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Truthout - January 15, 2022

... the Biden administration appears outright hostile to the idea of renewing direct payments to Americans, rather than routing any forthcoming aid through employers. “[T]he economy is booming, there are millions of open jobs, and we do not believe people should be sitting at home if they are vaccinated and boosted, as most adults are,” a senior Biden official told CNN earlier this month. “So we are not going to write checks to incentivize people to sit at home.” (A recent petition calling for recurring direct payments has gathered more than 3 million signatures.)

It’s true that in March 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion spending bill that included one-time checks of $1,400 to most Americans. At the time, 10 Senate Democrats called on the Biden administration to make direct payments permanent for the duration of the pandemic. The plan also included increasing allotments for food stamps and rental assistance for low-income families. Perhaps most critically, the act reconfigured the child tax credit so that parents received monthly checks of $250 or $300 per child, rather than having to wait until getting their tax returns to get access to that money. The child tax credit, arguably one of the most important anti-poverty programs in a generation, expired in December. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin joined all Senate Republicans in opposing the program’s extension.

Federal unemployment assistance ended in September 2021, as conservatives in both parties argued that the increased payments were incentivizing workers not to seek employment. However, studies showed at the time that states that ended the federal assistance had roughly the same job growth as states that stayed in the program, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. “Economists who have conducted their own analyses of the government data say the rates of job growth in states that ended and states that maintained the benefits are, from a statistical perspective, about the same,” the WSJ reported.

Now, as Biden enters his second year in office, Democrats have made it clear that additional financial support from the government will not be forthcoming, despite surging COVID caseloads due to the emergence of the Omicron variant in December. The United States broke its pandemic hospitalization record this week, as more than 142,000 COVID patients are expected to be hospitalized nationwide. Experts are warning that number could more than double, potentially reaching 300,000 hospitalizations or more by the end of January.

The lack of another round of survival checks or unemployment boosts means that people can’t afford to stay home, even though that would help slow the spread and ease the strain on hospitals and urgent care clinics. Though it’s difficult to get a full picture of how many employers are forcing COVID-positive workers back into the workplace, every day brings new mounting evidence that the practice is becoming increasingly normalized and widespread.

The trend is especially concerning in hospitals, at least some of which appear to be recommending doctors and nurses continue to work regardless of their COVID status. ...
Read full report at Truthout