After a ‘horrendous’ 2021, the I.R.S. will start the tax season with a major backlog.

At least 10 million returns from last year remain unprocessed because of short-staffing at the tax collector, according to the national taxpayer advocate.

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The vast majority of taxpayers — 77 percent — received refunds in 2021, but tens of millions of them experienced delays, a new report says.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Internal Revenue Service will kick off the approaching tax season with a backlog of at least 10 million unprocessed returns from last year, according to a new report by the national taxpayer advocate.

The pile of returns remaining are from the “most challenging year taxpayers and tax professionals have ever experienced,” the advocate, Erin M. Collins, wrote in her annual report.

Although the backlog is not too different from last season’s, it is a far higher number than the unprocessed returns the I.R.S. typically faced before the pandemic.

One big reason for the pileup, according to the report, is that the federal government charged the I.R.S. with administering various stimulus payments and other programs during the pandemic. That meant the agency, which has had its budget and work force shrink in recent years, had to reallocate a lot of resources to carry out those financial relief programs.

Those factors led to a “horrendous” filing season in 2021 from the standpoint of taxpayers, Ms. Collins wrote in her report, which was sent to Congress on Wednesday. Last year, the vast majority of taxpayers — 77 percent — received refunds on their 2020 tax returns, but tens of millions of them experienced delays.

“Paper is the I.R.S.’s kryptonite, and the agency is still buried in it,” Ms. Collins said in a statement, referring to the millions of paper returns that account for most of the backlog. The Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, which Ms. Collins leads, is an independent entity within the I.R.S. that focuses on issues of taxpayer rights and services.

The I.R.S. itself warned taxpayers this week that staffing shortages and backlogs would translate into another frustrating filing season, which begins on Jan. 24 and runs through April 18 (in most states).

In a briefing on Monday, Treasury Department officials highlighted the lack of resources at the I.R.S. and said a lower level of service should be expected — including the time it will take staff to answer phone calls from taxpayers with questions. Treasury officials noted that in the first half of 2021, fewer than 15,000 employees were available to handle more than 240 million calls — one person for every 16,000 calls.

Officials blamed Republican legislators, who have blocked efforts to increase funding at the agency, for the budgetary constraints.

The Biden administration is seeking an additional $80 billion over a decade for the I.R.S. to increase its staff, upgrade its technology and improve its enforcement and customer service capacity. That request is part of the administration’s Build Back Better Act, which is stalled in Congress.

“Additional resources are essential to helping our employees do more in 2022 — and beyond,” Charles P. Rettig, the I.R.S. commissioner, said in a statement on Monday.

Ms. Collins reiterated the agency’s recommendation that Congress provide it with enough money to do its job. Since 2010, the I.R.S.’s staffing is down 17 percent, according to the report. Its workload, measured by the number of individual returns, is up from 142 million in 2010 to 169 million last year — an increase of 19 percent.

Over the past two years, the agency has been charged with administering several pandemic-related programs, including three rounds of stimulus (totaling 478 million payments worth $812 billion) and $93 billion in advance payments for the expanded child tax credit to more than 36 million families.

“One irony of the past year is that, despite its challenges, the I.R.S. performed well under the circumstances,” Ms. Collins wrote.

As of late December, the I.R.S. had yet to finish processing six million original tax returns, 2.3 million amended returns, more than two million employer quarterly returns and five million pieces of taxpayer correspondence — with some submissions dating to April and with many taxpayers still waiting for refunds, according to the advocate’s report. In contrast, there are fewer than a million unaddressed returns in a more typical year, according to Treasury officials.

Even millions of returns filed electronically — which usually flow through the system more quickly — were suspended during processing because of discrepancies between the amounts claimed on returns and what the I.R.S. had on record.

The issue arose most frequently with the recovery rebate credit, which taxpayers claimed when they did not receive part or all of their economic incentive payments from the prior year. Those returns had to be manually reviewed by the agency, which resulted in more than 11 million math error notices. When the taxpayer disagreed with the error and submitted a response, the report said, it went into the I.R.S.’s paper processing backlog, further delaying the refund.

