United Airlines bets on Florida, adding dozens of flights a day starting November

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – United Airlines is adding up to 28 daily nonstop U.S. flights to Florida starting Nov. 6 as the Chicago-based airline bets on a rebound in leisure travelers heading to sunny skies.

The direct flights are from non United hub cities in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four Florida destinations.

United said it is part of its “continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.” But the carrier said it could reduce the number of flights if COVID-19 infections in Florida remain high.

New Florida flights will go to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa.

Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning, said the new flights represent “United’s largest expansion of point-to-point, non-hub flying and reflects our data driven approach to add capacity where customers are telling us they want to go.”

United can adjust up or down. Gupta said the added Florida flights could amount to more than 400,000 additional seats this winter season. He said many U.S. travelers are picking Florida instead of international destinations.

There are modest signs of improving air travel demand. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 831,789 people on Sunday — the first time it screened more than 800,000 people since March 17. That is still down 70% over prior year figures.

Still, Florida has reported 542,792 coronavirus cases, the second most of any U.S. state behind only California, according to a Reuters tally, and more than 10% of all reported U.S. cases. If coronavirus cases in Florida remain high, “we will adjust our plans,” Gupta said.

Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly said at a Texas Tribune forum on Wednesday the airline is still trying to figure how many flights to offer as it works to reduce its $20 million a day losses. “It is pure guesswork at this point” Kelly said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

New Jersey governor can borrow $9.9 billion to plug shortfalls, top state court rules

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – New Jersey’s highest court on Wednesday rejected an effort by state Republicans to block Democratic Governor Phil Murphy from borrowing as much as $9.9 billion to help offset plunging tax revenue resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Jersey Supreme Court said the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act was constitutional, but officials will need to certify that projected revenue and fiscal shortfalls were “as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic” before they can borrow.

State legislators had passed the law on July 16, prompting a lawsuit by the New Jersey Republican State Committee, which said it violated the appropriations and debt limitation clauses of New Jersey’s constitution.

Lawyers for the committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Murphy is expected to publicly discuss the decision later on Wednesday.

The $9.9 billion cap represented New Jersey’s estimate of how much less tax revenue it might collect through June 30, 2021, compared with its projection before the pandemic struck.

In Wednesday’s 7-0 decision, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said COVID-19 qualified as a “disaster” permitting the state to resort on emergency financing to plug anticipated shortfalls.

He said the plaintiffs had not met the “heavy burden” of showing that the law’s alleged unconstitutionality was “clear beyond reasonable doubt.”

States nationwide have struggled with lower tax revenues because of decreased economic activity and higher unemployment resulting from the pandemic.

New Jersey, whose population is about 8.88 million, was one of the earliest U.S. hotspots for the coronavirus, and has had more than 185,000 cases and 14,000 deaths.

Its per capita infection rate is now lower than in many other states as the pandemic took hold elsewhere in the country.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

White House, Democrats show no sign of budging on U.S. coronavirus aid

By Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A breakdown in talks between the White House and top Democrats in Congress over how to help tens of millions of Americans suffering in the coronavirus pandemic entered a fifth day on Wednesday, with neither side ready to resume negotiations.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said there may be no deal to reach with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, with more than 5.16 million COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Pelosi described the two sides as “miles apart” with a “chasm” between them.

The global pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on the United States, where it has killed more than 164,000 people, more than any other country, and made tens of millions of workers jobless, who have now seen a further hit after $600 per week in additional federal unemployment benefits expired last month.

Congress has already approved about $3 trillion in assistance for families, hospitals, healthcare workers, state and local governments, vaccine research and testing.

Talks on a new package broke down last Friday after Democrats offered to reduce their demand for more than $3 trillion in additional aid by about $1 trillion, if the White House agreed to come up by a similar amount from an initial $1 trillion Republican proposal.

Sticking points include the size of an extended unemployment benefit, aid to state and local governments, money for schools to reopen and other issues.

Asked if deal was still possible, Mnuchin told Fox Business Network: “I can’t speculate. If the Democrats are willing to be reasonable, there’s a compromise. If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal.”

But Pelosi reiterated Democratic calls for the White House to “meet in the middle.”

“Until they’re ready to do that, it’s no use sitting in a room and letting them tell us that states should go bankrupt,” she told MSNBC. “As a practical matter, they’re going to have to come to the table.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did not join any of the negotiating sessions, blamed Pelosi and Schumer for the ongoing impasse.

“Republicans wanted to reach agreement on all these issues where we could find common ground and fight over the last few issues later.” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

“But the speaker and the Democratic leader say nothing can move unless very one of these unrelated far-left items tags along.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that Americans divide blame pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; Writing by David Morgan; Editing by Toby Chopra, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Fed policymakers say economic growth will be muted until virus contained

By Jonnelle Marte and Howard Schneider

(Reuters) – The U.S. economic slowdown is likely to continue as more restrictions are put in place to control the coronavirus epidemic, and Americans will have to learn to “live with” the virus for the rest of the year, two Federal Reserve policymakers said on Wednesday.

