Ten states, however, have adopted their own laws that specify which patients, based on their income and family size, qualify for free or discounted care. Among them is Washington, where Providence is based. All hospitals in the state must provide free care for anyone who makes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that threshold is $83,250 a year.

In February, Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general, accused Providence of violating state law, in part by using debt collectors to pursue more than 55,000 patient accounts. The suit alleged that Providence wrongly claimed those patients owed a total of more than $73 million.

Providence, which is fighting the lawsuit, has said it will stop using debt collectors to pursue money from low-income patients who should qualify for free care in Washington.

But The Times found that the problems extend beyond Washington. In interviews, patients in California and Oregon who qualified for free care said they had been charged thousands of dollars and then harassed by collection agents. Many saw their credit scores ruined. Others had to cut back on groceries to pay what Providence claimed they owed. In both states, nonprofit hospitals are required by law to provide low-income patients with free or discounted care.

“I felt a little betrayed,” said Bev Kolpin, 57, who had worked as a sonogram technician at a Providence hospital in Oregon. Then she went on unpaid leave to have surgery to remove a cyst. The hospital billed her $8,000 even though she was eligible for discounted care, she said. “I had worked for them and given them so much, and they didn’t give me anything.” (The hospital forgave her debt only after a lawyer contacted Providence on Ms. Kolpin’s behalf.)

was a single room with four beds. The hospital charged patients $1 a day, not including extras like whiskey.

Patients rarely paid in cash, sometimes offering chickens, ducks and blankets in exchange for care.

At the time, hospitals in the United States were set up to do what Providence did — provide inexpensive care to the poor. Wealthier people usually hired doctors to treat them at home.

wrote to the Senate in 2005.

Some hospital executives have embraced the comparison to for-profit companies. Dr. Rod Hochman, Providence’s chief executive, told an industry publication in 2021 that “‘nonprofit health care’ is a misnomer.”

“It is tax-exempt health care,” he said. “It still makes profits.”

Those profits, he added, support the hospital’s mission. “Every dollar we make is going to go right back into Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Alaska and Montana.”

Since Dr. Hochman took over in 2013, Providence has become a financial powerhouse. Last year, it earned $1.2 billion in profits through investments. (So far this year, Providence has lost money.)

Providence also owes some of its wealth to its nonprofit status. In 2019, the latest year available, Providence received roughly $1.2 billion in federal, state and local tax breaks, according to the Lown Institute, a think tank that studies health care.

a speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.”

Ms. Tizon, the spokeswoman for Providence, said the intent of Rev-Up was “not to target or pressure those in financial distress.” Instead, she said, “it aimed to provide patients with greater pricing transparency.”

“We recognize the tone of the training materials developed by McKinsey was not consistent with our values,” she said, adding that Providence modified the materials “to ensure we are communicating with each patient with compassion and respect.”

But employees who were responsible for collecting money from patients said the aggressive tactics went beyond the scripts provided by McKinsey. In some Providence collection departments, wall-mounted charts shaped like oversize thermometers tracked employees’ progress toward hitting their monthly collection goals, the current and former Providence employees said.

On Halloween at one of Providence’s hospitals, an employee dressed up as a wrestler named Rev-Up Ricky, according to the Washington lawsuit. Another costume featured a giant cardboard dollar sign with “How” printed on top of it, referring to the way the staff was supposed to ask patients how, not whether, they would pay. Ms. Tizon said such costumes were “not the culture we strive for.”

financial assistance policy, his low income qualified him for free care.

In early 2021, Mr. Aguirre said, he received a bill from Providence for $4,394.45. He told Providence that he could not afford to pay.

Providence sent his account to Harris & Harris, a debt collection company. Mr. Aguirre said that Harris & Harris employees had called him repeatedly for weeks and that the ordeal made him wary of going to Providence again.

“I try my best not to go to their emergency room even though my daughters have gotten sick, and I got sick,” Mr. Aguirre said, noting that one of his daughters needed a biopsy and that he had trouble breathing when he had Covid. “I have this big fear in me.”

That is the outcome that hospitals like Providence may be hoping for, said Dean A. Zerbe, who investigated nonprofit hospitals when he worked for the Senate Finance Committee under Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

“They just want to make sure that they never come back to that hospital and they tell all their friends never to go back to that hospital,” Mr. Zerbe said.

The Everett Daily Herald, Providence forgave her bill and refunded the payments she had made.

In June, she got another letter from Providence. This one asked her to donate money to the hospital: “No gift is too small to make a meaningful impact.”

In 2019, Vanessa Weller, a single mother who is a manager at a Wendy’s restaurant in Anchorage, went to Providence Alaska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital.

She was 24 weeks pregnant and experiencing severe abdominal pains. “Let this just be cramps,” she recalled telling herself.

Ms. Weller was in labor. She gave birth via cesarean section to a boy who weighed barely a pound. She named him Isaiah. As she was lying in bed, pain radiating across her abdomen, she said, a hospital employee asked how she would like to pay. She replied that she had applied for Medicaid, which she hoped would cover the bill.

After five days in the hospital, Isaiah died.

Then Ms. Weller got caught up in Providence’s new, revenue-boosting policies.

The phone calls began about a month after she left the hospital. Ms. Weller remembers panicking when Providence employees told her what she owed: $125,000, or about four times her annual salary.

She said she had repeatedly told Providence that she was already stretched thin as a single mother with a toddler. Providence’s representatives asked if she could pay half the amount. On later calls, she said, she was offered a payment plan.

“It was like they were following some script,” she said. “Like robots.”