Ms. Collins wrote that these discrepancies were likely to crop up again this tax season — this time for the third round of stimulus payments, issued in March, and the new advanced child tax credits — resulting in more delayed returns. The I.R.S. is trying to head those problems off by sending notices to taxpayers who received the stimulus and credit payments, showing how much they received.

Alan Rappeport contributed reporting.

Correction: Jan. 12, 2022

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the time frame measuring a 19 percent increase in individual returns. It was since 2010, not 2020.

Inflation

+7.0% in

December

+5.5%

without

food and

energy

Year-over-year percent change

in the Consumer Price Index

Inflation

+7.0% in

December

+5.5%

without food

and energy

Year-over-year percent change in the Consumer Price Index

Inflation climbed to its highest level in 40 years at the end of 2021, a troubling development for President Biden and economic policymakers as rapid price gains erode consumer confidence and cast a shadow of uncertainty over the economy’s future.

The Consumer Price Index climbed 7 percent in the year through December, and 5.5 percent after stripping out volatile prices such as food and fuel. The last time the main inflation index eclipsed 7 percent was 1982.

Policymakers have spent months waiting for inflation to fade, hoping supply chain problems might ease and allow companies to catch up with booming consumer demand. Instead, continued waves of the coronavirus have locked down factories, and shipping companies have struggled to work through extended backlogs as consumers continue to buy foreign goods at a rapid clip. Forecasters expect price gains to weaken this year, but how quickly that will happen is unclear, posing a big economic policy question for Mr. Biden and the Federal Reserve.

“Obviously 7 percent is a pretty big sticker shock,” said Omair Sharif, founder of the research firm Inflation Insights. He added that inflation could plateau around 7 percent, but would take time to ease back from that peak. It is likely to end 2022 lower, but still above the near-2 percent level that policymakers prefer.

“It’s just a lot of wood to chop to get down to anything approaching the good old days,” Mr. Sharif said.

The fresh data released on Wednesday showed the costs of used cars and food both increasing quickly, and provided further evidence that price gains are broadening beyond just a few pandemic-disrupted categories. Rents continue to pick up at a solid pace, and restaurant meals are more expensive, possibly a sign that recent wage increases are beginning to contribute to higher prices as employers look to cover higher labor costs.

That price increases are becoming more widespread — and creeping into areas that are not so directly affected by the pandemic — is a worrisome development for economic policymakers, who are now poised to respond. Federal Reserve officials have indicated that they expect to raise interest rates several times this year as they try to cool demand and the economy in an attempt to prevent the pandemic-era burst in prices from becoming a permanent feature of the economic landscape.

Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, emphasized on Tuesday that the central bank was shifting into inflation-fighting mode after nearly two years of trying to prop up the pandemic-stricken economy by keeping interest rates near zero. Officials expect price gains to slow considerably, but are closely watching how quickly that happens as they consider the pace of rate increases. Investors expect four rate moves this year, and policymakers penciled in three as of their December meeting.

Policymakers have spent months waiting for inflation to fade, hoping that supply chain snags would ease to meet booming consumer demand.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

“If we see inflation persisting at high levels longer than expected, if we have to raise interest rates more over time, we will,” Mr. Powell told lawmakers during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Fed officials target a separate inflation index, the personal consumption expenditures measure. The C.P.I. data released Wednesday feeds into those figures and are released earlier, which is why they draw investor and policymaker attention.

Controlling inflation is primarily the Fed’s job, but rising prices are a political liability for Mr. Biden. Democrats are heading into a challenging midterm election year, when they will battle to retain control of Congress. Republicans have increasingly accused Mr. Biden and his party of driving prices higher by flooding the economy with too much money in 2021, including a third round of stimulus checks, and the president’s poll numbers are showing dissatisfaction among voters.

