceutical company said that its unit, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, agreed a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, an African Union organization, to supply up to 220 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine beginning in the fall. The organization will also have the possibility of ordering an additional 180 million doses for a combined total of up to 400 million doses through 2022.

    The company will supply most of the doses from a plant in South Africa, which is operated by Aspen Pharma. The African Export-Import Bank, a Pan-African bank headquartered in Cairo, will pay manufacturers $2 billion on behalf of member countries in the form of loans.

    South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who as the chair of the African Union set up the vaccine trust last year, is expected to tour the Aspen Pharma facilities in Port Elizabeth, on country’s southeast coast, on Monday.

    “This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in a statement. “It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that puts people first.”

    The announcement came as coronavirus cases surpassed 4.1 million in Africa, with more than 111,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concerns have been mounting about the emergence of variants on the continent, particularly in countries like South Africa, where a highly transmissible variant has driven up cases. Scientists also recently said they found a highly mutated variant of the coronavirus in travelers from Tanzania, the East African nation whose leaders have consistently brushed aside the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Besides dealing with other deadly outbreaks including Ebola, polio and measles, many nations in Africa are also dealing with vaccine inequity, as developed nations hoard doses and seek to inoculate their entire populations. So far, only 7.7 million vaccines have been administered on the continent, according to the World Health Organization, which last week warned of a slowdown in deliveries even as initial batches were exhausted.

    Vaccines were yet to arrive in 10 African countries, the W.H.O. said, while many others continued to face logistical challenges in addition to vaccine hesitancy.

    Nations including South Africa have called on governments and pharmaceutical companies to waive vaccine patents to get medicines to more people more quickly.

    The Africa C.D.C. has said that a minimum 60 percent of the continent’s population — or 750 million people — must be vaccinated if the virus is to be curbed there. The deal with Johnson & Johnson “enables Africa to meet almost 50 percent of that target,” Dr. John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa C.D.C., said in a statement.

    “The key to this particular vaccine is that it is a single-shot vaccine, which makes it easier to roll out quickly and effectively, thus saving lives,” he added.

    A vaccination center in Kathmandu, Nepal, this month.
    Credit…Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

    KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal on Monday received a donation of 800,000 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from China, which the authorities said would help them restart an inoculation drive that had been halted because of shipment delays in India.

    Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, a spokesman for the ministry of health, said the vaccination campaign could resume in less than a week, “once we determine beneficiary age groups.”

    China and India, both of which border Nepal, have been jockeying for influence over the Himalayan nation of 30 million people, most recently through vaccine diplomacy.

    Nepal had planned its vaccination campaign around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer. One million doses have been donated by the Indian government, and Nepal had bought an additional two million doses from the Serum Institute.

    But half of the purchase from the Serum Institute has been delayed indefinitely, health officials in Nepal said, despite an agreement that it would arrive 15 days after the deal. India, which is supplying the AstraZeneca vaccine to more than 70 countries, has begun holding back nearly all of its exports as it tries to suppress a surge in coronavirus cases at home.

    Officials in Nepal suspended vaccinations on March 17, citing the shortage of doses.

    To fill the gap, they are now relying on a vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinopharm, which last month became the second approved for emergency use in Nepal after Beijing pledged to provide doses free.

    Since its vaccination drive began in late January, Nepal has administered about 1.6 million doses, according to a New York Times database. Dr. Gautam said the 500,000 remaining AstraZeneca doses would be given to frontline health workers, and that there were none available for the rest of the population “at least for now.”

    Nepal has recorded almost 277,000 infections and 3,027 deaths, according to a New York Times database. Although the country’s average daily new cases are a small fraction of what they were at their peak last fall, health officials fear a second wave as infections surge in neighboring India. On Monday, India reported 68,020 new infections, the highest one-day rise since October.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Tesla’s Autopilot Technology Faces Fresh Scrutiny

    Tesla faced numerous questions about its Autopilot technology after a Florida driver was killed in 2016 when the system of sensors and cameras failed to see and brake for a tractor-trailer crossing a road.

