“The last two COVID relief bills passed by Congress in December 2020 and March 2021 collectively appropriated $46 billion to cover the massive amount of unpaid rent that tenants have accumulated during the pandemic.
By the end of January 2021, the federal government had released close to $25 billion of that money—including about $1.2 billion to New York state’s ERAP. Subsequent federal grants and state money would fund the program to the tune of $2.7 billion, according to City Limits.
And yet by the end of June, New York had, per U.S. Treasury Department data, managed to spend $0 of its rent relief funds. A month later only $1.2 million had gone out the door.
A major reason for the slow dispersal of funds is that the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)—which is responsible for administering the program—took until June 2021 to start accepting applications. When it did get an online application portal up and running, tenants and landlords were met with crashing websites, and requests for documents they didn’t have.
Applications would take hours to complete, yet the online web portal lacked a feature allowing people to save their progress and try again later. People who called into a hotline to report problems said that staff often had no answers for them.”
“most state governments have done a pretty poor job of getting their rent relief programs off the ground. (The speed at which places like Virginia and Texas have managed to disperse funds shows that success wasn’t impossible.)
Nevertheless, New York has earned the distinction of being the slowest. As of Monday, the state has spent $100 million on rent relief, or about 4 percent of total ERAP funds.”
“In March, researchers at Columbia led by Zachary Parolin estimated that as a result of President Joe Biden’s stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan, the US poverty rate would fall to 8.5 percent, the lowest figure on record and well below 2018’s figure of 12.8 percent. This past month, researchers at the Urban Institute, using a slightly different means of measuring poverty, found that 2021 poverty will be around 7.7 percent, almost a halving relative to 2018’s rate of 13.9 percent per their methodology. (Official US Census poverty statistics for 2020 have not yet been released.)
The Columbia authors find that if you compare 2021 to every year for which the census does have data, from 1967 to 2019, and use a consistent poverty line, 2021 is projected to have the lowest poverty rate on record.
Considering that the US endured a pandemic and economic shock in 2020, these numbers are remarkable.”
“If handing out cash led people to work dramatically fewer hours or to quit their jobs, then cash payments wouldn’t cut poverty by as much as they initially seem to.
Luckily, cash doesn’t seem to discourage work to that degree. In 2019, a group of economists and sociologists specializing in child poverty put together a major report for the National Academy of Sciences, and their estimate based on the research literature was that a cash benefit of $3,000 per year for all but the richest children would reduce work effort by about 1.15 hours a week on average — a fairly trivial amount that barely changes the antipoverty impact of such a program.
The effects of stimulus checks to adults, like those pursued in the past year, are surely different, but the evidence generally suggests that work disincentive effects of cash are small. University of Pennsylvania economist Ioana Marinescu, in a wide-ranging review of the effects of cash programs, concluded, “Our fear that people will quit their jobs en masse if provided with cash for free is false and misguided.””
“The US has been sending out a lot of cash during the pandemic. But that’s almost certainly coming to an end. The enhanced child tax credit is a policy many Democrats want to make permanent, or at least (as the Biden administration has proposed) extend for several more years. But the $1,200 and $600 and $1,400 stimulus checks were emergency measures, as were the $300/$600 weekly unemployment supplements.
All that implies that in 2022, when those measures are gone, poverty is likely to shoot back up again, even in a strong economy with robust job growth.”
“In March, when Congress passed its $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus package, the legislation included a $4 billion loan forgiveness program targeted at Black and other minority farmers. Based on strong evidence that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had perennially discriminated against certain groups, placing them at much higher risk of foreclosure than white farmers, the program offered a one-time emergency payout to alleviate debt for what it called “socially disadvantaged” farmers.
The policy represented a worthy and long-overdue attempt to redress historic and ongoing discrimination by USDA. But now the program is under legal siege.