Inflation concerns are also complicating Mr. Biden’s ability to pass his sprawling climate and social policy bill. Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who holds a key vote given his party’s razor-thin control of the Senate, has cited high prices as one of the reasons he won’t back the legislation.

Mr. Biden and his advisers have tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, while acknowledging the pain that price increases are causing consumers. They point to the economy’s quick rebound from the pandemic-induced 2020 recession, including falling levels of unemployment. The administration is also trying to use its executive powers to alleviate supply chain problems and cool off costs — pushing ports to extend their opening hours and releasing strategic petroleum reserves to help bring fuel prices down — though most economists say those moves help only around the edges.

On Wednesday, the administration highlighted that the monthly gain in headline inflation had ticked down slightly — to 0.5 percent from 0.8 percent in November — though that rise is still unusually rapid.

“This report underscores that we still have more work to do, with price increases still too high and squeezing family budgets,” Mr. Biden said in a statement after the release.

Policymakers and economists had initially hoped that rapid price gains would fade quickly in 2021, and many still expect them to moderate throughout 2022. But economists are paying attention to a few factors that could keep prices rising too quickly for comfort.

Housing costs, based on what it costs to rent a place to live, make up about a third of the Consumer Price Index, so the fact that landlords are charging more will matter to overall inflation.

“My gut feeling is that the pace of appreciation is going to be slower in 2022 than it was in 2021,” said Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. “But I don’t see rents actually dropping or getting more affordable.”

Global supply chains also continue to experience disruptions that are leading to shortages of parts and products and pushing costs higher across broad array of consumer goods.

The price of food grew 6.3 percent and apparel rose 5.8 percent in the year to December. Used cars and trucks — a big factor in price gains since last spring, along with new vehicles — surged 37.3 percent. Auto manufacturers have been struggling to obtain parts — particularly computer chips imported from Asia — delaying production of new vehicles and pushing up demand for a finite supply of used ones.

More disruptions could be in store. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is leading to worker shortages for factories, ports, trucking companies and warehouses in the United States and overseas. And recent lockdowns in China meant to contain the coronavirus, inspired by the country’s continued embrace of a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the pandemic, could exacerbate the chip shortage, among other supply chain issues.

“If they stick to their zero-case doctrine, a global supply chain disaster is on the horizon,” Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, said about China.

There have been early signs that shipping route snarls and depleted inventories may be moderating, but many businesses say they have seen little improvement.

The price to ship a 40-foot container from Asia to the U.S. West coast hit $14,572 this week, down slightly from a peak of more than $20,000 in September, but still nearly a tenfold increase from two years ago, according to data from Freightos Group.

The group’s data also showed that delivery times for ocean shipments from China to the United States stretched to a record 80 days in December, up 85 percent from 2019.

“Much of the tumultuous nature of the supply chain that occurred over the entire last year continues, and unfortunately there is not a lot of relief in sight,” said Douglas Kent, the executive vice president of strategy and alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management.

That has become clear to Caroline McCroskey, 27 and from Tulsa, Okla., who manages marketing for a furniture manufacturer that imports pieces from China and Cambodia and sells them to major retailers. The company has seen sharp cost increases as shipping container prices have rocketed higher.

“The freight is bad enough, but we’ve seen a dramatic increase in leather hides and fabrics” along with other raw materials, including steel and foam, she said. “Nobody is feeling super optimistic about shipping rates returning to normal anytime soon.”

As it lingers, high inflation has been denting many Americans’ confidence in the economy, based on consumer surveys.

Economists and Wall Street analysts tend to focus on a measure of prices that strips out food and fuel costs, because they jump around from month to month, but those expenses matter to household pocketbooks.

Gas prices moderated somewhat in December, providing some relief for consumers, but “food at home” costs have been growing steadily more expensive and prices for meals at limited-service restaurants surged by 8 percent in 2021.