Later that year, a Providence executive questioned why Ms. Weller had a balance, given her low income, according to emails disclosed in Washington’s litigation with Providence. A colleague replied that her debts previously would have been forgiven but that Providence’s new policy meant that “balances after Medicaid are being excluded from presumptive charity process.”

Ms. Weller said she had to change her phone number to make the calls stop. Her credit score plummeted from a decent 650 to a lousy 400. She has not paid any of her bill.

Susan C. Beachy and Beena Raghavendran contributed research.

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Shares slip, euro hits 20-year low on energy ills

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A man walks under an electronic screen showing Japan’s Nikkei share price index inside a conference hall in Tokyo, Japan June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) – European stock indexes fell on Monday, the euro dropped below 99 cents for the first time in twenty years and European gas prices surged after Russia said its main gas supply pipeline to Europe would stay shut.

Gas deliveries had been due to resume on Saturday, but Russia scrapped that deadline on Friday and did not give a new timeframe for re-opening. The news stoked fears of a recession in Europe, with businesses and households hurt by sky-high energy prices. read more

European gas prices jumped as much as 30% as the market opened. read more

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Germany announced on Sunday around $65 billion of support to help protect Germans from rising costs. read more

Finland and Sweden also announced plans to offer liquidity guarantees to power companies. Finland’s economic affairs minister warned of the possibility of “kind of a Lehman Brothers” in the energy industry, referring to the 2008 collapse of what was then the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank. read more

Nomura economist George Buckley said it is uncertain how much the support packages from European governments will mitigate the energy crisis.

“The impact of what’s happening from energy is absolutely enormous, so I think the bigger risk is that it’s just simply not possible – like COVID – you can do a lot to help but you can’t offset it.”

European Union energy ministers will meet on Sept. 9 to discuss options to rein in soaring energy prices, including gas price caps and emergency credit lines for energy market participants. read more

At 1414 GMT, the MSCI world equity index (.MIWD00000PUS), which tracks shares in 47 countries, was down 0.4% on the day. Europe’s STOXX 600 was down 0.8%, having recovered slightly after approaching a seven-week low earlier in the session (.STOXX).

London’s FTSE 100 was 0.1% lower (.FTSE) and Germany’s DAX was down 2.3% on the day (.GDAXI).

A public holiday in U.S. markets means lower liquidity, which could lead to outsized market moves.

The euro was trading around $0.9925, down 0.3% on the day. It slid during Asian trading hours and hit $0.9876 in early European hours, its lowest since 2002 . read more

Euro zone government bond yields rose, with Italian 10-year yields heading towards 4% . read more

The European Central Bank (ECB) meets later this week and is expected to deliver its second big rate hike in an attempt to combat inflation, which is running at more than four times its 2% target. read more

“Sky-high energy prices, the risk of gas shortages and the fiscal and regulatory response will shape the outlook for euro zone GDP and inflation much more than anything the ECB may do with rates,” Berenberg chief economist Holger Schmieding said in a client note.

In the UK, Liz Truss was named as Britain’s next prime minister, taking power at a time when the country faces a cost of living crisis, industrial unrest and a recession. In her victory speech Truss said she planned to cut taxes and deal with energy bills. read more

The British pound was down around 0.1% at $1.15125 , but slightly up against the euro at 86.275 pence .

The U.S. dollar index was little changed, while the risk-sensitive Australian dollar was near a seven-week low .

Oil prices rose more than 3%, extending gains as OPEC+ producers agreed a small oil production cut to bolster prices. read more

Euro area PMI survey data showed that Germany’s services sector contracted for a second month running in August. France’s service sector eked out modest growth, though purchasing managers there said the outlook was bleak. read more

Euro vs gas prices

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Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft; Editing by Mark Potter, Andrew Heavens and Jan Harvey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Elizabeth Howcroft

Thomson Reuters

Reports on the intersection of finance and technology, including cryptocurrencies, NFTs, virtual worlds and the money driving “Web3”.

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Student Loan Forgiveness Is Complicated, Because This Is America

If we want higher education to cost less, we should make it cheaper when people enroll.

But that’s not how we do things in the United States, where the first rule of personal finance is that it should never be simple.

Instead, we befuddle people with a menu of a half-dozen retirement accounts. We fetishize the tax code and its deductions and credits and refunds. We name gold, silver and bronze health insurance plans after precious metals but award no medals for clearing the enrollment hurdles.

And so it goes with President Biden’s executive action around student loan debt cancellation. The potential $20,000 in relief per person gets the headlines. But the sleeper element here is a new income-driven debt repayment plan that would help many people pay much less of their student loan debt over time, if they’re not big earners.

choose among H.M.O., P.P.O., P.F.F.S., S.N.P., H.M.O.-P.O.S. and M.S.A. plans. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website has an acronym glossary with 4,420 entries, because personal finance is its own language. You learn as you go, or not at all.

Pamela Herd is a professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, with an expertise in these “administrative burdens.”

With certain social welfare benefits, Professor Herd explained in an interview this week, the original program designers believed that obstacles were appropriate. Anyone desperate enough should find a way to muddle through and prove their poverty, or so the logic went.

More recently, administrative burdens have resulted from the conviction that private sector actors — who are often seeking profits — would be the most efficient intermediaries between people and federal programs that involved money.

You see it in those Medicare Advantage Plans, and it was a feature of federal P.P.P. loans during the early stages of the pandemic. Rather than give employers money up front to keep people on the payroll, there were forgivable loans that required frazzled small business owners to beg a banker to bum rush a balky government website on their behalf.