Consumer spending will probably remain weak relative to the past as people avoid activities that require high levels of social interaction for health reasons, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said during an online event organized by the South Shore Chamber of Commerce in Massachusetts.

“The forecast for the U.S. economy this fall is quite uncertain, but my view is that the recent slowdown in economic activity that we have seen in high-frequency data is likely to continue,” Rosengren said.

With a vaccine unlikely to be ready in the immediate future, consumers and businesses need a plan to manage the risks of the virus throughout the fall and winter, Rosengren said.

Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan voiced similar concerns, saying in a webcast event with the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce in Texas that Americans need to learn to “live with” the virus, using safety measures such as masks so the economy can remain open.

Rosengren said the parts of the country that enacted longer shutdowns earlier in the crisis were now benefiting from better health outcomes and more robust spending. States that lifted restrictions too quickly saw a short-lived increase in economic activity, which became muted after a rise in infections, he said.

“Limited or inconsistent efforts by states to control the virus based on public health guidance are not only placing citizens at unnecessary risk of severe illness and possible death – but are also likely to prolong the economic downturn,” Rosengren said.

Kaplan said he expects the U.S. unemployment rate to remain elevated at 9% at the end of the year, but noted it could be lower if businesses and consumers take steps to control the virus. The unemployment rate in July was 10.2%.

“If we don’t follow that, while people may feel freer, the economy will grow slower,” Kaplan said.

Referring to the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program, which is meant to carry small and medium-sized businesses through the crisis, Rosengren said that low early use of the program was not a sign of failure and that more businesses may turn to the facility in the fall if the economy worsens.

Asked about the rise in U.S. government debt, Rosengren said he supports strong fiscal stimulus but cautioned it must be paired with efforts to contain the virus.

“If you want to actually make sure that the debt doesn’t explode, you have to make sure that we get the pandemic under control,” Rosengren said.

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Paul Simao)

Three of ten Americans laid off in coronavirus crisis worried about food, shelter: Reuters/Ipsos poll

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three of 10 Americans who lost work during the coronavirus pandemic said they may have trouble paying for food or housing after a $600-per-week enhanced unemployment payment expired last month, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

The poll conducted Monday and Tuesday found that Americans divide blame for its expiration – and the weeks-long standoff in Congress over how to replace it – pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The $600 weekly payments, approved as part of a $3 trillion package that Congress approved early in the crisis, became a lifeline for the tens of millions of Americans thrown out of work in a pandemic that has prompted widespread business closures.

It expired on July 31, and weeks of talks between top congressional Democrats and the White House failed to produce agreement on a new round of funding. Republican President Donald Trump on Saturday signed a memorandum aimed at restoring half that federal payment, though economists wanted that even if the maneuver overcomes possible legal challenges, it will likely have little impact.

The poll was conducted amid a surge of coronavirus cases in many states and as the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections draw closer.

Three out of 10 people surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos reported that they will have “a very difficult time meeting basic needs,” which includes paying for rent or buying groceries. Half said they are under some stress “but we will be able to meet our basic needs.”

The poll found that Americans blame negotiators on both sides of the partisan divide for the government’s inability to extend benefits for those who have been struggling to manage during the pandemic. Twenty-eight percent of American adults said congressional Democrats should receive most of the blame, while 15% said they blame congressional Republicans and another 14% said Trump was most at fault. Thirty-two percent said all share the blame equally.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,215 U.S. adults, including 139 who said they had received the weekly coronavirus unemployment benefit. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. inks $1.5 billion deal with Moderna for 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine

By Jeff Mason and Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The United States has entered an agreement with drugmaker Moderna Inc to acquire 100 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine for around $1.5 billion, the company and White House said on Tuesday.

The United States in recent weeks has made deals to acquire hundreds of millions of doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines from several companies as part of its Operation Warp Speed program, which aims to deliver a vaccine in the country by the end of the year.

Moderna’s price per dose comes to around $30.50 per person for a two dose regimen.

With the exception of its deal with AstraZeneca, which offered a lower price per drug in exchange for upfront research and development costs, all the deals price COVID-19 vaccines between $20 to $42 for a two dose course of treatment.

Moderna’s vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, is one of the few that have already advanced to the final stage of testing and is on track to be completed in September, the company said this month.

Moderna’s deal with the U.S. only pays out in full if the drugmaker hits certain unspecific timing benchmarks for vaccine delivery.

The United States has advanced purchase agreements with Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, and Sanofi SA and GlaxoSmithKline Plc for their respective vaccine candidates.

The agreements would lock in more than 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the U.S., assuming that the companies involved receive regulatory approval. Some deals also give the United States an option to purchase additional doses.

