New Yorkers stood in line for the Covid-19 test in Times Square on December 26, 2021, as the omicron variant continued to spread.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Omicron is causing more disruption to the US economy.
It could make Washington’s lawmakers reconsider emergency relief strategies from earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Talks on Capitol Hill have turned to possible help for small businesses, restaurants, gyms and venues that have been hardest hit by this new wave, said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst at Raymond James.
“The conversation has not yet been extended to include help for individuals,” Mills said. “But it’s gone from something that’s not going to happen to something we have to see.”
The United States reached a record one-day record for Covid cases this week, with more than 1 million new infections reported.
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Yet some federal emergency assistance measures to help individuals and families – namely extended unemployment benefits and three sets of stimulus checks – are no longer in force.
This time, legislators may not want to revisit the same strategies.
The reason: The pandemic has changed, and so has the US economy.
While the early days of the pandemic were marked by high unemployment and record-breaking layoffs, it has now shifted in favor of the workers.
“With millions of job openings not being filled, Congress will be reluctant to provide anything that could be seen as a deterrent to occupying those positions,” Mills said.
However, this does not mean that there is no help to be had.
States and localities are still sitting on $ 90 billion from the U.S. Rescue Planning Act passed last year, according to Dave Kamper, senior state policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute.
They are slated to get $ 150 billion more later in the spring. Schools received $ 120 billion, much of which may not have been spent, he added.
“We will not solve this pandemic by having ARPA money sitting in a bank account,” Kamper said. “We want to rectify the pandemic by using the ARPA money, and there are a wealth of good ways to spend it.”
One way states can help is by giving paid sick and family leave to workers now that federal measures have expired. While some states like New York do this, several could add these programs to help alleviate the burdens of the pandemic, Kamper said.
Providing paid leave can help inspire more workers who are unable to take time off to be vaccinated, he said.
States could also set up one-time payments to residents – either as an incentive to get vaccinated or as paid free to get the vaccine, he said.
They could also move to strengthen unemployment insurance, though large-scale efforts still had to be handled by the federal government, Kamper said.
On Capitol Hill, more help for individuals could already be underway through the proposed extension of the extended child tax deduction.
Eligible families received monthly payments of up to $ 300 per child in 2021. The last payments were implemented in December and will not continue unless Congress passes the Build Back Better Act.
Democrats hope to pass that bill through a simple majority known as Reconciliation. But these efforts have stalled. Late. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, has said he would like to see extended credit have stricter targeting requirements.
“The conversation about individuals really starts with what to do with the child tax deduction,” Mills said.