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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Stimulus checks carved out by two major U.S. COVID relief bills — one signed by then President Trump last December and one by President Biden in March — helped many Americans avoid disaster, a new University of Michigan study analyzing census data finds.

Why it matters: More Americans were able to afford food and pay for standard household expenses after stimulus checks were distributed by the IRS in January and April, the analysis found.

Yes, but: Scott Winship, director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, questioned how reliable the census data is, per the New York Times . He noted that "fewer than one in 10 of the households the government contacts answer the biweekly surveys."

  • "He also argued that hardship would have fallen anyway, since the last round of stimulus checks coincided with tax season, which sends large sums to low-wage workers through tax credits," per the Times.
  • Zachary Parolin, a researcher at Columbia University, said that about half the country's decline in poverty would have taken place without pandemic relief, primarily because of earned-income and child tax credits.

What they found: Adults with children and people in households with annual incomes less than $25,000 benefitted most from direct coronavirus relief in the two bills, the study found.

  • Respondents to the Census Household Pulse Survey reported lessened anxiety and depression after the bills were passed.

What to watch: The expanded monthly child tax credit introduced in Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package will begin arriving in parents' bank accounts on July 15, according to the White House.

Go deeper

Sep 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Manchin backs as little as $1 trillion of Biden's $3.5 trillion plan

Sen. Joe Manchin. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has privately warned the White House and congressional leaders that he has specific policy concerns with President Biden's $3.5 trillion social spending dream — and he'll support as little as $1 trillion of it.

  • At most, he's open to supporting $1.5 trillion, sources familiar with the discussions say.

Why it matters: In a 50-50 Senate, that could mean the ceiling for Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda — and that many progressive priorities, from universal preschool to free community college, are in danger of dying this Congress.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Sep 8, 2021 - Health

COVID didn't lead to a pandemic of hunger in the U.S.

Data: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Chart: Axios Visuals

New data shows rates of hunger among U.S. households didn't spike in 2020, despite the effects of the pandemic.

The big picture: Economic downturns as sharp as the one experienced during the worst of COVID-19 last year usually result in devastating spikes in hunger. 1 in 10 households are still food insecure, but massive increases in aid helped avert much worse.

Private sector wants in on America's student debt crisis

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies are starting to play a role in chipping away at America's mounting pile of student debt.

Why it matters: Widespread student debt relief proposals have stalled in Washington. Businesses are seizing on an opening that benefits them too: a perk that lures workers — and in some cases, a tax break.