Pandemic Relief: What Remains and What’s Gone

The COVID-19 social safety net is fraying, but much of it has stayed in place

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The massive social safety net created during the pandemic is fraying some, but it’s not nearly gone yet.

Amid the pandemic’s economic downturn, the federal government created a slew of new programs from scratch, sending out stimulus payments, beefing up unemployment benefits, pausing payments on student loans, and helping out renters and homeowners who couldn’t make their payments on time, among many other programs. With the job market having made steps toward recovery since then, some of that safety net is being withdrawn—but some of it is set to last longer, and some parts of it might even be made permanent. 

Here’s a look at what’s still available if you’re continuing to struggle financially because of the pandemic:

What's Continuing

Emergency Rental Assistance

This federal program created in December pays up to 18 months of back rent and utility bills to tenants who have been financially hurt by the pandemic. It’s administered by state and local agencies, and its implementation has varied considerably in different areas. The government has created a website to help find the program in your area.

State Eviction Bans

A federal ban on evictions was struck down in August, but moratoriums in 13 states remain intact, including in New York, California, and Illinois. In some states, tenants must apply for rental assistance to gain legal protections against eviction. However, some of those local bans are ending soon: California’s, for example, only lasts until Sept. 30, while New Jersey’s runs to the end of the year.

Child Tax Credit

The child tax credit was radically changed in 2021 on a temporary basis to a maximum $3,600-per-child benefit reaching even the poorest households. Previously, it was an end-of-the-year tax credit for middle and higher-income families with a maximum of $2,000 per child . Not only that, but half of the 2021 credit is now being delivered as a monthly check of up to $300 per child. (Because it’s a tax credit, though, it might not be reaching low-income families who aren’t required to file taxes—the ones who could benefit the most. Democratic leaders are attempting to extend the credit through at least 2025 in the spending bill they’re currently drawing up.

Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

The credit, which helps pay for childcare and other expenses, was substantially boosted for 2021 by the American Rescue Plan, the pandemic relief bill enacted in March. Families now can claim a credit of up to $8,000 for two or more dependents, up from $2,100 before. Democrats are attempting to make this change permanent.

Student Loan Deferral

Student loan payments, a source of stress for many borrowers, came to a halt during the pandemic. Through Jan. 31, 2022, payments, interest, and even collections are all on pause. Some borrowers are hoping that President Joe Biden will offer further relief, potentially in the form of loan forgiveness.

Free School Lunch Meals

Schools will continue to serve free school lunches through the 2021-2022 school year to students regardless of family income, under a Department of Agriculture program instituted during the pandemic.

Extra SNAP Benefits

The pandemic relief bill passed in March boosted monthly food assistance benefits via the SNAP (food stamp) program by $28 per person, on average. The extra food aid, combined with enhanced school lunch programs, prevented 3.2 million people from falling into poverty, according to a Census estimate. The extra benefits, however, expire at the end of September.

Health Insurance Subsidies

Buying health insurance through a government-run exchange became cheaper for many people through new and expanded subsidies created by the American Rescue Plan.

For example, a typical 60-year-old making $55,000 a year would pay $390 a month for mid-tier “silver”-level health coverage, compared to $887 before, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

The savings last through 2022, although Democratic lawmakers are trying to make them permanent. You can sign up for health coverage for 2022 at Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, or through a state-run health care exchange in states that don’t participate in the federal marketplace.

Mortgage Forbearance

Homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (about 70% of the country’s home loans) can hit the “pause” button on their mortgages, skipping payments without penalties or fees, thanks to a special mortgage forbearance program that was started at the beginning of the pandemic. (Some  mortgage servicers offer similar plans for loans not backed by Fannie and Freddie.) While forbearance is running out for people who took it at the first opportunity, it’s not too late to enter forbearance for up to one year.

Forbearance doesn’t wipe out any debt, and borrowers still have to make arrangements to pay the money back after they leave forbearance, either paying over time or when the loan ends.

What's Ended

Stimulus Payments

Three rounds of stimulus payments have been distributed by the IRS, and no more are planned. The first, for up to $1,200 per person, went out in April 2020, shortly after the pandemic hit. That was followed by a $600-per-person payment in December, and a final round worth up to $1,400 per person in March. (If you do get a stimulus check from the IRS at this point, it’s probably a “plus-up” payment to make up for money you should have gotten from the third stimulus check, but didn’t.)

Extra Unemployment Benefits

The government bolstered unemployment benefits when the pandemic hit in three major ways. It supplemented checks with extra weekly payments (at first $600, and later $300); it allowed contract and gig workers, who aren’t usually eligible, to file for unemployment; and it extended the period of time that people could collect benefits. All of those programs ended on Sept. 6, and earlier than that in certain states that cut them off ahead of schedule to encourage workers to resume their jobs.

Federal Eviction Moratorium

A federal eviction moratorium, first imposed in September 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, banned evictions of renters who were hard hit by the pandemic’s economic downturn. While the moratorium required tenants to file paperwork to claim protection, and was far from comprehensive, researchers estimated it prevented 1.6 million eviction filings nationwide while it was in effect. The ban expired on July 31, and a second version lasted less than a month before being struck down by the Supreme Court.

Paycheck Protection Program

A program from the Small Business Administration gave forgivable loans to businesses to keep their workers employed during the height of the pandemic. It ended May 31, after the SBA had processed more than 11.8 million loans worth about $800 billion.

Free or Low-Cost Health Insurance for the Unemployed

People who claimed unemployment at some point during 2021 were eligible to purchase free or low-cost health insurance plans through government-run health care exchanges, with coverage lasting through 2021. The special enrollment period for health coverage for this year ended on Aug. 15, although people who are currently enrolled in health plans may still be able to get free or low-cost coverage, and people who recently lost employer-provided health insurance can also still sign up. Thanks to a provision of the American Rescue Plan, people who lost their employer-provided health coverage were also entitled to have the government pay to continue it at no cost to them via the federal COBRA health insurance program, but only through Sept. 30.

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Diccon at dhyatt@thebalance.com.