ABC - Business News

youngvet/iStockBy EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The Mega Millions jackpot has increased to $1 billion for Friday night's drawing.

If a lucky lottery player wins, this will mark the second-largest jackpot in Mega Millions history and the third-largest in U.S. lottery history, Mega Millions lottery officials said.

On Wednesday, a winning Powerball ticket worth $731.1 million was sold in Allegany County, Maryland. The ticket was the fourth-largest in Powerball history and the sixth-largest in U.S. lottery history. Lottery winners in Maryland have the right to remain anonymous.

Powerball's jackpot is resetting to $20 million for Saturday's drawing.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- With many hunkered down at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a surge in home repairs.

In November, Home Depot reported sales up more than 20% on items including appliances and vinyl plank flooring. And the company also saw growth among DIY customers, which led to a surge in sales on items from garden to seasonal categories like soil, ceiling fans and power tools.

“As these customers complete a project, they are gaining the confidence to tackle their next project ...,” Craig Menear, chairman, CEO and president of Home Depot, said during a November 2020 earnings call.

In addition, Lowe’s pointed out in its third quarter earnings report, that sales of appliances like refrigerators and freezers have spiked since last March.

But in the event that your appliances stop working at home, and you can’t afford to drop money on repairs or a new purchase, some experts say that fixing the problem yourself could cost you close to nothing.

Read below to see how you can fix some of your appliances at home with these simple repair techniques:


If you’re noticing that your fridge isn’t keeping food as cool as it once had, Sara Morrow, deputy content editor at Consumer Reports, said cleaning the condenser coil may do the trick.

“This is something that you should really do every six months,” Morrow told ABC News' Good Morning America.

In a 2019 report, Consumer Reports said that condenser coils “collect dust, dirt, hair and debris, which restricts their ability to dissipate heat, limiting efficiency and potentially causing a breakdown.”

To prevent this from happening, use a soft brush attachment to gently vacuum the coils. You can locate the condenser coils on the underside or rear of the refrigerator.


If your dishwasher isn’t doing a good job cleaning, check the filter and spray arms to see if they’re clogged and clean them.

To clean the filter, Morrow suggests using water and a soft brush. The spray arms of the dishwasher can also be removed to clean as well. Morrow suggests a cotton swab to remove any food from the spray arms’ holes and to run water through them to see if you’ve removed water and debris.

Then, wipe away any more food that you may find in the dishwasher with a soft sponge.

Electric dryers

If you’re noticing that clothes are taking longer to dry, Morrow suggests investigating the duct behind the machine.

First, disconnect the dryer from the main power source, then pull the dryer from the wall and separate the vent. After, vacuum both the vent and the duct to remove any lint, which can be a potential fire hazard if not frequently cleaned out.

Last resort…

If all else fails and you can’t do a repair on your own, Morrow suggests visiting, where you can find appliance parts for sale, 5,000 how-to videos for repairing appliances, 10,000 repair instructions and schematics and a 24/7 phone number to call for advice.

“We’ve seen demand for services increase because more and more things are breaking, there’s a tremendous need,” Bob Burke, Repair Clinic chairman and CEO, told Good Morning America. “There’s also a need to save money.”

In addition, local repair shops may be able to provide advice over the phone.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


PeopleImages/iStockBy IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- One of the major upheavals brought on by the novel coronavirus is the way millions of Americans work.

For many workers, their offices are now located anywhere with an internet connection, even if that means being in a different state. That accessibility, however, may come with a price for some at tax time.

Traditionally, individuals are assessed income taxes in the state where they live and people generally lived in states where they worked or nearby. Commuters who came from neighboring states were usually covered by agreements that avoided double taxation. But with people moving far and wide amid the pandemic -- not just neighboring states -- and telecommuting instead, some face the prospect of extra taxes.

Six states have what is known as convenience rules, which allow companies located in their jurisdictions to issue an income tax on their employees even if they don't reside in the state.

The problem is that while some neighboring states have agreements that provide tax relief, telecommuters who went elsewhere because of the pandemic may be hit with extra income taxes from the state where their company is based.

Rhonda Collins, the director of tax content and government relations for the National Association of Tax Professionals, told ABC News these complex tax rules will conflict with the rise in telecommuting brought on by COVID-19.

"[Employees] may be working from a state in which they previously did not work and/or a state in which they are not a permanent resident," she told ABC News in a statement. "This is potentially where the worker may be subject to the convenience rules and thus resulting in double taxation of income."

Jared Walczak, the vice president of state projects for Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy nonprofit, told ABC News the convenience rules have come under scrutiny in the past, but with little debate or fanfare since many state governments offer relief for taxpayers through credits and agreements with their neighboring leaders.

However, with telecommuting becoming more prevalent in a post-pandemic world, that is changing -- not only from individuals concerned about double taxation, but states that want to make sure they're getting their fair cut of revenue.

A potential double tax hit

Many states have rules in place to prevent their taxpayers from being hit with double taxation if they commute out of state for work.

Seventeen have so-called "reciprocity" tax agreements with their neighboring states where residents aren't taxed if they physically commute to work elsewhere. For example, Pennsylvania residents who commute to New Jersey, and vice versa, will not have to file in two states because of a reciprocity agreement.