And so it goes with the federal student loan system.

Both the income-driven repayment plans that have existed for years and a special debt cancellation program for public servants are already poster children for administrative burdens. Tracking your progress is a part-time job, complete with self-help Facebook groups of frustrated debtors and companies to help people manage the process.

And wouldn’t you know it? There are several third parties to which the federal government has outsourced the work of collecting student loan payments and enforcing the rules.

would go to 5 percent from 10 percent of discretionary income; the amount of a person’s income that doesn’t meet the definition of discretionary would rise; and there would be a new, more generous way of calculating how balances shrink or grow over time. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that something this complex would roll out smoothly or quickly.

And it would not be cheap. Estimates from the Penn Wharton Budget Model put the 10-year cost of the new repayment plan at anywhere from $70.3 billion to over $450 billion, depending on the implementation details and how students and schools change their borrowing and tuition-setting behavior. Again, it’s complicated.

By comparison, Mr. Biden had proposed spending $45.5 billion over five years to make up to six semesters of community college free nationwide. That would have paid for most of the cost, with states contributing the rest. No debt for tuition, no hoops to jump through.

Politics got in the way of free community college, and the Inflation Reduction Act that Mr. Biden signed last month did not include it. Instead, students who borrow would get a subsidy on the back end through the more generous repayment program, years later, if they know it exists, enroll without incident, clear every hurdle over a decade or two and their loan servicer doesn’t make a hash of it.

There are bad words and associated acronyms that we could use to sum all of this up as we scream into the void. But our framing could just as easily center on a single word: Respect.

Professor Herd surprised me this week when she said the word in passing. I asked her to elaborate.

“Respect includes everything from respecting people’s time to not treating them as if they are trying to cheat or game a system,” she said. “It’s about treating them as if they are full-fledged citizens and human beings who have basic rights to access services and benefits for which they’re eligible.”

It seems simple enough. But too much of our personal finance infrastructure becomes adversarial through its complexity. The “prove it” nature of Mr. Biden’s executive action, with its income measurements and repeated checking in with third-party servicers, does not help, as generous as it may turn out to be for people who would eventually pass muster.

Disrespect is calling student debt cancellation “forgiveness” when it’s really an apology for a dysfunctional higher education financing system. Disrespect is doing little to make tuition cheaper on the front end of this process. Disrespect is letting many for-profit schools continue to put people of color deep into debt for certificates or degrees that don’t mean much in the labor market.

Disrespect guarantees full-time employment for personal finance journalists, too. I’m lucky to have the work, but it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

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Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once

Rachel Nagler, 39, has worked part time since she was 22, but she will never be financially independent, according to her father. She is legally blind with a seizure disorder and mild cognitive impairment, the result of birth trauma.

For her parents, Sam and Debra Nagler of Concord, Mass., planning for retirement required them to focus on Rachel’s future as well as their own.

“She has very limited earning capacity,” Mr. Nagler, 70, said. “The concern is, is this sufficient for her for the rest of her life?”

His wife, who is 68, has been their daughter’s primary caregiver since her birth.

“Nobody knows Rachel, and takes care of Rachel, and knows every need of Rachel, and is on top of everything other than my wife,” Mr. Nagler said. “That’s a worry because she’s not going to live forever.”

For parents of children who have serious disabilities or special needs, the challenges of growing and preserving their wealth are magnified exponentially, and the stakes are much higher. While they are trying to plan for their own retirements, these parents need to simultaneously secure the ‌ stability of a son or daughter who will be dependent on them‌ until — and even after — their deaths.

“We want to make 100 percent sure that after we’re gone, there’s no issue,” Mr. Nagler said.

Under the best of circumstances, caring for an adult child with special needs is physically and emotionally taxing. As these parents age, the question of who will house, feed and drive their son or daughter after they no longer can becomes an urgent one.

But not all parents in this situation are aware of the myriad challenges they face. “Getting them to understand that they need to think differently about their retirement in this scheme of things is a key step. And it’s not simple,” said Mary Anne Ehlert, a certified financial planner and founder of Protected Tomorrows, a financial planning firm that specializes in families with special needs.

For example, Ms. Ehlert said, she has to consider a multigenerational time horizon for these clients’ portfolios. “We might be a little more conservative, but we still need growth. We need growth longer,” she said. But a conservative-leaning asset mix has drawbacks, too. “Conservative doesn’t always give us the growth we need,” she said. In addition, many families opt for a portion of their portfolio to be in cash or cash-like liquid investments in the event that their child suddenly needs a new piece of expensive equipment, like a speech-assistive device.

Often, one spouse will sideline a career or leave the work force entirely to provide care, reducing their own ability to save for retirement. These families find their budgets strained by a host of ancillary costs: paying for gas to drive their children to therapy appointments and day programs; buying supplies like adult diapers and waterproof bedding, compression tights to promote circulation, specialized diets — the list goes on.

Even when the disabled individual qualifies for public health assistance, finding affordable, adequate housing is especially difficult. Some people require supervised care in a group home, while others need in-home care in a dwelling modified to accommodate physical limitations. In both cases, waiting-list times are measured in years.

As a result, many parents feel they have no choice but to keep their son or daughter at home, said Harry Margolis, an estate planning lawyer near Boston who works with families with special needs. “Often, they’re still living with parents even when everybody’s getting older,” he said.

This can be expensive in terms of lost opportunity costs. To spare their child the upheaval, parents might forgo the opportunity to downsize into a less-expensive or more accessible home while they are still healthy enough to do so.

