Rescue Package Includes $86 Billion Bailout for Failing Pensions

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/07/business/dealbook/bailout-pensions-stimulus.html

Excerpt:

Both the House and Senate stimulus measures would give the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees — a number that will grow in the future — their full pensions for the next 30 years. The provision does not require the plans to pay back the bailout, freeze accruals or to end the practices that led to their current distress, which means their troubles could recur. Nor does it explain what will happen when the taxpayer money runs out 30 years from now.

Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio who has been leading the charge to rescue the ailing pension plans, said that including the provision in the relief bill is a “really big deal” for both the retirees who depend on the money and the employers now being crushed by promises they cannot afford to keep.

Author(s): Mary Williams Walsh and Alan Rappeport

Publication Date: 7 March 2021

Publication Site: New York Times

Pandemic’s Racial Disparities Persist in Vaccine Rollout

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/03/05/us/vaccine-racial-disparities.html

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Excerpt:

As of March 3, 38 states publicly shared race and ethnicity data for vaccinated people. The jurisdictions define race and ethnicity categories in slightly different ways, and with different levels of completeness — in some states as much as a third of vaccinations are missing race and ethnicity data.

Public health experts have said that despite these data limitations, the patterns emerging across states are clear.

“People of color are getting vaccinated at rates below their representation of the general population,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden’s coronavirus equity task force, said at a recent forum on the vaccine. “This narrative can be changed. It must be changed.”

Author(s): Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Anjali Singhvi, Josh Holder, Robert Gebeloff, Yuriria Avila

Publication Date: 5 March 2021

Publication Site: New York Times

Too Many Smart People Are Being Too Dismissive of Inflation

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/opinion/fed-inflation-markets.html

Excerpt:

That assistance should also be more concentrated on where the need exists. According to Bloomberg, California’s revenues for this fiscal year are roughly 10 percent greater than expected (partly a result of soaring technology company valuations), while general-fund revenue in New York is estimated to be 11.7 percent lower than prepandemic forecasts.

And we should take a fine-toothed comb to lesser-known wasteful provisions, like giveaways to the airlines and an indirect bailout (added by the House) of multiemployer pension funds. Some of the money that we save by trimming the American Rescue Plan Act can be reallocated to one of our most pressing needs: infrastructure. Those funds get spent more slowly (and because of that put less immediate pressure on prices) and have the critical effect of helping to improve our unimpressive productivity growth rate.

Wasting precious dollars that could be better spent can’t possibly be worth the risk of igniting high inflation again.

Author(s): Steven Rattner

Publication Date: 5 March 2021

Publication Site: New York Times

What Do Vaccine Efficacy Numbers Actually Mean?

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/03/03/science/vaccine-efficacy-coronavirus.html

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Excerpt:

Efficacy depends on the details of a trial, such as where it took place. Johnson & Johnson ran trials at three sites: in the United States, Latin America and South Africa. The overall efficacy was lower than that in the United States alone. One reason for that appears to be that the South Africa trial took place after a new variant had swept across that country. Called B.1.351, the variant has mutations that enable it to evade some of the antibodies produced by vaccination. The variant didn’t make the vaccine useless, however. Far from it: In South Africa, Johnson & Johnson’s efficacy was 64 percent.

Efficacy can also change when scientists look at different outcomes. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine had an 85 percent efficacy rate against severe cases of Covid-19, for example. That’s important to know, because it means that the vaccine will prevent a lot of hospitalizations and deaths.

Author(s): Carl Zimmer, Keith Collins

Publication Date: 3 March 2021

Publication Site: New York Times

New COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents fell 80 percent in a month

Link: https://thehill.com/homenews/news/540614-new-covid-19-cases-among-nursing-home-residents-fell-80-percent-in-a-month?rl=1

Excerpt:

New coronavirus cases among nursing home residents have plummeted by nearly 80 percent from late December to early February, according to The New York Times.

In an analysis of federal data, the news outlet found that outbreaks at long-term care facilities have dropped at a rate almost double that of the general population.

“I’m almost at a loss for words at how amazing it is and how exciting,” David Gifford, the chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association, told the Times. “If we are seeing a robust response with this vaccine with the elderly with a highly contagious disease, I think that’s a great sign for the rest of the population.”

Author(s): Cameron Jenkins

Publication Date: 25 February 2021

Publication Site: The Hill

Virus Did Not Bring Financial Rout That Many States Feared

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/01/business/covid-state-tax-revenue.html

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Excerpt:

Throughout the debate over stimulus measures, one question has repeatedly brought gridlock in Washington: Should the states get no-strings federal aid?

Republicans have mostly said no, casting it as a bailout for spendthrift blue states. Democrats have argued the opposite, saying that states face dire fiscal consequences without aid, and included $350 billion in relief for state and local governments in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill, which narrowly passed the House this past weekend. It faces a much tougher fight in the Senate.

As it turns out, new data shows that a year after the pandemic wrought economic devastation around the country, forcing states to revise their revenue forecasts and prepare for the worst, for many the worst didn’t come. One big reason: $600-a-week federal supplements that allowed people to keep spending — and states to keep collecting sales tax revenue — even when they were jobless, along with the usual state unemployment benefits.

