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Omicron wasn’t the only Grinch trying to steal Christmas this year | Editorial

From Sen. Joe Manchin to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the end of 2021 brought with it some lessons about the importance of empathy — and those who lack it.

A street performer dressed as the Grinch at Christmas Village at City Hall.
A street performer dressed as the Grinch at Christmas Village at City Hall.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

In the middle of what should have been a “hot vax summer” earlier this year, the delta variant of the coronavirus caused us all to change our plans. Any hope that we could enjoy a “cozy vax holiday” season this winter was taken away by a new phase of the pandemic — the omicron variant, which tried to steal Christmas, or at least the ability to gather together without fear.

Once again cases are up — to record levels in some places like New York City and the United Kingdom — and once again families that wanted to spend precious time together have had to go through a series of complicated calculations to assess their own personal risk-benefit ratios. Instead of scrambling to get last-minute gifts, people stood in long lines to get free at-home rapid tests — and hopefully vaccines and boosters.

But the omicron variant was far from the only Grinch this year.

A week ago, The Inquirer reported that officials at the Philadelphia Parking Authority claim that it had mistakenly overpaid $11.3 million to the School District — an amount that’s about 75% of the authority’s total revenue-sharing payment to Philly schools in fiscal year 2021; that’s also roughly equal to the cost of supporting more than 100 teachers, according to the district. Without providing receipts or any other proof of the bill — let alone any kind of rationale about how they arrived at the $11.3 million figure — parking authority officials demanded the money back from the cash-strapped district.

» READ MORE: Philly public school advocates call for PPA to drop $11 million debt against School District and more financial oversight

Councilmember Helen Gym and school advocates have called on the parking authority to drop the newly found debt. The parking authority says it needs the money, in large part to address some internal miscalculations of its pension costs. Given all of this, perhaps the most appropriate gift for the parking authority this year is an independent investigation into what seems to be its mishandling of millions of dollars.

The parking authority is not the only one who chose the week before Christmas to take money out of the pockets of those in need. Enter Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Democrat who has been the abstinent vote on President Joe Biden’s economic and climate agenda. Manchin went on Fox News last Sunday to announce that he is done negotiating the terms of the bill and will not vote for it.

A sticking point for Manchin, according to reports, is the child tax credit — a program that has lifted millions of children out of poverty nationwide. Since last July — thanks to a temporary expansion of the child tax credit that was included in the American Rescue Plan — families with children all over the country have been receiving monthly payments of $300 for each child under 6, and $250 for older children. The December payment was the last monthly check families will receive as the program expires. (Families will receive a lump sum — representing what they would have been given for the first six months of 2021 before the expanded tax credit program with monthly payments took effect — when they file their taxes.)

» READ MORE: Pa. parents are bracing for the end to the child tax credit payments. ‘We all need help,’ one said.

For a city like Philadelphia, where one in four residents lives in poverty, the expanded child tax credit provides an unparalleled opportunity to cut deep child poverty in half. Many families might also be surprised when they don’t receive a January payment, putting already stretched household budgets into the red.

There is no guarantee that the 2022 holiday season will not be overshadowed by a new variant, dubbed by another Greek letter. But there are ways to assure that families and individuals across the nation generally, and in Philadelphia specifically, are better able to weather the storm. We can’t make the omicron variant go away, and maybe we can’t make an out-of-state senator’s heart grow three sizes, but we can hold entities like the parking authority to account — and we can work to elect people in the upcoming midterm elections who truly understand kindness, empathy, and the spirit of giving.