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ATLANTA (AP) — An arctic blast eased its grip on much of the U.S. on Wednesday, with winds calming and the weather warming slightly a day after temperature records — some more than a century-old — shattered up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

In Atlanta, where a record low of 6 degrees hit early Tuesday, fountains froze over, a 200-foot Ferris wheel shut down and Southerners had to dig out winter coats, hats and gloves they almost never have to use. It shouldn't take too long to thaw out, though. The forecast Wednesday was sunny and 42 degrees.

In the Midwest and East, where brutal polar air has lingered over the past few days, temperatures climbed but were still expected to be below freezing.

In Indianapolis, Timolyn Johnson-Fitzgerald returned to her home after spending the night in a shelter with her three children because they lost power to their apartment. The water lines were working, but much of the food she bought in preparation for the storm was ruined from a combination of thawing and then freezing during the outage.

"All my eggs were cracked, the cheese and milk was frozen. And the ice cream had melted and then refroze. It's crazy, but we're just glad to be back home," she said.

On Tuesday, the mercury plunged into the single digits and teens from Boston and New York to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Little Rock — places where many people don't know the first thing about extreme cold.

"I didn't think the South got this cold," said Marty Williams, a homeless man, originally from Chicago, who took shelter at a church in Atlanta. "That was the main reason for me to come down from up North, from the cold, to get away from all that stuff."

The cold turned deadly for some: Authorities reported at least 21 cold-related deaths across the country since Sunday, including seven in Illinois and six in Indiana. At least five people died after collapsing while shoveling snow, while several victims were identified as homeless people who either refused shelter or didn't make it to a warm haven soon enough.

In Missouri on Monday, a 1-year-old boy was killed when the car he was riding in struck a snow plow, and a 20-year-old woman was killed in a separate crash after her car slid on ice and into the path of a tractor-trailer.

In a phenomenon that forecasters said is actually not all that unusual, all 50 states saw freezing temperatures at some point Tuesday. That included Hawaii, where it was 18 degrees atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano.

It was 1 degree in Reading, Pa., and 2 in Trenton, N.J. New York City plummeted to 4 degrees; the old record for the date was 6, set in 1896.

"It's brutal out here," said Spunkiy Jon, who took a break from her sanitation job in New York to smoke a cigarette in the cab of a garbage truck. "Your fingers freeze off after three minutes, your cheeks feel as if you're going to get windburn, and you work as quick as you can."

Farther south, Birmingham, Ala., dipped to a low of 7, four degrees colder than the old mark, set in 1970. Huntsville, Ala., dropped to 5, Nashville, Tenn., got down to 2, and Little Rock, Ark., fell to 9. Charlotte, N.C., reached 6 degrees, breaking the 12-degree record that had stood since 1884.

The big chill started in the Midwest over the weekend, caused by a kink in the "polar vortex," the strong winds that circulate around the North Pole. The icy air covered about half the country by Tuesday, but it was moving north, returning more normal and warmer weather to most of the country. This weekend, it was expected to be in the 50s in New York and even higher in places farther south along the Eastern Seaboard.

The deep freeze dragged on in the Midwest. More than 500 Amtrak passengers were stranded overnight on three Chicago-bound trains that were stopped by blowing and drifting snow in Illinois. Food ran low, but the heat stayed on.

On Tuesday, many schools and day care centers across the eastern half of the U.S. were closed and officials opened shelters for the homeless and anyone else who needed a warm place.

With the bitter cold slowing baggage handling and aircraft refueling, airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights in the U.S., bringing the four-day total to more than 11,000.

The Lower 48 states, when averaged out, reached a low of 13.8 degrees overnight Monday, according to calculations by Ryan Maue of Weather Bell Analytics. An estimated 190 million people in the U.S. were subjected to the polar vortex's icy blast.

Still, farmers worried about their crops.

Diane Cordeau of Kai-Kai Farm in Indiantown, Fla., about 90 miles north of Miami, had to pick her squash and tomatoes Monday to beat the freeze but said her leafy vegetables, such as kale, will be sweeter and tastier because of the cold.

"I'm the queen of lettuce around here, so the colder the better," said Cordeau, whose farm serves high-end restaurants that request specific produce or organic vegetables.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid that serves more than 61 million people in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and South, asked users to conserve electricity because of the cold, especially in the morning and late afternoon.

Across the South, the Tennessee Valley Authority said power demand in the morning reached the second-highest winter peak in the history of the Depression-era utility. Temperatures averaged 4 degrees across the utility's seven-state region.