Author(s): Mary Williams Walsh, Karl Russell

Publication Date: 1 March 2021

Publication Site: New York Times

7 Virus Variants Found in U.S. Carrying the Same Mutation

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/14/health/coronavirus-variants-evolution.html

Excerpt:

As Americans anxiously watch variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa spread in the United States, scientists are finding a number of new variants that originated here. More concerning, many of these variants seem to be evolving in the same direction — potentially becoming contagious threats of their own.

In a study posted on Sunday, a team of researchers reported seven growing lineages of the novel coronavirus, spotted in states across the country. All of them have evolved a mutation in the same genetic letter.

“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveportand a co-author of the new study.

Author(s): Carl Zimmer

Publication Date: 14 February 2021, updated 25 February 2021

Publication Site: NY Times

U.K. Virus Variant Is Probably Deadlier, Scientists Say

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/13/world/europe/covid-uk-variant-deadlier.html

Excerpt:

British government scientists are increasingly finding the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain to be linked to a higher risk of death than other versions of the virus, a devastating trend that highlights the serious risks and considerable uncertainties of this new phase of the pandemic.

The scientists said last month that there was a “realistic possibility” that the variant was not only more contagious than others, but also more lethal. Now, they say in a new document that it is “likely” that the variant is linked to an increased risk of hospitalization and death.

The British government did not publicly announce the updated findings, which are based on roughly twice as many studies as its earlier assessment and include more deaths from Covid-19 cases caused by the new variant, known as B.1.1.7. It posted the document on a government website on Friday.

Author(s): Benjamin Mueller, Carl Zimmer

Publication Date: 13 February 2021, updated 17 February 2021

Publication Site: NY Times

Opera Singers Help Covid-19 Patients Learn to Breathe Again

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/16/arts/music/opera-singers-covid-19-treatment-eno-breathe.html

Excerpt:

Called E.N.O. Breathe and developed by the English National Opera in collaboration with a London hospital, the six-week program offers patients customized vocal lessons: clinically proven recovery exercises, but reworked by professional singing tutors and delivered online.

While few cultural organizations have escaped the fallout of the pandemic, opera companies been hit especially hard. In Britain, many have been unable to perform in front of live audiences for almost a year. While some theaters and concert venues managed to reopen last fall for socially distanced shows between lockdowns, many opera producers have simply gone dark.

But the English National Opera, one of Britain’s two leading companies, has been trying to redirect its energies. Early on, its education team ramped up its activities, and the wardrobe department made protective equipment for hospitals during an initial nationwide shortage. Last September, the company offered a “drive-in opera experience,” featuring an abridged performance of Puccini’s “La Bohème” broadcast over large screens in a London park. That same month, it started trialing the medical program.

Author(s): Andrew Dickson

Publication Date: 16 February 2021

Publication Site: NY Times

N.Y.C. Covid Vaccine Disparities Revealed in ZIP Code Data: Officials

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/16/nyregion/nyc-covid-vaccine-zip-codes.html

Excerpt:

Officials in New York City released new data by ZIP codes on Tuesday that they said underscored troubling disparities in the city’s vaccination effort, with the share of residents who are fully vaccinated in some wealthier Upper West and East Side ZIP codes, which have high proportions of white residents, reaching up to eight times the rate in parts of predominantly Black neighborhoods like East New York.

The figures for individual ZIP codes provided one of the most granular pictures of the city’s vaccination effort to date. And it added more evidence suggesting that across the country, the vaccine appears to be flowing disproportionately toward areas with wealthy and white residents, even though low-income communities of color remain the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Still, questions remained. The new city data does not break down vaccine recipients by race in each ZIP code, nor does it account for how many people in each ZIP code are eligible to be vaccinated.

Author(s): Mihir Zaveri

Publication Date: 16 February 2021

Publication Site: NY Times

To Plug a Pension Gap, This City Rented Its Streets. To Itself.

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/16/business/dealbook/pension-borrowing-retirement.html

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Excerpt:

That hasn’t deterred governments. Nationwide, cities and states issued $6.1 billion in pension obligation bonds in 2020, more than in any year since 2008, according to data compiled by Municipal Market Analytics, a research firm. States with significant new pension borrowings last year included Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Texas. In California, cities borrowed more than $3.7 billion to squirrel away at various public pension funds, breaking the old state record of $3.5 billion, set in 1994.

It’s a major comeback for this type of debt, said Matt Fabian, a partner at Municipal Market Analytics who has been writing about the deals for years. “They’re borrowing money and basically putting it into the market and gambling,” he said.

Mr. Fabian said his firm’s tally almost certainly missed the borrowing by municipalities that took West Covina’s approach, because those bonds used different names. Flagstaff rented its City Hall, libraries and fire stations last year to back a pension deal marketed as “certificates of participation.” In January, Tucson did the same, leasing two police helicopters, a zoo conservation center, five golf courses and the bleachers at its rodeo grounds, among other things. And a Chicago suburb, Berwyn, used “conveyed tax securitization bonds” to help fund police pensions.

Author(s): Mary Williams Walsh

Publication Date: 16 February 2021

Publication Site: New York Times