Stimulus Update: Stalled COVID Funding Bills Could Limit Vaccine Availability

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  • Congress is being urged to pass a $22.5 billion spending bill.
  • If it doesn't move forward, the U.S. might run out of money to provide booster shots and COVID-19 treatment to the public.

Forget stimulus checks. At this point, lawmakers need to focus on coming up with the money to keep the public healthy.

It's been over a year since the last round of stimulus checks started hitting Americans' bank accounts. And without a windfall like that, many households are struggling to make ends meet in the face of rampant inflation.

Compounding the issue is the absence of the boosted Child Tax Credit. The maximum value of the Child Tax Credit rose from $2,000 in 2020 to $3,600 in 2021 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those aged 6 to 17. Just as importantly, half of the credit was paid out in the form of monthly installments so recipients didn't have to wait to get their money.

The Biden administration was hoping to extend the boosted Child Tax Credit to 2022 and wrote legislation to that effect into the Build Back Better bill. But that bill has since stalled out in the Senate, leaving American families out in the cold.

But that's not the only spending bill that needs a push. The White House is currently urging Congress to pass a $22.5 billion spending bill to keep up the fight against COVID-19. And if it doesn't move forward, the government may not have adequate funds to supply the public with vaccines, booster shots, and life-saving COVID-19 treatment.

A major public health crisis could loom

It's an oft-bemoaned fact that Americans aren't generally entitled to free healthcare. But an exception has been made from the start for COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Americans have been entitled to free COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines. The government has even sent out several free rounds of at-home COVID-19 tests.

But at this point, more funding is needed to keep battling COVID-19. And if it doesn't come through, the federal government will not be in a position to purchase enough booster shots, vaccines, and COVID-19 antiviral pills to meet demand.

Last week, House Democrats stripped $15 billion in COVID-19 funding from a broader spending bill after failing to reach an agreement with Republicans. Republicans are calling for Congress to offset new COVID-related spending by slashing funds for state and local governments, which Democrats have pushed back on.

More funding is needed

Recently, the CDC relaxed its COVID-related guidelines in an effort to help Americans return to their pre-pandemic lives. But if a lack of funding limits the government's ability to manage the outbreak, the CDC may be forced to walk back its guidelines. That could, in turn, have a huge economic impact -- and not a good one.

In fact, if the government doesn't get the funding it needs to manage the COVID-19 situation, a host of terrible consequences could ensue. Free testing and treatment may no longer be on the table. Boosters and vaccines may need to be paid for out of pocket. And that could really hurt the uninsured in particular.

Furthermore, the White House is seeking funding to fuel the development of a broad vaccine that targets a range of COVID-19 variants and help boost vaccination rates in underserved countries. Doing so could limit the extent to which new variants emerge. If that funding doesn't come through, the pandemic could drag on for years.

As such, while it's natural for Americans to be fighting for a financial lifeline at a time when living costs have risen so substantially, a bigger priority for lawmakers is getting the funding needed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Once there's money in place to continue to provide testing, boosters, vaccines, and treatments, lawmakers can perhaps refocus their efforts on fighting to keep the boosted Child Tax Credit alive.

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