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What’s Next for a Stimulus Bill?

The Senate Republicans’ slimmed-down stimulus bill recently failed to materialize after receiving less than the 60 votes needed to move forward. The “skinny” stimulus bill, with a price tag of only $650 billion, was intended to be a way to quickly inject stimulus into the economy and bypass both the multi-trillion-dollar Republican HEALS Act and the Democratic HEROES Act.

The current stimulus limbo leaves millions of Americans in a position of uncertainty. Four main areas that the Senate bill intended to address but are now up in the air include a second round of stimulus checks and the impact on struggling tenants and homeowners, as well as the long-term unemployed.

Next Round of Stimulus Checks

The first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, sent more than $300 billion in stimulus checks to Americans back in March to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 slowdowns. While this helped millions, many people’s jobs or businesses remain impaired due to the economic impact of the pandemic, and they are hoping for a second stimulus check to help them get by.

With the failure of the Senate bill and the stalemate in the House, the chances of a second round of checks continues to diminish. On the bright side, the U.S. Treasury noted it is ready to print and mail the checks as soon as something is authorized.

Troubled Tenants and Homeowners

The economic fallout from the pandemic placed many tenants and homeowners in the position of being evicted or foreclosed. The CARES Act from March placed a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, sparing millions. Following this measure, President Trump issued an executive order in August granting the CDC authority to cease evictions as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC took this order and announced a stop to all evictions until the end of 2020.

For homeowners with federally backed mortgages, the CARES Act moratoriums on single-family foreclosures were also extended until the end of 2020. Moreover, many states passed laws protecting those without federally backed loans from foreclosure.

For both renters and homeowners, these protections will disappear once we enter 2021 unless the government steps in with new legislation or regulations. Keep in mind that for both renters and mortgage holders, payments are being deferred and not canceled – so ultimately, they will still need to make the payments.

Long-Term Unemployment

Millions remain unemployed due to the pandemic; without federal help, their unemployment benefits will expire soon. The CARES Act gave an additional 13 weeks of benefits on top of the initial 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits; however, for those impacted on the front-end of the pandemic, these extended benefits will expire at the end of November.

The Senate bill included $300 per week of benefits through the last week of 2020; however, with this failing and without additional aid to state funds, the long-term unemployed won’t have anything to rely on if Congress does nothing.

Conclusion

Democrats responded with a smaller version of their original second-round stimulus bill, coming in a price tag of $2.2 trillion, down from the original $3.4 trillion. This is likely too high a price tag still to garner Republican support. If nothing happens before the mid-October recess, then we will all be waiting until after the Nov. 3 election.

Posted in Blog, Tax and Financial News | Leave a comment

Plan for Business Continuity if Second Wave of COVID Hits

With winter around the corner and the threat of seasonal viruses looming, a second wave of COVID-19 poses a real threat to our health and business operations, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that the 2019-2020 flu season took 24,000 lives and sickened 39 million individuals. Then when we add the fact that there are children who might not be receiving vaccinations – be it for the measles, whooping cough, and others – due to COVID-19, the risk for infections multiply.

Based on these factors, there’s a real possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses impacting business operations for the worse.

As the State of Washington’s Department of Commerce explains, there are many things that businesses can do to prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus. Here are a few recommendations that can be applied and modified, depending on the type of business.

The Washington State Department of Commerce recommends businesses use their digital presence, such as email, a website, blog or social media, to inform and connect with customers. There’s a balance that companies need to find between marketing and selling products or services and not sounding tone-deaf to the situation that COVID-19 has created.

For example, by creating a brief blog or social media post, companies can acknowledge that COVID-19 is a stressful time for everyone, but the company will still be there for them. Explaining how they’re taking care of their employees (social distancing, letting employees work from home and/or take time off for themselves or family members) and how they’re welcoming customers in-store or making house calls (with masks, social distancing, using technology when appropriate), it can create empathy and promote a sense of goodwill.

Another way to leverage digital communication channels is to create a standalone email address to funnel visitor and customer questions regarding COVID-19 concerns.

Planning on how to deal with food that won’t be used is an important step for organizations that deal with mass quantities of food. For schools, colleges, or universities that were open but have closed or others that want to make contingencies to close, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends a few different avenues to make good use of food that would otherwise spoil. Organizations should make plans to donate to food banks or food rescue organizations; and there is also the EPA’s Excess Food Opportunities Map, which can direct unused food to composting options for businesses.

