Stimulus Update: Will Omicron Surge Bring Stimulus Checks Back to the Table in 2022?

People waiting in a socially distanced line outdoors for vaccine clinic.

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The COVID-19 situation has worsened. What does that mean for stimulus checks?

Key points

  • The omicron variant is fueling a surge in COVID-19 cases.
  • If the economy is forced to shut down to some degree, it could make the case for more stimulus funds.

Last year, as Americans across the country geared up to ring in 2021, there was an air of despair that was tough to ignore. The COVID-19 outbreak was in full swing, and with vaccines being mostly unavailable, it was shaping up to be a bleak winter.

Unfortunately, we're not exactly starting off 2022 on a much better note from a COVID-related standpoint. While vaccines are, thankfully, easy to come by, the highly transmissible omicron variant is currently wreaking havoc, causing explosions of outbreaks across the country. And while initial reports seem to indicate that omicron may produce milder symptoms than previous COVID-19 variants, a lot of people are beginning 2022 in quarantine due to exposure to the virus or a confirmed case.

Now the good news is that if the pattern in the U.S. mimics that of South Africa, where omicron was first flagged as a variant of concern, the current wave of infections could subside by late January. But if it's prolonged, it could be a very tough winter not just from a health perspective, but an economic one.

Will economic turmoil ensue?

As of the end of 2021, the national jobless rate had reached its lowest level since the start of the pandemic. And right now, the U.S. economy generally looks strong.

But that could change in the coming weeks if omicron takes out a large chunk of the U.S. workforce. Furthermore, if the situation doesn't improve, local shutdowns and restrictions may need to be enforced that result in layoffs and income loss, even if only on a temporary basis. And that's a scenario that could trigger a fourth stimulus check.

To be clear, President Biden has said that he doesn't intend to implement widespread shutdowns similar to those enforced early on during the pandemic. But if the omicron variant continues to fuel a surge in COVID-19 cases to the point where healthcare systems become overwhelmed, some degree of government intervention may become necessary.

Should Americans hope for a fourth stimulus check?

The economy has, at this point, come a long way since the start of the pandemic, when the jobless rate reached a record high. If the COVID-19 situation gets worse and impacts the economy in a negative way, it could make the case to send another stimulus check into Americans' bank accounts. But that's a backward step no one should hope for.

If anything, we should hope that the omicron surge does indeed prove to be relatively mild and short-lived. And we should also hope that businesses aren't forced to shutter temporarily in its wake.

Many businesses are still in the process of recovering from 2020. And at this point, we should be rooting for continued economic improvement instead of a setback.

It's also worth noting that if too many restrictions are imposed due to the current outbreak, it could result in more supply chain disruptions. And that could, in turn, produce even higher levels of inflation for U.S. consumers to deal with.

Right now, many people are struggling to make ends meet due to higher living costs across the board. A fourth stimulus check might help in that regard, but if rampant inflation lingers, it could easily erode that benefit.

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