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A closer look at the HEROES act, and who stands to benefit the most

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The HEROES act helps specifically unemployed, and those just returning to work, with assistance to get them back on their feet.

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HEROES act

Back in May, House Democrats proposed an economic relief bill to address the widespread consequences of COVID-19. The bill, entitled the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions” Act (HEROES for short), did not pass as quickly as the Democrats had initially hoped–indeed, it is still being examined as of today–but the likelihood that it does pass in some form seems high, according to White House officials. Here’s what you need to know about the HEROES Act and how it may affect you.

Spoiler alert: It’s mostly positive, but you may need to wait awhile.

We discussed recently the proposition to incentivize employees to return to work via a $450 weekly bonus upon reopening of the economy. This is a byproduct of the HEROES Act, which–according to its original conditions–posited that the unemployment bonus of $600 per week be extended past its initial July 2020 expiration. That idea was criticized by many as incentivizing unemployment, thus culminating in the $450 return-to-work bonus revision.

However, the HEROES Act addresses so much more than a weekly bonus that it’s somewhat overwhelming. The 1815-page bill covers a wide array of topics including state and local support, health care, worker protections, business support, and “other government support”, a category which addresses the United States Postal Service and the Census Bureau.

Primarily, Americans will be enthused to hear that the HEROES Act addresses a second round of stimulus checks totaling up to $6000 per household; while some sources (e.g., Forbes) speculated that the delivered amount per individual might be as high as $2000 per month, the HEROES Act in its original form does not appear to corroborate this claim. Additionally, this bill would provide billions in relief funds to the Department of Labor, housing assistance, and SNAP.

To any college students, the bill proposes “up to” $10,000 in student loan forgiveness.
The bill would also see at least $1 trillion in “state, local, territorial and tribal government” relief, with billions more allocated to utilities, highways, transit, and CDC resources. If that weren’t enough, the country would see a sweeping increase in funds to national health care services such as the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, HRSA-funded Health Centers, and–not negligibly–funding to fight back against “COVID-19 fraud”.

As you probably know, first responders and frontline workers have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19. The HEROES Act looks to establish a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” for hazard pay to “workers deemed essential during the pandemic”–a list that would feasibly include emergency workers, maintenance staff, and anyone else who was put at risk by way of their occupation.

Finally, the HEROES Act provides small businesses with some additional relief via expansion of the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program; under this expansion, the PPP would include nonprofits, a move that warrants another $659 billion in aid.

As Forbes’ Jeff Rose reports, the current status of the HEROES Act is relatively healthy, if not entirely true to its original form. For example, House Republicans have proposed financial relief in the form of a tax cut instead of sending out checks, and some are suggesting cutting the unemployment bonus of $600 per week to $300 per week (or less) until 2021 instead of the aforementioned $450 weekly return bonus.

It’s also worth noting that the HEROES Act, a bill valued at around $3 trillion, is a bit on the pricey side where Republicans are concerned–which is why their counter-offer runs closer to $1 trillion. President Trump has, in the past, postulated that a $2 trillion price tag is actually feasible, so it appears that there is some wiggle room in how this bill proceeds.

If you’re waiting for another stimulus check, it’s best not to hold your breath–conservative estimates place the next round, if acted upon, no sooner than late July. Waiting to see how the economy responds to the invariable spike in COVID-19 cases is something for which Republicans have demonstrated a propensity, so don’t count your chickens just yet.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Business Finance

U.S retail sales slow to bounce back as COVID winter approaches

(BUSINESS FINANCE) U.S. retail sales aren’t coming back as many had expected, as the nation braces for wintertime with COVID-19.

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Discount signs over retail sales and clothing

To some of us, buying anything except essentials during this time seems insane. To others, who’ve been padding their savings account with money that might have otherwise been spent on going out to eat, travel, concerts, etc., shopping in retail sales has been a source of therapy.

Regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, U.S. retail sales as a whole increased less than expected in October – and, as COVID-19 hits its third wave in the States, it could slow even further. As of now, the number of national cases has surpassed 11 million.

Economists polled by Reuters predicted that retail sales in October would raise by 0.5%, though they only rose by 0.3%, according to the Commerce Department.

Pandemic-related unemployment benefits will expire at the end of the year, and it’s unlikely that Congress will agree on a second relief package before Biden takes office in January. Additionally, the federal ban on evictions will expire at the end of the year.

To top it off, the winter is approaching meaning that many restaurants and businesses in colder states will be forced to close – and, subsequently, Americans who work at those establishments will face unemployment.

Needless to say, many Americans aren’t focused on shopping; they’re focused on surviving. Especially in states with more COVID cases, there has been a broad decline in spending through November 9th, apart from automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services.

The economy bounced back at a 33.1% rate in the late summer and early fall after contracting at 31.4% pace in the second quarter, when COVID completely sank the economy. This was the most drastic market fluxaution since the government started keeping records in 1947.

There is a strong link between households with a disposable income and spending patterns – people typically don’t spend money they don’t have, especially during a pandemic. If the U.S. wants to get the retail economy back to where it once was, it seems like additional government relief is a sure-fire way to get there.

When stimulus checks went out in April, we saw a momentary resurgence in the economy almost instantly, which was good for everyone. Until the job market allows for all of the unemployed Americans to safely get back in the game, the government needs to assist its people – the economy depends on it.

