CDC Eases Key Rule on Social Distancing

CDC Eases Key Rule on Social Distancing

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Plus - IRS warns of delays in new program
Friday, March 19, 2021
 

CDC Eases Rules on Distancing in Schools

Elementary school students can sit 3 feet from each other in classrooms as long as they are wearing masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday. The agency said it was relaxing its guidelines after new research showed that the old standard of 6 feet between students was unnecessary in many educational settings.

The new 3-foot rule applies to all elementary schools, and also to middle and high schools in communities with moderate levels of spread of Covid-19. Older students in communities with high levels of viral spread should stay 6 feet apart, the CDC said, as should all adults working in schools.

“These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based road map to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Pressure to reopen: President Joe Biden has called for the majority of schools to reopen and return to full schedules, and CDC’s updated guidelines will make it easier for local school districts to hit that target. The issue has been a flashpoint throughout the country, with some experts questioning the CDC’s stringent guidelines and many parents calling for a full reopening.

But there is still resistance from some groups, including the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, which have questioned the guidelines’ applicability to older, more crowded, and poorly ventilated schools in urban settings. “We need to make sure that before we do any changing or easing up of the mitigation strategies that we are making sure we have evidence from those diverse populations,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, told The Washington Post. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she would “reserve judgment” on the new guidelines pending further review.

The bottom line: Most schools are currently open on at least a partial basis, and the CDC’s ruling should speed the process of getting more students back into classrooms this spring. “I’m hopeful that we are turning a corner on this pandemic,” the CDC’s Walensky said. “Getting our children back to school in-person instruction as soon as possible is a critical first step in doing so.”

Chart of the Day: Big Boom Soon?

“The U.S. economic recovery is picking up steam as Americans increase their spending, particularly on in-person services that were battered by the coronavirus pandemic,” The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Taking note of the increased activity, which is expected to get another boost from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, economists surveyed by the Journal in March once again raised their estimate for growth in 2021 to 5.95% on average, up from a 4.87% projection a month ago. (The rate estimate is measured from fourth-quarter 2020 to fourth-quarter 2021.)

If the estimate pans out, growth will hit its highest level in nearly 40 years. “You’re looking at the biggest surge in economic growth that most people who are working today have ever experienced in their working lives,” Tim Quinlan of Wells Fargo Securities told the Journal.

IRS Warns of Possible Delays in Anti-Poverty Program

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig warned Congress that his agency may have a hard time executing a new program designed to reduce child poverty.

In testimony Thursday in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rettig said the tax agency is struggling with a massive backlog of tax returns and recent rule changes, including the extension of the tax filing deadline. On top of those significant challenges, Congress recently authorized an expansion of the child tax credit system, which requires the IRS to send checks to millions of households starting in July.

Through the new tax credit, which was part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Democrats pushed through Congress last week, eligible families will receive refundable tax credits of $3,600 for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 for those aged 6 to 17. The credits are to be paid out on a regular basis, unlike more typical tax credits that come into play only when tax returns are filed.

Rettig told lawmakers that the IRS may not have enough staff to set up a new website that will serve as a communications hub for households and the government, enabling individuals to provide key information such as income or marital status. Pushing the tax deadline back a month means that the agency now has “one month less to do the development” necessary to create that crucial communications portal, Rettig said.

A key issue is the timing of the payments, which was left ambiguous in the program’s authorization. Proponents want checks sent out on a monthly basis, but Rettig said that it “might be a challenge to get into monthly right out of the box.” Nevertheless, “we intend to do our best to get there,” he added.

Why it matters: The effectiveness of the child tax credit, which proponents say could cut child poverty in half, depends on successful implementation by an already overburdened IRS. More broadly, the issue highlights the enormous challenges facing the new administration in implementing new programs quickly.

“Rettig’s comments Thursday illustrate the massive undertaking that awaits the Biden administration as it seeks to bring online one of the largest rescue packages in U.S. history,” The Washington Post’s Tony Room wrote. “The government must distribute aid to states and localities, send funds to schools and public health agencies in need, and dispatch another round of stimulus payments, all the while rethinking elements of the tax code — right in the middle of a still-evolving pandemic.”

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