    Now the company is facing more scrutiny than it has in the last five years for Autopilot, which Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, have long maintained makes its cars safer than other vehicles. Federal officials are looking into a series of recent accidents involving Teslas that either were using Autopilot or might have been using it.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed last week that it was investigating 23 such crashes. In one accident this month, a Tesla Model Y rear-ended a police car that had stopped on a highway near Lansing, Mich. The driver, who was not seriously injured, had been using Autopilot, the police said.

    In February in Detroit, under circumstances similar to the 2016 Florida accident, a Tesla drove beneath a tractor-trailer that was crossing the road, tearing the roof off the car. The driver and a passenger were seriously injured. Officials have not said whether the driver had turned on Autopilot.

    crash near Houston in which a Tesla ran into a stopped police vehicle on a highway. It is not clear if the driver was using Autopilot. The car did not appear to slow before the impact, the police said.

    Autopilot is a computerized system that uses radar and cameras to detect lane markings, other vehicles and objects in the road. It can steer, brake and accelerate automatically with little input from the driver. Tesla has said it should be used only on divided highways, but videos on social media show drivers using Autopilot on various kinds of roads.

    “We need to see the results of the investigations first, but these incidents are the latest examples that show these advanced cruise-control features Tesla has are not very good at detecting and then stopping for a vehicle that is stopped in a highway circumstance,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a group created in the 1970s by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader.

    This renewed scrutiny arrives at a critical time for Tesla. After reaching a record high this year, its share price has fallen about 20 percent amid signs that the company’s electric cars are losing market share to traditional automakers. Ford Motor’s Mustang Mach E and the Volkswagen ID.4 recently arrived in showrooms and are considered serious challengers to the Model Y.

    The outcome of the current investigations is important not only for Tesla but for other technology and auto companies that are working on autonomous cars. While Mr. Musk has frequently suggested the widespread use of these vehicles is near, Ford, General Motors and Waymo, a division of Google’s parent, Alphabet, have said that moment could be years or even decades away.

    played a major role” in the 2016 Florida accident. It also said the technology lacked safeguards to prevent drivers from taking their hands off the steering wheel or looking away from the road. The safety board reached similar conclusions when it investigated a 2018 accident in California.

    By comparison, a similar G.M. system, Super Cruise, monitors a driver’s eyes and switches off if the person looks away from the road for more than a few seconds. That system can be used only on major highways.

    In a Feb. 1 letter, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert Sumwalt, criticized NHTSA for not doing more to evaluate Autopilot and require Tesla to add safeguards that prevent drivers from misusing the system.

    The new administration in Washington could take a firmer line on safety. The Trump administration did not seek to impose many regulations on autonomous vehicles and sought to ease other rules the auto industry did not like, including fuel-economy standards. By contrast, President Biden has appointed an acting NHTSA administrator, Steven Cliff, who worked at the California Air Resources Board, which frequently clashed with the Trump administration on regulations.

    Concerns about Autopilot could dissuade some car buyers from paying Tesla for a more advanced version, Full Self-Driving, which the company sells for $10,000. Many customers have paid for it in the expectation of being able to use it in the future; Tesla made the option operational on about 2,000 cars in a “beta” or test version starting late last year, and Mr. Musk recently said the company would soon make it available to more cars. Full Self Driving is supposed to be able to operate Tesla cars in cities and on local roads where driving conditions are made more complex by oncoming traffic, intersections, traffic lights, pedestrians and cyclists.

    Despite their names, Autopilot and Full Self-Driving have big limitations. Their software and sensors cannot control cars in many situations, which is why drivers have to keep their eyes on the road and hands on or close to the wheel.

    a November letter to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles that recently became public, a Tesla lawyer acknowledged that Full Self-Driving struggled to react to a wide range of driving situations and should not be considered a fully autonomous driving system.

    The system is not “not capable of recognizing or responding” to certain “circumstances and events,” Eric C. Williams, Tesla’s associate general counsel, wrote. “These include static objects and road debris, emergency vehicles, construction zones, large uncontrolled intersections with multiple incoming ways, occlusions, adverse weather, complicated or adversarial vehicles in the driving paths, unmapped roads.”