Since most of the public benefits available to special-needs and disabled people are administered at the state level through Medicaid, parents of a special-needs child might not be able to move to a state with a lower cost of living. Doing so could mean the adult child would lose access to their benefits and be placed at the bottom of waiting lists for services in a new state.

Some families, however, move to states that offer more generous benefits, even if it means a higher cost of living. “That’s a real struggle for these families, particularly as Mom and Dad age,” said Debra Taylor, founder of Taylor Financial Group in Franklin Lakes, N.J. “Some look to relocate to different states because some states are more hospitable than others.”

Douglas and Susan Rohrman moved out of the Chicago area five years ago, alarmed at the declining health of their daughter Liz, who suffered a traumatic brain injury just before the age of 2. Now, 38, the younger Ms. Rohrman has a host of physical challenges, including partial paralysis that impairs her mobility and ability to swallow and cognitive impairment.

“Liz was not getting great care in Illinois, so it was time to sell the house and move everything,” Ms. Rohrman, 74, said. “I researched this up the wazoo.”

The Rohrmans moved to the San Diego area because resources such as housing and day programs were more readily available. But when Covid struck, the couple felt that the only way they could keep their daughter safe — she had been hospitalized with pneumonia three times in 2019 — was to take her out of the care home they had moved her into just a few years earlier, the one they’d uprooted their lives for.

It was an enormous adjustment in responsibilities, but also in finances.

“When we were doing our taxes, I sort of sat down to see where my money was going. And Liz is a large part of it,” Ms. Rohrman said, ticking off items for which she has to pay out of pocket now that her daughter is living at home.

For example, swallowing difficulties mean that the younger Ms. Rohrman has to have a thickening agent added to her water. That alone costs several thousand dollars a year, her mother said, and there are a host of other unique expenses, such as for stabilizing footwear that helps her daughter walk. “I came up with like $9,000, not counting everything I buy at the grocery store and Walmart,” she said.

Mr. Rohrman, 80, had deferred his retirement at a law firm several years to keep earning income, but he stopped working when the family moved. The combination of much higher expenses, a drop in income and a flagging stock market demanded they re-evaluate their finances.

These financial struggles are magnified for single parents. “Care is inevitably more expensive when you have a single parent,” Ms. Taylor said, because they have to rely much more on paid caregivers.

Laura Weinberg, 59, became the sole caregiver for her son Will, who is autistic and nonverbal, when her husband, a lawyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I was in the weird situation of being widowed when I was 38, dealing with a 4-year-old who was a danger to himself,” she said. She was also a caregiver for her ailing mother and maintaining the family home in northern New Jersey. “I was overwhelmed,” she said.

“Estate planning was confusing and extremely expensive when I started to put a toe in the water,” she said. “I got all kinds of wrong information.”

Ms. Weinberg said she would like to have speech-assistive equipment for her son so that he can communicate, but the cost is prohibitive. Instead, she has pieced together a solution with an iPad and specialized apps. “It’s more modest than it might have been, but some of them are in the many thousands of dollars,” she said.

For parents of special-needs children, retirement planning and estate planning have to take place in tandem. Special-needs trusts and life insurance policies in one or both parents’ names are two of the most commonly used tools. Both have to be structured in compliance with the complex eligibility regulations for public health benefits, since many are means-tested.

Mr. Margolis said that even wealthy families have to navigate the byzantine landscape of government benefits, because many of the services available, including housing, are administered entirely through these programs. “In order to qualify for S.S.I. and Medicaid, in most cases you’re limited to $2,000 in countable assets,” he said.

“For a disabled individual, a lot of time, maintaining eligibility is critical,” said Joellen Meckley, executive director of the American College of Financial Services’ center for special needs. “I can’t tell you how many times family members, with the best of intentions, will name a disabled adult child as a beneficiary, not understanding that getting that money could immediately jeopardize their ability to access public benefits,” she said, referring to parents’ wills, retirement plans or life insurance policies.

This makes it imperative that money intended for a disabled individual be held in a specialized financial instrument such as a special-needs trust.

The money in a trust can go toward quality-of-life enhancements for the special-needs individual like cable TV, a cellphone or computer, better food, care providers and rent or utilities, without jeopardizing their public benefits, Mr. Margolis said.

There are two main categories of special-needs trusts. First-party trusts are established with assets that belong to the individual. The drawback is that these trusts have a payback clause: After the individual dies, any money remaining in the trust goes to reimburse the state for the cost of their care over the years.

Third-party special needs trusts are established and funded by someone else for the benefit of the disabled individual. “A third-party one takes in the assets of other people, like gifts, inheritances or life insurance proceeds,” said Brian Walsh, senior manager of financial planning at SoFi.

These trusts are often funded or supplemented with parents’ life insurance proceeds. “A lot of times, life insurance can be used to kind of create a funding source when one or both of them passes away,” Mr. Walsh said.

A “second-to-die” life insurance policy is a frequently used tool. Both members of a couple are covered under it, and the policy pays out after the second spouse dies, providing a more affordable option than insuring each parent separately.

“The purpose of this policy is that it’s going to pay out a death benefit to fund the child’s remaining needs no matter when the parents die,” Mr. Walsh said.

Since the funds in these trusts are generally conservatively invested, experts say the final challenge is making sure that the amount in the trust will provide an adequate income stream.

Getting that balance right is something that the Rohrmans, in California, struggle with.

When Mr. Rohrman stopped working, that meant not only paring back household spending, but revisiting their investing strategy as well.

