CNN – As Americans enter year three of the pandemic, they can expect to receive much less federal aid.
There will be no more stimulus checks. Reinforced unemployment benefits and guaranteed paid sick leave programs have expired. The latest round of expanded child tax credit payments was launched earlier this month, and the hiatus on student loan payments is expected to end in May after several extensions.
With the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the start of 2022 looks uncertain. Experts warn that the surge in Covid-19 cases will continue for at least a week, and some economists are lowering their forecasts for next year. Restaurants have slowed, thousands of flights have been canceled, and Broadway shows have been canceled.
But there is good news. Although Omicron is highly contagious, early research indicates that it will not cause serious illness in most people who are vaccinated and boosted. Before the new variant hit the United States, the unemployment rate fell to 4.2% in November, a new pandemic-era low, and early data shows Americans shopped more for the holidays this year.
And while efforts to pass President Joe Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better legislation have stalled in the face of opposition from moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, there is still a possibility that lawmakers will approve a scaled-down version that would provide more help to struggling Americans.
Congress passed three major Covid-19 relief programs in 2020 and 2021, authorizing approximately $ 5.7 trillion in federal spending. Most of that money has already been spent.
Federal aid already expired
Stimulus checks: Low- and middle-income households have received an estimated $ 817 billion in federal stimulus payments sent directly to their homes or to their bank account since March 2020. The money came in three rounds, the last of which has was sent in spring 2021.
Each round had slightly different qualifying parameters, but lawmakers purposely did not impose too many limitations on checks in order to withdraw the money as quickly as possible. Americans with the lowest incomes got the full amount, and the value gradually faded for those who earned more.
The first cycle of payments was worth up to $ 1,200 per person, the second cycle was worth up to $ 600 per person, and the third cycle of payments was worth up to $ 1,400.
Increase in unemployment benefits: Around the same time last year, unemployed people could expect several more months of improved unemployment benefits in the event of a pandemic, including a $ 300 increase in their weekly payments.
Congressional Democrats renewed the three pandemic programs under the American Rescue Plan Act again in March, but increased federal aid expired across the country on Labor Day.
In addition to providing additional weekly payments, Congress had extended unemployment benefits to concert workers, freelancers, independent contractors, self-employed workers and some people affected by the coronavirus. It also extended the duration of payments for those who had exhausted their regular state benefits.
The surge in Covid-19 cases since then has not resulted in an increase in the unemployment rate or in the number of people filing initial unemployment claims.
Enhanced Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments: Qualifying families received a total of nearly $ 93 billion in monthly payments this year under the Enhanced Child Tax Credit. But the last payments were distributed on December 15.
The extension, which is only effective for 2021, was part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Biden and lawmakers were hoping to extend it for a year in the Build Back Better package.
Parents received up to $ 300 for each child up to age 6 and $ 250 for each age 6 to 17 on a monthly basis between July and December, which was half of the improved credit. Families will receive the other half when they file their 2021 tax returns next season.
In total, the extended credit offers up to $ 3,600 for each younger child and up to $ 3,000 for each older child.
Additionally, more low-income parents have become eligible for the full amount because lawmakers have made it fully refundable. It had only been partially repayable, leaving more than 26 million children unable to obtain full credit because their families’ incomes were too low, according to Treasury Department estimates.
Paid sick and family leave: In 2020, Congress guaranteed many workers two weeks’ pay if they contracted Covid-19 or were in quarantine. It also granted an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to those staying at home with children whose schools were closed or caring for a sick family member. These benefits expired at the end of 2020, but the government continued to provide tax credits to employers who voluntarily chose to offer the benefit until October 1.
Money for small businesses: Three major federal small business assistance programs are no longer accepting new applications. The Paycheck Protection Program, which provided nearly $ 800 billion in forgivable loans, ran out of money in May.
A program that provided grants specifically to restaurants allocated its entire $ 28.6 billion prize pool in July, just two months after it opened. The grant program sent money to more than 100,000 restaurants but did not meet the demand. It had received at least 278,000 requests totaling over $ 72 billion in requested funds.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program has also ceased to receive new applications, but remains open to grantees seeking a second grant. It has disbursed more than 21,300 grants, for a total of $ 13.5 billion.
Distressed small businesses can apply for loans through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Disaster Loan program until December 31.
Federal assistance always available
Student Loan Relief: Those with federal student loans have not had to make any payments since March 2020. Meanwhile, interest has stopped accumulating and collections on overdue debts have been suspended. Borrowers’ balances were effectively frozen if they chose not to continue making payments.
The break on payments has been extended several times. Payments are now expected to resume on May 1.
Rent Assistance: Congress authorized $ 47 billion for emergency rent assistance over the past year, and more than half of that funding remains available.
Households are eligible for the cash if they have experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, have incomes equal to or less than 80% of their region’s median income, can demonstrate a risk of homelessness, or are already eligible unemployment benefits.
Hundreds of state, county, and city-run programs have been created to distribute the money. They have been successful in many communities, but some have been extremely slow in disbursing money. The Treasury Department is currently transferring unused funds to places that have run out of money and still have people in need.
A federal moratorium on evictions expired in August after being in place for almost a year. Evictions have increased since then, but remain well below the historic average before the pandemic, according to The Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
Healthcare Grants: Americans can still access generous federal grants to purchase Affordable Care Act policies for 2022.
The enhanced aid, created under the American Rescue Plan Act, has helped attract a record number of consumers to Obamacare scholarships. So far, more than 13.6 million people have selected plans for next year. Open registrations end on January 15th.
The stepped up grants, which are only in place for this year and next, aim to address long-standing complaints that Obamacare plans are not affordable for many people, especially the middle class.
Enrollers pay no more than 8.5% of their income for coverage, compared to almost 10%. And low-income policyholders and the unemployed receive subsidies that essentially eliminate their premiums.
In addition, those earning more than 400% of the federal poverty line are now eligible for the first time.
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