    Mr. Levine of the Center for Auto Safety has complained to federal regulators that the names Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are misleading at best and could be encouraging some drivers to be reckless.

    “Autopilot suggests the car can drive itself and, more importantly, stop itself,” he said. “And they doubled down with Full Self-Driving, and again that leads consumers to believe the vehicle is capable of doing things it is not capable of doing.”

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    Jobless Claims Climb as Pandemic Continues to Wreak Economic Havoc: Live Updates

    Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant improvement from the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.

    Ford, which has its main campus in Dearborn, Mich., will transition to a model in which some employees work from home part of the time.
    Credit…Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    Many of Ford Motor’s employees to continue to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic is over.

    The company said on Wednesday that it would transition to a “flexible hybrid work model” that will allow workers to stay home for focused work and come into the office for collaboration-based activities, such as team-building exercises.

    In the United States, Ford currently has more than 30,000 employees working remotely because of the pandemic. The new system will go into effect in July, when the company, which has its main campus in Dearborn, Mich., expects to gradually start bringing more employees back to the office, it said.

    “Every non-place-dependent employee, from our leadership team on down, will participate in the hybrid approach,” Kiersten Robinson, the company’s chief people officer, wrote in a handbook distributed to employees. “While we recognize this will take different skill sets and resources, we see it as a great accelerator and competitive advantage for the company. It will enable us to be agile and nimble, and to unleash the full potential of our team.”

    Ford is the latest company to announce that remote work will continue even after the pandemic ends.

    In February, San Francisco-based Salesforce said it would not require the majority of its global work force to return to the office after the pandemic is over, adopting a “Work From Anywhere” plan that would give its employees flexibility in how, when and where they work. Target also has said it would transition to a partial-remote model and would shed some of its office space.

    The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that it had served subpoenas to multiple Chinese companies asking them to provide the government with more information on their use and transfers of American data, to ensure that sensitive information was not being shared with China.

    The department did not clarify which Chinese companies were affected.

    “In issuing subpoenas today, we are taking an important step in collecting information that will allow us to make a determination for possible action that best protects the security of American companies, American workers and U.S. national security,” Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said in a statement.

    “The administration is firmly committed to taking a whole-of-government approach to ensure that untrusted companies cannot misappropriate and misuse data and ensuring that U.S. technology does not support China’s or other actors’ malign activities,” she said.

    The subpoenas are part of a review of company activities connected to an executive order issued by the Trump administration on the information and communications technology and services industry.

    The order would give the Commerce Department sweeping powers to police transactions by companies in the industry that are owned by foreign nations and pose a risk to American national security. The measure, which was first issued in May 2019, has been criticized for its vague wording and for leaving so much discretion to the commerce secretary.

    Wages at plants that have successfully avoided unionization have tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas. At Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., facility, workers make nearly $3 less than the median income in the area.
    Credit…Bob Miller for The New York Times

    The most recent figure for the median wage in the greater Birmingham, Ala., was nearly $3 above Amazon’s pay at its warehouse in Bessemer, despite Amazon promoting that most rank-and-file workers there make around $15.50 an hour.

    It is common for employers facing a union vote to emphasize the generosity of their wages and to suggest that workers could be worse off if they unionize, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times.

    The catch is that wages at plants that have successfully avoided unionization have tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas, reinforcing workers’ sense that they had something valuable to lose.

    The union lost in all three cases.

    By contrast, unions have been successful when companies have held down wages. During the first half the 2010s, workers unionized at several auto parts suppliers in Alabama and elsewhere in the South, often citing low pay and benefits as the impetus.

    In 2015, employees at Commercial Vehicle Group in Piedmont, Ala., which made seats for trucks, voted to join the United Automobile Workers union by a roughly two-to-one ratio. Workers at the plant complained of wages that started as low as $9.70 an hour for temporary workers and topped out at $15.80 for full-time employees.

    “Workers always say this: It’s about respect, recognition,” said Gary Casteel, the U.A.W.’s former second-ranking official, who helped oversee much of its organizing in the South. “That’s not the case. It is about the money. Everybody wants to get paid more.”