“We’re financially very conservative. We know we can’t be like we were in our 30s and 40s in terms of our investment mix, spending and so forth,” Mr. Rohrman said. “We think about it a lot. We don’t let it dominate us.”

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U.K. Energy Price Cap to Rise 80%, Regulator Says

Energy prices paid by most British households are set to rise 80 percent this fall, putting further pressure on consumers squeezed by higher prices and posing a daunting challenge for the next prime minister.

A big jump in energy bills had been forecast for weeks, but the specific numbers released Friday morning by Britain’s energy regulator — a typical British household would pay 3,549 pounds (about $4,200) over a year for electricity and natural gas, from the current £1,971 — hit like a thunderclap in a country already reeling from double-digit inflation.

It is the latest economic blow to European consumers and businesses as the war in Ukraine stretches already tight markets for energy.

54 percent rise in April.

The news of the price increases came during a moment of deep political drift in Britain, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson preparing to leave office and his Conservative Party preoccupied by a contest to replace him. Mr. Johnson has left it for his successor to craft a response to the skyrocketing energy costs.

The front-runner to replace Mr. Johnson, Liz Truss, has promised targeted aid to help those hardest hit by higher bills, though she has steadfastly refused to detail her plans. She and her opponent, Rishi Sunak, both reject more sweeping measures, like using state subsidies to freeze the energy price cap for two years.

Consumer prices in Britain rose 10.1 percent last month from a year earlier, the fastest pace in 40 years, squeezing household budgets. The Bank of England has predicted that inflation would peak at 13 percent in October as the new energy prices turn up in household bills. Other estimates are higher; analysts at Citi have said the rate could reach as high as 18 percent next year.

“The pressure on stretched households will only intensify, and the calls for support will get ever louder,” wrote Martin Young, a utility analyst at Investec, a financial services firm, in a recent note to clients. Mr. Young expects another jump, to £4,210, in January.

The price hikes and how to deal with them have become a hot subject of political discourse in Britain and across Europe. While the British government has offered a package that includes £400 per household to help residents with soaring bills, a wide range of politicians, consumer advocates and energy executives now say that more forceful intervention is needed to cushion households from the surge in energy costs.

Recently, Britain’s opposition Labour Party said that it would freeze energy tariffs where they are now, paying part of the £29 billion cost by increasing the so-called windfall taxes that the Conservative government imposed earlier this year on oil and gas giants operating in the North Sea.

The main component in Ofgem’s calculations was a more than doubling of wholesale electricity and natural gas costs. These account for about 70 percent of the new price cap.

Coping with increases of such magnitude is beyond the scope of Ofgem, whose role is to protect consumers from profiteering by suppliers, Mr. Brearley said. “The truth is this is beyond the capacity of the industry and the regulator to address,” he added.

Looking to the race for the next prime minister, Mr. Brearley called on the winning candidate to intervene decisively in the energy markets.

“What I am clear about is the prime minister with his or her ministerial team will need to act urgently and decisively to address this,” he said. “The outlook for the winter without any action looks very difficult indeed.”

The leadership contest has been dominated by Ms. Truss’s promise to cut taxes, which is popular with the rank-and-file Conservative Party members who will vote for the next prime minister. But economists say it will do little to protect the most vulnerable people from the ravages of soaring energy bills.

With another hefty price increase looming in October, the public outcry over energy costs is likely to haunt the next prime minister. Unless the government develops an effective response, some analysts said, the issue could cripple the government and tilt the next election to the Labour Party.

The peculiar nature of Britain’s price cap system, analysts said, also amplifies the sticker shock from rising increases.

“We have a sort of worst-of-both-worlds system,” said Jonathan Portes, a professor of a professor of economics and public policy at Kings College London. “Household prices are related to the spot market, and we sort of save up price increases and dump them on households all at once.”

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Rising dollar may stymie Venezuela’s efforts to combat inflation

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CARACAS, Aug 25 (Reuters) – Efforts by the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to tamp down inflation by increasing supplies of foreign currency may be at risk amid economic growth after years of stagnation, analysts said.

Maduro’s government has succeeded in lowering consumer price growth, which was 137% year-on-year through July, by increasing the supply of foreign cash in local banks, limiting the expansion of credit, reducing public spending and increasing taxes.

But in recent weeks the central bank has sold fewer dollars and the government has increased spending, raising demand and sending the official dollar exchange rate soaring by 21.7% in six days.

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“It’s impossible to think of exchange stability with the level of prices in Venezuela,” said economist Luis Arturo Barcenas. “The balance between the official rate and the non-official one was very fragile because it was based on the injection of foreign currency.”

The central bank on Wednesday proposed a new strategy to deal with demand for dollars, asking banks to share the foreign currency figure needed by businesses and propose an exchange rate that will then be evaluated by the government, two sources said.

The central bank did not respond to a request for comment.

“The changes this week (in the dollar) have been very strong and those who are disadvantaged are those of us who earn bolivares,” said 62-year-old snack seller Alicia Rodriguez, who feared the cost of her merchandise may increase by up to 30%.

The minimum wage in local currency is equivalent to some $19 per month.

Venezuela’s economy grew 17.04% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2022, the central bank said on Tuesday. read more

“All the indicators show progress in the first half of the year,” said economist Leonardo Vera, referring to food production, tax collection and other indicators.

But oil production may stagnate in the coming months, he added, which would diminish growth.

Faced with lower oil production and U.S. sanctions, Maduro in 2019 relaxed currency controls, breathing new life into certain sectors.