Jon Willow, 55, of Interlochen, Mich., has seen grocery costs climb steeply since the pandemic started — so much that she and her partner have tried to move away from purchased produce by canning vegetables from their garden and heating their henhouse through the winter so that their chickens keep producing eggs.

“We have a no-food-left-behind policy at the house now — we use everything,” she said, noting that they had preserved tomatoes, squash and asparagus.

Sydney Ember contributed reporting.

Annual price changes in December

Motor fuel

Fuel oil

Used cars and trucks

Car and truck rentals

Hotels and motels

Piped utility gas service

Beef and veal

Living room, kitchen

and dining furniture

Bacon and

breakfast sausage

New cars and trucks

Men’s suits, sport coats

and outerwear

Bedroom furniture

Women’s dresses

Postage and

delivery services

Footwear

Televisions

Computers and

peripherals

Public transportation

Airline fares

Health insurance

Recreational books

Smartphones

Food at employee

sites and schools

Annual price changes in December

Motor fuel

Fuel oil

Used cars and trucks

Car and truck rentals

Hotels and motels

Piped utility gas service

Beef and veal

Living room, kitchen and dining furniture

Bacon and breakfast sausage

New cars and trucks

Men’s suits, sport coats and outerwear

Bedroom furniture

Women’s dresses

Postage and delivery services

Footwear

Televisions

Computers and peripherals

Public transportation

Airline fares

Health insurance

Recreational books

Smartphones

Food at employee sites and schools

Persistent challenges in getting goods from factories to customers continue to drive up the price of cars, computer chips, furniture and other products, pushing up consumer prices in December at the fastest rate since 1982.

The Consumer Price Index climbed 7 percent in the year through December, and 5.5 percent after volatile prices such as food and fuel were stripped out, data released Wednesday showed.

The price of used cars and trucks surged 37.3 percent in the year to December, while food grew 6.3 percent and apparel rose 5.8 percent. Increases in the cost of energy and rent also drove price increases.

The Omicron variant is infecting workers at factories, ports, trucking companies and warehouses and leading to further shortages of some products and parts used for making goods. Strong demand from American consumers also continues to elevate shipping prices and fuel price increases for a variety of products.

China is also carrying out sweeping lockdowns to keep the variant from spreading ahead of the Beijing Olympics next month, raising the prospect of more disruptions in the coming weeks for supply chains that run through the country.

Despite some predictions that supply chain woes would dissipate, many businesses appear to have seen little improvement in supply chain problems that continue to raise costs and spill over into higher sticker prices.

“Much of the tumultuous nature of the supply chain that occurred over the entire last year continues, and unfortunately there is not a lot of relief in sight,” said Douglas Kent, the executive vice president of strategy and alliances at Association for Supply Chain Management.

The price to ship a 40-foot container from Asia to the U.S. West coast hit $14,572 this week, down slightly from a peak of more than $20,000 in September, but still nearly a tenfold increase from two years ago, according to data from Freightos Group.

The group’s data also showed that delivery times for ocean shipments from China to the United States stretched to a record 80 days in December, up 85 percent from 2019.

Judah Levine, head of research for Freightos Group, said delays were still a reality for American importers, because of still-surging demand and continued congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the gateway for many goods from Asia. Recent flight cancellations due to the Omicron surge would further restrict cargo capacity and help keep rates up, he said.

Speaking at the Port of Long Beach on Tuesday, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the record volumes of goods moving through American ports were straining systems that had seen decades of underinvestment, leading to delays and price increases.

But he praised the ports for making changes like extending their operating hours and prioritizing shipments of medical supplies, and said that more investments to expand capacity were on the way.

“There’s no question that when you have a scarcity of access to shipping, you’re going to see upward pressure on prices, and that’s going to part of our challenge when it comes to inflation,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

With price increases weighing on the president’s approval ratings, the Biden administration has convened meetings with leaders from logistics firms, retailers, ports and trucking companies to try to overcome these obstacles.

It has promised $17 billion in investments at ports as part of the infrastructure law. But given that most links in the supply chain are owned by the private sector, the administration has found few short-term solutions to the supply crunch.