Another way for companies to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19, as the State of Washington’s Department of Commerce points out, is to ensure all documents are up-to-date and accessible via hard copy and electronically. Example documents include minutes and resolutions from official business meetings, tax records – especially any recently filed quarterly estimate payments – and lists of vendors. Companies also should ensure that digital files are encrypted, protected by passwords and that the cloud provider has a firewall, security scanning, and continually addresses vulnerabilities. 

Business owners should have contingency plans to deal with supply chain issues. One way to mitigate supplier issues, according to McKinsey & Company, is to negotiate with existing suppliers that have cash or liquidity issues.

By offering essential suppliers with loans, often at attractive interest rates compared to lenders, as a way to keep suppliers in business, businesses may be able to negotiate for exclusive or high priority production agreements. This can be done while looking for alternate suppliers, either domestically or in other parts of the world.

While the second wave of COVID-19 is a real possibility, taking steps to prepare for any surge in cases will help companies increase their chances to make it out of the pandemic.

Sources

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/first-and-second-waves-of-coronavirus

https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/recycling-and-sustainable-management-food-during-coronavirus-covid-19-public-health#02

A ‘Between Waves’ COVID-19 Planner for Small Businesses

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/coronavirus-and-technology-supply-chains-how-to-restart-and-rebuild

https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/recycling-and-sustainable-management-food-during-coronavirus-covid-19-public-health

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Examining Fed’s New Targeted Inflation Policy

Looking back to 2012, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) – a collaboration of the 12 regional Fed banks and the Federal Reserve Governors in Washington – came together and published a Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy.

This officially rang in the FOMC’s public commitment to maintain inflation at 2 percent. It is based on a yearly change in the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, and is in accordance with The Federal Reserve’s “mandate for maximum employment and price stability.”

Guided by three events in the economy, according to the Brookings Institution, the FOMC was prompted to take a second look at 2012’s existing framework. The first factor, an approximation of the “neutral level” of interest rates, or interest rate levels correlated “with full employment” and inflation targets, kept dropping globally. The “lower neutral rate” is achieved when short-term interest rates, which are controlled by The Fed, stay at levels closer to zero versus higher levels. When this occurs, The Fed has little room to further lower interest rates, and therefore stimulate the economy. The next factor involves inflation rates and anticipation for future inflation rates to stay below The Fed’s 2 percent target. The last factor was unemployment falling to a five-decade low.

The FOMC’s Aug. 27 update reveals that the inflation rate has been lower than the 2 percent inflation target in recent years, despite housing, food, and energy increasing in price for consumers.

When there’s too little inflation, as The Fed explains, it can negatively impact the economy. If inflation remains below The Fed’s “longer-run inflation goal,” it can propel a self-fulfilling prophecy of further declining inflation levels.

As originally explained in 2012 and updated in August, the FOMC’s purpose is to “promote maximum employment,” keep prices stable, and “moderate long-term interest rates.” It also guides individuals and business owners with more information to make decisions, promotes greater “economic and financial certainty” and increases “transparency and accountability.”

The Fed, based on their FAQ section, has said that when inflation runs below 2 percent for an extended period of time, monetary policy will adjust to run above 2 percent for a period of time. Therefore, the FOMC is hoping to ensure that “longer-run inflation” will average at 2 percent.

The FOMC’s monetary policy is a big determinate in keeping the economy stable when the economy and financial systems are put out of balance due to factors such as inflation, long-term interest rates, and employment. The FOMC accomplishes its monetary policy via the “target range for the federal funds rate.”

Looking at the “level of the federal funds rate consistent with maximum employment and price stability over the longer run,” this rate has dropped compared to past average rates. With this in mind, the federal funds rate is generally expected to remain on the lower end of the rate spectrum more so now, versus years back. With interest rates closer to the bottom end, the FOMC believes that inflation and employment perils are more likely to stay depressed.

Based on comments from The Fed in August, the FOMC clarifies its Congressional Mandate regarding price stability and maximum employment, along with determinations on its short-term interest rate and other monetary policy considerations.

Following up on its Congressional mandate for The Fed to ensure maximum employment and price stability, the first thing to focus on is price stability or inflation.

Before, The Fed had a price stability target of 2 percent inflation, based upon the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index. The FOMC called this price stability “symmetric,” meaning that inflation above or below the target is equally concerning.

However, its new stance will now focus on attaining “inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time” after an ongoing time period of tame inflation. Based on comments from Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this is a flexible form of average inflation targeting.