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Reporting by Mircely Guanipa, Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas
Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb
Editing by Matthew Lewis

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Pace of Climate Change Sends Economists Back to Drawing Board

Economists have been examining the impact of climate change for almost as long as it’s been known to science.

In the 1970s, the Yale economist William Nordhaus began constructing a model meant to gauge the effect of warming on economic growth. The work, first published in 1992, gave rise to a field of scholarship assessing the cost to society of each ton of emitted carbon offset by the benefits of cheap power — and thus how much it was worth paying to avert it.

Dr. Nordhaus became a leading voice for a nationwide carbon tax that would discourage the use of fossil fuels and propel a transition toward more sustainable forms of energy. It remained the preferred choice of economists and business interests for decades. And in 2018, Dr. Nordhaus was honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Inflation Reduction Act with its $392 billion in climate-related subsidies, one thing became very clear: The nation’s biggest initiative to address climate change is built on a different foundation from the one Dr. Nordhaus proposed.

offers tax credits, loans and grants — technology-specific carrots that have historically been seen as less efficient than the stick of penalizing carbon emissions more broadly.

The outcome reflects a larger trend in public policy, one that is prompting economists to ponder why the profession was so focused on a solution that ultimately went nowhere in Congress — and how economists could be more useful as the damage from extreme weather mounts.

A central shift in thinking, many say, is that climate change has moved faster than foreseen, and in less predictable ways, raising the urgency of government intervention. In addition, technologies like solar panels and batteries are cheap and abundant enough to enable a fuller shift away from fossil fuels, rather than slightly decreasing their use.

Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, worked on developing carbon pricing methods at the Department of Energy. He thinks the relentless focus on prices, with little attention paid to direct investments, lasted too long.

California. But a federal measure in the United States, setting a cap on carbon emissions and letting companies trade their allotments, failed in 2010.

At the same time, Dr. Nordhaus’s model was drawing criticism for underestimating the havoc that climate change would wreak. Like other models, it has been revised several times, but it still relies on broad assumptions and places less value on harm to future generations than it places on harm to those today. It also doesn’t fully incorporate the risk of less likely but substantially worse trajectories of warming.

Dr. Nordhaus dismissed the criticisms. “They are all subjective and based on selective interpretation of science and economics,” he wrote in an email. “Some people hold these views, as would be expected in any controversial subject, but many others do not.”

Heather Boushey, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers who handles climate issues, says the field is learning that simply tinkering with prices won’t be enough as the climate nears catastrophic tipping points, like the evaporation of rivers, choking off whole regions and setting off a cascade of economic effects.

“So much of economics is about marginal changes,” Dr. Boushey said. “With climate, that no longer makes sense, because you have these systemic risks.” She sees her current assignment as similar to her previous work, running a think tank focused on inequality: “It profoundly alters the way people think about economics.”

To many economists, the approach pioneered by Dr. Nordhaus was increasingly out of step with the urgency that climate scientists were trying to communicate to policymakers. But a carbon tax remained at the center of a bipartisan effort on climate change, supported by a panoply of large corporations and more than 3,600 economists, that also called for removing “cumbersome regulations.”

speech in 2018, Dr. Nordhaus pegged the “optimal” carbon price — that is, the shared economic burden caused by each ton of emissions — at $43 in 2020. Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School, called it a “woeful underestimate of the true cost” — noting that the prize committee’s home country already taxed carbon at $120 per ton.

another tack. Carbon prices, they reasoned, tend to hit lower-income people hardest. Even if the proceeds funded rebates to taxpayers, as many proponents recommended, similar promises by supporters of trade liberalization — that people whose jobs went offshore would get help finding new ones in a faster-growing economy — proved illusory. Besides, without government investment in low-carbon infrastructure, many people would have no alternative to continued carbon use.

“You’re saying, ‘Things are going to cost more, but we aren’t going to give you help to live with that transition,’” said Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute and an architect of the Green New Deal. “Gas prices can go up, but the fact is, most people are locked into how much they have to travel each day.”

At the same time, the cost of technologies like solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles — in part because of huge investments by the Chinese government — was dropping within the range that would allow them to be deployed at scale.

For Ryan Kellogg, an energy economist who worked as an analyst for the oil giant BP before getting his Ph.D., that was a key realization. Leaving an economics department for the public policy school at the University of Chicago, and working with an interdisciplinary consortium including climate scientists, impressed on him two things: that fossil fuels needed to be phased out much faster than previously thought, and that it could be done at lower cost.

Just in the utility sector, for example, Dr. Kellogg recently found that carbon taxes aren’t meaningfully more efficient than subsidies or clean electricity standards in driving a full transition to wind and solar power. And as more essential devices can be powered by batteries, affordable electricity becomes paramount.

more useful for policymakers than broad, top-down economic models.

begun to look at the relationship between extreme weather and federal revenue. But because it’s still not clear how best to do that, other institutions are trying as well.

Carter Price, a mathematician at the nonprofit RAND Corporation, is working on a budget model that will incorporate the latest social science research, as well as climate science, to inform long-term policy decisions.

“This is a space where having more models early on would be better,” Dr. Price said. “Rather than someone has an assumption, that assumption goes into a model, nobody questions it and, 10 years later, we realize that assumption is pretty powerful and maybe not right.”

The larger lesson is that modern climate policy is a complex endeavor that calls for large, interdisciplinary teams — which is not historically how the economics field has operated.

