Biden’s USDA says it will extend free school lunches for kids through spring 2022

school students socially distant cafeteria
School children are spaced apart in one of the rooms used for lunch at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Massachusetts, on Sept. 11, 2020.

  • The USDA announced an extension of its free lunch program through early next year.
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called it a “win-win for kids, parents and schools.”
  • The move is aimed at reaching nearly 12 million kids experiencing hunger or food insecurity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Department of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that it is extending a free school-lunch program for every K-12 student through spring 2022.

“States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”

The emergency lunch waiver program is designed to reach children experiencing hunger and food insecurity. It was implemented early last year as coronavirus infections swept the country, triggering a massive wave of layoffs.

The USDA estimated nearly 12 million kids live in a household that didn’t have enough to eat at some point in the pandemic. The measure was renewed beyond its September 30 end date.

Federal reimbursement rates to schools were beefed up from $3.60 to $4.25 last year, The Washington Post reported. That step allowed schools to budget for bigger costs incurred due to pandemic-related supply shortages as well as obtain to-go boxes and bags.

The Biden administration provided $12 billion in nutritional assistance as part of its $1.9 trillion stimulus law approved last month. It included a 15% boost to food-stamp benefits among many other provisions.

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Why at least 300,000 people in 33 states are losing unemployment benefits earlier than expected

Unemployment filing coronavirus
  • A key tool to provide jobless aid to long-term unemployed people is broken in 33 states, per a new report.
  • The shut-off is affecting at least 300,000 people in at least 33 states, researchers say.
  • The study said unemployment benefits for some claimants could turn off in New York and California.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A policy instrument designed as a buffer for unemployed Americans is broken in 33 states, according to a new report released Tuesday from the California Policy Lab.

The Extended Benefits program is meant to provide jobless aid to people who exhausted regular benefits in high-unemployment states. Earlier federal rescue packages that Congress approved lengthened the eligibility period for people to get the assistance.

But it appears the program is shutting off because it’s not counting long-term unemployed people collecting emergency federal stimulus aid in a measurement used to gauge the share of the workforce claiming unemployment benefits.

“It’s as if the Titanic had stopped loading the lifeboats because some people had already gotten off of the ship,” TJ Hedin, a co-author of the study, tweeted on Tuesday.

“If these triggers were updated to count all people receiving unemployment benefits, then it would mean benefits would be available to impacted workers for longer durations, which seems sensible during times of extended job losses like the pandemic,” Alex Bell, another co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, in state after state we see that the counter-intuitive design of the program’s trigger system is causing the exact opposite to happen,” he said.

Some states such as Alabama, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia have experienced an early shut-off of the EB program, impacting around 20% to 30% of jobless claimants.

Researchers warned some people’s benefits could be yanked in California, New York, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New Mexico over the coming weeks. These states have over 30% of claimants receiving aid under the program, the report said.

A $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit is in place until September 6, a key part of President Joe Biden’s recent stimulus law. Unemployment claims last week dropped to a new pandemic-era low, as 576,000 people filed for benefits.

Some Congressional Democrats are pressing to overhaul the nation’s battered unemployment system. Sens. Ron Wyden and Michael Bennet unveiled a plan last week to beef-up state unemployment checks and penalize states who stray from new benefit standards.

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Around 2 million people could face delays getting $300 federal unemployment benefits

Unemployment filing coronavirus
A person files for jobless benefits.

  • Around 2 million people could see delays receiving unemployment benefits, including a $300 bonus.
  • It could amount to a two-week delay that hits mostly gig workers and long-term unemployed people.
  • Some states like New York say they can pay out enhanced unemployment aid this week.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Around two million people could face delays receiving enhanced unemployment insurance, including a $300 federal benefit, despite Democrats approving a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan ahead of government aid expiring for many people this month.

The estimate comes from a new analysis from Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and unemployment expert at the liberal-leaning Century Foundation.

The delays, per Stettner, could largely hit those enrolled in programs set up in 2020 to provide unemployment relief to freelancers and laid-off workers who depleted regular state jobless payouts: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, respectively.

“We do expect some states to have delays, getting those who ran out of benefits back on and even starting up PUA and PEUC again,” Stettner said in an interview. “You can’t get the $300 without those underlying benefits.”

