December 4, 2022

Powell Downplays Inflation Risks as Yellen Foreshadows Future Spending

Ms. Yellen’s Treasury is in charge of executing Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief legislation, and has been racing to distribute $1,400 checks to millions of Americans. That is posing a test for Ms. Yellen’s team, which is not yet fully in place.

Ms. Yellen pushed hard for a robust fiscal relief package. In her opening statement, she described the rescue legislation as precisely what the economy needed.

“With the passage of the rescue plan, I am confident that people will reach the other side of this pandemic with the foundations of their lives intact,” Ms. Yellen said. “And I believe they will be met there by a growing economy. In fact, I think we may see a return to full employment next year.”

Mr. Powell declined to weigh in on the new infrastructure idea, but he did say that the government’s broad response to the coronavirus pandemic had helped to keep a worst-case economic disaster from playing out.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

“While the economic fallout has been real and widespread, the worst was avoided by swift and vigorous action,” he said.

Mr. Powell and Ms. Yellen faced a volley of questions on how financial regulators should deal with climate change risks. Republicans have expressed concern that the Fed’s growing attention to climate-related issues in its role as a bank overseer could end up making it harder or more expensive for carbon-heavy companies to get loans.

“It’s really very early days in trying to understand what all of this means,” Mr. Powell said, noting that many large banks and large industrial companies were already thinking about and beginning to disclose how climate might affect them over time. “We have a job,” he said, “which is to ensure that the institutions we regulate are resilient to the risks that they’re running.”

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