WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders brokered a deal on a roughly $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, aid for small businesses, schools, and child care, as well as for vaccine distribution.
The bill comes at a critical time for the recovery as the coronavirus pandemic is overwhelming health-care systems and scores of Americans were set to lose federal aid by the end of the year. Bill language was released late Sunday, and The Washington Post confirmed some details of what’s in and out of the bill.
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In: Stimulus checks; jobless benefits; aid for businesses, schools and child care; money for vaccine distribution
– Stimulus checks
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 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 urged larger checks. Some previous proposals did not include checks at all.
– Jobless benefits
Congress will extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week for up to 11 weeks. 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 also be extended for 11 weeks.
About 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, President Donald Trump approved an additional $300 in emergency jobless benefits. That money quickly ran out.
– Relief for businesses
The bill includes more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and news outlets and modifications to the program to serve small businesses, nonprofits and independent restaurants.
Businesses that received PPP loans and had them forgiven will also be allowed to deduct the costs covered by those loans on their federal tax returns. While the issue had been a point of contention, John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 ranking Republican senator said the costs would be deductible under the final agreement.
The package also provides $15 billion in funds for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.
The deal includes $20 billion for targeted grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan 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 would extend by one month 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 also includes $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters, though it remains unclear how the money will be distributed.
– Money for vaccine distribution
In a Sunday night statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the package includes billions of dollars to accelerate vaccine distribution and carry out a national testing and tracing strategy. Schumer and Pelosi said billions were “reserved specifically for combating the disparities facing communities of color, and to support our heroic health care workers and providers.”
– School funding
Colleges and schools will have $82 billion to cover HVAC repair and replacement and to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections and reopen classrooms.
Lawmakers also struck a deal on $10 billion for child-care assistance.
– Other categories
Schumer and Pelosi said 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; $7 billion to increase access to broadband.
In their statement, Schumer and Pelosi said the bill did provide targeted funds including emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports; and $22 billion for the health-related expenses of state, local, tribal and territorial governments.
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Out: Aid for state and local governments; corporate liability protections
– Aid to state and local governments
The bill does not have 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 have suffered some of the hardest hits and are warning of tax hikes, public-sector layoffs and cuts to public programs.
The bill would extend the deadline for states and cities to use unspent money approved for them by the Cares Act, giving governments under year’s end before the money must be returned.
– Liability protections
One of the most fought-over issues between Republicans and Democrats revolved around whether companies can be sued by workers over virus outbreaks. Democrats wanted protections for workers, while Republicans warned against a slate of lawsuits that could ensue.
For weeks, lawmakers of both parties attempted to reach a compromise around the “liability shield” so the infighting would not hold up a broader economic relief bill.
– Unemployment and stimulus reductions
The bill ultimately left out retroactive unemployment insurance. The bill also lowered the amount in weekly jobless benefits from the $600 unemployed Americans received over the spring and summer.
The package also does not include hazard pay for essential workers.
The bill does not extend stimulus checks to adult dependents.