Some states that don't have reciprocity agreements have other laws in place to prevent double taxation, according to Collins.

"When an individual lives in one state but works in another, typically they receive a tax credit on their resident income tax return which reduces or eliminates double taxation of their W-2 income," she said in a statement.

For example, states like Vermont, Connecticut and Virginia provide tax credits up to a certain limit to their residents who work in bordering states, according to tax laws.

Walczak said the situation gets murkier when it comes to six states -- Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania -- which have so-called "convenience" provisions for income taxes. Under these rules, companies can treat employees as if they work in the state where their offices are located, regardless of where they live, Walczak said, resulting in a potential double tax hit.

Further muddying the waters is that many of these states leave the details up to employers, according to the Tax Foundation. For example, a technician working in Vermont on a product for a New York company would not typically be considered a New York employee, Walczak said.

On the other hand, a Vermont resident who commutes, either physical or virtual, to a New York office could be considered a New York employee, he said. In both cases, the employee's status is up to the company.

"This is where you get a situation with double taxation," Walczak said.

As telecommuting expanded in the late 90s and early 2000s, those laws were tested as employees working for companies in states with convenience provisions could now live elsewhere.

New York's convenience provision was challenged in the courts by a Tennessee telecommuter. In 2005 the state's provision was upheld by the New York Court of Appeals.

Walczak said there hasn't been a major push from other states or the federal government to rectify the taxation situation affecting certain telecommuters.

COVID-19, he said, changed that.

States charging commuters don't change the rules

With coronavirus restrictions and employees working from home to avoid spreading the virus, millions of Americans now had the option of choosing their own location for a home office.

For some workers, this meant they could relocate to another part of the country and not miss an hour of work as long as they had an internet connection.

That exodus of employees, even if temporary, has consequences for employers and importantly, state tax collectors, Walczak said.

With the economy still reeling, states have been looking for solutions to generate as much revenue as they can, including provisions to tax workers who move out of state, according to Walczak.

"States, in the long run, will not allow a situation where they are denied their revenue," he said. "States will increasingly tax those incomes."

The six states that already have convenience provisions haven't changed their rules despite circumstances that prevent employees from commuting into their offices, even if they telecommute.

Walczak said states that neighbor those with the convenience provisions have taken action to prevent their residents from double taxation, but at a cost.

New Jersey, for instance, stands to lose $1.2 billion in revenue because of the tax credits it offers commuters who work in states with convenience provisions, said Gov. Phil Murphy.

The pandemic forced some state lawmakers to alter their policies in response to more people working from home, with varying degrees of tax protection for their residents.

Rhode Island lawmakers issued an emergency tax order where residents who usually worked in offices in neighboring states would not be subject to state income tax as well when they worked from home.

Battle heats up over controversial Massachusetts rule

In March, Massachusetts, which did not have a convenience provision, issued a temporary rule effectively creating one. Under that provision, anyone who worked in the state before the pandemic would still pay Massachusetts income taxes, which is about 5%, regardless of where they worked for the rest of the year.

"The Commonwealth has implemented temporary regulations that are similar to those adopted by other New England states," revenue department spokeswoman Naysa Woomer said in a statement to ABC News.

The department said employees can receive credit depending on what state they live in and the tax rate would only reflect the days that the employee worked in Massachusetts.

Neighboring New Hampshire doesn't have a tax credit program or reciprocity agreement with any state and now residents are faced with getting taxed for the months where they didn't physically set foot in a Massachusetts office, according to Walczak.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu filed a lawsuit in October against Massachusetts in the latter state's supreme court calling the temporary taxation rule, which was extended in the summer, unconstitutional. He has asked the U.S. Supreme Court, which has automatic jurisdiction over such a tax-related law, to take up the case.

Since then, 14 states, including Ohio, Connecticut and New Jersey have filed amicus briefs supporting New Hampshire's suit and called on the Supreme Court to hear the case. The states that joined the suit said they are invested in resolving the issue, especially since their residents will likely be working from home for the foreseeable future.

"We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will hold that states do not have the constitutional authority to tax individuals who neither live nor work there," Murphy said in a statement.

Massachusetts Department of Revenue spokeswoman Naysa Woomer declined to comment on pending litigation. As of Jan. 20, no other state has filed paperwork backing Massachusetts in the suit.

Experts say that telecommuters concerned about taxes should contact their HR departments and or a tax professional.

Looking forward

Major companies, particularly those in finance, have made moves to address state tax convenience provisions, through satellite offices or moving their headquarters to states that don't have those provisions, Walczak said.

He predicted that more companies that are rebounding from the economic downturn could end up opening new offices in states that don't have the convenience provisions.

But as telecommuting options grow following the end of the pandemic, Walczak said state governments and Congress will need to update their rules to fit the new normal.

Members of Congress from both parties have introduced legislation in the past to address double taxation.

The "Multi-State Worker Tax Fairness Act," first introduced in 2016 by Connecticut Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, was re-introduced by Rep. James Hines, D-Conn., last year.

The bill "limits the authority of a state to levy income tax on the compensation of a nonresident individual to the period in which the nonresident individual is physically present in the state." It would prohibit a state from enacting a provision similar to Massachusetts.

Senate Republicans also had a provision in their Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act, which was introduced last year, where remote employees would only be subject to income tax in their state of residence and in any states where they work physically for more than 90 days in 2020.