This end goal of average inflation targeting suggests that when inflation is below the 2 percent target over an extended period of time, the FOMC will adjust its policy to encourage inflation above the 2 percent target to attain balance. However, The Fed didn’t give details regarding the time frame for its new averaged 2 percent inflation target, nor did it specify what actions it will implement to achieve it.

The Fed also made noteworthy changes to its “maximum employment” mandate. When it comes to this measurement, it originally compared the projections of “the long-run rate of unemployment” to the unemployment rate. According to the Brookings Institution, this also can be referred to as “the natural rate of unemployment or the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU).”

Since live estimates of the NAIRU can be unreliable, it’s no longer being considered. While the Summary of Economic Projections will still include estimates of unemployment statistics by FOMC members, it will unofficially take the place of the NAIRU readings. However, these FOMC members’ long-run estimates of unemployment will have less impact on monetary policy decisions.

How Do Interest Rates Looking Going Forward?

With these two changes to The Fed’s Congressional mandates, many expect monetary policy to be quite loose over the coming years, according to the Brookings Institution. By permitting hotter than normal inflation and low rates of unemployment, there’s a remote chance The Fed will increase interest rates prior to inflation running north of 2 percent for a measurable time period. 

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Long-Term Financial Impact of COVID-19

As bad as the economy is right now due to the COVID outbreak in the United States, many economists are predicting that the long-term outlook is much bleaker. Alas, Congress and the Federal Reserve’s efforts at stimulus and interest rate management have done much to keep the economy and stock market afloat. However, small businesses – the backbone of America’s employment growth – are closing every day. As consumer spending reduces further, the impact will likely affect Wall Street. Consequently, share prices may soon begin correcting to reflect the future more so than the present.

It should come as no surprise, then, that 88 percent of respondents admit they are worried about their finances, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

This economic decline has presented an interesting mix of demographics who have or will be affected the most over the long term. For instance, many low-income workers have remained employed throughout the pandemic because their jobs are considered “essential services.” This includes check-out clerks at grocery stores; laborers who work outdoor jobs; nurses, orderlies, and nursing home attendants.

By contrast, many white-collar business owners – such as physicians and dentists– closed shop for a few months and/or have reduced the number of patients they see. Alas, 79 percent of those surveyed with a household income of more than $100,000 a year said they were at least somewhat concerned about their financial situation.

Millennials are the generation most likely to change the way they manage their finances in the future. Although many have remained employed in white-collar jobs – primarily due to their technology-enhanced skills and knowledge – they have reason to be concerned. After all, this generation has already lived through the market downturn following 9/11, the Great Recession, and now a historic economic decline caused by the coronavirus. In fact, once they finally got a foothold in their careers, this recent downturn obliterated the last five years’ worth of economic growth. Going forward, finance experts predict that these young adults will be more focused on stock-piling savings, buying modest homes when the real estate market corrects, and generally working on a long-term plan for financial stability.

While those strategies are mostly good, it’s a shame this generation had to learn the hard way – all while encumbered with historically unprecedented student loan debt. However, as these lessons are passed down through generations – much the way the Great Depression had a lasting impact on the Silent Generation – U.S. populations may see higher savings rates at the expense of lower GDP growth.

For households recovering from financial stress or looking to create a plan for stronger financial resiliency no matter what the future holds, consider the following strategies.

  • First priority: Save from three to six months’ worth of liquid, emergency funds should you encounter a large expense, such as an auto repair or a temporary loss of income.
  • Learn how to budget effectively, which includes examining if you overpay for basic household needs or do not know how much of your income is spent superfluously every month.
  • Take stock of the full scope of your financial resources, including:
    • Savings accounts
    • Investment accounts
    • Retirement accounts
    • Health savings accounts
    • College savings accounts
    • Whole life insurance
    • Real property
    • Structured settlements
    • Vehicles (auto, boat, motorcycle, recreational)
    • Art, jewelry, wine, or other high-value collectibles
    • Expensive furnishings and household items
  • Develop a Plan B to help supplement any income loss right now; a Plan C to help bolster your savings rate once you’re back to full income; and a Plan D strategy for income replacement in case you’re ever in a situation like this again.

Financial setbacks will come and go; it’s the lessons we learn from them that should have the most staying power.