While much of the United States seems intent on returning to business as usual, at least as soon as the current Omicron surge subsides, further disruptions in other parts of the world could prolong the difficulties for companies and consumers.

China, home to many of the world’s factories, has confined millions of its residents in recent weeks to try to keep the Omicron variant at bay, including in the port cities of Ningbo, Tianjin and Shenzhen.

The country’s zero-tolerance strategy for Covid is leading to the broadest lockdowns since the pandemic began, slowing traffic to some of the world’s busiest ports and sparking concerns about more disruptions this year. China remains the largest supplier of goods to the United States.

“If they stick to their zero-case doctrine, a global supply chain disaster is on the horizon,” said Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.

Many would-be home buyers found themselves on the sidelines as housing prices rose steeply during the pandemic. Credit…Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Housing costs jumped last month, as higher prices continued to constrain aspiring home buyers and push up the demand for apartment and home leases.

Rent costs rose 0.4 percent in December, according to government data released on Wednesday, helping to drive the Consumer Price Index up 7 percent in the year through December.

Rent, along with “owners’ equivalent rent” — a measure that tries to put a price on how much homeowners would pay for housing if they hadn’t purchased their home — make up about a third of the index, so they are a key component of inflation.

The relentless increase in housing costs, which typically move slowly and remain high once they rise, could continue to put pressure on the Federal Reserve because it could prolong price gains. Rising rents also affect household budgets acutely and persistently, which contribute to feelings of economic unease that could spell trouble for Democrats heading into a midterm election year that will be pivotal for the fate of President Biden’s agenda.

The December data was a capstone to a buoyant year for the housing market after a weak 2020. Several factors have contributed to the surge, including that many would-be home buyers — often young adults eager for more space during the pandemic — found themselves on the sidelines as housing prices rose steeply during the pandemic. This kept more people in the rental market, leading to increased desire for rental apartments, homes and condominiums.

At the same time, supply chain issues and labor shortages continued to curtail the number of new houses and apartment buildings available, exacerbating the mismatch between housing supply and demand.

“Americans were playing musical chairs with their housing but more and more people kept joining into the game, and we had trouble building chairs because of lumber shortages,” said Igor Popov, the chief economist at Apartment List.

Unlike in 2020, when rental costs rose in more affordable markets and midsize suburbs but fell in big cities such as New York, rents in 2021 “went up dramatically basically everywhere,” Mr. Popov said.

There may not be much relief for renters this year, either. Apartment List’s real-time rent tracker showed that the market began to cool down at the end of the year. Many economists anticipate that the rate of growth may slow, but they expect rental costs overall to continue to rise.

“My gut feeling is that the pace of appreciation is going to be slower in 2022 than it was in 2021,” said Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. “But I don’t see rents actually dropping or getting more affordable.”

That could be particularly frustrating for people who would have become homeowners if they could have afforded it. Unable to buy a home, they may now be equally unlucky with rent, as landlords continue to do away with pandemic-era rent concessions and raise rents because of increased demand.

For those people, navigating the housing market this year “is going to really sting a lot more,” Mr. Tucker said.

“The cost of rent is rising so a lot of people will feel caught between a rock and a hard place or between a frying pan and a fire,” he added.

Stocks on Wall Street rose on Wednesday, extending gains from the day before after a closely watched report on inflation came in mostly in line with analysts’ expectations.

Consumer prices rose 7 percent in December, the fastest rate of increase in four decades as food, housing and car and truck prices rose sharply. The rate of gain is a problem for policymakers, who have been waiting for inflation to fade, hoping that companies might catch up with booming consumer demand.

But investors have already been adjusting their views on how the runaway gains in prices might affect them — as the Federal Reserve begins to raise interest rates more aggressively than earlier forecast. Those changes manifested themselves last week in a sharp drop in stock prices, and a surge in government bond yields.

So as the newest data fell in line with forecasts, Wall Street took it in stride.