For calendar years 2021 to 2024, employees would have to spend more than 30 days for their out-of-state income to be taxed, according to the bill.

Walczak said there hasn't been enough "political will" to move these bills forward; however, elected officials will have to fix the situation soon.

"All of this is front of mind now because we are seeing a revolution in how people work," he said. "The forced expansion of remote work is working, and a tax code that stands in the way of that is something that cries out to be addressed."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Chair lift rides with strangers are out. Masks on the slalom are in.

The novel coronavirus pandemic is testing the nation's 470 ski and snowboard areas and the local economies that depend on them, as millions of Americans hit the slopes in search of a quarantine escape.

"If you're coming to one of our resorts, we are going to put safety first," Robert Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, the largest mountain resort ski company in the world, told ABC News.

Nearly a year after COVID-19 forced an abrupt and early end to the winter ski season, operators have adopted sweeping new rules and restrictions to keep athletes safe and remain open.

Skier reservations are required at many resorts, which have capped capacity to allow for more social distance. Indoor dining at slope-side chalets has been limited or prohibited, along with public space to warm up on a cold day.

If someone isn't wearing a face covering, "we'll be escorting him off the premise and not letting him in the next time," Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company, told ABC News.

The $20 billion a year winter sports industry in the United States has a lot riding on the success of the safety measures. With fewer skiers and snowboarders expected to visit resorts this year overall, small mountain-town economies are desperate to ensure that public health conditions won't scare off the limited business they currently have.

"We cannot afford to completely shut down businesses," Bill Sauser, mayor of Mammoth Lakes, California, told ABC News at the beginning of the season.

Last spring, the ski town of Sun Valley, Idaho, became one of the nation's first major virus hot spots.

An annual summit of the National Brotherhood of Skiers drew roughly 600 members to the resort for a week of skiing, eating, celebrating and enjoying one another's company, according to Henri Rivers, the group's president. But within two weeks, 150 members attending the Sun Valley event developed flu-like symptoms. Four members died due to the novel coronavirus.

Not long after, nearly all of the nation's resorts shut down early due to the dangers associated with the new virus.

While resorts are now open and operating with safety restrictions, the National Brotherhood of Skiers -- for the first time in its 47-year history -- will not be gathering in-person this ski season.

"We felt it was in our best interest and in the interest of our membership safety, not to hold an in-person summit (this season)," Rivers told ABC News, adding that they plan on holding a virtual summit instead.

Many resorts will not be sponsoring large gatherings of any kind.

Safety on the slopes

The new restrictions, according to Katz and other ski industry leaders, are happening at most resorts across the country, regardless of size or ownership.

"It's not a political statement," Gregory said. "It's a scientific and health-professional based requirement."

Katz and Gregory said each mountain under their jurisdiction will be operating slightly differently based on its state and local ordinances. Some mountains may require operating at a limited daily capacity, others may just need to scale back their dining and lodging facilities.

According to public health expert, educator and researcher of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, Lindsey Leininger, skiing isn't a huge risk of transmission.

"Skiing is outdoors," Leininger, who is also an avid skier, told ABC News. "Skiing, you're pretty covered up, right? So you're not having close indoor social contact. So, it's all of the stuff around skiing that injects a lot of risks."

It's the ski lodges, ski social events, bars, lunch stops, hot chocolate breaks and crowded indoor spaces that are dangerous, she said.

Right now, because of the limited indoor dining options, skiers and boarders are enjoying their lunches in parking lots, using their trunks as both table and chair as if it was the 1970s again.

Leininger has also suggested avoiding indoor gatherings, hopping on flights and renting condos with people outside of your COVID-19 bubble.

If too many COVID-19 spikes are linked back to ski resorts, both Katz and Gregory are prepared to shut down again.

"If we think that the right decision is to close the resort, either temporarily or permanently -- if that's necessary to put the health and safety of our guests and employees and communities first -- we absolutely will do that," Katz said.

A mountain town struggles to find the balance

"To be clear, there will be people that come down with COVID everywhere, including ski resorts," Gregory of Alterra told ABC News.

Katz agreed. But they have both said they've taken lessons from last spring and applied those as they prepared for this season.

Mountains will have beds and rooms for quarantining set aside, contact tracing will occur and mountains are in "constant communication" with their local community partners to coordinate and plan for when an outbreak does happen, Gregory said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many mountain towns were hit hard financially. According to Gregory, some towns where Alterra operates reached almost 80% unemployment.

Mammoth Mountain, which is owned and operated by Alterra, is one of Southern California's largest ski resorts.

"And businesses need to be open past a certain percentage to be viable,' the Mammoth Lakes mayor said. "(But) we also need to make sure that our local front line workers are getting some type of protection."

Sauser said for the mountain and town to both stay open, testing becomes imperative and mask-wearing is a must. The town of Mammoth has gone so far as to create a local ordinance to force mask wearing. A failure to comply with the mask-wearing policies is a "crime punishable by fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both," according to a county order.

Public health expert Leininger reiterated that traveling to a small mountain village, like Mammoth, could lead to a deadly outbreak.

"A lot of these mountain towns do not have health care capacity to deal with a COVID surge," Leininger said. "If you feel sick, you should not be traveling."

