Oct 15, 2020
The authors of two separate poverty studies out of three top universities said Thursday that their findings make the unmistakable case for more federal economic aid for families struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.
Seven months after Congress passed the CARES Act, which included expanded unemployment benefits and one-time direct payments of $1,200 for many adults and $500 per child, the package's positive impact on poverty levels have already been reversed, according to a study by researchers at Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy and one out of the University of Chicago and Notre Dame.
While the number of people living in poverty fell by about four million after the CARES Act was passed, the Columbia study found that eight million more Americans are now poor than were in May--signaling that the pandemic has plunged more people into poverty than before the crisis.
The University of Chicago and Notre Dame study found that six million people have fallen into poverty in the past three months. Both reports found that the number of children living in poverty is rising, with 2.5 million more poor children since May.
Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein tweeted that the studies represent just one piece of bad news this week for families struggling with joblessness and the threat of Covid-19, as an agreement between the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans "remains out of reach."
\u201cSome headlines this week:\n\n-- +20 states hit COVID highs in 7 day averages\n\n-- 8 million fall into poverty w/ aid expiring\n\n-- Jobless claims up today near ~900K, higher than expected\n\n-- Layoffs in airlines, restaurants, hotels\n\n-- Agreement on aid package remains out of reach\u201d— Jeff Stein (@Jeff Stein) 1602771125
\u201c\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8 8 million fall into poverty as Congress, White House fail to approve stimulus\n\n$1,200 checks, unemployment benefits long gone in many cases\n\n"People are having a lot more trouble paying their bills, paying their rent, putting food on the table\u201d\n\nhttps://t.co/8YRGNnAWBm\u201d— Jeff Stein (@Jeff Stein) 1602765686
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday about a potential aid package, but the two sides came no closer to reaching a deal. House Democrats want more direct aid for families while Republicans in the Senate proposed a far more meager package last month with payroll assistance. President Donald Trump has shown some support for a means-tested direct payment while the White House has objected to financing a nationwide coronavirus testing strategy as cases surpass 7.9 million.
As Common Dreams has reported, the CARES Act has been recognized as a significant piece of anti-poverty legislation, saving 12 million people from being pushed into poverty when it was passed in March. The Columbia study found that in May, 18 million people were being kept out of poverty thanks to the direct payments and $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefits.
"It wasn't perfect, but hands down it's the most successful thing we've ever done in negating hardship," H. Luke Shaefer, a researcher at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times, which reported that millions of people--including undocumented immigrants and families who don't have large enough incomes to file tax returns--were left out of the package.
A major shortcoming of the CARES Act, Columbia researcher Christopher Wimer told the Times, "was its temporary nature."
The Times also detailed some of the lengths families are going to in order to stretch their dwindling incomes after facing layoffs and being forced to stay home from work to look after their children. A woman in Michigan reported cutting back on her meals in order to keep her children fed, while a mother in California said her family has been eating only cold food like cereal for dinner to save on propane costs and that she attempted to undergo an invasive medical procedure to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic.
The numbers and personal accounts of poverty "are very concerning," Bruce D. Meyer, co-author of the University of Chicago study, told the Times. "It's really important that we reinstate some of the lost benefits."
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