Still, jobless workers may not have to wait for long to receive critical benefits. Stettner said he believed it would be a two-week setback for most, largely because the new stimulus law didn’t make major changes to the flow of unemployment benefits. That makes it easier to administer for overburdened state labor offices.

“It is a simpler program,” he told Insider. “I do think it will go better than it has and some states are indicating as such – that this will go a little more smoothly, but not without hiccups.”

Stettner cited California, which issued a release saying people would be able to certify weeks – one of the steps to obtain jobless benefits – in April.

Around 18 million Americans are still claiming unemployment insurance a year into a pandemic which decimated vast swaths of the economy. Additional research from Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director of Employ America, indicated that one in every four workers relied on unemployment at some point during the crisis.

Delays to obtain jobless insurance have been common during the pandemic, particularly early last year as the calamity exposed the antiquated state of unemployment offices across the US. The crush of people filing for emergency aid caused a massive backlog.

The stimulus law approved by Biden and Democrats renewed a $300 federal unemployment until Labor Day on September 6. That’s also the expiration date for PUA and PEUC.

Some states are indicating they are prepared to pay out benefits as soon as this week. The New York Department of Labor said on March 17 there would be no lapse in aid, though the agency posted a tweet Monday notifying people there could be a 1-2 day delay at most.

As the benefit-year ends, unemployed people should expect to continue receiving benefits without applying for them again, Stettner said.

“States should not direct people to reapply, and individuals should not reapply unless they worked since they first got laid-off,” he said.

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Stimulus checks are starting to hit Americans’ bank accounts this weekend, but some may not be able to access the money right away

Angry man arguing during conference call on laptop
Some Americans may not be able to access their federal cash this weekend.

  • Many Americans are seeing $1,400 stimulus checks in their bank accounts, but they may not be able to access the money immediately.
  • The IRS said it is officially releasing the payments on March 17.
  • That means it may take several more days for the checks to clear at major financial institutions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Many Americans are seeing $1,400 stimulus checks hit their bank accounts this weekend under President Joe Biden’s stimulus law. But people may not be able to immediately tap into it – at least, not until St. Patrick’s Day at the earliest.

The direct payments, which the IRS labeled as “Economic Impact Payments,” are set to be paid out on March 17, per the agency.

“As with the first two Economic Impact Payments in 2020, most Americans will receive their money without having to take any action,” the IRS said on its website. “Some Americans may see the direct deposit payments as pending or as provisional payments in their accounts before the official payment date of March 17.”

That means it could take several more days for the relief checks to clear at major banks like Wells Fargo. Others such as Chase said on their website it expected to release the payouts March 17 and after.

“Wells Fargo will process all of the direct deposits according to the effective date provided by the U.S. Treasury,” the bank said in numerous follow-up tweets to customers frustrated with the delay.

Some digital banks, like Chime, however, said they authorized clients to instantly access their federal cash. On Friday, they issued a “stimmy alert” on Twitter saying the service had already distributed $600 million.

Chime did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their decision.

The IRS also said Friday that people can begin tracking the status of their checks using the “Get my Payment” portal on Monday. The agency also said it expects to issue more direct deposits and send payments as a check or debit card over the coming weeks.

Singles earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income qualify for the full amount, along with couples making up to $150,000. Each adult dependent is eligible for a check as well.

However, the stimulus payments phase out much quicker. Individuals earning above $80,000 and couples making above $160,000 will not receive anything.

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Democrats are giving average Americans a load of cash, setting up a clash with Republicans over the social safety net

Biden Schumer Pelosi Harris Democrats
Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) host a press conference on the stimulus law at the White House.

  • Democrats are pouring stimulus cash onto Americans, selling it as part of an anti-poverty crusade.
  • But those provisions will expire later this year if Congress takes no further action.
  • Experts say the child poverty rate could double next year.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden secured his first major legislative victory on the 51st day of his new administration. He signed a $1.9 trillion economic aid bill into law Thursday, paving the way for a large infusion of federal cash onto middle-class and lower-income Americans.

The package includes various measures to help struggling households a year into the pandemic: A wave of $1,400 stimulus payments, beefed-up tax credits for children and adults, larger food-stamp assistance, and enhanced unemployment insurance. Democrats cast it as among the most historic pieces of legislation that Congress has taken up in many years.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared the relief bill to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed a decade ago under President Barack Obama, which provided health coverage to millions of Americans. “I think I can safely say, and I’ve said this to my colleagues in the House on the Democratic side, this is the most consequential legislation that many of us will ever be a party to,” Pelosi said on Thursday.