The S&P 500 rose about 0.4 percent, while the Nasdaq composite gained about 0.6 percent. Both benchmarks had climbed on Tuesday, rebounding from a sharp decline over the previous week. The yield on 10-Year Treasury notes dipped slightly to 1.73 percent, still well above the level of 1.52 percent it held at the end of 2021.

In other markets, European stocks also climbed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 gaining 0.7 percent and crude oil futures rose. The price of West Texas Intermediate crude climbed above $82 a barrel for the first time since early November.

A driver filling a tank at a gas station in Marysville, Wash. Consumer prices rose 6.8 percent in the 12 months ending in November, a 39-year high. Credit…Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

With inflation in the United States climbing at the highest rate in nearly 40 years, New York Times reporters want to answer your questions about what to expect and how inflation might affect your life in 2022.

Ask your questions below and help Times reporters decide what to dig into. If you have a personal experience with inflation to share, we would love to hear that, too.

A Times reporter may contact you for more information. We won’t publish any part of your submission without contacting you first.

Evan Smith said he would depart The Tribune by the end of the year and stay as an adviser into 2023.Credit…Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Evan Smith, a longtime force in Texas journalism, said on Wednesday that he would step down as the chief executive of The Texas Tribune, the nonprofit news organization he has led for 13 years.

Mr. Smith, 55, said he would leave by year’s end and stay on as an adviser into 2023. He has no firm plans for what he will do next, he said, adding, “I don’t think I’m done wanting to make the world better through journalism.”

A native New Yorker, Mr. Smith started his career at Texas Monthly in 1991. He became the magazine’s top editor in 2000 and led it to two National Magazine Awards in the general excellence category.

He left that publication in 2009 to start The Tribune with John Thornton, a venture capitalist, and Ross Ramsey, a journalist and media entrepreneur. The idea was to build a reliable nonpartisan news outlet known for its deep reporting on policy, politics and social issues.

“Here’s an organization that, candidly, we didn’t know would last 13 days, let alone 13 years,” Mr. Smith said.

The Texas Tribune, which has a free website and provides articles at no charge to news outlets nationwide, has a staff of more than 50 journalists. It has more than 9,000 paying members and is supported by donations and corporate sponsorships from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Emerson Collective and other donors.

It also has a robust events business, including the annual Texas Tribune Festival. Mr. Smith said The Tribune had raised $100 million since its founding.

“We have shown people all over the world that it is possible to do this work with integrity, with revenue diversity,” he said.

The Tribune has helped show the way for a new crop of regional nonprofit news outlets, including Sahan Journal in Minnesota and The Nevada Independent. The Maryland hotel magnate Stewart Bainum is creating another one, The Baltimore Banner.

“It’s heartening, to say the least, to see that people are seeing the value of this kind of work and are spending money to put organizations together,” Mr. Smith said.

Citi bought Banco Nacional de M?xico, better known as Banamex, in 2001 for $12.5 billion.Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Citigroup will exit its consumer banking business in Mexico, where it has more branches than in any other country, closing the curtain on an operation that was both extremely profitable and plagued by scandal.

The bank announced on Tuesday that it would either sell or take public Banco Nacional de M?xico, better known as Banamex, which it bought in 2001 for $12.5 billion, as part of its “strategic refresh.”

Citi will still offer institutional and investment banking services for large companies in Mexico and private banking options for ultrawealthy residents of the country. But it will no longer have branches there to serve individual account holders or small- or middle-market businesses. And it will no longer be bound up with an operation that has generated heavy regulatory scrutiny.

“We’ll be able to direct our resources to opportunities aligned with our core strengths and competitive advantages,” Citi’s chief executive, Jane Fraser, said in a statement emailed to journalists. “We will further simplify our bank.”

In 2014, Banamex revealed that one of its most important clients, a Mexican oil services firm, had defrauded the bank of $400 million and that, in a separate matter, bodyguards working for bank employees were taking kickbacks from some of the bank’s vendors.

