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Daily Briefing – 319

Post: Jun. 6, 2021

U.S. House Democrats Propose $547 Billion “Surface Transport Plan”

A group of key U.S. House Democrats introduced legislation on Friday to authorize $547 billion in additional spending over five years on surface transport, a plan that would mostly go to fixing existing U.S. roads and bridges and increase funding for passenger rail and transit. The bill adopts some proposals made by Democratic President Joe Biden as part of his broader $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation programs. Other committees have jurisdiction over other aspects of infrastructure spending.

One big question in all the plans remains how to pay for them as gas tax revenue has not kept up with repair needs. Biden wants higher corporate tax rates and other levies on the wealthy to pay for repairs and has also suggested a fee on commercial truck driving.

Read more at Reuters

Zucker to Schools:  Masks Off,  Masks On 

In an eleventh-hour notice to school districts across New York, state education officials on Sunday said masks would still be required during indoor instruction on Monday despite an announcement two days prior that signaled a major shift in policy for students and staff statewide. 

The state’s top doctor on Friday released a letter addressed to the head of the CDC requesting a change in mask policy. Dr. Howard Zucker said the state was prepared to eliminate its indoor mask requirement in schools and camps starting Monday, June 7, barring an objection from the agency. In a letter distributed over the weekend, first reported by the Times Union, the New York State Department of Education clarified that Zucker’s letter was a request for updated guidance for the state – guidance that has not come, yet.

Read more at NBC News

May Jobs Report: Economy Adds 559,000 Jobs, Unemployment Rate Fell to 5.8%

The U.S. economy added back another more than half a million jobs in May, with employment accelerating from April but still missing estimates even as the jobless rate slid to a new pandemic-era low. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Change in non-farm payrolls: +559,000 vs. +675,000 expected and a revised +278,000 in April
  • Unemployment rate: 5.8% vs. 5.9% expected and 6.1% in April 
  • Average hourly earnings, month-over-month: 0.5% vs. 0.2% expected and 0.7% in April 
  • Average hourly earnings, year-over-year: 2.0% vs. 1.6% expected and a revised 0.4% in April
  • Manufacturing employers filled 23,000 jobs

Read more at Yahoo Finance

More on the Jobs Numbers – Labor Force Participation Fell

The May increase in non-farm payrolls represented the largest since March and a fifth straight monthly gain. And at 5.8%, the unemployment rate for May also marked the lowest level since March 2020, reversing course after unexpectedly rising in April. However, that drop in the jobless rate also came alongside an unexpected drop in the labor force participation rate to 61.6% from the 61.7% in May, suggesting a smaller share of Americans out of work returned to the labor force to look for or take new jobs.

“We expect that in the coming months there will be a significant rise in the labor force participation rate because several factors point in that direction,” UBS economist Pablo Villanueva said in a note ahead of the May jobs report. “Schools are reopening, COVID risks are diminishing, and in many states unemployment benefits are coming down. It is difficult to identify the impact of each of these policies on supply but they all point towards more people joining the labor force,” he added. “All in all, our view on the labor market is one of underlying strength during the coming months but with abnormally high levels of noise.”

Read more at Yahoo Finance

US COVID Update -U.S. Covid-19 Deaths Fall to Lowest Point Since March 2020

The seven-day average for newly reported deaths fell to 432 on Thursday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The figure hasn’t been this low since late March 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, the data show.

The current average marks the lowest point for average daily deaths after any surge during the pandemic, falling below a prior low of about 520 daily deaths early last summer, the data show. It follows a sharp drop in newly reported Covid-19 cases, with the seven-day average falling below 20,000 this week for the first time since last March. On Thursday, the average was 15,030.

Read more at the WSJ

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update – Vax and Scratch and Low Positivity Rates

Governor Cuomo yesterday announced that the ‘Vax and Scratch’ program – which provides free NYS lottery scratch-off tickets to individuals 18 and over with a grand prize of $5 million – will extend into next week at 10 state mass vaccination sites. The participating sites will be open from Monday, June 7 through Friday, June 11.

As of  Sunday morning:

One Vaccine Dose

  • 54.6% of all New Yorkers – 10,894,823 (plus 27,384 from a day earlier) 
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,158,137 (plus 2,585) 

Fully Vaccinated

  • 47.1% of all New Yorkers – 9,387,043 are fully vaccinated (Plus 48,058). 
  • In the Hudson Valley – 985,008 (plus 4,497) are fully vaccinated. 

The Governor  updated COVID data through Saturday June 5th.   There were 13 COVID related deaths for a total of 42,789. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 816

Seven Day Average Positivity Rate:

  • Statewide 0.52%
  • Mid-Hudson: 0.46%

Useful Websites:

New Type Of COVID Vaccine Could Debut Soon

A new kind of COVID-19 vaccine could be available as soon as this summer. It’s what’s known as a protein subunit vaccine. It works somewhat differently from the current crop of vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. but is based on a well-understood technology and doesn’t require special refrigeration.

The vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer contain genetic instructions for the spike protein, and it’s up to the cells in our bodies to make the protein itself.

The first protein subunit COVID-19 vaccine to become available will likely come from the biotech company, Novavax. In contrast to the three vaccines already authorized in the U.S., it contains the spike protein itself — no need to make it, it’s already made — along with an adjuvant that enhances the immune system’s response, to make the vaccine even more protective.

Read more at NPR

Regeneron’s Covid-19 Drug Is Authorized for Injection

U.S. health regulators have authorized newer, more convenient forms of a Covid-19 antibody drug made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that could make it easier for patients to get the treatment, the company said on Friday.  Doctors and nurses now can administer one of the new forms by a simple injection, rather than intravenous infusion.

Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody drug, called REGEN-COV, has been available to treat recently diagnosed Covid-19 since last November under an emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In clinical trials, the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 70% in people with mild to moderate symptoms. Yet the drug has gone underused, according to public health officials, in part because it requires intravenous infusions that not all clinics and hospitals are equipped to administer.

Read more at the WSJ

DiNapoli: Jobs in NYC Construction Industry Took Huge Hit During Pandemic, Over 14% Decline

The loss of 44,400 construction jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the State’s reaction to it, in 2020 was the worst annual decline in the industry in more than 25 years, with more than half the losses coming from New York City, according to a report released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Construction was the city’s fastest-growing sector from 2011 to 2019, rising by 43.5 percent, until it was brought to a halt by the pandemic.

Read more at the Comptroller’s website

BSK Review of EEOC Revised COVID-19 Guidance

Attorneys for Council of Industry Associate Member Bond Schoeneck and King write that in this new guidance, the EEOC explicitly states that federal equal employment opportunity laws (EEO) laws do not prevent employers from requiring employees who are in the physical workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers take into account employees who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.

The EEOC states that mandatory vaccination policies cannot be applied in a way that treats employees differently on the basis of race, sex, religion, or any other protected category under federal law. Moreover, employers with mandatory vaccination policies must take care to respond to “disparate impact” claims, which allege that certain individuals or demographic groups face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others. For those employers not wishing to impose a mandatory vaccination policy, the EEOC provides a list of resources that employers may provide to their employees to encourage employees to become voluntarily vaccinated. 

Read more at BSK

What Are the Limits to Government Borrowing?

The scale of Joe Biden’s plans is hard to exaggerate. Mr Biden’s first budget, which he unveiled on May 28th, will borrow unapologetically. The plans assume that annual fiscal deficits will exceed 4% of GDP through to the end of the decade; net public debt will rise to 117% of GDP in 2030 from 110% today. The largesse raises two big questions. One is whether, coming on top of past stimulus packages, it will contribute to an overheating of America’s economy in the short term. The other important question is whether in the longer term America can prudently afford to loosen the purse-strings for a sustained period.

In a new working paper, Atif Mian of Princeton University, Ludwig Straub of Harvard University and Amir Sufi of the University of Chicago attempt to gauge governments’ room to run. Their analysis (which does not incorporate the effects of the pandemic) builds on recent work that estimates how the “convenience yield” on government bonds—or the amount by which a bond’s yield is reduced because of the safety and liquidity benefits it offers investors—varies with the size of the debt burden.

Read more at The Economist (subscription)

What Happens if the U.S. Can’t Reach Herd Immunity?

Experts estimate that we’ll reach herd immunity for COVID-19 when 65 to 80 percent of the population is vaccinated—a number that seemed within reach in the U.S. once highly effective vaccines started being administered. Amid a swirl of misinformation, distribution issues, and legitimate hesitancy, as of June 3, only 51 percent of Americans have received at least one shot, and just 41 percent are fully vaccinated.

“The nature of coronavirus and other infectious diseases is they find where we’re vulnerable,” says Amber D’Souza, professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “So wherever the pockets of people are that are not protected, there will be flare-ups in infections. It’s just a question of how long it takes for them to happen.”

Read more at NATGEO

Albany Eyeing $15B Tax Hike to be Hidden in Fuel Costs

The “Climate and Community Investment Act” now making its way through the Legislature would charge fossil-fuel companies $55 for every ton of greenhouse gases their products produce next year, with the tax gradually rising to hit as much as $15 billion annually. The fees would boost the cost of gasoline and home heating fuel, with consumers eating much of the increase — without many not even knowing why their costs keep rising.

The charges work out to 55 cents a gallon at the gas pump, bringing the state’s gasoline tax to nearly $1 a gallon — more than double the rate now and half again the tax in any other state. Home heating costs could soar 25 percent.

Read more at the NY Post