Is the stimulus to blame for high inflation?

“The American Rescue Plan, intended to stimulate the economy from the effects of the pandemic, was a massive spending package that passed in March 2021. The legislation included $1,400 checks for individuals, expansions to unemployment insurance and child tax credit benefits, and hundreds of billions in aid to state and local governments.

For months, economists have debated the American Rescue Plan’s impact on inflation. While many economists agree that the stimulus law did worsen inflation by giving people more money to spend, they continue to disagree about the extent. The debate is, in part, about what else might be to blame in the United States and globally. Inflation started shooting up in early 2021 after the package passed and has remained stubbornly high since. But even without the stimulus, inflation would have increased. The coronavirus led to factory shutdowns around the world, shipping backlogs, and labor shortages, all of which have strained supply chains and pushed prices higher.

The disagreement essentially boils down to economists’ views on how pandemic-related factors independent of the stimulus, such as a shift to working from home, have contributed to inflation and how unique inflation has been in the United States compared to other countries.”

“Increased housing costs have been a big driver of inflation — shelter is the largest component of the Consumer Price Index and makes up about 30 percent of overall inflation as measured by the index. Dean Baker, a senior economist and co-founder of the liberal-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, argued that new research on housing inflation helped support the idea that price gains were mostly driven by a mass shift to remote work and not the stimulus package. As people shifted to remote work, housing prices went up, and those prices in turn pushed overall inflation higher.
An analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on September 26 examined the rapid rise in housing prices and whether remote work, or other factors like fiscal stimulus, led to the increase. The authors — Augustus Kmetz, John Mondragon, and Johannes Wieland — wrote that as more people started working remotely, they sought out additional space at home. That resulted in a spike in housing demand and helped lead to a surge in prices.

The researchers estimated that remote work resulted in house prices rising by about 15 percent from November 2019 to November 2021, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the overall increase in house prices.

“It means we can’t blame the stimulus. Clearly that added to it,” Baker said. “But the main story there is this big switch to working from home.””

“Holtz-Eakin said it was clear that the package significantly drove up inflation and pointed to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which published an analysis in March that found that “fiscal support measures designed to counteract the severity of the pandemic’s economic effect” could have “contributed to about 3 percentage points of the rise in U.S. inflation through the end of 2021.”

The analysis — which was written by Òscar Jordà, Celeste Liu, Fernanda Nechio, and Fabián Rivera-Reyes — found that the United States’ “core” inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose more quickly in 2021 compared to the average rate of core inflation of other wealthy countries. Compared to the other countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom — the United States injected more fiscal stimulus into its economy.

“The difference is really the stimulus in the US,” Holtz-Eakin said.

But Josh Bivens, the director of research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said that inflation has been ubiquitous “across every advanced economy” since the pandemic began and he didn’t believe the American Rescue Plan was a major contributor to inflation. An analysis published in August by Bivens, Asha Banerjee, and Mariia Dzholos examined the United States’ core inflation from December 2020 to May 2022 and compared it to core inflation in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. To calculate the rate of acceleration in each country, the researchers took the difference between the “post-pandemic” core inflation and the “pre-pandemic” core inflation using data from 2018 and 2019.

The researchers found that the acceleration in the United States’ core inflation was “on the higher side” but was “far from the top” and not that far above the average for all other OECD countries. All but one OECD country saw an acceleration in core inflation, the researchers found. For example, Canada’s core inflation grew at a slightly slower rate compared to the United States, but Portugal’s sped up faster, according to the analysis.”

“Bivens also pointed to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s research on housing inflation and said that price gains in the United States were mostly driven by pandemic-related events that would have occurred without the stimulus — like supply chain disruptions and increased demand for housing. And although he said he believed the American Rescue Plan had inflationary impacts, the trade-off was necessary to stave off higher unemployment numbers.”

Hospitals struggle with staff shortages as federal Covid funds run out

“Hospitals across the country are grappling with widespread staffing shortages, complicating preparations for a potential Covid-19 surge as the BA.5 subvariant drives up cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

Long-standing problems, worker burnout and staff turnover have grown worse as Covid-19 waves have hit health care workers again and again — and as more employees fall sick with Covid-19 themselves.”

Blame Congress for Pandemic Fraud

“The inconvenient truth behind all this fraud and waste is that these government programs never should have been designed as they were. For example, while the federal government justifiably boosted state unemployment benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, it was irresponsible to enhance the benefits by $600 a week. As a result, 76 percent of the individuals who received such benefits were making more by not working than by working. It was also irresponsible to extend the program long after the economy reopened and resumed growing.

The same is true of the overly generous three rounds of $1,200, $600, and $1,400 individual payments paid to people who either already received the enhanced unemployment benefits or who never lost their jobs. Most recipients of these funds didn’t need them. In fact, only 15 percent of people who received the first round of checks said they had spent it or planned to spend it. And there were other benefits on top of these checks.”

“This non-fraudulent spending is now helping to fuel inflation.

