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Tennessee aids 25,000 businesses

State officials say more than 70% of funds dedicated to helping companies in Tennessee struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic have gone to small businesses.

As of Wednesday, nearly $185 million had been distributed to more than 25,000 businesses as part of Tennessee's business relief program — an initiative funded by federal coronavirus aid dollars, said Department of Revenue Commissioner David Gerregano.

The deadline to apply for the money expired this week. However, Gov. Bill Lee's administration announced they plan on allocating an additional $50 million later this year for further business relief.

According to Gerregano, 70% of payments were issued to businesses with annual gross sales of $500,000 or less. Meanwhile, nearly 2,700 payments were made to minority-owned businesses while almost 4,700 payments were made to women-owned payments.

Payments for eligible businesses ranged from $2,500 to $30,000. The state has declined to release the names of companies that benefited from the program.

 

UnitedHealthcare expands Medicare Advantage plans

UnitedHealthcare is trying to grow its already large business selling Medicare Advantage health plans by adding 271 counties to its nationwide service area.

It's the company's largest expansion in five years and will grow its footprint by grow by about 16%, the insurer says, to a total of 2,117 counties.

UnitedHealthcare's push is just one of several changes for 2021 that insurers are announcing with the start Thursday of the annual marketing season for Medicare Advantage health plans as well as prescription drug plans that provide Part D benefits. Government rules allowed insurers on Thursday to start sharing plan details in advance of the annual open enrollment period, which begins Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7.

Medicare Advantage plans are a newer form of Medicare coverage, where beneficiaries elect to receive government-funded benefits via managed care plans run by private health insurers. The market has been a big source of growth and profits for health insurers; the plans often come with lower premiums, but advocates caution that Medicare Advantage plans often provide fewer choices in doctors and hospitals.

 

Long-term mortgage rates decline again

U.S. average rates on long-term mortgages edged down slightly this week, remaining at historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year home loan fell to 2.88% from 2.90% last week. One year ago, the rate averaged 3.65%.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage also fell, to 2.36% from 2.40% last week.

Low interest rates have made already strong demand for housing even more robust, but a lack of available supply has flummoxed would-be buyers.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors reported that the number of existing homes for sale in August was 1.49 million units, a decline of 18.6% from the same time last year. The dearth of inventory has also pushed prices higher, with the median price for both existing and new single-family homes pushing past $310,000.

 

Carnival Cruise Line cancels most 2020 cruises

Carnival Cruise Line is canceling most U.S. sailings through the end of this year. It's the latest sign that the cruise industry's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic could still be many months away.

The company says it's canceling sailings from all ports except its home ports of Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida, but it stressed that it still might not sail from those ports in November and December. Carnival's announcement came the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a ban on large cruises in U.S. waters through Oct. 31.

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