In South Carolina, a large utility used 15-minute rolling blackouts to handle demand, but there were no reports of widespread outages in the South.

Natural gas demand in the U.S. set a record Tuesday, eclipsing the mark set a day earlier, according to Jack Weixel, director of energy analysis at Bentek Energy.

___

Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md.; Brett Zongker in Washington, D.C.; Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Ky.; Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola, Fla.; Suzette Laboy in Indiantown, Fla.; Verena Dobnik in New York; and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

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   WASHINGTON (AP) — More than a million Americans lost their unemployment benefits late last month, when a temporary federal program expired. Congress is debating whether to restore the aid for three more months.
 
   A bill to do so cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday. But final passage remains unclear. Democrats say extending the aid would boost hiring and economic growth. But many Republicans say the benefits discourage the unemployed from seeking work and would widen the federal budget gap.
 
Some questions and answers about what's at stake for the U.S. economy:
 
Q. Who's affected?
 
A. Nearly 1.4 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months. No longer can people continue to receive checks longer than that. Hundreds of thousands of others will lose their benefits in coming weeks, when they, too, will max out on the six months of unemployment benefits that most states provide.
 
Q. What did the expired program provide?
 
A. Starting at the end of 2008, it gave unemployment payments to people who had exhausted their state benefits. In some cases, people were able to collect aid for nearly two years.
 
Q. Why have some Americans needed benefits for so long?
 
A. Mainly because the job market has remained weak even though the Great Recession officially ended more than 4½ years ago. Many Americans have been unemployed for well beyond six months. More than 5 million jobs were shed in 2009 alone. The national unemployment rate has dropped from a peak of 10 percent to 7 percent. But of the 10.3 million people who are still unemployed, nearly half have been without a job for more than six months, according to the Labor Department.
 
Q. Do extended benefits help the economy?
 
A. Many economists say they do. Unemployment checks help cover the rent, groceries and gasoline for millions of financially squeezed Americans, according to congressional Democrats. It boosts consumer spending and reduces dependence on other government welfare programs. All that lifts the economy slightly. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in December that continuing the benefits for a full year would add 200,000 jobs and 0.2 percentage points to economic growth in 2014. To put that in context: The economy added an average of fewer than 200,000 jobs a month during 2013. That said, the economic benefit of a three-month extension would be much less.
 
Q. What about critics who argue that these benefits, in effect, pay people not to work?
 
A. Not quite. To receive benefits, an unemployed person is supposed to actively look for work. And supporters note that the checks average $256 a week, which still keeps things pretty close to the poverty line. Congress has renewed the extended benefits each year. But unlike previous yearlong extensions of the emergency benefits, this continuation would be for just three months.
 
Q. What's the cost to taxpayers?
 
A. Extending the benefits for three months would cost $6.4 billion. Most congressional Republicans don't want that sum tacked onto the budget deficit. So they plan to negotiate for additional spending cuts.
 
Q. What happens to people when they lose their unemployment benefits?
 
A. Many basically drop out of the economy. Some apply for Social Security disability benefits to get by, according to academic research. Because of changes to its system, North Carolina began cutting unemployment aid in July. The state's unemployment rate dropped from 8.8 percent in June to 7.4 percent in November. But that's not because lots of people suddenly found jobs. Since they were no longer receiving benefits, many discouraged workers gave up their search and were no longer counted as unemployed. So the state's unemployment rate fell for the wrong reason.
 
