While 2022 was financially as difficult a year as the pandemic years for Americans, the federal government did not come up with any stimulus checks or additional support measures. Two full years of enforced lockdowns, economic upheaval, and health issues, followed by economic sanctions and scarcity due to various factors meant a cost-of-living crisis for millions.
While the Federal Reserve has gone for an increase in interest rates to offset the rapidly increasing rate of inflation, residents also resorted to desperate cost-cutting measures as no help seemed imminent from the federal government. it was the states that stepped in with a host of relief measures including stimulus checks, tax rebates, sales tax waivers, and gas and transit cards.
But the support was limited to only around 20 states. And the amount that they could muster was nowhere near the stimulus checks and allied support measures of the federal government. the third economic impact payment, which was a part of the American Rescue Plan Act was the most generous of the three stimulus checks given by the federal government during the pandemic between April 2020 and December 2021.
The Rescue Plan contained a host of other support measures that included aid to the state, local and tribal bodies, support to businesses, other organizations and institutions, and funds for strengthening the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the state governments also relied on the Rescue Plan funds to send out inflation relief payments to residents. The payments have continued into 2023. Some states are also coming up with new measures though the payments are not as comprehensive as the earlier stimulus checks. the payments are mostly targeted toward low-income residents. Many of the payments are being sent out as a test case to test their efficacy in combating poverty among low-income groups.
Stimulus Checks And Other Government Efforts To Combat Poverty In 2023
America has made major strides in poverty reduction and yet over 35 million people continue to live in poverty in the country. Despite decades of significant investment through unemployment insurance, Social Security, low-income credits, nutritional assistance, and other successful anti-poverty measures, the figures continue to be alarming.
The pandemic made matter worse and despite the stimulus checks, a large section of the population remained without the multiple economic and other measures taken by both the federal and state governments.
The concerning reality remains that the pandemic and the associated economic consequences have decimated those incremental gains. It has put individuals and families at great risk of being again pushed into poverty.
Over 9 million Americans were unemployed during the pandemic period, and food insecurity plagued 19 million adults and over 8 million children. over 10 million people living in rented houses fell on rental payments. Particularly affected were the Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous communities. They experience higher rates of infection, deaths, hospitalization, poverty, and unemployment.
These communities were also disproportionately affected by higher rates of mortality, inequitable access to the vaccine, and delays in stimulus check payments. A large number of people in these communities were even denied the stimulus checks, particularly the first and second payments that were given during the tenure of President Trump.
The same goes for Social Security payments and Supplemental Security Income. It was tough enough for low-income communities to navigate through the present health and economic crisis. they faced insurmountable odds to provide for their families. the federal government has tried to take immediate action and provide equitable economic relief to all. One major problem faced by agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service was access to such communities.
Most low-income households and individuals are absent from the record of the IRS as they are exempted from filing their income tax returns. experts have outlined several policy solutions that Congress can use as a parallel measure to the stimulus checks. they can cut poverty and boost economic security for all in an equitable way.
One of the proposed measures includes expanding safety net programs to help people weather a variety of economic crises by meeting basic needs and providing stability. And this woeful inadequacy of the safety net program was exposed during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, unemployment insurance (UI) did not cover monthly expenses. Millions were excluded due to their previous earnings, work experience classification, immigration status, or duration of employment.
The stimulus checks provided a temporary boost to Unemployment Insurance and moved millions out of poverty. But these provisions were allowed to expire at the end of July 2020. The Rescue Plan continued to provide the $300 weekly supplement to the unemployment insurance that lasted the whole of 2021.
To make matters worse, most Republican governors refused to extend the weekly unemployment insurance and ended them even sooner than the federal UIs. This cut benefits close to five million citizens and severely affected their ability to make a runaround from the pandemic.
Temporary Programs And Stimulus Checks Not Permanent Solutions To Hunger
Similarly, other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aimed at households with the lowest income strata could not fulfill its aim to prevent hunger and food insecurity in the nation. Even before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy, the inadequate benefit amount forced close to 50% of SNAP beneficiaries to cut down on their meals just to make it last the months.
Close to a third of recipients relied on food pantries to feed themselves. Between December 2019 and 2020, there was s significant rise, of close to 50%, in the demand for charitable food assistance. This was seen more in families of color, especially the Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans.
The temporary expansion of safety nets has proved inadequate in helping millions of Americans still struggling with the health and economic fallout of the pandemic. Congress needs to continue to modernize safety nets and invest considerably. This ensures that benefit levels are expanded and more accessible than they were before the crisis.
It is also worth considering that triggers should be implemented. These automatic triggers would expand benefits during economic shocks in the future, similar to the pandemic. This would sidestep the need for Congress to step in every time there is such an emergency.