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Despite trillions in coronavirus aid, many US families are still struggling to pay for basic necessities like food and rent

Published by Business Insider on Sun, 21 Feb 2021

<p><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/60302649623bd30012bcc50b-1333/GettyImages-1230244570.jpg" border="0" alt="Supermarket queue" data-mce-source="Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)"></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>As <a href="https://www.npr.org/2021/02/15/968028373/lawmakers-debate-bidens-1-9-trillion-covid-19-relief-plan">Congress prepares another injection</a> of COVID-19 aid for businesses and individuals, there's been debate about whether it's necessary on top of the <a href="https://www.pgpf.org/blog/2021/01/heres-everything-congress-has-done-to-respond-to-the-coronavirus-so-far">US$3.5 trillion spent so far</a>.</p><p>President Joe Biden <a href="https://www.vogue.com/article/pandemic-relief-package-what-you-need-to-know">had initially hoped to get bipartisan support</a> for his $1.9 trillion proposal, but the <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/31/962554923/10-senate-republicans-plan-to-detail-slimmed-down-covid-19-counteroffer">only counteroffer from Republicans</a> was a $600 billion bill, with many in the GOP suggesting more money wasn't needed. And <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/experts-worried-about-overheating-suggest-placing-automatic-spending-curbs-on-bidens-1-9-trillion-covid-relief-bill-11612813694">some economists have expressed concern</a> that giving Americans too much right now could overheat the economy.</p><p>We are public opinion scholars at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In cooperation with our partners at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/05775132.2020.1866905">we conducted a survey in July and August of last year</a> to try to understand how the first round of aid had affected American families in need. What we found shocked us then and feels relevant now as the government negotiates its next steps.</p><p>Despite <a href="https://www.pgpf.org/blog/2021/01/heres-everything-congress-has-done-to-respond-to-the-coronavirus-so-far">trillions of dollars</a> in government assistance, about two-thirds of families that suffered job losses or reduced wages during the pandemic still reported facing serious financial hardship.</p><p>Many people were struggling<a href="https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and">and still are</a>just to pay for basic necessities, like food and rent.</p><h2>The first round of pandemic aid</h2><p>Congress <a href="https://www.pgpf.org/infographic/whats-in-the-cares-act-heres-a-summary">passed most of the initial relief in March</a>, including direct payments to qualifying families, expanded unemployment benefits and loans to small businesses that turned into grants if they kept workers on their payroll.</p><p>By July 1, when we began our survey, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/business/economy/coronavirus-stimulus-unemployment.html">most Americans entitled</a> to a direct check should have received it, and unemployed adults were still receiving supplemental aid of $600 a week on top of state benefits.</p><p>We wanted to understand the financial burdens experienced by American families that were economically harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. And we wanted to see whether the government aid was helping the people who needed it most.</p><p>Using a nationally representative, randomized survey design, we contacted 3,454 adults and asked them about the financial problems facing their households. We focused on the 46% who said they or other adults in their household either lost a job, had to close a business, were furloughed, or had their wages or hours reduced since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. We published our findings in the economic affairs journal Challenge in January.</p><h2>Serious financial problems</h2><p>While it seems like a no-brainer that Americans weren't ready for the unexpected employment disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was surprising to us that federal aid and <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-the-25-billion-the-biggest-us-donors-gave-in-2020-says-about-high-dollar-charity-today-154466">charitable assistance</a> seemed to be doing so little to support the people it was intended to help.</p><p>We found that the aid didn't put much of a dent in the financial problems faced by families earning less than $100,000, whether because relief <a href="https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty-research/policy-topics/poverty-inequality-opportunity/only-one-quarter-service-sector">was delayed</a> or <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/whats-happening-to-all-the-cares-act-money">wasn't spent</a>, the amount wasn't adequate or the funds <a href="https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-701">never made it to the intended recipients</a>.</p><p>Among households with employment or wage losses during the pandemic, 87% of those earning less than $30,000 a year and 68% of those earning $30,000 to $99,999 told us they were still facing serious financial problems. And more than half of households in these income brackets reported they had already used up all or most of their savingsor they didn't have savings to begin with. That share jumped to over three-quarters for people with incomes under $30,000.</p><p>Savings take years or decades to accumulate, so it's likely these households are in even worse trouble now. What's more, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/business/economy/lost-unemployment-benefits.html">significantly less aid has been provided</a> from the federal government since we conducted our survey.</p><p><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/60327a66623bd30012bcc6f5-1212/Screen%20Shot%202021-02-20%20at%2023934%20PM.png" border="0" alt="The Conversation" data-mce-source="The Conversation"></p><h2>Many Americans still need a lifeboat</h2><p>Our findings suggest there is a definite need for further government aid on a large scale for tens of millions of families.</p><p>A useful way to think about this is how the government provides <a href="https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/is7unit_3.pdf">relief after a natural disaster</a>. In disasters, cash payments are often sent directly to those in need, like lifeboats launched to rescue people at risk of drowning.</p><p>And in fact, the pandemic has been an economic disaster for some<a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/">particularly low-income and Black and Latino households</a>more than others. They still need a lifeboat to get them through the storm.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p><p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mary-g-findling-185284"><em>Mary G. Findling</em></a><em>, research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,</em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/harvard-university-1306"> <em>Harvard University</em></a><em>;</em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/john-m-benson-243609"> <em>John M. Benson</em></a><em>, senior research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,</em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/harvard-university-1306"> <em>Harvard University</em></a><em>, and</em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/robert-j-blendon-243607"> <em>Robert J. Blendon</em></a><em>, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and professor of health policy and political analysis, emeritus,</em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/harvard-university-1306"> <em>Harvard University</em></a></p><div><img src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/155106/count.gif'distributor=republish-lightbox-advanced" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important"></div><p><strong>SEE ALSO:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/ways-increase-chances-hearing-back-from-job-recruiters" >3 ways to increase your chances of hearing back from job recruiters, according to a professional resume writer</a></strong></p><p><strong>READ ALSO:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/things-to-consider-negotiating-new-job-offer-in-2021-2" >4 strategies to use when negotiating a new job offer in 2021</a></strong></p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/americans-are-still-struggling-despite-trillions-in-covid-19-aid-2021-2#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/what-its-like-make-beer-with-picobrew-c-home-brew-2020-3">We tested a machine that brews beer at the push of a button</a></p>
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