With roughly 8,000 people, Mammoth only had 14 hospital beds and two ICU rooms at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Sauser. They've since doubled their capacity.

But the town's positivity rate has been hovering around 20%, according to a local official, so the restrictions remain stiff.

The county Mammoth Lakes is in serves as a recreation base for Southern California. Nearly three to four million people visit each year, according to Sauser. To limit urbanites from traveling to the town and potentially infecting locals, Mammoth has banned short-term rentals.

This move has directly damaged the income of local businesses, according to Karen Crabb, an owner of multiple stores in town.

"There's not a lot of people here," Crabb told ABC News. "We're virtually locked down. We can't have any lodging here, it's vacation homeowners only. So, our traffic is way, way down. And it's challenging."

Crabb estimated that about 10 local businesses have gone under in Mammoth since the pandemic began. At least three of those were on her block.

"The government isn't letting you run your business anymore," Crabb told ABC News. "They're actually running our business for us."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Athleta By ZOE MOORE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Athleta just took a step toward more size inclusivity.

The athletic apparel company announced it is extending sizing from 1X to 3X.

The company is also introducing size-inclusive mannequins at all 200 of its stores to display the new sizes.

"We spent two years fitting and wear-testing with women sizes 18-26 to ensure performance and comfort. We’re really excited that our customers can shop across our assortment -- both online and in our 200 stores -- and choose pieces that make them feel most confident,” Jana Henning, head of product design at Athleta, said in a statement to ABC News' Good Morning America.

The expansion currently applies to 350 styles across the collection, with plans for 70% of the Spring 2021 collection to be available in extended sizing.

"Our extended sizing expansion brings to life our mission of inclusivity and empowering a community of healthy, active and confident women and girls,” Henning added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Facebook said Thursday it was referring the decision to indefinitely suspend Donald Trump's account to its newly-formed oversight board to make the final call on what will happen to the former president's accounts.

The board was created to operate independently of Facebook, though Facebook is funding it with an initial commitment of $130 million, according to a company blog post from December 2019. The board took on its first cases a year later, this past December.

Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts were indefinitely suspended by Facebook on Jan. 7, just one day after a mob of pro-Trump supporters conducted a violent siege on the U.S. Capitol building. At the time, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg cited risk of violence and said the suspensions of Trump's accounts would last at least "until the peaceful transition of power is complete."

On Thursday, a day after Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the U.S., a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News in a statement that it is handing the final decision on Trump's account to its oversight board "for their binding review."

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs and communications, emphasized in a company blog post Thursday that the board's decision "can’t be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook."

"We believe our decision was necessary and right," Clegg added. "Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld."

Clegg added that Trump's account will remain suspended while they await the board's decision.

In a statement on its website, the oversight board outlined how it will make its decision, saying a five-member review panel will study the case and reach an initial decision. Once that group shares its decision with the entire board, it will require sign-off by a majority of the board members.

"Our Members are leaders in fields including human rights, law, journalism and technology, come from many different communities, and represent a wide range of views and beliefs," the statement added. "We believe that our Members, working through a strong and independent oversight process, can ensure decisions are made in a more principled and transparent way than what Facebook can deliver alone."

The statement said the members will decide whether Trump's content violated Facebook's Community Standards and will also consider whether the removal of the content involved in the case "respected international human rights standards, including on freedom of expression and other human rights."

Trump, through administrators, will have the ability to submit a statement to the oversight board explaining why he believes the decision should be overturned, the board added. The board will also "open a process for all interested individuals and organizations to submit public comments to share any insights and perspectives with the Board that they believe will assist with making a decision."

Finally, the oversight board said once it reaches a decision, Facebook will have up to seven days to implement it.

Fellow social media giant Twitter, meanwhile, said it was permanently suspending Trump's account. In a wide-ranging thread on Twitter last week, chief executive Jack Dorsey stood by the decision but added that the action sets a "dangerous" precedent.

The big tech clampdown on Trump's social media accounts earlier this month sparked debate and backlash even among Trump's critics.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


YuanruLi/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Cubed, spiralized and pre-cut chunks of butternut squash are being recalled by two brands over listeria contamination concerns.

Lancaster Foods LLC said the recalled products have "the potential to be contaminated with Listeria Monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems."

Twelve different butternut squash products were recalled. The products were sold in retail stores in North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

No illnesses have been reported, according to the Food and Drug Administration, and consumers who have purchased the affected items are urged to throw them away or return them for a full refund.

Out of an abundance of caution, Lancaster Foods also temporarily halted production of the items as the company and the FDA investigate the source of the issue.

Check here for the full list of all 12 recalled products, including UPC information, expiration dates and package size details.

Earlier this month, Pero Family Farms Food Company also issued a voluntary product recall of its butternut squash trays over the same concerns.

Similarly, no illnesses have yet to be reported. The recall, initiated on Jan. 14, was the result of notification of possible listeria contamination from Race West Company, a supplier of butternut squash to Pero Family Farms.

The brand halted production until the investigation is completed. Consumers are encouraged to return any affected products for a full refund out of an abundance of caution.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


vivalapenler/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- After rumors and speculation swirled that Jack Ma was allegedly missing, the Alibaba founder and Chinese billionaire has resurfaced in an online video.

