CHN’s COVID-19 Watch: Tracking Hardship, March 4, 2022


March 4, 2022

COVID-19 Hardship

March 4, 2022 

The how-our-economy-survived-the-pandemic edition. As we prepare to mark two full years of COVID-19, it is perhaps instrumental to look at how far we have come and why things did not turn out much worse – the tremendous cost and loss of life notwithstanding. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released an important analysis demonstrating how much worse the damage to our economy and to people in need would have been had the federal government not aggressively responded when the pandemic surfaced. CBPP’s report, Robust COVID Relief Achieved Historic Gains Against Poverty and Hardship, Bolstered Economy, noted that when COVID-19 began rapidly spreading across the U.S. in March 2020, the economy quickly shed more than 20 million jobs. Congress enacted five relief bills in 2020 alone, providing an estimated $3.3 trillion of relief. In 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, adding another $1.8 trillion of relief. 

“This robust policy response helped make the COVID-19 recession the shortest on record and helped fuel an economic recovery that has brought the unemployment rate, which peaked at 14.8 percent in April 2020, down to 4.0 percent,” the report notes. “Various data indicate that in 2021, relief measures reduced poverty, helped people access health coverage, and reduced hardships like inability to afford food or meet other basic needs.” 

The CBPP analysis compares the current response to that of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Two years after the Great Recession began, after federal actions criticized by economists as too modest, unemployment was still 9.9 percent and food insecurity remained one-third above its pre-recession level. The report also found that the government’s robust response to the pandemic had a particular, positive impact on Black and Latino communities, hit hard by COVID-19’s health and economic impact. “The COVID relief effort teaches important lessons,” CBPP concludes. “It shows that a rapid, robust, and broad-based response can greatly speed recovery, reduce suffering, and mitigate disparities.” 

Meanwhile, on the pandemic front, the national outlook continues to improve rapidly, with new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all in decline. Daily case reports have fallen more than 90 percent from their January peak. For the first time in more than a month, the country is averaging fewer than 2,000 newly deaths a day. Still, experts warn that new variants could emerge – right now, for instance, a new Omicron variant, BA.2, is circulating around the globe. We know it is 30 to 40 percent more infectious than the original Omicron variant; we don’t yet know how bad it will be. 

On the home front, there is much for Congress to work on. With the rise in inflation, Congress should extend rental assistance and increase funding for housing vouchers. It should extend health care premium subsidies and rein in the cost of prescription drugs. It should make child care more affordable, and pass national paid leave. It should increase nutrition assistance – hunger in America is again on the rise. It should extend the monthly Child Tax Credit and the expansions for workers without children in the Earned Income Tax Credit – that additional income would do a great deal to protect families from rising prices. Most pressing right now is passage of a full-year appropriations bill in the Senate that reflects the robust approach Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have adopted. 




On Thursday, March 3, 51,599 new daily COVID-19 cases were reported – down 55 percent from two weeks earlier. Hospitalizations were at 44,785 – down 43 percent. And reported deaths were 1,706  — down 26 percent. Tweet this.


8 million 


The number of people with annual income below the poverty line counting income from government assistance, fell by 8 million in 2020, the largest decline on record in data dating back to 1967. This was due to robust government intervention in the early days of the pandemic. Tweet this.



In late January and early February, after monthly Child Tax Credit payments ended, 35 percent of adults living in households with children said they struggled to cover usual costs. That’s up from 30 percent before the monthly payments ended. Tweet this.




In January, 2.3 percent of the American workforce was home sick, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s three times that of a pre-pandemic month. Tweet this.


12.8 million


In the last week of January and first week of February, 12.8 million Americans did not work because they had COVID-19 or were caring for someone who did, or because their child’s school or day care was closed. The U.S. remains one of just 11 countries, and the only rich country, with no federal paid sick leave policy. Tweet this.




Even with the expanded Child Tax Credit, the U.S. only spent about 7 percent of its federal budget on children in 2021 – a figure that will now decline if the expanded CTC is not restored. Among 38 prosperous nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only Turkey spends less on kids than the U.S. as a percentage of its budget.




52 percent of Americans continue to favor a mask mandate for indoor spaces, compared to 38 percent who oppose the idea, according to a new poll.


$25 billion


Last March, as part of the American Rescue Plan, Congress increased funding by $25 billion for Medicaid home and community-based services, which have long faced staffing shortages. Now, almost a full year later, 18 states have yet to see a dime of that funding, while many other states have only seen a trickle. The reasons? Bureaucratic red tape at the federal and state levels, and concerns in some states about how to sustain expansions after the one-year increase runs out. (The now stalled Build Back Better bill would provide multi-year funding.)


$22.5 billion


The amount the Biden Administration has told Congress it needs to boost funding for the pandemic response. But experts warn a vigorous response will require more than $100 billion. The Biden Administration plans a four-pronged plan to fight COVID-19 going forward: protecting against and treating COVID-19, preparing for new variants, avoiding shutdowns, and fighting the virus abroad.



This summer will see the launch of a new mental health crisis hotline, reached by dialing 998. This is part of a broad federal Biden Administration initiative to address America’s mental health crisis, made worse by the pandemic. The Biden Administration already has provided $180 million for staffing crisis call centers and supporting local crisis response.