Then, you have the money dispensed to corporations. In one way or another, that spending made up a huge share of the COVID-19 relief. Indeed, whether through the airline bailouts or the Payroll Protection Program, shareholders collected trillions of dollars in government handouts they didn’t need. Most of the PPP funding, for example, went to companies whose workers were never at risk of losing their jobs since they were well-suited to work from home.”

“billions of dollars went to state and local governments, including for schools that stayed closed, even though many of these governments’ revenue growth equaled or exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Of course there was some fraud, but the malfeasance happened only because the programs were created in the first place and designed to go to everyone regardless of need. This reckless “design” is the true scandal.”

California Fights Inflation by Sending People Free Money

“Every taxpayer earning less than $75,000, or joint-filers earning less than $150,000, will receive a $350 check, plus another $350 if they have children, reports CBS. A married couple with children would qualify for the maximum of $1,050. Higher-income people would receive smaller refunds.

The checks are the most advertised portion of a budget deal totaling some $300 billion. They help dispense with a $97 billion budget surplus buoyed by unexpectedly high tax returns from the highest-income Californians.

It should almost go without saying that giving out individual stimulus checks is more likely to exacerbate inflation than cure it. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, which included $1,400 stimulus checks, is estimated by one Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco analysis to have raised inflation by 3 percentage points.”

Government Employees Got $872 Million in Bonuses Out of COVID Aid Cash

“The widespread use of COVID relief funds to line the wallets of public employees should also raise even more questions about whether a federal bailout of state and local governments was necessary. Expected revenue shortfalls in state and local tax coffers never materialized—and many states emerged from the pandemic with surpluses instead.

States have until the end of 2024 to spend the federal aid distributed as part of the American Rescue Plan, so the totals reported so far (the Treasury’s tracker has been updated to include spending through December 31 of last year) could increase.

In an analysis of the spending published last month, the Treasury notes that state and local governments spent $5 billion of their federal COVID aid on “worker support,” a category that includes those bonuses along with things like unemployment payments and job training. That’s the same amount of money that states and local governments reported using for actual COVID relief—a category that includes “vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, PPE, prevention in congregate facilities, medical expenses, and other public health measures.””

The American Rescue Plan Bailed Out Unprofitable Government-Owned Golf Courses

“An unnecessary federal bailout of state and local governments has given an undeserved mulligan to some money-losing government-owned golf courses.

That’s despite the fact that some of those same courses reported an increase in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to reports submitted to the Treasury Department and reviewed by Reason, Union County, New Jersey, has committed $929,000 of its federal COVID funds to a pair of county-owned golf courses: Galloping Hill and Ash Brook. That spending will help the courses cover “costs associated with increased use” as a result of “an increase in play at county golf courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That’s the sort of problem that many private businesses would probably love to have. Either as the result of government-imposed lockdowns or changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic, recreational spending on restaurants, bars, concert venues, and theaters plummeted. If that made golfing—an outdoor, socially distanced activity—more popular, why should taxpayers now have to bail out a business that got more successful?”

“In a report published earlier this year, the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website) found that 155 local governments lost a combined $61 million by running golf courses during their 2020 fiscal years. One of the biggest losers was Thousand Oaks, California, which lost a staggering $800,023 on a single city-owned golf course in 2020.

Naturally, that course got a piece of the federal bailout too. The Treasury Department’s tracker of American Rescue Plan spending shows that Thousand Oaks plans to spend more than $14 million on “revenue replacement” on a variety of items, including “city-owned theatres and golf course.” It’s not clear from the data provided to the Treasury Department how much of that money will be spent on the golf course (nor is it clear why the city owns multiple theaters, but that’s for another day).”

“”Congress really put taxpayers in the rough,” says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscally conservative nonprofit. He says Congress should have placed stricter limits on how the $350 billion state and local government bailout could be used.

Those funds were included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March 2021, and were ostensibly meant to cover pandemic-related public health costs or to offset lost tax revenue due to the economic consequences of COVID-19. Even before the law was passed, there were questions about whether such a large bailout of state and local tax coffers was necessary or prudent.

It seems to have been neither, as most governments did not experience a significant revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. Now flush with extra cash from Washington and few restrictions on how to use it, some state and local governments are blowing the money on pet projects like government-owned golf courses and bonuses for government workers”

“Other obviously vital public health costs being covered by the American Rescue Plan’s local government bailout fund include the planting of new trees “including ash, spruce, maple, pine, [and] cherry” and the installation of a new irrigation system at a government-owned golf course in Elmira, New York, according to Treasury Department data. That’ll burn through $1.2 million of federal funds.

In Lexington, Kentucky, a government-owned course that brags about containing “the longest par-5” hole in the state, will be getting a new irrigation system with the help of more than $1.3 million from the federal bailout. The course is already “a local favorite and an attraction to visitors,” the county wrote in its project summary submitted to the Treasury Department, but the desired upgrades haven’t been made due to a lack of funding from the local government.”

Were The Stimulus Checks A Mistake?