After Ma's reappearance video was shared online Wednesday, Alibaba stock soared by more than 7%. It had pulled back a bit by Thursday morning but was still up more than 4%.

Ma was last seen in public in November. Sources previously confirmed to ABC News that Ma was fine and keeping a low profile. Rumors quickly swirled online, however, that he was missing after he spoke out against China's financial system and regulations at a Shanghai business forum on Oct. 24.

"What we need is to build a healthy financial system, not systematic financial risks," he said at the forum. "To innovate without risks is to kill innovation. There's no innovation without risks in the world."

In attendance was China's Vice Premier Liu He, one of the country's top economic leaders.

After his comments, Chinese regulators put a hold on the much-hyped initial public offering of Ant Group, an Alibaba-affiliated financial technology firm.

Ma, meanwhile, was not seen in public for months -- until his video appearance on Wednesday.

In the 50-second video, Ma spoke with 100 rural teachers for an awards ceremony honoring rural educators.

The video was first reported by Tianmu News, a news service run by one of China's largest publishers, the Zhejiang Daily Group.

In the short video, Ma congratulated the award-winning teachers and promised to "meet" them again when the pandemic is over.

Ma has a net worth of more than $54 billion, according to Bloomberg's real-time data on billionaires.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


courtneyk/iStockBy ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Some 900,000 workers in the United States lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. 

This is a decrease of 26,000 jobless claims compared to the previous week.

The Department of Labor said Thursday that nearly 16 million people were still claiming some form of unemployment benefits through all government programs as of the week ending Jan. 2. During the same week last year, that figure was 2.2 million.

The coronavirus pandemic as well as measures to curb the virus’ spread have gutted the U.S. labor market. Before the pandemic hit, in February 2020, the national unemployment rate was at a half-century low of 3.5%. As of last month, the unemployment rate was 6.7%.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- Amazon sent a letter to newly inaugurated President Joe Biden on Wednesday offering to use its vast resources to assist with federal COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

"Congratulations to you and Vice President Harris on your inauguration," the letter, signed by Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Dave Clark, stated. "As you begin your work leading the country out of the COVID-19 crisis, Amazon stands ready to assist you in reaching your goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of your administration."

The letter added that Amazon has over 800,000 employees in the U.S. -- making it the nation's second-largest employer -- and most are essential workers who cannot work from home. It urged that those essential workers, including those at Whole Foods Markets, "should receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the earliest appropriate time" and pledged to "assist them in that effort."

"We have an agreement in place with a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to administer vaccines on-site at our Amazon facilities," Clark added. "We are prepared to move quickly once vaccines are available. Additionally, we are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration's vaccination efforts."

Clark added that their scale "allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19."

The e-commerce giant's offer to help the government notably comes the day Donald Trump departs office.

In October of last year, Amazon revealed in a blogpost that 19,816 front-line employees (out of 1,372,000) had tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19 between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 19, 2020. The company said it has said it has invested million in its pandemic response to protect its employees, but the response has still courted controversy from some workers.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Funfetti fans rejoice! A whole new lineup of the classic baking mixes filled with Oreo cookie pieces hits shelves next month.

Pillsbury Baking unveiled an entire new Funfetti Oreo line that combines the two iconic brands in five new products, including brownie mix, vanilla and chocolate cake mixes and pancake and waffle mix.

The sweet new crossover has a mix of dark cocoa and vanilla creme flavors that keep true to America's favorite cookie.

Dan Anglemyer, chief operating officer of Hometown Food Company, said loyal fans of the brand have "been adding Oreo cookies to their baked creations for years" which inspired the company to create the new portfolio of products.

"Funfetti is a celebration of fun, surprise moments and continues to grow in popularity as families spend more time baking together at home," he said in a statement. "Whether you’re biting into a cupcake with colorful sprinkles or enjoying real Oreo cookie pieces on top of a brownie, Funfetti creates delicious, fun moments for the whole family."

To further celebrate the new cookie-filled inventory, Funfetti will host a digital baking competition judged by celebrity pastry chef Duff Goldman and TikTok baking star Matthew Merril.

Home bakers can sign up online from Jan. 19 to Jan. 26 to participate in the competition hosted by the Cham City Cakes owner and former Kids Baking Championship contestant.

Contestants will create a unique baked good using the new Funfetti Oreo collection and the winner will receive a one-year supply of products or $500 cash. Plus, the winning recipe will be featured on An Instagram Live baking demo with the winner will take place too.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(OLYMPIA, Wash.) -- Washington state has announced a new robust public-private partnership featuring corporations headquartered in the state -- including Starbucks, Microsoft and Costco -- to boost its vaccine distribution efforts.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the new effort, dubbed the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center, during a news conference Monday. The governor added that he has the "ambitious goal" of creating the infrastructure necessary to vaccinate 45,000 people per day.

"We can’t reach that goal unless we get more doses, obviously, from the federal government," Inslee said. "We are advised that those doses will increase over the next several months, and we want to make sure that we have capacity to vaccinate folks in a timely fashion when that increased production occurs."

To reach that goal, Inslee said the state is tapping into the expertise of Washington business leaders and labor unions, with each of these stakeholders focusing on a different aspect of vaccine distribution.

Coffee chain Starbucks, for example, will aid with operational efficiency, scalable modeling and human-centered design of distribution centers, according to a statement from Inslee's office.

