This holiday season is very different from last for many Americans, when Covid-19 testing shortages and an Omicron variant surge disrupted many family celebrations.
But the country faces a new set of complex challenges in late fall and winter. Even though Covid testing as well as an updated reminder is widely available and Thanksgiving holiday travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, a host of pressures on the global economy and a recent rise in illnesses Respiratory diseases are expected to continue to impact Americans in the month ahead, leaving President Joe Biden with the challenge of resolving national concerns over issues sometimes beyond the executive branch’s control.
The latest data from the University of Michigan’s Consumer Confidence Index shows that US consumers still aren’t feeling very confident about the state of the US economy this holiday season. Concerns remain, for example, about high costs in spending categories associated with vacations, despite some moderation in inflation.
While prices for airfare, gasoline and hotel rooms are down from record highs reached earlier in 2022, they are still among the highest on record for this time of year. . Ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal are estimated to cost shoppers 13.5% more this year than last, market research firm IRI predicted earlier this month, using data from October – although some food costs appear to have come down as the holidays approach.
The White House maintains that Biden remains focused on fighting inflation and reducing the effects of high prices – a major tension this year that has been felt globally due to a myriad of factors, including supply chain disruptions and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“We are seeing signs of progress ahead of the holiday season – grocery prices rose 0.4% in October, a significant deceleration from increases this summer and the smallest increase since December last year” , a White House official told CNN, adding that input costs (the cost of producing a good or service) “have declined over the past 2 months, indicating more progress on grocery prices in the coming months”.
Further product shortages and potential price rises could be seen early next year as concerns over a possible railway strike resurfaced after the railways’ biggest union recently announced that its rank and file members had rejected a tentative agreement reached in September.
Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, told CNN that Christmas holiday stocks were unlikely to be widely affected by a strike. But he admitted that a rail strike in early December could disrupt the shipment of some larger, bulky items that are being transported by rail this holiday season.
Biden has become personally involved in talks to reach the tentative agreement that averted a strike with the nation’s major freight railroads earlier this fall. And White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said he was once again directly involved in the talks. But on Thursday, the president appeared to contradict his main messenger, saying he was “not directly engaged” with railroad and labor negotiators. “I cannot (comment) because we are still in the middle of negotiations. My team has been in contact with all parties…and I have – I haven’t engaged directly yet because they’re still talking,” Biden said.
Before the holidays this week, White House officials have shared a new graphic highlighting the president’s accomplishments “for chatting with your uncle at Thanksgiving.” The talking points led with lines about efforts to reduce costs and asserted that “despite global challenges, we are making progress.” One point, however, incorrectly stated that there would be “NO tax on people earning over $400,000 – he kept his promise”.
In addition to rolling out a messaging strategy aimed at highlighting existing achievements, as Biden heads into the new year, the White House is looking to highlight ways the Cut Inflation Act will reduce the daily costs, the official told CNN. Since returning from his last trip abroad, Biden has already touted several provisions of the law that will take effect Jan. 1 — including tax credits for home energy efficiency and a $35 cap on the cost insulin for the elderly on Medicare.
Home heating costs are also on the rise – up 18% nationally on top of last year’s 17% peak, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.
According to the Energy Information Administration, several factors are driving home heating prices higher, including the war in Ukraine, OPEC+ cuts, rising energy exports, falling energy inventories and strong demand. of natural gas in the US electricity sector.
The Biden administration announced in November the distribution of $4.5 billion in federal aid to help reduce heating bills for many Americans this winter through the Household Energy Assistance Program. low income. However, advocates say additional funds are needed. This month, the Department of Energy also announced the allocation of nearly $9 billion to states and tribes for energy efficiency programs under the Inflation Reduction Act.
And just as Americans reunite with loved ones across the country this holiday season, there have also been concerns about cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, influenza and Covid-19.
The administration is embarking on a new six-week push to deliver more updated Covid-19 boosters to arms. More than 35 million people in the United States have already received the updated bivalent booster, but that’s only a fraction of those who are eligible to get it.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said on “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday that he was confident the United States would overcome the current influx of respiratory viruses sweeping the country.
Regarding RSV, Jha said “definitely a problem, we’ve seen it now, it looks like it’s peaked nationally, starting to come down.”
“In terms of hospital capacity, we’ve been in touch with every jurisdiction in the country, we’ve been very clear if you need additional help, the federal government is ready to help, ready to send support staff, ready to support, send in additional supplies,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll get through this, especially if people step in and protect their families by getting the Covid and flu shots.”
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