In response to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. federal government enacted initiatives designed to help households weather the pandemic’s effects. These initiatives included expansions of existing programs, such as unemployment insurance, as well as new programs like the economic impact payments. In this brief, we investigate the extent to which households relied on an array of public benefit programs over the course of the pandemic, how they used their economic impact payments, and the extent to which the unemployment insurance expansion was effective in insulating recipients from hardship during the pandemic.
We find that, in general, households were much more likely to report using their economic impact payments for essential purchases and savings than for other reported purposes. We also find while higher-income households were more likely to save their economic impact payments, lower-income households were still able to save at least a portion of these funds. Evidence suggests enrollment in four different public benefits—SNAP, TANF, unemployment insurance, and social security payments—increased over the course of the pandemic. Yet, large percentages of unemployment recipients had to wait in excess of two weeks to receive their unemployment payments and relatedly, high rates of hardship among unemployment insurance recipients increased starkly over the first year of the pandemic. These results speak both to the importance of current and future policy responses to the pandemic in helping households maintain a measure of financial security, as well as to the potential gaps in this response.
Bufe, Sam; Roll, Stephen; Kristensen, Katie; Zhao, Dan; and Michal Grinstein-Weiss, “Use of Public Benefits Over the First Year of Pandemic,” (2021). Social Policy Institute Research.