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Fourth stimulus checks not likely as federal government grapples with omicron

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New Yorkers queued for Covid-19 testing in Times Square on Dec. 26, 2021, as the omicron variant continued to spread.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

 Omicron is wreaking more disruption on the American economy.

That could prompt Washington lawmakers to revisit relief strategies from earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conversations on Capitol Hill have turned to possible aid for small businesses, restaurants, gyms and performance 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 assistance to individuals,” Mills said. “But it has gone from something that is not going to happen to something we have to watch.”

The U.S. reached a record single-day record of Covid cases this week, with more than 1 million new infections reported.

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Yet some measures of federal relief to help individuals and families – namely expanded unemployment benefits and three sets of stimulus checks – are no longer in effect.

This time around, lawmakers may not revisit those same strategies.

The reason: The pandemic has changed, and so has the U.S. economy.

While the early days of the pandemic was marked by high unemployment and record layoffs, that has now shifted in workers’ favor.

“With millions of job openings that are going unfilled, Congress is going to be hesitant to provide something that could be seen as being a disincentive to filling those positions,” Mills said.

That does not, however, mean no help is available.

States and localities are still sitting on $90 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act that was 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 this spring. Schools received $120 billion, much of which may not have been spent, he added.

“We’re not going to fix this pandemic by that ARPA money sitting in a bank account,” Kamper said. “We’re going to fix the pandemic by that ARPA money getting spent, and there’s a ton of good ways to spend it.”

One way states could help is by providing paid sick and family leave to workers now that federal measures have expired. While some states like New York do this, more could add these programs to help alleviate the burdens of the pandemic, Kamper said.

Providing paid leave could help inspire more workers who are unable to take time off to get vaccinated, he said.

States could also create one-time payments for residents – either as an incentive to get vaccinated or as paid time off to get the vaccine, he said.

They could also move to bolster unemployment insurance, though large scale efforts would still need to be handled by the federal government, Kamper said.

On Capitol Hill, more aid to individuals could already be in the works via the proposed extension of the expanded child tax credit.

Eligible families received monthly payments of up to $300 per child in 2021. The last payments were deployed in December and will not continue unless Congress passes the Build Back Better Act.

Democrats are hoping to pass that bill through a simple majority known as reconciliation. But those efforts have stalled. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has said he would like to see the extended credit have stricter targeting requirements.

“The conversation about individuals really does start with what to do with the child tax credit,” Mills said.

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Teladoc Tumbled 38% After Big First-Quarter Loss. Is It Just a Pandemic Play?

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After pandemic drop, Canada’s detention of immigrants rises again By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Two closed Canadian border checkpoints are seen after it was announced that the border would close to “non-essential traffic” to combat the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the U.S.-Canada border crossing at the Thousand Isla

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is locking up more people in immigration detention without charge after the numbers fell during the pandemic, government data obtained by Reuters shows.

Authorities cite an overall rise in foreign travelers amid easing restrictions but lawyers say their detained clients came to Canada years ago.

Canada held 206 people in immigration detention as of March 1, 2022 – a 28% increase compared with March 1 of the previous year. Immigration detainees have not been charged with crimes in Canada and 68% of detainees as of March 1 were locked up because Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) fears they are “unlikely to appear” at an immigration hearing, according to the data.

The rise puts Canada at odds with Amnesty International and other human rights groups that have urged Ottawa to end its use of indefinite immigration detention, noting CBSA has used factors such as a person’s mental illness as reason to detain them.

A CBSA spokesperson told Reuters that “when the number of entries (to Canada) goes up, an increase in detention is to be expected.” CBSA has said in the past it uses detention as a last resort.

A lawyer told Reuters her detained clients have been in Canada for years.

In the United Kingdom, too, immigration detention levels rose last year after dropping earlier in the pandemic, according to government statistics. Unlike Canada, the United States and Australia, European Union member states have limits on immigration detention and those limits cannot exceed six months.

The rise in detentions puts people at risk of contracting COVID-19 in harsh congregate settings, refugee lawyers say.

Julia Sande, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner with Amnesty, called the increase in detentions “disappointing but not surprising,” although she was reluctant to draw conclusions from limited data.

The number of immigration detainees in Canada dropped early in the pandemic, from a daily average of 301 in the fourth quarter (January through March) of 2019-20 to 126 in the first quarter (April through June) of 2020-21.

FEW NO-SHOWS AS DETENTIONS DROPPED

Detaining fewer people did not result in a significant increase in no-shows at immigration hearings – the most common reason for detention, according to Immigration and Refugee Board data.

The average number of no-shows as a percentage of admissibility hearings was about 5.5% in 2021, according to that data, compared to about 5.9% in 2019.

No-shows rose as high as 16% in October 2020, but a spokesperson for the Immigration and Refugee Board said this was due to people not receiving notifications when their hearings resumed after a pause in the pandemic.

Refugee lawyer Andrew Brouwer said the decline in detention earlier in the pandemic shows Canada does not need to lock up as many non-citizens.

“We didn’t see a bunch of no-shows. We didn’t see the sky fall … It for sure shows that the system can operate without throwing people in jail,” Brouwer said.

He added that detainees face harsh pandemic conditions in provincial jails – including extended lockdowns, sometimes with three people in a cell for 23 hours a day.

Refugee lawyer Swathi Sekhar said CBSA officials and the Immigration and Refugee Board members reviewing detentions took the risk of COVID-19 into account when deciding whether someone should be detained earlier in the pandemic but are doing so less now.

“Their position is that COVID is not a factor that should weigh in favor of release,” she said.

“We also see very, very perverse findings … [decision-makers] outright saying that individuals are going to be safer in jail.”

The Immigration and Refugee Board did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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Nasdaq futures rise as market attempts comeback from April sell-off, Meta shares soar

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Stock futures rose in overnight trading as the market shook off the April sell-off and investors reacted positively to earnings from Meta Platforms.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 70 points or 0.2%. S&P 500 futures gained 0.7% and Nasdaq 100 futures jumped 1.2%.

The moves came as shares of Meta surged more than 18% after hours following a beat on earnings but a miss on revenue, a sign that investors may see signs of relief in the beaten-up tech sector. Shares were down 48% on the year heading into the results.

Meanwhile, shares of Qualcomm gained 5.6% in extended trading on the back of strong earnings while PayPal rose 5% despite issuing weak guidance for the second quarter.

“I think a lot of people want to believe that earnings are going to pull us out of this, but earnings are not what got us into this,” SoFi’s Liz Young told CNBC’s “Closing Bell: Overtime” on Wednesday. “… But the reality is there are so many macro headwinds still in front of us in the next 60 days that the market is just hard to impress.”

The after-hour activity followed a volatile regular trading session that saw the Nasdaq Composite stoop to its lowest level in 2022, as stocks looked to bounce back from a tech-led April sell-off. The index is down more than 12% since the start of April.

In Wednesday’s regular trading, the tech-heavy Nasdaq ended at 12,488.93, after rising to 1.7% at session highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 61.75 points, or 0.2%, to 33,301.93 propped up by gains from Visa and Microsoft, while the S&P 500 added 0.2% to 4,183.96.

Investors await big tech earnings on Thursday from Apple, Amazon and Twitter, along with results from Robinhood. Jobless claims are also due out Thursday.

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