Biden to Raise Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors to $15: Live Updates

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

President Biden plans to sign an executive order on Tuesday raising the minimum wage paid by federal contractors to $15 an hour, the latest in a set of ambitious pro-labor moves at the outset of his administration.

The new minimum is expected to take effect next year and is likely to affect hundreds of thousands of workers, according to a White House document. The current minimum is $10.95 under an order that President Barack Obama signed in 2014. Like that order, the new one will require that the new minimum wage rise with inflation.

Two administration officials said in a call with reporters that White House economists believed the increase would not lead to significant job losses, a finding in line with recent research on the minimum wage, and that it was unlikely to cost taxpayers more money. They argued that the higher wage would lead to greater productivity and lower turnover.

The White House also contends that while the number of workers directly affected by the increase is relatively small as a share of the economy, the executive order will indirectly raise wages beyond federal contractors by forcing other employers to bid up pay as they compete for workers.

Several cities have a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, and several states have laws that will raise their minimum wage to at least that level in the coming years. There is so far little evidence on how a $15 minimum wage affects employment in lower-cost areas of such states.

Two years ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, but the legislation has faced long odds in the Senate. Mr. Biden sought to incorporate such a measure in his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package so that it could pass on a simple majority vote, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it could not be included.

Mr. Biden’s executive order will also eliminate the so-called tipped minimum wage for federal contractors, which currently allows employers to pay tipped workers $7.65 an hour as long as their tips put them over the regular minimum wage. Under the new minimum, all workers must be paid at least $15 an hour.

The order will technically begin a rule-making process that is expected to conclude by early next year. The wage will be incorporated into new contracts and existing contracts as they are extended.

Talasheia Dedmon enrolled her son Braylon in a college savings account through SEED for Oklahoma Kids, an effort to help a new generation climb the educational ladder and build assets.
Credit…September Dawn Bottoms for The New York Times

An experiment called SEED for Oklahoma Kids, or SEED OK, is one of a growing number of efforts by cities and states — governed by Democrats and Republicans alike — to help a new generation climb the educational ladder and build assets

SEED OK is a far-reaching research project begun in Oklahoma 14 years ago to study whether creating savings accounts containing $1,000 for newborns would improve their graduation rates and their chances of going to college or trade school years later, Patricia Cohen reports for The New York Times.

Research about the Oklahoma project published this month by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which created SEED OK, found that families that had been given accounts were more college-focused and contributed more of their own money than those that hadn’t been. And the effects are strongest among low-income families.

The 1,300-plus children who were chosen at random to be given accounts in 2007 had an average of $3,243 saved by the end of 2019. Among the control group — another 1,300 children who were randomly selected to take part but were not given any money — only 4 percent had an account.

Proposals at the federal level to establish savings accounts at birth, for college, homes, business or retirement savings, go back to the 1990s. Canada, Israel, South Korea and Singapore have established versions of the idea. Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Illinois are among the states that have created programs.

Technical problems marred the Small Business Association’s first attempt at accepting applications for the grant program.
Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

After months of delays and technical problems, the federal government finally opened a $16 billion grant fund for music club operators, theater owners and others in the live-event business on Monday.

Thousands of people hit the website for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program the moment it began accepting applications. Speed mattered: The money — awarded on a first-come-first-served basis — is widely expected to run out fast.

One applicant posted a screenshot showing that he was in line behind more than 6,000 others waiting for their turn to apply. “Hunger Games” memes — “May the odds be ever in your favor” — popped up in Twitter posts from desperate business owners venting their collective anxiety.

But this time, the system stayed up. As of 5 p.m. on Monday, the agency had received 6,040 grant applications, according to Andrea Roebker, an agency spokeswoman. Nearly 8,400 more had been created but not yet been completed.

Sarah Elger, chief executive of Pseudonym Productions, an events production company in Philadelphia, successfully submitted her application 16 minutes after she got access to the system.

“It was such a relief,” Ms. Elger said. She was one of thousands of business owners who had their hopes dashed earlier this month, when the Small Business Administration, the agency that runs the program, tried — and failed — to start taking applications. After four hours, the agency took the system offline for what turned into weeks of technology repair work.

Ms. Elger estimated that she uploaded more than 100 documents for her application, which she and her husband, Ricky Brigante, spent months preparing. They knew they would have to move quickly once the application website opened.

“We turned it into a game,” Ms. Elger said. “We had lots of folders on the desktop and raced through the uploads.”

The Small Business Administration said it would immediately start reviewing the applications, which are intended to yield grants for 45 percent of applicants’ prepandemic gross earned annual revenue, up to $10 million.

“We recognize the urgency,” said Barb Carson, the deputy associate administrator of the agency’s Office of Disaster Assistance. “With venue operators in danger of closing, every day that passes by is a day that these businesses cannot afford.”

The program, created in the $900 billion economic support package that President Donald J. Trump approved in December, is the first large direct-to-businesses grant program the Small Business Administration has ever run. The process, for both the agency and applicants, has for months been fraught with complexity and confusion.

John Russell, the executive director of the Montford Park Players, a nonprofit community theater group in Asheville, N.C., submitted his application on Monday afternoon. He is relying on the grant to help cover his group’s return to the stage.

After a full year of hosting only virtual events, the group is planning to open its first full in-person production, the Shakespeare play “The Comedy of Errors,” next month.

“We figured people are in the mood for comedy,” Mr. Russell said. The show’s actors are volunteers, but the production creates paid jobs for its director, stage manager, lighting designer, food vendors and others, as well as for the theater troupe’s support staff.

The Small Business Administration is also preparing to open a second grant program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion support fund for bars, restaurants and food trucks that was created in last month’s $1.9 trillion relief bill. That program is planning a seven-day test to help the agency avoid the kind of technical problems that plagued the venue program.

Lyft lost $1.8 billion last year as the pandemic cut into its revenue.
Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

Lyft will sell its unit devoted to developing autonomous vehicles to Woven Planet, a Toyota subsidiary, the companies announced on Monday. Woven Planet will pay $200 million in cash for Level 5, Lyft’s self-driving car initiative, and will follow up with additional payments of $350 million over five years.

Lyft is among several tech companies that have stepped back from developing autonomous vehicles over the last year as the technology has proved difficult to master and the pandemic has placed pressure on the company’s bottom lines. In December, Uber essentially paid Aurora, a self-driving truck start-up, to take its autonomous vehicle unit.

Some automotive executives have said they overestimated how soon the technology would be ready for the road. And although Waymo, the autonomous vehicle unit owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has recently expanded its operations, the chief executive of Waymo stepped down earlier this month to pursue “new adventures.”

Lyft said unloading Level 5 would cut about $100 million in annual expenses, helping the company edge closer to profitability after the pandemic sliced into its revenue. Lyft lost $1.8 billion last year. The company is set to report earnings for the first three months of 2021 next month.

Lyft still will have a team focused on implementing third-party self-driving technology and will continue to collect data from trips to help train autonomous systems, the company said.

“Not only will this transaction allow Lyft to focus on advancing our leading autonomous platform and transportation network, this partnership will help pull in our profitability timeline,” Lyft’s president, John Zimmer, said in a statement.

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