Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of December 21, 2020.
A new round of stimulus. Congress has reached a bipartisan deal on a second $900 billion stimulus package. The bill, hammered out over the weekend, will include aid for individuals and small businesses. Adults who earn up to $75,000 are slated to receive $600 direct payments and married couples earning up to $150,000 will receive $1,200. Parents will receive an additional $600 per child. The package will also reinstate supplemental federal unemployment payments, providing out-of-work individuals with an additional $300 per week through March 14, 2021. The deal also allocates $284 billion for small businesses, $82 billion for schools and universities, $25 billion for rental aid, $13 billion for food stamp support, and $10 billion for childcare facilities.
- The takeaway: Congress has been battling over a second stimulus bill since the summer, but only came to an agreement near year-end as important runoff elections loom that could determine control of the Senate. This stimulus package will be the second-largest in U.S. history, following the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed in March, 2020. The deal is expected to provide temporary relief for unemployed Americans. As of November, 10.7 million Americans are out of work.
Moderna gets approval. Moderna began shipping its Covid-19 vaccine this weekend after it received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 19, 2020. Vaccinations with Moderna’s candidate are expected to begin this week, one week after inoculations with Pfizer’s vaccine started. Healthcare professionals, other essential workers, and people 65 and older are expected to receive the vaccine first.
- The takeaway: The news of a second approved vaccine comes as more than 219,000 people are testing positive for Covid-19 in the U.S. per day. Additionally, the virus has killed more than 314,000 Americans. Both vaccines need to be stored at sub-zero temperatures, meaning they need to be transported carefully with freezers or dry ice packs, which could complicate delivery. However, Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at -4℉ while Pfizer’s must be kept at -94℉.
Massive hack attack. In what may be one of the most serious cyberattacks in recent history, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said last week that hackers suspected to be working for a Russian secret intelligence agency had compromised federal government systems, as well as those used by hundreds of companies in the private sector of the U.S. The hack involved inserting malicious code into downloads and updates of a network maintenance software product developed by a relatively unknown company called SolarWinds. Its system, called Orion, is reportedly used extensively by the U.S. federal government, and by many Fortune 500 companies.
- The takeaway: The list of prominent companies that suffered intrusions into their computer networks grew on Monday to include Cisco, Intel, Nvidia, the accounting firm Deloitte, in addition to the California Department of State Hospitals. Since the spring, cyberspies have reportedly developed backdoors into SolarWinds software, and have been using it to collect personal and government data from the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as potentially thousands of other customers for unknown purposes.
Set at zero. The Federal Reserve (the Fed) announced it will keep its benchmark interest rate near 0%. The Fed cut interest rates in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, in an attempt to help the ailing economy. The bank also released slightly more encouraging numbers for 2021, projecting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 4.2% in 2021, from a September prediction of 4%. Meanwhile the Fed projected unemployment rate would fall to 5%, compared to its September estimate of 5.5%.
- The takeaway: While Fed chair Jerome Powell expressed optimism about the potential impact of Covid-19 vaccines on the economy, he also urged that the federal government may need to do more to support the economy and consumers. Congress is currently debating another stimulus package, which is likely to pass before the end of the year.
Find out what we covered in last week’s Scan.