Posted in Blog, Financial Planning | Leave a comment

Affordable Lunches for Kids Learning at Home

Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, many schools across America have transitioned to at-home learning. This alone presents a whole new set of challenges for parents, not the least of which is figuring out what to feed your kids for lunch – every single day of the week. While peanut butter and jelly is a reliable standby, here are some cheap, easy alternatives you can whip up in no time.

English Muffin Pizza

Grab some English muffins and top them with pizza sauce or marinara. Either one will work. (Hint: use the store brand because it’s comparable and usually costs less.) If you like, you can even add shredded cheese. Put them in a toaster oven and bake. Now comes the fun part: create a face. Use olives for the nose and eyes. Cut up yellow, red, and green peppers into thin slices to form a mouth and eyebrows. For the extra peppers, use ranch dressing for dipping. This one is fun and healthy!

Lunchables Knockoff

Pre-packaged meals generally cost more. So why not create your own version of this lunch-time favorite and save some money? Buy round, butter crackers with ridges on the edge (like Ritz, but buy the store brand); round, sliced lunch meat; and small, sliced squares of cheese. Place each in the spaces in a plastic divided container. Cut up some fruit (apples, pears, anything you like) and serve. If natural sugar isn’t enough for your little ones, throw in a cookie.

Pita Pockets

You can stuff these full of anything you like. Making tuna salad for a filler is always delish but takes a bit of prep, so for time’s sake, add lunch meat. After that, add lettuce and anything else your child likes. Maybe some tomatoes or cucumbers, then add a condiment, mustard, or mayo. For a side, choose local, seasonal produce. It’s always cheaper than out-of-season choices.

Meat-Free Lunch

Purchasing meat can get expensive, so why not go veggie for a few days? Your DIY lunch kit might include cheese cubes, crackers, cherry (or grape) tomatoes, and green or purple grapes. If you get inspired, cut up apples and bananas into bite-sized portions. Throwing in some nuts for a little extra crunch is always a good idea, too. If you want to make these meals a regular thing, buy reusable, compartmentalized containers like EasyLunchBoxes, affordably priced at $14 for four. You can also buy them on Amazon. Carve out some time on a Saturday afternoon and make these in bulk to save time during your busy week. You might even ask the kids to help!

Ants on a Log

Cut up some celery (the logs). Fill with peanut butter, then sprinkle raisins on top (the ants). Serve with cheese cubes, graham crackers, yogurt, and/or fresh fruit. Kids love this one, especially because of the funny name.

Pancake Lunch

Everyone loves Saturday morning pancakes, so why not serve them for lunch, too? Here’s a thought: prepare a double batch of pancakes, plus bacon and fresh fruit on the weekend; then save half for Monday and pop them in the microwave. This way, you won’t have to prepare them twice. Don’t forget the syrup!

Cottage Cheese and Fruit

This lunch might well be the quickest of all to make. Place two scoops of cottage cheese in a leak-proof container, then add some canned fruit such as peaches, pineapple or mandarin oranges. Crackers (graham or saltines) with a little vat of peanut butter for dipping completes this easy, peasy meal.

We hope that these cost-saving lunches help save time and worry. With all that’s going on, you’ve got enough on your plate!

Sources

https://blog.cheapism.com/easy-school-lunches-14435/#slide=8

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Avoid Wasting Money on Digital Marketing with These Tips

In last month’s article titled “How to Make the Most of Digital Marketing,” we examined how digital marketing can help your business grow. Unfortunately, this involves more than waving a magic wand. You can either choose to do it yourself or hire an agency to do it for you. Either way, if it’s not well done, you could end up wasting a lot of money with no return on your investment. 

Indeed, any business will want to implement a system that promises to grow revenue. But the biggest mistake is to dive into a scheme that you don’t understand well. Understanding the potential of digital marketing and how you can deploy it effectively will significantly help meet your revenue goals.

Tips to Avoid Losing Money in Digital Marketing 

Here are some tips to help you effectively target your audience and eliminate wasteful spending in your digital marketing efforts:

  1. Create a Strategy
    A digital marketing strategy serves as a guide to what you should and shouldn’t do. Invest in marketing that is in line with your mission and goals. And then be ready to make improvements and adjustments because the digital market is always changing.
  2. Understand Different Platforms
    Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses, whether you’re looking at LinkedIn, Facebook, Google ads, etc.
  3. Use Good Content
    People will easily trust the content that is engaging and adds value in some way. No matter the quality of your product or service, terrible content will cause you to lose potential customers. Always remember your content is a direct reflection of your brand. 
  4. Ads 
    When you run ads, they will be displayed when there are searches on the internet relating to what you have advertised. This costs money. To avoid paying on unnecessary clicks or views that don’t convert to leads, run targeted ads. You can also use negative keywords, geo-targeting, or influencers. Keep in mind that any platform offering paid promotion options has as its default to spend your budget as fast as possible (they are in business, too).
  5. Track Your Results 
    Track your results on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This is the best way to know if you are wasting money. Measure and track your campaigns to understand how much you are making off any campaign. For every single $1 spent, if you are not making any returns you need to rethink your strategies. Note that it could take 60 to 90 days to get enough data for proper analysis.
  6. Avoid Buying Fake Followers
    This is simply a bad idea because you will get little or no return on your investment. The fake accounts will be inactive, and hence no engagement or sales.
  7. Test 
    Carry out A/B testing for anything you want to put out there to your target audience. Be it content, emails, newsletters, social media posts, campaigns or ads, testing will save you from marketing with low or no returns.
  8. Add a Call to Action 
    What do you want an interested reader or viewer to do: make a call; fill out a form; subscribe; make a purchase; or visit a website?
  9. Don’t Ignore Existing Customers
    Approximately 40 percent of business revenue is from returning customers. Specifically target this group with offers, new products or services, or just wishing them well on holidays. 
  10. Don’t Hire Bad Marketing Consultants
    Finally, you might decide to outsource the marketing if your business doesn’t have employees with the necessary skills, or if it’s overwhelming for your staff. Whatever the reason, don’t make the mistake of hiring bad consultants.
Posted in Blog, What's New in Technology | Leave a comment

Space Weather Forecasting, New Safety and Transparency Reporting Guidelines, Paying to Charge Federal Electric Vehicles, and a Plan to Celebrate Route 66

PROSWIFT Act (S 881) – This Act was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on March 26, 2019. The legislation is designed to improve understanding and forecasting of weather events in space. The bill details provisions designed to improve the ability of the United States to both forecast and mitigate the effects of space weather. The bill designates the National Science and Technology Council’s Space Weather Operations, Research, and Mitigation Working Group as the authority to direct other agency initiatives. The bill establishes a pilot program to enable the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enter into contracts with the commercial sector to provide space weather data, in adherence to certain standards. The bill passed in the Senate in July and in the House in September, and is currently waiting to be enacted by the President.

CHARGE Act (S 2193) – This bill requires the General Services Administration to issue a charge card to federal agencies in order to pay for charging up federal electric motor vehicles at commercial charging stations. The bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on July 19, 2019. It was passed in the Senate in November 2019 and in the House on Sept. 14, 2020. It is currently awaiting signature by the President.

PIPES Act of 2020 (S 2299) – This bill would amend title 49 of the United States Code to enhance the safety and reliability of pipeline transportation. It was introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) on July 25, 2019, passed in the Senate on Aug. 6, 2020. It is currently in the House for consideration. This bill would fund appropriations through the fiscal year 2023 to address pipeline safety and infrastructure as authorized under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002.

Microloan Transparency and Accountability Act of 2020 (HR 6078) – Introduced by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) on March 4, this legislation modifies disbursement and reporting protocols for certain financial assistance by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Specifically, the bill establishes a technical assistance grant of 5 percent for intermediaries who issue 25 percent of their loans to rural small businesses. The legislation also requires the SBA to report, among other metrics, the number, amount, and percentage of such loans that went into default in the previous year; the number of microloans issued to small businesses in rural areas; and the average size, rate of interest and amount of fees charged for each microloan. This bill passed in the House on Sept. 14 and is in the Senate for consideration.

Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2020 (HR 4894) – Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced this legislation on Oct. 29, 2019. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to make many of the budget justification materials submitted to Congress also available to the public. The legislation passed in the House on Sept. 14 and is now in the Senate for consideration.

Route 66 Centennial Commission Act (S 1014) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on April 3, 2019. It establishes a Route 66 Centennial Commission and specifies the duties of the commission, including membership, powers, reporting requirements, and a termination date of no later than June 30, 2027. The intent is to honor U.S. Route 66 on the occasion of its centennial anniversary in 2026. This bill passed in the Senate on Aug. 10 and goes to the House next for consideration. A similar bill (HR 66: Route 66 Centennial Commission Act) was introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and passed in the House in February 2019, giving the current Senate bill a high probability of making it into law.

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