Microsoft will aid with technology support, and Costco will be tasked with vaccine delivery by pharmacies.

In addition, Kaiser Permanente is aiding in planning for mass vaccination centers and distribution.

Labor unions including SEIU Healthcare 1199NW will coordinate sending volunteer vaccinators to locations where they are most needed, and the UFCW 21 will aid with staffing and training coordination of vaccinators.

"This is a massive effort, and as noble as any cause will be in 2021,” Inslee said. "We are removing as many impediments as possible to Washingtonians getting vaccinated. We are going to deliver every dose that comes into our state. We will still be dependent on the federal government for doses, but we are doing everything we can once it gets here."

Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said at the news conference Monday that building up vaccination capacity "puts us in a position to play offense with this global pandemic."

"We are not a health care company, but Starbucks does operate 33,000 stores at scale, serving 100 million customers a week, and we have a world class team of human-centered design engineers," he added.

Johnson called the pandemic "a time for all of us as citizens and as businesses to come together."

Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, added in a statement that he applauds the state's "critical steps to accelerate vaccine distribution."

"Microsoft is one of many local companies lending a hand with the confidence that, together, we can move faster to defeat this virus," Smith said.

Today I announced that Washington is ready to move to the next tier in our vaccine rollout.

We are also expanding this tier to include people who are 65 and older, and people over 50 in multigenerational households.

— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 19, 2021

In addition to the revamped vaccination distribution plans, Inslee also announced new requirements for vaccination providers, effective immediately.

Those new requirements include mandating that 95% of vaccine allocations be administered within a week of receipt and that every dose received prior to this week be administered by Jan. 24. In addition, providers must submit vaccine data to the state within 24 hours of administration, and daily information on dosages (such as quantity and number administered) must be submitted to the state's Department of Health.

As of Sunday, health officials in the state where the virus first appeared in the U.S. have reported a total of 277,404 confirmed cases and 3,903 deaths.

Washington's sweeping vaccination plans come amid a chaotic national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines marred by confusion, long lines and broken websites.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- With the government set to issue a new round of business loans as part of its latest COVID-19 relief bill, struggling small businesses, like Thereasa Black’s gelato shop, are hoping for more than a miracle.

Black opened the gelato store in Arlington, Virginia, in December 2019 -- soon after returning home from a 13-month deployment in the Navy reserves. Her business is more than that, though; it also fulfills a promise that she made to her 4-year-old daughter Isabella.

“It means everything to me, honestly,” said Black. “This company is literally my promise to her that I'm never going to leave her again.”

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the possibility of losing what she had worked so hard for became all the more apparent. Black said that during the entire month of April 2020, her business had made only a day’s worth, or 10%, of pre-pandemic sales.

“I saw everything crumbling, and then it was a question of like, ‘What now?’” she said.

Black said she applied for grants and applied for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program in April, which aims to help small business owners like her stay afloat. After a painstaking application process, Black said she was approved for only $2,000. She said it wasn’t even enough to cover one month’s rent.

“I was furious,” said Black. In the end, Black said she was denied the PPP loan because she had applied for it through multiple lenders even though she had been advised to do so.

“It was crazy to me that I'm reading like, this company got $2 million ... and it's just like, is this a joke?”

Restaurant chains like like Shake Shack, Ruth’s and Chris Steak House came under fire last year after they received $10 million or more in PPP loans. They have since returned the money.

Billions of dollars from the first round of loans through the Paycheck Protection Program went to wealthy and well-connected businesses that were more likely to be white-owned, according to data released by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which manages the program, as reported by ABC News.

“It was really intended to be a lifeline for small businesses,” said Ashley Harrington, Federal Advocacy Director of the Center for Responsible Lending. “However, there were, from the outset, structural flaws with this program, structural barriers.”

The SBA also extended the PPP loans to nonprofit groups, which normally wouldn’t qualify through the agency. In all, the federal government gave more than $7 billion in loans to religious organizations.

Although some argue granting them loans under the program was appropriate as churches are employers and service providers, law professor Micah Schwartzman of the University of Virginia says it’s not that simple.

"What makes our PPP different [from] past funding programs is the direct financing of religious operations and religious institutions,” said Schwartzman. “It changes the landscape of how the federal government [and] state governments relate to religious organizations."

“The public perception is that some organizations that have financial means should not have taken the money, even if they were eligible for it,” he added.

Megachurches, where pastors are sometimes worth millions of dollars, were also able to qualify for PPP. Data from the SBA showed churches led by Evangelical TV stars received anywhere from $250,000 to $5 million in loans.

Multi-millionaire Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church received $4.4 million in PPP loans, while Robert Jeffress’ First Baptist Dallas received $2.2 million and Joyce Meyers Ministries received $5 million.

Lakewood Church and Joyce Meyers Ministries told ABC News that the money from the loans was used to save hundreds of jobs and that the pastors did not receive any of the money themselves. First Baptist did not return a request for comment from ABC News.

Schwartzman pointed out that there was “no serious political or public opposition” to religious organizations being eligible for PPP loans like other nonprofits.

“I think most people understand that these are special circumstances during the pandemic, and so there wasn’t any major public outcry about this,” he said.