The U.S. government previously gave Moderna around $1 billion to fund its research efforts, bringing total U.S. funding to around $2.5 billion.

Other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom and Canada, have forged similar deals with drugmakers.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Peter Henderson, Chris Reese and Tom Brown)

Mnuchin declines to say if U.S. COVID-19 aid deal can be reached

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that the White House and top Democrats in Congress may not be able to reach a deal on coronavirus aid, in the fifth day without talks on the stalemate blocking relief to tens of millions of Americans.

Mnuchin, who spent nearly two weeks trying to broker a deal in talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, also described the potential outcome of negotiations in terms of President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects.

“I can’t speculate. If the Democrats are willing to be reasonable, there’s a compromise. If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal,” he told Fox Business Network in an interview.

Schumer accused Republicans of refusing to meet in the middle, after Democrats offered to agree on midpoint between Senate Republicans $1 trillion offer and the $3 trillion measure passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in May. Mnuchin on Wednesday again dismissed the Democrats’ offer as “ridiculous.”

The impasse, which began last Friday when talks broke down without an agreement, has put U.S. investors on edge with more than 5.16 million COVID-19 cases in the United States.

The global pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on the United States, where it has killed more than 164,000 people, more than any other country.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Toby Chopra and Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. companies should consider slavery reparations, Vista Equity CEO says

By Jessica DiNapoli

(Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black Americans especially hard after decades of social and economic injustices, but it also presents an opportunity for systemic change, said financier Robert Smith, the wealthiest African-American according to Forbes.

In a video interview with Reuters, the CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners said companies that profited from the Transatlantic slave trade should consider making reparations to African-Americans.

“I think that’s going to be a political decision that’s going to have to be made and decided upon. But I think corporations have to also think about, well, what is the right thing to do?” Smith said in a video interview.

Corporations “can bring their expertise and capital to repair the communities that they are directly associated with in the industries in which they cover,” he added. “I think that has to be a very, a very thoughtful approach. But I think action needs to be taken.”

The death of George Floyd in May reignited protests in the United States and globally against racism and police brutality. Floyd, an African-American man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“People are saying now, what can I do to make real systemic change and eliminate and eradicate racism in America?” said Smith. “That is an outgrowth of the protest and the realization that this racism is unjust and can’t stand.”

Smith said he was pushing U.S. lawmakers to make more aid available to Black communities. The average small business has two months of working capital, whereas Black businesses have just two weeks, he said.

“How do we restore, repair and regenerate the economic activity in these communities utilizing the force of the U.S. government and business and partnerships?” Smith said.

Smith said he has been focused on getting capital to community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions, that serve Black and economically disadvantaged communities.

Roughly 70% of the African-American community does not have access to a bank branch, he said, leaving many reliant on the financial institutions specifically targeting minorities and economically disadvantaged areas.

Smith, who grew up during the late 1960’s Civil Rights era and now runs a buyout firm that focuses on investing in software companies, said he sees a more broad-based coalition of support for equality for Black people.

“The allies weren’t as widespread,” when he was growing up, Smith said. “Employees of companies are also going to hold the leaders accountable to do something about it. We have a chance for systemic change.”

Smith, the first African-American to sign Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ ‘Giving Pledge’, has supported Black people extensively in his philanthropic efforts. Last year, he pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the class of 2019 at the historically Black Morehouse College.

(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and David Gregorio)

U.S. CDC reports 5,064,171 coronavirus cases

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday reported 5,064,171 cases of the novel coronavirus, an increase of 40,522 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 565 to 162,407.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus, as of 4 p.m. ET on Aug. 10 versus its previous report a day earlier.

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting By Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)

Facebook removes seven million posts for sharing false information on coronavirus

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc. said on Tuesday it removed 7 million posts in the second quarter for sharing false information about the novel coronavirus, including content that promoted fake preventative measures and exaggerated cures.

Facebook released the data as part of its sixth Community Standards Enforcement Report, which it introduced in 2018 along with more stringent decorum rules in response to a backlash over its lax approach to policing content on its platforms.

The company said it would invite external experts to independently audit the metrics used in the report, beginning 2021.

The world’s biggest social media company removed about 22.5 million posts containing hate speech on its flagship app in the second quarter, up from 9.6 million in the first quarter. It also deleted 8.7 million posts connected to extremist organizations, compared with 6.3 million in the prior period.

Facebook said it relied more heavily on automation technology for reviewing content during the months of April, May and June as it had fewer reviewers at its offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That resulted in company taking action on fewer pieces of content related to suicide and self-injury, child nudity and sexual exploitation on its platforms, Facebook said in a blog post.

The company said it was expanding its hate speech policy to include “content depicting blackface, or stereotypes about Jewish people controlling the world.”

Some U.S. politicians and public figures have caused controversies by donning blackface, a practice that dates back to 19th century minstrel shows that caricatured slaves. It has long been used to demean African-Americans.

(Reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Additional Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Anil D’Silva)