“You can only do so much by writing things down on a single sheet of paper from your office at Yale,” said Dr. Kopp, of Rutgers. “That’s not how science gets done. That’s how a lot of economics gets done. But you run into limits.”

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Oil industry gears up to tap U.S. climate bill for carbon capture projects

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A Shell employee walks through the company’s new Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada, October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Todd Korol

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Aug 15 (Reuters) – Tax credits in the $430 billion U.S. climate and tax bill set to be signed into law this week will kickstart carbon sequestration projects, say oil and gas proponents, offsetting startup costs for some of the anti-pollution initiatives.

Carbon capture and storage hubs that take gases from chemical, power and gas producers and oil refineries have become the energy industry’s preferred way to combat climate warming. But large-scale development has snagged over costs and lack of guaranteed revenue.

The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which was approved by lawmakers last week, provides a tax credit of up to $85 per ton for burying carbon dioxide produced by industrial activity, and up to $180 per ton for pulling carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.

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The bill also greenlit new leases of federal land for oil and gas development, without considerations of climate impacts. Importantly, it automatically approved high bids from a November 2021 offshore auction that included a drilling project intended for a carbon-burying scheme. read more

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Tim Duncan, chief executive of Talos Energy Inc (TALO.N) , an offshore oil and gas producer that is building a business around carbon sequestration. Talos has launched four projects and signed up big backers including Freeport LNG and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) .

“This is going to unlock a significant amount of emissions that could become economic for capture,” added Chris Davis, a senior vice president at Milestone Carbon, which develop carbon projects for mid-sized companies.

CONTINUED STRUGGLES

Over the last two decades, companies have tentatively tried and largely struggled to make a business from using CO2 to boost oil production. More recently, big investors want firms to address global warming, and the oil industry aims to show it takes climate change seriously.

There are carbon sequestration hubs proposed around the world – in Alberta in Canada, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Huizhou, China. Another type of carbon capture, which directly catches the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere rather than industrial production, also are being considered. read more

A massive expansion of carbon capture is vital to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, according to energy consuming nations advocate, the International Energy Agency (IEA). The sector must go to storing 7.6 billion tonnes a year from around 40 million tonnes currently. read more

The new tax incentives mean “a number of small to mid-scale projects have a better chance of becoming economical,” said Frederik Majkut, a senior vice president for energy services company Schlumberger’s (SLB.N) Carbon Solutions business.

There are some 5 billion tons of carbon released in the United States annually that could be captured by these sequestration schemes. Previously, very little of that could be captured economically, said Milestone’s Davis said.

“With $85 a ton, I think you can get another billion tons,” he said. “It starts to look like an attractive investment.”

BIGGER PROJECTS

Larger projects, such as that advanced by Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) , which floated a $100 billion plan for a massive carbon hub serving refineries and chemical plants, will need carbon taxes and other initiatives, said analysts.

Widespread deployment of these industrial hubs will require additional policy support from the Biden administration, an Exxon spokesperson said of the bill’s climate provisions.

Smaller projects are more likely to advance but still face hurdles including underground pore rights and permits, said Tracy Evans, chief executive of CapturePoint, which struck a partnership with pipeline operator Energy Transfer(ET.N) for a Louisiana hub.

Currently, permitting for carbon injection wells can take years to secure. And while offshore auctions cover large blocks, aggregating smaller tracts of private land owners onshore can slow the process, he said.

“It will drive more investment in the space for sure,” Evans said.

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Reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver, additional reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston
Editing by Marguerita Choy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S. Gas Prices Fall Below $4 a Gallon, AAA Says. Here’s Why.

Gas prices in the United States fell below $4 a gallon on Thursday, retreating to their lowest level since March, a sign of relief for Americans struggling with historically high inflation and a political boost for President Biden, who has been under pressure to do more to bring down prices.

The national average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline now stands at $3.99, according to AAA. That’s still higher than it was a year ago but well below a peak of nearly $5.02 in mid-June. The average price has fallen for 58 consecutive days.

Energy costs feed into broad measures of inflation, so the drop is also good news for policymakers who have struggled to contain rising prices. It is a welcome development for Mr. Biden, who has spent recent weeks trumpeting the drop in gasoline prices, even as he pledges to do more to bring costs down. Mr. Biden has criticized oil companies for their record profits, and this year he released some of the nation’s stockpile of oil in an effort to reduce price pressures.

cost of gasoline at the pump is determined by global oil prices, which have tumbled to their lowest point since the war in Ukraine began in February, a drop that reflects in part the growing concern of a worldwide recession that will hit demand for crude.

said in a statement, citing it as one example of recent “encouraging economic developments.”

For consumers, falling gas prices offer a respite from a shaky economy, rapid inflation and other worries. “We have new rising diseases and inflation, and people expect a recession,” said Zindy Contreras, a student and part-time waitress in Los Angeles. “If I just had to not worry about my gas tank taking up $70, that’d be a huge relief, for once.”

Ms. Contreras has been filling up her 2008 Mazda 3 only halfway as a result of the higher prices, costing her $25 to $30 each visit to the pump, and she had found opportunities to car-pool with friends. These days, Ms. Contreras usually gets gas twice a week, driving 15 miles to and from work each week and an additional 10 to 50 miles a week, depending on her plans.

The national average price masks wide regional variations. Prices vary according to the health of local economies, proximity to refineries and state taxes, said Devin Gladden, a spokesman with AAA.

weaker demand because of high costs, a sharp decline in global oil prices in recent months and the suspension of taxes on gasoline in a handful of states.