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    Penny Stocks Are the Latest Trading Mania

    Of all the trading manias in recent months — Bitcoin, SPACs, meme stocks, nonfungible tokens — the latest has a long history of fraud and scandal. That’s right, penny stocks are booming, according to The Times’s Matt Phillips, who visited the “low-rent district of Wall Street.”

    There were 1.9 trillion transactions last month on the over-the-counter markets, where such stocks trade, according to the industry regulator Finra. That’s up more than 2,000 percent from a year earlier, driven in large part by the surge in retail trading — enabled by commission-free trading from online brokerages — that has also stoked the frenzy for shares in GameStop and other speculative assets.

    left interest rates at rock-bottom levels, despite improving economic growth forecasts. But the Upshot’s Neil Irwin notes that it may become harder for Jay Powell, the Fed chair, to wave away criticism of those who think monetary policy is too loose.

    The I.R.S. delays the tax filing deadline. Americans have until May 17 to file their federal income taxes, a delay meant to help people cope with the pandemic’s economic upheaval and account for changes from the rescue plan.

    separate its asset-management division, replace its chief and suspend bonuses over the unit’s role in financing Greensill Capital, the supply-chain financing lender that collapsed this month.

    Gasoline may have hit its peak. Global demand may never return to pre-pandemic levels, the International Energy Agency said, as more electric vehicles hit the roads and transportation habits change. Use may rise for a bit in places like China and India, but overall consumption in industrialized economies will fall by 2023.

    Senate confirms President Biden’s top trade official. Katherine Tai will become the U.S. trade representative. She is a prominent critic of China’s trade practices, signaling that the White House won’t completely walk back the Trump administration’s tough stance. Top U.S. officials are to meet their Chinese counterparts for the first time today, at a summit meeting in Alaska.

    Google said today that it planned to invest $7 billion in offices and data centers in 19 U.S. states, making it the latest tech giant to expand its footprint while other companies retrench in a commercial real estate market roiled by the pandemic. Google’s C.E.O., Sundar Pichai, shared the plans in a blog post, saying that the move would create 10,000 jobs at the company this year. (Alphabet, Google’s parent company, employed around 135,000 people at the end of 2020.)

    Google is expanding across the country. The plan includes investments in data centers in places like Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas. The company recently opened its first office in Minnesota and an operations center in Mississippi. It will open its first office in Houston this year.

    “Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google’s culture,” Mr. Pichai wrote. Google was one of the first companies to tell employees to work from home, and it expects workers to begin returning to offices in September. When that happens, it will test a “flexible workweek,” with employees spending at least three days a week in the office.

    Congressional hearing which focused on the relationship between brokers like Robinhood and market makers like Citadel Securities.


    SPACs have already raised more money this year than in all of 2020, setting a record for blank-check deal volume. More than $84 billion has been raised by 264 SPACs to date, according to Dealogic, compared with $83 billion raised by 256 acquisition vehicles last year.

    cooperating with an S.E.C. inquiry, after a short seller accused it of misleading investors about its business prospects.


    Crypto Mom,” she’s been raising the profile of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology since being appointed an S.E.C. commissioner in 2018. On “Blockchain Policy Matters,” an online show by the Blockchain Association, a trade group, Ms. Peirce described her hopes for innovation and regulation of the crypto world. DealBook got a preview of the show, which posts today.

    bitcoin E.T.F.s have begun trading in Canada.

    She welcomes Gary Gensler, the blockchain professor, as the agency’s next chief. President Biden’s pick to lead the S.E.C. has lectured on cryptocurrency and blockchain at M.I.T. since 2018. Ms. Peirce said she was “hopeful” that he will help the agency think “in a more sophisticated way.” She added that Mr. Gensler has “more inclination to regulate” than she does, but that she believes he’ can provide the regulatory clarity on crypto she has sought.

    Blockchain technology could address the issues raised by meme-stock mania. That includes “concerns around settlement times, tracking where shares are, and who owns what shares when,” Ms. Pierce said. Distributed ledger technology like blockchain could eliminate common failure points in the financial system, rather than centralizing them, Ms. Peirce said, adding: “I hope that a lot of that innovation happens in the private sector as opposed to us taking it over as a securities regulator.”

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