Welcome to 2021. The next few months may not be any easier than the last, but let’s take it one week at a time. Here’s the business and tech news you need to know for the days ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (Dec. 27-Jan. 2)
Christmas Came Late
Under mounting pressure from both parties, President Trump on Dec. 27 finally signed a $900 billion pandemic bailout package, which he had previously opposed. The bill, which took months of haggling in Congress, averted a government shutdown and provided billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to hospitals, schools, businesses and American families. By delaying his signature, Mr. Trump allowed two pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs to expire, imperiling the livelihoods of millions of Americans. The new legislation reinstated them.
$600 vs. $2,000
The aid bill may be official, but Congress is still debating one of its provisions: the direct-payment stimulus checks. Should they be $600 each, as the bill originally stated, or $2,000, as Mr. Trump has demanded? Democrats were more than happy to oblige Mr. Trump’s push for higher payments, putting Republicans in the awkward position of defying the president if they disagreed. But the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said there was “no realistic path” for the proposal, which he effectively managed to block by tacking on two other measures that Democrats would never agree to, including an investigation of the integrity of the 2020 election. The $600 payments started going out to Americans last week, and most recipients are expected to save the money rather than spend it and boost the economy.
It Costs What?
If you have ever paid a hospital bill, you know how confounding they can be. That’s because the price tag of a medical procedure depends on the rate that each hospital negotiates with individual insurers. That amount is usually kept confidential and is substantially marked up from how much the procedure actually costs the hospital to provide. But now, under a new federal rule that took effect on Jan. 1, hospitals will be required to disclose the rates they negotiate with insurers — or face fines of up to $300 a day. That penalty is peanuts compared with what hospitals typically charge both insurers and patients, but it’s a move toward transparency.
What’s Next? (Jan. 3-9)
A Year of Lost Vacations
Did you cancel your vacation plans this year? I certainly did — it seemed pointless to take time off just to sit at home. Apparently I’m not alone, and now many employers are adjusting their vacation policies so that workers can hold on to the vacation days they didn’t take in 2020. Instead of use-it-or-lose-it rules that require employees to forfeit unused vacation time at the end of December, a number of major companies, including Bank of America, Citigroup, and Condé Nast, are making special allowances for people to roll over their paid time off into the new year. Yet another thing to look forward to in 2021.
Hurry It Up
Everyone agrees that vaccine distribution in the United States is going too slowly, and the federal government fell far short of its goal of having 20 million people vaccinated by the end of 2020. But no one can agree on why. The Trump administration has blamed states for not moving quickly enough with the vaccines they have received. State governments say they need more federal funding. And holiday shipping delays aren’t helping, either. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the process and cautioned that at this rate, it would take “ take years, not months,” to administer enough vaccines for the country to be protected and the economy to reopen.
Stick a Fork in Brexit
Another thing we’re glad to leave behind in 2020: Brexit and its incessant drama. More than four years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the two sides finally agreed on new travel and trade rules, and the British Parliament approved the deal this past week. The arrangement will establish new customs procedures at Britain’s border and end the free movement of people between Britain and E.U. countries. But that’s already happening anyway, as Britain reels from a new variant of the coronavirus that is raging across the country.
Amazon is investing further in the audio market by buying the podcast production company Wondery. On that note, 2020 was a great year for book sales, too. And Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet returned to American skies this past Tuesday after being grounded for nearly two years, bringing passengers on an American Airlines flight from Miami to New York.
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