Unlike the ACA, though, the stimulus package does not permanently strengthen America’s social safety net. Passed via reconciliation on a party-line vote to bypass a Republican filibuster, all the government aid expires in 2021. It’s one reason Wall Street analysts are projecting a strong economic recovery in 2021 – but it may prompt clashes on Capitol Hill.

The law’s provisions are designed to provide a temporary boost now or expire later this year. The stimulus checks are one-time payments; $300 federal unemployment benefits are set to lapse on Labor Day; advance child tax credit payments for parents will last only a year.

“I think the fundamental choice policymakers will face then is whether or not they want to swing from maybe the largest one-year child poverty reduction in US history to the largest one-year increase in child poverty,” Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, told Insider.

Numerous studies indicate the legislation will make a major dent in the nation’s poverty rate, cutting the overall level by one-third and slashing it by half for children. Experts also project millions of Black and Latino kids will be lifted out of poverty due to the child tax credit expansion. The bottom 20% of Americans are estimated to receive a 20% boost in their incomes, per a Tax Policy Center analysis.

Republicans have uniformly opposed this bill as too large and stuffed with progressive priorities. No Republican lawmaker in either chamber of Congress voted for it, viewing it as a slippery slope towards bigger government.

In control of Congress and the White House for the first time since Obama took office, Democrats consider the moment as an opportunity to wage a fresh assault on poverty and leave their mark while in power. Without further action in Congress, child poverty will double next year.

“This package sets a new and powerful precedent, especially for helping children and their families when they have limited or no income,” Dutta-Gupta said, adding it was an “earnest attack” on the racial inequalities that the pandemic worsened.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 5, 2020. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The Democratic push to make permanent changes

Democrats are starting to become vocal about pressing to make at least some of the provisional parts of the law enduring – the child tax credit in particular. It would annually provide up to $3,600 per child age 5 and under, and $3,000 for each kid between ages 6 and 17. It also expands it to millions of families who previously did not qualify because of low or zero tax obligations.

Many Republicans oppose it. “If pulling families out of poverty were as simple as handing moms and dads a check, we would have solved poverty a long time ago,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wrote in a National Review op-ed. However, they may begrudingly support the measure given its wide scope once it’s up and running.

“Republicans will probably end up voting to extend the child credit because they understand it would be political suicide not to,” Brian Riedl, an economist at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, said in an interview. “Once a middle-class benefit is created, it is nearly impossible to let expire. This is so broad, and it is going to be received by so many families.”

Democrats appear to be betting enough Republicans will come onboard with an expansion. It may be a risky one given GOP opposition to green-light more government spending after Congress approved $5 trillion in emergency aid over the last year. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah rolled out a child benefit plan, one paid for by cutting some social programs.

Rep. Richard Neal, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and an architect of the measure, told Insider this week that he believed the child benefit expansion would establish a pillar of support. “Once it becomes policy, I think there’s an acceptance level for it,” Neal said.

The shift in Democratic messaging, however, appears to lend credence to GOP arguments that the stimulus law veered from providing immediate pandemic relief to enacting lasting safety net changes.

“Republicans feel vindicated in their opposition,” Riedl said. “The ones I’ve talked to – they’ve been saying all along that this bill was never about the pandemic or stimulus, this was about permanently expanding the federal government.”

Some, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are wagering voters will grow disillusioned once they learn more about the law’s sweeping reach. He labeled it “a payoff for Pelosi’s political allies,” though the GOP has struggled to arrange a consistent response.

In 2009, Congressional Republicans’ attempts to paint Obama’s $800 billion stimulus law as a huge waste contributed to Democrats losing the House in the midterms the following year. That dealt a crippling blow to Obama’s ability to push his legislative agenda in a divided Congress.

“I’m a lot less worried about the negative response as people learn what’s in the package,” Dutta Gupta said. “The depths of the crisis is far worse, the popularity of the bill going through is far greater. I think the benefits seem more salient this time around.”

So far, the Biden stimulus law has drawn broad support in multiple polls and surveys. It remains to be seen if other provisions, such as stronger unemployment benefits, could form part of a follow-up economic recovery package.

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