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Business Finance

7 ways spending habits have changed since COVID-19

(FINANCE) How are spending and saving habits changing for Americans during the pandemic?

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Wallet open with $5 bill out, reflecting spending habits

Regardless of whether you’ve lost your job or kept it during the pandemic, you have undoubtedly been affected financially in some way over the past 8 months. For those who have been furloughed or laid off, it’s more obvious. If you’ve kept your job, you might be operating in a limited capacity, experiencing setbacks, or have a decreased client base. Of course, some of us are luckier than others, but if you’re not Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk (who have seemed to profit endlessly during COVID), chances are your bank statement looks a little different than you thought it would.

So how do these changes affect how we’re spending this year? Here are 7 ways Americans have changed their spending habits since March.

Out of work, using up savings

For those who are out of work and require more to live on than the negligible unemployment amount (especially after the extra $600 in COVID relief expired), resorting to savings is a means of survival. I’m sure no one imagined the “rainy day” they were saving for would be the economic repercussions of a global pandemic, but here we are.

Slashing expenses, saving more

We all arguably have less to spend money on these days. Going out to eat and drink? Travel? Shows and events? Not so much. It’s possible our wallets might be feeling a bit flush (especially if you’re still employed). As a result, many Americans are putting this new extra cash into their savings. Re-fluffing your financial cushions is a smart move, no doubt about it.

Putting life on hold

Did you want to move to New York City last spring before all hell broke loose? Did you want to buy a house or go back to school? You’re not alone. With all the financial insecurity that COVID-19 has brought on, it’s no wonder why many Americans are putting their dreams on hold.

Paying off debts

Similar to stock-piling cash for saving, many Americans are taking this time to pay off debts they have, weather that be a mortgage, students loans or something else. Smart move, I must say.

Looking to buy a home

Have you saved so much during the pandemic that you actually have enough to make a down payment on a house? Good for you!

It’s also important to note here that this trend also applies to those who participated in the mass flights from major cities to the ‘burbs – why live in a tiny, cramped apartment during a pandemic when you could buy a spacious home 30 miles away?

‘Comfort shopping’

Ain’t nothing wrong with a little retail therapy. If you’re using your end-of-the-month surplus on fun items for you, your home or others, I totally get it. Chase that serotonin rush – times are hard out here!

All that aside, as a consumer, I find market trends and marketing techniques during COVID so interesting. Absolutely no shade if you end up buying that $80 face cream because #selfcare (I’ve been there), but I have a fun time dissecting the ways in which digital marketers are extorting the current moment for financial gain. Think about it the next time you’re about to buy something you 100% would not have in a pandemic-less world.

Donating more than ever

On the other side of the spectrum, many Americans who have a little extra to spend right now are helping out their communities and other funds by donating to them. Whether it be mutual aid funds that provide meals to members of the community who need it right now, or to national funds that support disenfranchised or marginalized groups hit hardest by the pandemic, Americans are donating more than ever – especially with their stimulus checks!

It’s always interesting to see how large-scale events impact micro-economies, such as individual American households. The discrepancy between those who are working and those who are not plays a crucial role in dissecting spending habits but have less to do with the overall picture than one might think.

It will be interesting to see if COVID-induced spending habits will just be a fad for these dire times, or if they will continue after a vaccine is widely distributed. It seems only time will tell.

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Business Finance

The responsibility of billionaires in tough times

(BUSINESS FINANCE) How have billionaires continued to grow wealthy in times of economic turmoil? And how can they try to improve others’ situations?

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Billionaires counting money at desk in journal

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the divide between economic classes in the US more clear than ever before. From housing to healthcare, one’s ability to survive the impact of these times has been largely dictated by income.

Billionaires, however, sit in a league of their own. Mostly, they have been impacted by becoming much wealthier.

Jeff Bezos is an easy example of wealthier billionaires. He has added $74 billion to his already eye-popping net worth over the 8-month course of the pandemic.

Not just because of the shift away from shopping in-person, either – Watchdog group public Citizen has alleged that Amazon raised its prices as much as 900% on essential goods like face masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and shelf stable food staples, though Amazon has denied this. And while the company regularly speaks out against price gouging, their efforts primarily fixate on third parties.

But as far as I know, only one person has intentionally lost their billionaire status recently. The “James Bond of Philanthropy,” Charles Feeney, just shuttered The Atlantic Foundation after 40 years of giving. In that time, he has donated away nearly his entire $8 billion fortune to charities around the globe.

Feeney, now 89, cofounded Tourists International with Robert Miller in 1960. The luxury retail chain, later known as Duty Free Shoppers, was fueled by cash from international Asian tourism and military service members.

Unbeknownst to his fellow shareholders, Feeney transferred his company assets in 1982 to start the Atlantic Foundation and for years the Atlantic Foundation’s grants were bestowed totally anonymously. His secret wasn’t discovered until court documents regarding a conflict with Miller, his former business partner, forced him to come forward in 1997.

Feeny is far from broke today, living in a San Francisco apartment (hey, they’re expensive) and holding onto a tidy $2 million.

Still, he has given away the greatest proportion of his wealth out of all American philanthropists. The Atlantic Foundation’s legacy remains a powerful acknowledgement of the responsibility that comes with holding a vast quantity of resources and capital.

After all, human brains struggle to really ‘get’ the sheer scale of a billion – let alone give it away.

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