He said the “objection” to megachurches receiving the loans is similar to that of large corporations receiving the loans. “They didn’t need this money, which was really designated for small businesses that were hurting,” he said.

With the PPP program now reopened and more people with a critical eye on its lending, the SBA did not respond to specific questions from ABC News.

In a press release, the agency said that it is "calling upon its lending partners to redouble their efforts to assist eligible borrowers in underserved and disadvantaged communities."

It has also set aside funds specifically for businesses with 10 employees or fewer, according to the press release.

Now, Black is one of many other business owners back in line to apply for loans and demand change from the PPP program in order to save their businesses.

“I mean, reality is that we can't write the rules,” she said. “But we can try to demand something better.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- President-elect Joe Biden's energy secretary pick, Jennifer Granholm, has disclosed millions of dollars of investments in corporate and private business interests, including millions in companies linked to the energy industry, as lawmakers prepare to consider her nomination.

The former two-term Michigan governor and her husband, Daniel Mulhern, reported owning from $4.4 million up to $16.8 million in corporate interests and private assets like residential real estate properties, according to her new financial disclosure report released by the Office of Government Ethics on Monday.

Among her biggest assets are $1 million to $5 million worth of stock options she can exercise in Proterra Inc., a company that designs and manufactures zero-emission electric buses and trucks and provides battery-electric buses and charging systems to municipalities in several states, including California, Virginia and Washington state. She also owns a large amount of unvested shares of the company's stock options, the value of which is not readily ascertainable, according to the report.

Granholm, who sits on the company's board of directors, wrote in her ethics agreement filed with the disclosure report that she will step down from her position with the company upon her confirmation as energy secretary, and will divest from the vested stock options and forfeit unvested stock options in the company. She also said she'll recuse herself from matters related to Proterra until one year after her resignation from the company's board.

Granholm joins a series of Biden nominees who have ties to corporate and private interests, which have raised concerns over potential conflict of interest.

Late last month, secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken reported making more than $1 million from his consulting firm WestExec Advisors, and entered an agreement to divest from the firm, according to his disclosures. Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen reported making more than $7 million in speaking fees from banks and large companies over the last two years, according to her filings.

"One of the things we're seeing already with the Biden administration is that there are a lot of folks with ties to industries or ties to the private sector of what they are going to oversee or regulate once they move into government," said Delaney Marsco, ethics legal counsel at Washington-based good government group Campaign Legal Center. "It's something we've definitely been on alert for because the Trump administration has been so horrendous with the revolving door."

Cabinet members under President Donald Trump have faced a range of conflict-of-interest concerns over the last four years. Trump's first Energy Secretary Rick Perry joined the Trump administration in 2017 with deep ties to the oil and gas industry, and his successor, Dan Brouillette, had a long history with the automobile industry. Similarly, Trump's Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist, and Trump's Interior Department is run by former oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt.

"I think some of the problems with the Trump administration were, there were a lot of industry ties, a lot of hesitance to divest the financial interests, a lot of lobbyists, former lobbyists coming in," Marsco said. "I haven't seen as much of that, particularly with the former lobbyists coming into the [new] administration."

"But it's also not good enough for us to just say he's not going to be as bad as the Trump administration so we can let him off the hook if one or two people have a conflict of interest," Marsco said. "That's absolutely not going to be what we're doing. We are responsible for holding the Biden administration accountable as we hold the Trump administration accountable for any conflict of interest, however big or small. And so I think there will be things that crop up, and we are definitely on the lookout for them."

"President-elect Biden has said that one of the biggest charges facing his administration is restoring faith in American government," a Biden transition team official told ABC News. "The incoming administration will continue to adhere to the high ethical standards established during the campaign and carried into the transition, [and] appointees and nominees will be aligned with the values and policy priorities of the president and vice president-elect.

Granholm did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Granholm's ties to corporate interests in the energy field are expected to receive particularly close scrutiny during her confirmation, as she would have a hand in carrying out Biden's proposed climate policy as part of her role. That $2 trillion proposal includes moving the country to carbon-pollution-free power by 2035, and investing heavily in infrastructure and the auto industry.

Her work as the next energy secretary could also lead to potential conflicts with her interests in several other companies tied to the industry, including investments in North Carolina-based electric-power holding company Duke Energy, solar-panel manufacturing company First Solar, Inc., and an investment company that focuses on climate solutions and renewable energy called Hannon Armstrong.

Those shares are owned through a consulting company that Granholm co-owns with her husband, which also manages investments in various other companies like Pfizer, Bank of America and AT&T. Granholm wrote in her ethics agreement that she will divest from her interest in those companies within 90 days after her confirmation, and that Granholm Mulhern Associates, the firm co-owned with her husband, will cease providing consulting and leadership services, while continuing to "manage investments that are held in a corporate brokerage account and a profit-sharing defined contribution plan." Granholm earned $1 million in salary and "business income" from Granholm Mulhern Associates over the last two years.

She also suggested in her ethics agreement that despite her break from those companies, her husband is expected to continue making corporate investments and consulting through a new firm solely owned by him. She said she will not participate in any matter involving her husband's clients unless authorized to do so.

Marsco said Granholm's promise to recuse herself from matters related to her husband's clients is "boilerplate" language for ethics agreements, and that Granholm is "not going above and beyond what the law is" -- though Marsco added that the measures Granholm has taken are "good for the laws we have on the books right now."