Over the past few months, white farmers and ranchers have filed about a dozen lawsuits against USDA, alleging that they were victims of racial discrimination because, unlike several minority groups, white people did not automatically qualify for the emergency debt relief. While the lawsuits have been filed in multiple states, a class action has been certified in a case in Texas, where five farmers sued with backing from Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump’s former adviser. To the chagrin of Black and other minority farmers long awaiting relief, several federal courts have issued temporary injunctions blocking payments while these cases are decided.
Now, the Biden administration must decide whether to soldier on in court to defend the program or seek legislative fixes to inoculate it from legal challenges.”
“In the near term, the results of the white farmers’ lawsuits could have a significant impact on farmers of color across the country. In particular, without relief payments that USDA was supposed to begin distributing this summer, some Black-owned farms inevitably will collapse”
“That’s the problem with almost all government bail-out schemes. You gotta be in the room where it happens—metaphorically, at least. Successful businesses will always have an advantage over those who lack the lobbyists, name recognition, or culture cachet required to cash in.
On the other hand, the federal government’s firehose of COVID relief spending—$5.9 trillion and counting—means it is easier than ever to get bailed out. So far, the government has responded to the pandemic by sending money to people who earn six-figure paychecks, paying fully vaccinated people not to work even though there are millions of available jobs, bailing out state governments that are running huge surpluses, and using the pandemic as cover for a massive bailout of union-run pension funds, among other things.
Like with Hamilton, there doesn’t seem to be any consideration of when or how much government aid is necessary. We’ve pumped so much money into the system—nearly all of it borrowed and added to the country’s long-term debt problems—and it has to go somewhere.
Did a bunch of fake celebrities whose only claim to fame is being former contestants on The Bachelor need the federal government to dump as much as $20,000 apiece into their bank accounts? Nope, but they got the cash anyway, according to data gathered by ProPublica and reported in a variety of media outlets.”
“Throughout the pandemic, the median view of good housing policy—supported by landlord associations, tenant advocates, and policy wonks of all ideological stripes—has been to have the federal government fund rent relief. That way, the providers of rental housing can pay their bills, and financially pressed renters aren’t forced onto the streets or into more crowded living situations.
Despite these funds being appropriated for rent relief programs, actually getting money to people continues to be a major challenge.”
“For millions of Americans, the pandemic has been a nightmare. But many have also found that the country’s safety net actually caught them.”
“The country is recovering quickly from the economic shock of the pandemic.
And we did so despite botching our response to the crisis itself. Using aggressive social distancing, testing, and contact tracing to contain the virus — as nations like South Korea and Australia did early on — had huge economic benefits, and the US’s failure to contain its outbreak had enormous economic costs.
But many other large, rich countries also botched their response to the pandemic. If you compare the US to the five most populous countries in Europe, it fares roughly the same in terms of deaths from Covid-19. Germany does better, but the UK, Italy, Spain, and France are right there in the muck with the US.
If this past year is any indication, countries are not always going to be able to contain future pandemics. If and when that happens, they need to be able to manage the economic fallout.”
“the US is near the top when comparing countries for the scale of their stimulus responses. What makes the US response more unusual is its focus on spending to increase the incomes of its residents, as opposed to backstopping businesses.”
“Reasonable people can disagree on whether the fiscal programs to assist Americans during 2020 and 2021 were excessive or merely generous. What’s inarguable, though, is that they were massive, and enough of them worked to make the overall economic response incredibly strong.”
“The percentage of Americans struggling with hunger is now at its lowest level since the pandemic began, suggesting the recent flood in aid from Washington is making a significant difference to families struggling economically.
Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week shows the percentage of adults living in households that sometimes or often did not have enough to eat dipped to just over 8 percent late last month, down from nearly 11 percent in March. That is a substantial drop, and it came after hundreds of billions in stimulus checks went out.”
“While the recent spate of federal aid is clearly a major factor, it’s still too early to know how much of the recent drop in hunger is related to the stimulus payments and stepped up food aid versus how much has been fueled by the improving economy. Economists have found that previous rounds of stimulus checks also led to declines in hunger amid major spikes of unemployment.”