Nearly two-thirds of people in a recent AAA survey said they had altered their driving habits because of high prices, mostly by taking fewer trips and combining errands. On Thursday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries revised down its forecast for global oil demand this year.

Regardless of the causes, the lower prices are a welcome change for drivers for whom the added expense — often $10 to $15 extra for a tank of gas — had become yet another hurdle as they sought to get their lives back to normal as the coronavirus pandemic eased.

“The affordability squeeze is becoming very real when you see these high prices at the gas pump,” said Beth Ann Bovino, the U.S. chief economist at S&P Global. “So, in that sense, it’s a positive sign certainly for those folks that are struggling.”

That cushion — cash not spent on gasoline that can go elsewhere — also extends to businesses, particularly as the price of diesel fuel drops. Diesel, which is used to fuel, for instance, farm equipment, construction machinery and long-haul trucks, has also fallen from a June record, though at a slower pace than gasoline prices.

The drop in the price of gas is also good news for the economy, as businesses face less pressure to pass energy costs on to their customers — a move that would add to the country’s inflation problem.

hurricanes later this year could damage Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines, choking off supplies.

For now, though, the steady drop in the cost of fuel offers Americans a reprieve.

“If gasoline prices stay at or near the levels they have reached, that would mean much more cushion for households,” Ms. Bovino said.

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Electric Cars Are Too Costly for Many, Even With Aid in Climate Bill

Policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change. But an uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.

Congress has begun trying to address that problem. The climate and energy package passed on Sunday by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act, would give buyers of used electric cars a tax credit.

But automakers have complained that the credit would apply to only a narrow slice of vehicles, at least initially, largely because of domestic sourcing requirements. And experts say broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable and to get enough of them on the road to put a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

would eliminate this cap and extend the tax credit until 2032; used cars would also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.

With so much demand, carmakers have little reason to target budget-minded buyers. Economy car stalwarts like Toyota and Honda are not yet selling significant numbers of all-electric models in the United States. Scarcity has been good for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other carmakers that are selling fewer cars than before the pandemic but recording fat profits.

Automakers are “not giving any more discounts because demand is higher than the supply,” said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who oversees the consulting firm’s automotive division. “The general trend currently is no one is interested in low prices.”

Advertised prices for electric vehicles tend to start around $40,000, not including a federal tax credit of $7,500. Good luck finding an electric car at that semi-affordable price.

Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with an advertised starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough. Hyundai advertises that its electric Ioniq 5 starts at about $40,000. But the cheapest models available from dealers in the New York area, based on a search of the company’s website, were around $49,000 before taxes.

Tesla’s Model 3, which the company began producing in 2017, was supposed to be an electric car for average folks, with a base price of $35,000. But Tesla has since raised the price for the cheapest version to $47,000.

pass the House, would give buyers of used cars a tax credit of up to $4,000. The used-car market is twice the size of the new-car market and is where most people get their rides.

But the tax credit for used cars would apply only to those sold for $25,000 or less. Less than 20 percent of used electric vehicles fit that category, said Scott Case, chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used-vehicle market.

The supply of secondhand vehicles will grow over time, Mr. Case said. He noted that the Model 3, which has sold more than any other electric car, became widely available only in 2018. New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles three or four years before trading them in.

SAIC’s MG unit sells an electric S.U.V. in Europe for about $31,000 before incentives.

New battery designs offer hope for cheaper electric cars but will take years to appear in lower-priced models. Predictably, next-generation batteries that charge faster and go farther are likely to appear first in luxury cars, like those from Porsche and Mercedes.

Companies working on these advanced technologies argue that they will ultimately reduce costs for everyone by packing more energy into smaller packages. A smaller battery saves weight and cuts the cost of cooling systems, brakes and other components because they can be designed for a lighter car.

You can actually decrease everything else,” said Justin Mirro, chief executive of Kensington Capital Acquisition, which helped the battery maker QuantumScape go public and is preparing a stock market listing for the fledgling battery maker Amprius Technologies. “It just has this multiplier effect.”

$45 million in grants to firms or researchers working on batteries that, among other things, would last longer, to create a bigger supply of used vehicles.

“We also need cheaper batteries, and batteries that charge faster and work better in the winter,” said Halle Cheeseman, a program director who focuses on batteries at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, part of the Department of Energy.

Gene Berdichevsky, chief executive of Sila Nanotechnologies, a California company working on next-generation battery technology, argues that prices are following a curve like the one solar cells did. Prices for solar panels ticked up when demand began to take off, but soon resumed a steady decline.

The first car to use Sila’s technology will be a Mercedes luxury S.U.V. But Mr. Berdichevsky said: “I’m not in this to make toys for the rich. I’m here to make all cars go electric.” 

A few manufacturers offer cars aimed at the less wealthy. A Chevrolet Bolt, a utilitarian hatchback, lists for $25,600 before incentives. Volkswagen said this month that the entry-level version of its 2023 ID.4 electric sport utility vehicle, which the German carmaker has begun manufacturing at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., will start at $37,500, or around $30,000 if it qualifies for the federal tax credit.

Then there is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, produced in China by a joint venture of General Motors and the Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling. The car reportedly outsells the Tesla Model 3 in China. While the $4,500 price tag is unbeatable, it is unlikely that many Americans would buy a car with a top speed of barely 60 miles per hour and a range slightly over 100 miles. There is no sign that the car will be exported to the United States.

Eventually, Ms. Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research said, carmakers will run out of well-heeled buyers and aim at the other 95 percent.

“They listen to their customers,” she said. “Eventually that demand from high-income earners is going to abate.”

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