Editor’s note: US Representative Greg Steube and US Senator Rick Scott voted against passage of this bill.
Congressional leaders brokered a deal on an approximately $900 billion relief bill Sunday night, with promises to pass the legislation as soon as possible.
The bill would extend aid to millions of struggling households through stimulus checks, enhanced federal unemployment benefits and money for small businesses, schools and child care, as well as for vaccine distribution. It also repurposes $429 billion in unused funds provided by the Cares Act for emergency lending programs run by the Federal Reserve.
The bill comes at a critical time for the recovery as the coronavirus pandemic is overwhelming the nation’s health-care system and scores of Americans were set to lose federal aid by the end of the year. Two separate bill summaries released by Republican and Democratic congressional leaders late Sunday, as well as reporting by The Washington Post, confirmed some details of what’s in and what’s out of the bill.
In: Stimulus checks, jobless benefits, aid for businesses, schools and child care; money for vaccine distribution
- The legislation includes $600 stimulus checks per person, including adults and children. That means a family of four would receive $2,400, up to a certain income threshold.
- The size of the payment decreases for people who earned more than $75,000 in the 2019 tax year. The check disappears altogether for those who earned more than $99,000.
- The size of the checks, or their existence at all, had been a point of contention over weeks of negotiations. The Post reported last week that White House aides talked President Trump out of issuing a public statement demanding stimulus checks as big as $2,000 out of fear he would derail the negotiations. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have also pushed for larger checks. Some previous proposals didn’t include checks at all.
- Congress will extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week. The benefit could kick in as early as Dec. 27 and run at least through March 14.
- An unemployment benefits program for contract and gig workers, which is set to expire at the end of the year, would be extended, too.
- Some 20.6 million people are still on some form of unemployment aid, though officials say that number is inflated by duplicate claims and issues tied to backlogs in state unemployment systems. Weekly jobless claims have been back on the rise in recent weeks as families head into the holiday season.
- The Cares Act provided $600 in enhanced weekly unemployment benefits. Those benefits expired at the end of July, affecting nearly 30 million workers.
- Without action from Congress, another benefits cliff would have affected about 12 million Americans, including those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the supplemental insurance for gig and self-employed workers, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, the unemployment insurance extension available for people who have exhausted regular benefits after what is usually about six months.
- Over the summer, Trump approved an additional $300 in emergency jobless benefits. That money quickly ran dry.
Relief for businesses
- The bill includes more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofit organizations and news outlets, and modifications to the program to serve small businesses, nonprofits and independent restaurants.
- The language ensures that churches and faith-based organizations are eligible for PPP loans, according to a summary circulated Sunday night by the office of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
- Businesses that received PPP loans and had them forgiven will be allowed to deduct the costs covered by those loans on their federal tax returns. While the issue had been a point of contention, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said the costs would be deductible under the final agreement.
- The package provides $15 billion for independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.
- The deal includes $20 billion for targeted grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program.
- The package also includes a tax break for corporate meal expenses urged by the White House and denounced by Democrats. Dubbed the “three-martini lunch” tax deduction by opponents, the tax break was promoted by Trump as a way to revive the restaurant industry.
- Lawmakers said they reserved some of the PPP funds for “very small” businesses, as well as lending through community-based lenders and minority depository institutions.
Emergency rental assistance and eviction moratoriums
- The agreement extends until Jan. 31 a moratorium on evictions that was slated to expire at the end of the year. The incoming Biden administration can extend the deadline further.
- The bill includes $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters, although it remains unclear how the money will be distributed.
Money for vaccine distribution
- The bill includes $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines “that will make the vaccine available at no charge for anyone who needs it,” according to a summary circulated by Scalise’s office. It also provides $8 billion for vaccine distribution and includes $20 billion to assist states with testing.
- In a statement late Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said billions were “reserved specifically for combating the disparities facing communities of color, and to support our heroic health care workers and providers.”
- Colleges and schools will have $82 billion to help cover HVAC repair and replacement to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections and reopen classrooms. The Republican summary specified $2.75 billion in designated funds for private K-12 education.
- Lawmakers also struck a deal on $10 billion for child-care assistance.
- The package includes legislation to end surprise billing for emergency and scheduled care; provides a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave; $13 billion in increased food stamps and nutrition benefits; and $7 billion to increase access to broadband.
- The House GOP summary specified $45 billion for transportation, including $16 billion for another round of airline employee and contractor payroll support; $14 billion for transit; $10 billion for highways; $2 billion for intercity buses; $2 billion for airports; and $1 billion for Amtrak.
- The bill also includes $1.4 billion in new funding for Trump’s border wall with Mexico and new border security technology, Scalise said.
Out: Aid for state and local governments; corporate liability protections
Aid to state and local governments
- The bill lacks new money for state and local governments. Democrats had initially pushed for $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments. Mayors and governors have been sounding alarms over budget shortfalls and the hard choices they may be forced to make without help from Washington. States that rely heavily on the tourism or energy industries are among those that have been hit hardest and are warning of tax increases, public-sector layoffs or spending cuts to public programs.
- Still, negotiators are extending the deadline for states and cities to use unspent money approved for them by the Cares Act, giving governments until year’s end before the money must be returned.
- One of the most fought-over issues between Republicans and Democrats revolved around whether companies can be sued by workers over coronavirus outbreaks. Democrats wanted protections for workers, while Republicans warned against a slate of potential lawsuits.
- For weeks, lawmakers from both parties attempted to reach a compromise on the “liability shield” so infighting didn’t hold up a broader economic relief bill.
Unemployment and stimulus reductions
- The bill reduced the amount in weekly jobless benefits from the $600 that unemployed Americans received over the spring and summer.
- The package does not include hazard pay for essential workers.
- The bill does not extend stimulus checks to adult dependents.