Q. But critics say extended unemployment benefits can actually hurt the economy. Why?
 
A. The argument is that extended benefits keep the unemployed on the sidelines, waiting for that perfect job that almost never materializes. Research shows that many employers ignore jobseekers with gaps of more than six months in their resume. When people are out of work that long, their skills start to erode, as does their earning potential, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director who has advised Republicans. He calls the program "a mixed blessing." Holtz-Eakin notes that unemployment benefits were created during the Great Depression to address temporary layoffs. It was never intended to be a job re-training or anti-poverty program, he says.
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   NEW YORK (AP) — For more than 15 years, there were signs something was amiss with what federal prosecutors in Manhattan call the "703 account" at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
   Money was being transferred back and forth for no reason. The account holder was recording double-digit returns on investments that were too good to be true. The bank itself was worried enough about possible fraud to withdraw its own investments from him.
   The name on the account was Bernard Madoff and on Tuesday JPMorgan paid a steep price for keeping quiet about its suspicions.
   Federal authorities announced the nation's largest bank will add to its other costly financial woes by forfeiting a record $1.7 billion to settle criminal charges alleging it turned a blind eye to the Madoff fraud, plus pay an additional $543 million to settle civil claims by victims. It also will pay another $350 million civil penalty for what the Treasury Department called "critical and widespread deficiencies" in its programs to prevent money laundering and other suspicious activity.
   The bank failed to carry out its legal obligations to guard against money laundering while Madoff "built his massive house of cards," George Venizelos, head of the FBI's New York office, said at a news conference.
   Madoff banked at JPMorgan through what court papers referred to as the "703 account." In 2008, the bank's London desk circulated a memo describing JPMorgan's inability to validate his trading activity or custody of assets and his "odd choice" of a one-man accounting firm, the government said.
    In late October 2008, it filed a suspicious activity report with British officials. In the weeks that followed, JPMorgan withdrew about $300 million of its own money from Madoff feeder funds. The fraud was revealed when Madoff was arrested in December 2008.
   "Despite all these alarm bells, JPMorgan never closed or even seriously questioned Madoff's Ponzi-enabling 703 account," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "On the other hand, when it came to its own money, JPMorgan knew how to connect the dots and take action to protect itself against risk."
   In a statement, JPMorgan said it recognized it "could have done a better job pulling together various pieces of information and concerns about Madoff from different parts of the bank over time."
   It added: "We do not believe that any JPMorgan Chase employee knowingly assisted Madoff's Ponzi scheme."
   Prosecutors called the $1.7 billion the largest forfeiture by a U.S. bank and the largest Department of Justice penalty for a Bank Secrecy Act violation.
   The settlement includes a so-called deferred prosecution agreement that requires the bank to acknowledge failures in its protections against money laundering but also allows it to avoid criminal charges. No individual executives were accused of wrongdoing.
   The agreement resolves two felony violations of the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with the bank's relationship with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, the private investment arm of Madoff's former business. The civil penalty was imposed by the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
   Criminal charges will be deferred for two years as JPMorgan admits to its conduct, pays the $1.7 billion to a fund established for victims of Madoff's fraud and reforms its anti-money laundering policies, prosecutors said.
   A statement of facts included in the agreement describes internal communications at JPMorgan expressing concerns about how Madoff was generating his purported returns. As early as 1998, a JPMorgan fund manager wrote that the returns were "possibly too good to be true" and there were "too many red flags."
   In more recent years, executives were disturbed by the fact that Madoff wouldn't let the bank examine his books, the statement of facts says.
   "How much do we have in Madoff at the moment?" a bank analyst wrote in a 2008 email. "To be honest, the more I think about it, the more concerned I am."
   When Madoff finally revealed to the FBI that his investment advisory business was a Ponzi scheme, fictitious account statements for thousands of clients showed $60 billion in assets. Of the roughly $17.5 billion in principal that was real, most of it was gone.
   Since then, a court-appointed trustee has recovered more than $9.78 billion — including a portion of the JPMorgan civil payout — to redistribute to clients that invested directly with Madoff. The $1.7 billion criminal forfeiture and will go to a second victims' pool, already with $2.35 billion, that is processing claims from clients of so-called "feeder funds" that also invested heavily with Madoff.
   The JPMorgan settlement is the latest in a series of major deals it has made to resolve its legal troubles. In November, the bank agreed to pay $13 billion over risky mortgage securities it sold before the financial crisis — the largest settlement to date between the Justice Department and a corporation.
   The more than $2.5 billion that JPMorgan is paying comes from a company that reported $21.3 billion in net income for 2012. JPMorgan already has set aside $23 billion this year to cover settlement and litigation costs — including the $13 billion.
   The settlement of criminal charges "is good, but still inadequate to stop what can only be called a one-bank crime spree," said Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a group that advocates strict financial regulation.
   "Once again, not a single individual working for JPMorgan Chase has been held accountable. Banks do not commit crimes; bankers do," Kelleher said in a statement. "Until individuals, including executives, are held personally liable, fined and jailed, the crime spree will continue."
   Asked why no individual bankers were charged, Bharara said the settlement was the best option under the law.
   "Obviously, the statement of facts recites in great detail some of the roles that various individuals played with the overall systemic failure," he said. "But in the interest of justice, you've got to look at every case individually and our view was at this point the obvious charge was against the bank. ... This is a statute directed against institutional failure and institutional deterrence and that's why it was brought the way it was today."
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