"I think one of the hard things with this is, it's very hard to know what people are actually participating in, and particularly when you're very high up, likely you're more or less participating in everything one way or another," Marsco said. "A lot of this stuff doesn't come to light until people file [Freedom of Information Act requests] and get answers back ... so it's hard to know exactly what these folks are doing and whether or not it's violating the law in real time."

"We want more proactive disclosure," Marsco said. "We want better laws on the books that make these kinds of things harder to hide and conceal."

Over the last two years, Granholm has earned six figures in salary and retainer fees as a political contributor at CNN and at the liberal nonprofit organizations American Bridge Foundation and Media Matters for America, according to the report. She also raked in more than $170,000 from various speaking engagements, which included appearances at events hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Capital Group, and the American Hospital Association. Her salary as an adjunct professor at the University of California Berkeley was roughly $114,000, and she also reported owning between $1 million and $5 million in residential real estate assets in Oakland, California.

The Office of Government Ethics on Saturday also released disclosure forms and ethics agreements from Biden's transportation secretary nominee, Pete Buttigieg, and Biden's pick for Veterans Affairs secretary, Denis McDonough.

Buttigieg reported earning between $470,000 and $1.4 million from book deals over the last two years, and also received several lucrative six-figure and five-figure compensation deals through a podcast series and a faculty fellow post at Notre Dame University.

McDonough also received multiple six-figure salaries from several employers, including Notre Dame University, a private foundation called the Markle Foundation, and a consulting firm called Macro Advisory Partners. His consulting clients include companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Apple, MasterCard, PWC Global and Deutsche Telecom.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Kativ/iStockBy JOEL LYONS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- We've been taught to expect the unexpected, and when it comes to finances, the best way to do that is with an emergency fund.

An emergency fund contains cash for unforeseen moments "that throw your life into financial uncertainty and disarray," said Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News' chief business and economics correspondent. These could include a death in the family, a debilitating illness, a divorce or a job loss.

"Life is full of surprises and sometimes they have a giant price tag," Jarvis said.

How much should you save in your emergency fund?

Jarvis points out that emergency funds should be for "hurricanes" as opposed to "rainy day" inconveniences such as car repairs or broken appliances or phones.

"You want to look at your weekly budget -- how much are you spending on food and groceries? What is the cost of electricity and utilities? How much do you have to pay for rent or your mortgage? These are all necessities, things that you would have to make payments on in order to keep the status quo," Jarvis said.

She recommends building up six months' worth of these expenses for your emergency fund.

"But if you can't get there right away, at least [try to] have three months worth of savings to cover all the necessities," Jarvis said, noting that if you have children or job instability, you may eventually wish to save a larger padding.

If that total is a challenge, "it can be helpful to start with a smaller number, like $500, which can still be crucial in getting you through a difficult time," said Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, who shared a calculator that can help determine an amount you can strive to reach.

"The goal here is to give yourself that cushion so that you're not shouldering the financial burden, along with the emotional burden, of these major lifestyle changes," Jarvis said.

"Knowing that the money is there if you need it creates a peace of mind and a freedom to live in the present and not be thinking constantly about what happens in the future if you don't have this safety net," she said.

Where to put your money and how to save

Even though your emergency fund is a last resort, that money should be ready to deploy at a moment's notice, Jarvis said.

A savings account or a money market fund are options to contain your emergency fund, as are CDs, 401(k)s or even IRAs, but some of these can have fees associated with them for early withdrawals.

As far as contributing toward your emergency fund, Jarvis suggests making it a part of your budget.

"Give a little to that emergency fund every week, every month, until you get to the point where you have those six months of savings on hand," she said, further suggesting tracking and celebrating your progress along the way.

And if you're carrying a lot of debt, Jarvis recommends building your emergency savings, even if you have to scale back on debt payments.

"You should be building out that emergency fund before you build out anything else, because it is going to be the underpinnings of having some degree of security and knowing that if the unforeseen crops up, you have the ability to take care of yourself and your family," she said.

"Having that emergency savings fund can help prevent you from accruing even more debt if you face an unexpected emergency," Palmer added.

"If you don't have an emergency savings fund or you've depleted your emergency savings fund, create that line item, that small amount in your budget where you are consistently setting a little bit of money aside so that when and if you need it again in the future, you have it," Jarvis said.

Additionally, Palmer suggests taking a look at your spending on "wants" each month, which can include eating out, subscriptions, clothing, etc.

"If you can cut back on those categories and redirect the money into savings instead, it can be a great way to build up your emergency fund," she said, noting the 50/30/20 budget plan to assess and reallocate your funds.
Protect your hard work

"In general, you should keep your emergency fund for true emergencies and have other [long-term and short-term] savings accounts for other goals, such as vacations or big purchases," Palmer said. "Keeping it in a savings account designated for emergencies instead of your daily checking account can be one way to help keep it separate."

And also make sure you're assessing "emergencies" with a clear head.

"Here's a good barometer: Consider whether you actually need something to survive. If you don't, it's not an emergency," Jarvis said.

"Building an emergency savings takes work and the last thing you want is to undo all of that hard work with a decision on the fly," Jarvis added. "Going on a cruise is not an emergency."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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