In Brief: May 22, 2020

Nearly 39 million have lost jobs in US since virus took hold

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits in the two months since the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. has swelled to nearly 39 million, the government reported Thursday, even as states from coast to coast gradually reopen their economies and let people go back to work.

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More than 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the business shutdowns that have brought the economy to its knees, the Labor Department said.

That brings the running total to a staggering 38.6 million, a job-market collapse unprecedented in its speed.

The number of weekly applications has slowed for seven straight weeks. Yet the figures remain breathtakingly high — 10 times higher than normal before the crisis struck.

It shows that even though all states have begun reopening over the past three weeks, employment has yet to snap back and the outbreak is still damaging businesses and destroying jobs.

China boosts spending but no big steps for virus-hit economy

BEIJING — China’s top economic official on Friday promised higher spending to revive its coronavirus-battered economy and curb surging job losses but avoided launching a massive stimulus on the scale of the United States or Japan.

Premier Li Keqiang, in a speech to legislators, said Beijing would set no economic growth target, usually a closely watched feature of government plans, in order to focus on fighting the outbreak.

The battle against the virus “has not yet come to an end,” Li warned. He called on the country to “redouble our efforts” to revive the struggling economy.

The coronavirus pandemic that began in central China in December and prompted the government to isolate cities with 60 million people added to strains for the ruling Communist Party that include anti-government protests in Hong Kong and a tariff war with Washington.

China, which has reported 83,000 virus cases and 4,634 deaths, was the first economy to shut down factories, shops and travel to fight the virus and became the first to reopen in March. But it is struggling to revive activity.

GOP weighs jobless aid cuts to urge Americans back to work

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled Thursday at the White House as Republicans stake out new plans to phase out coronavirus-related unemployment benefits to encourage Americans to go back to work.

Revamping jobless aid is fast becoming the focus of debate over the next virus aid package. After the Senate decided to take a “pause” on new pandemic proposals, senators faced mounting pressure to act before leaving town for a weeklong Memorial Day break. The Senate also began efforts to fast-track an extension of a popular small business lending program.

“Republicans and the White House are reaching consensus on the need for redesigning the unemployment benefits so they are not a barrier to getting people back to work,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on a conference call.

From wire sources

The flurry of activity comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed a new $3 trillion aid package through the House last week. The Senate, under McConnell, says there is no urgency to act, and senators are expected to reconsider more aid only in June.

With the nation’s death toll poised to hit 100,000 and layoffs surpassing 38 million, some lawmakers see a failure by Washington to act as untenable. Yet Congress has moved beyond the political consensus reached at the outset of the crisis and is now splitting along familiar party lines.

Trump counting on Supreme Court to block probes, lawsuits

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump won at least a temporary reprieve from the Supreme Court earlier this week in keeping secret grand jury materials from the Russia investigation away from Democratic lawmakers. The president and his administration are counting on the justices for more help to stymie other investigations and lawsuits.

The high court is weighing Trump’s bid to block subpoenas for his tax, banking and financial records. It will soon be asked by the administration to kill a lawsuit alleging that Trump is illegally profiting from his luxury hotel near the White House. And a dispute over Congress’ demand for the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn also could find its way to the justices before long.

Trump has predicted that the court with a conservative majority that includes two of his appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, would be more sympathetic than lower courts that have repeatedly ruled against him. And his administration has sought the court’s emergency intervention at early stages of court cases far more often than both Democratic and Republican predecessors, according to data compiled by University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck.

The administration says Democrats are obsessed with embarrassing Trump at all costs. Trump has called himself a victim of “presidential harassment” and ordered his administration not to cooperate with investigations by the Democratic-led House.

In arguing for the invalidation of congressional subpoenas for Trump’s private financial records, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court that the subpoenas pose “a serious risk of harassing the President and distracting him from his constitutional duties.”

Cities find green ways to reduce storm floods

NEW ORLEANS — For more than a century, New Orleans has depended on canals and pumps to get rid of stormwater in a city where about half the land is below sea level.

Now the bustling Mississippi River port that expanded by filling in wetlands is spending $270 million to create spaces for rainwater, such as the water garden planned on a 25-acre site provided by nuns who lived there before Hurricane Katrina.

The city is also installing underground holding tanks, porous pavement and other measures to reduce storm flooding and stress on huge pumps built in the 1910s.

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“We’ve got a scenario for everything,” said Mary Kincaid, the city’s chief resilience officer.

Tropical storms can dump amazing amounts of rain, and hurricane season starts June 1. But smaller storms can also overwhelm storm drainage.

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