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure, the stimulus payments moved 11.7 million people out of poverty in 2020 — a drop in the poverty rate from 11.8 to 9.1 percent. And the 2021 poverty rate was estimated to fall even further to 7.7 percent, per a July 2021 report from the Urban Institute. We don’t know yet whether this came to fruition, but Laura Wheaton, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and one of the analysts behind the 2021 numbers, told us that it was clear from their analysis that the stimulus checks were driving a dramatic decline in poverty.

More broadly, the stimulus checks also cushioned workers during one of the worst economic crises in modern history, which likely helped the economy bounce back in record time. In April 2020, when Americans were receiving the first round of checks — up to $1,200 with the CARES Act — the unemployment rate was at a disastrous 14.7 percent. But two years later, it’s almost returned to its pre-pandemic levels, with many job openings. “I hope we don’t forget how awesome it was that we supported people so well, and that we recovered as quickly as we did,” said Tara Sinclair, a professor of economics at George Washington University.

However, there is also evidence that the stimulus, especially the last round, likely stoked higher and higher prices for the very people it was intended to help. Though global supply chain issues (and, more recently, the war in Ukraine) have been significant drivers of inflation, the divergence between U.S. and European inflation suggests there’s more to it than that. In fact, a recent analysis from researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that the stimulus may have raised U.S. inflation by about 3 percentage points by the end of 2021.”

States Are Flush With Cash

“As state legislators kicked off their 2022 sessions this spring and started planning new budgets, many found that their tax coffers were overflowing. What lawmakers do with that extra money could have long-range consequences.
The excess revenue resulted from a convergence of two windfalls. State tax collections rose sharply in 2021 as the pandemic waned, businesses fully reopened, and consumers started spending again. And the federal government showered states with more than $360 billion as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021. The passage of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill means even more federal taxpayer money for state treasuries in the near future.

All told, state revenues (including federal funds) increased by more than 12 percent in 2021, according to data from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Thirty-two states reported higher than expected revenue in 2021, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

As a result, many states now have significant year-over-year budget surpluses for the current year. California leads the way with a $31 billion surplus—an amount larger than many states’ entire annual budgets. Florida ($11.2 billion surplus), Maryland ($4.6 billion), Minnesota ($7.7 billion), and Virginia ($2.6 billion) also have large cash reserves. But state lawmakers should be careful about letting the extra dough burn a hole in their pockets.

“It’s understandable that there is all this pent-up demand for different kinds of new programs or tax cuts,” says Josh Goodman, a senior officer with Pew’s state fiscal health initiative. The impulse to use surpluses for pet projects, Goodman says, ignores data that suggest many states are running long-term structural deficits—largely due to pension obligations and health care costs in programs like Medicaid. “The question is not just what’s the budget situation this year,” Goodman says, “but what is the budget -situation going to be five or 10 years down the road.””

Prisons, Water Infrastructure And Broadband: Where States Are Spending Their Pandemic Relief Funding

“combined with previous coronavirus response bills and spending packages, the federal government has now spent almost $5 trillion addressing the pandemic”

“It’s not clear yet where all this money will go — states have an enormous amount of leeway as to how they’ll spend it and until 2026 to do so. (In total, $155 billion went out to states in 2021, with the rest due to be distributed later this year.) Most states have used the windfall of cash to address the budget problems caused by the economic downturn following the pandemic and to address the inequities thrown into sharp relief during the past two years. But while there are broad commonalities in how states have spent the money, it’s also true that how relief from the pandemic is defined varies widely — not necessarily across partisan lines but in ways that are still shaped by local conditions and ideology.”

“Almost every state that has allocated money so far has spent some on broadband, water and sewer infrastructure”

“Infrastructure has also been a big priority for states like Florida, which is spending money on highways and other transportation projects that had been long-planned but unfinished. Lazere said some of the need for infrastructure goes all the way back to the Great Recession, which began in 2007, and the long, slow recovery that followed. “These were areas of need that had not been addressed, [for which] there hadn’t been a dedicated state or federal funding source, so the rescue plan gave them the opportunity to tackle these problems that had been around for a long time,” he said.
Additionally, because the funds are a large, one-time payment, with no expectation that they’ll continue into the future, it encourages spending on infrastructure.

“It really starts with states doing that analysis, to be able to know what’s affordable over the long-term and what’s not,” said Josh Goodman, who is part of The Pew Charitable Trusts’s state fiscal health project.”

“In Alabama, $400 million will be used for building two new prisons.”

“the state has been under a court order to improve mental health care in its prisons since 2017, and advocates of the new law say using the recovery funds to build a new prison will address those problems, as well as overcrowding and inadequate staffing. They also say the new facilities will improve the overall health care and mental health care available to incarcerated individuals.”

“In more liberal states and localities, lawmakers are pursuing new financial assistance programs for local families. One idea that has picked up steam is funding guaranteed income pilot programs, with eligible residents receiving between $500 and $1,000 in cash assistance monthly. Support for these programs has been growing across the ideological spectrum, especially in the last few years.”