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Fourth stimulus checks not going as federal authorities grapples with omicron

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New Yorkers stood in line for Covid-19 tests in Times Square on December 26, 2021, when the Omicron variant became more widespread.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Omicron is causing further disruption to the American economy.

This could lead Washington lawmakers to rethink the relief strategies from earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conversations on Capitol Hill have become a potential aid to small businesses, restaurants, gyms and venues that are hardest hit by this new wave, said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst with Raymond James.

“The conversation hasn’t expanded to include individual assistance,” Mills said. “But it has gone from something that won’t happen to something that we have to watch.”

The US hit a one-day record of Covid cases this week, with more than 1 million new infections reported.

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However, some federal aid measures to support individuals and families – namely increased unemployment benefits and three packages of measures – are no longer in force.

This time around, lawmakers may not revisit the same strategies.

The reason: The pandemic has changed and with it the US economy.

While the early days of the pandemic were marked by high unemployment and record-breaking layoffs, this has now shifted in favor of workers.

“With millions of vacancies, Congress will be reluctant to offer anything that could be seen as a deterrent to filling those positions,” said Mills.

However, that doesn’t mean that no help is available.

According to Dave Kamper, Senior State Policy Coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute, states and communities are still sitting on $ 90 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed last year.

They are slated to get $ 150 billion more later this spring. Schools have received $ 120 billion, much of which may not have been spent, he added.

“We are not going to fix this pandemic with the ARPA money that is in a bank account,” said Kamper. “We’re going to fix the pandemic by spending the ARPA money and there are a lot of good ways to spend it.”

One way states could help is to give workers paid sick leave and family leave after federal measures have expired. While some states like New York do, more could add these programs to help ease the pressures from the pandemic, Kamper said.

Providing paid vacation could help inspire more workers who cannot take time off to get vaccinated, he said.

States could also create one-time payments for residents – either as an incentive to get vaccinated or as paid time off to get the vaccine, he said.

You could also move on to strengthening unemployment insurance, although great efforts still need to be made by the federal government, Kamper said.

More help for individuals could already be in the works on Capitol Hill on the proposed extension of the expanded child tax deduction.

Eligible families received monthly payments of up to $ 300 per child in 2021. The final payments were made in December and will not continue unless Congress passes the Build Back Better Act.

The Democrats hope to pass this bill by a simple majority known as reconciliation. But these efforts have stalled. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he wanted more stringent lending targeting requirements.

“The conversation about individuals really starts with what to do with the child tax break,” Mills said.

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