In 2015, federal banking regulators and California fined a related, U.S.-based Citi subsidiary, Banamex USA, $140 million for failing to have adequate anti-money-laundering controls in place, conditions that regulators learned of while trying to follow the flow of drug money. Citi later shut down the U.S. business and paid $97.4 million to settle a federal criminal investigation into the matter.

Citi has also said it will exit its consumer businesses in Asia and Europe, part of a plan to “focus on wealth centers globally,” according to its announcement on Tuesday. Citi earned $1.2 billion from its Mexican consumer business during the first three quarters of 2021. The bank is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results on Friday.

Delta has accused the Association of Flight Attendants-C.W.A. of posting “false and defamatory information” about the company’s policies.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Delta Air Lines and a large flight attendants union are fighting about whether the company’s new isolation policy for employees who test positive for the coronavirus puts workers and travelers at risk.

The airline’s chief legal officer sent a letter on Friday to the Association of Flight Attendants-C.W.A. saying the union had posted “false and defamatory information” about the company’s policies and asking it to correct those statements and stop repeating them. The union, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines and is seeking to unionize Delta’s flight attendants, responded on Tuesday that its statements had been “truthful and accurate.”

“Delta has always followed the science to form our policies regarding Covid-19,” the airline said in a statement on Tuesday. “We sent a cease and desist letter because we believe institutions and leaders must speak carefully, truthfully and factually.”

The union’s president, Sara Nelson, said Delta was responsible for confusing workers. “We’re glad that A.F.A.’s calling attention to the issues appears to have led Delta to update its policy several times and communicate this to workers,” Ms. Nelson said in her letter, which was addressed to Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian.

The dispute concerns Delta’s adherence to a recent change by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has shortened the recommended isolation time to five days for people who are vaccinated and who get the virus, so long as their symptoms are resolving and they have no fever.

The C.D.C.’s updated guidance was released after Delta executives sent the agency a letter arguing that the previous 10-day isolation period “may significantly impact our work force and operations.” Some public health experts had also called for updated guidelines.

Airlines canceled tens of thousands of flights over the holidays in response to bad weather and because thousands of employees called in sick. In a single day, nearly a third of United Airlines employees at Newark Liberty International Airport reported being unable to work. About 3,000 United employees have recently tested positive for the virus.

After the C.D.C. changed its guidance, Delta quickly adjusted its own policies, slashing the Covid-specific paid sick leave to five days for workers who are fully vaccinated, with two additional paid days if they choose to be tested on Day 5 and the results are positive. In accordance with C.D.C. guidelines, it does not require a negative Covid test to return to work. The C.D.C.’s decision not to recommend a test after five days of isolation has been criticized by some scientists. Delta, which said that over 95 percent of its work force is vaccinated, said employees may return to work only if they had no symptoms and must wear a mask in all settings through the 10th day after testing positive.

Ms. Nelson has claimed that the union is “still getting questions from Delta flight attendants about returning to work with a low-grade fever.” She also said the union was hearing concerns about the availability of tests and confusion over guaranteed pay and the quality of masks required for those returning to work.

Ms. Nelson criticized the changes, warning airlines that they could put passengers and airline employees at risk. Delta’s pilots union has expressed similar concerns.

“Unfortunately, changing C.D.C. and company guidance, compounded by limited testing availability, has led to confusion among employees who may be returning to work sooner than they should or are comfortable doing so,” the pilots union, the Delta Master Executive Council, said in a statement.

Most flight attendants at large airlines are represented by unions, and Ms. Nelson’s organization has been trying to organize Delta for several years.

In his letter to the union, Delta’s chief legal officer, Peter Carter, defended the airline’s policies, saying Delta has been “laser focused on keeping its employees safe and providing them the necessary time off when they are too ill to work” during the pandemic.

Today in On Tech, Shira Ovide writes that for many Americans, it has become hard to imagine online shopping without Amazon Prime.

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