Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
(Author’s Note: The bill passed in the House and Senate on December 21, 2020, after this piece originally appeared.)
Congress has finally agreed on a COVID relief package. It is the first significant stimulus action from Congress since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES Act was signed into law in March of 2020.
There’s no text available yet (I’ll post a link when it’s available), but based on reports from those involved, here’s a quick look at what likely made it in the bill – and what didn’t. Note that this could change, since there has not yet been a vote, with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promising to do it as soon as possible (I’ll update when I have more details).
Unemployment Assistance. The bill would extend the pandemic unemployment insurance programs – those created under the CARES Act – by a reported 11 weeks through March of 2021. The bill would also extend the federal supplement unemployment insurance benefits, but at half the former rate (just $300 per week).
Paycheck Protection Program & Small Business Assistance. The bill would expand the PPP program to allow some businesses to receive an additional loan. Also included? Loan simplification for those borrowing $150,000 or less. However, it’s still not known whether business expenses paid for with the proceeds of PPP loans would be fully tax deductible – some deductibility was expected to be included but with safeguards (we’ll need to wait for the final text for the details).
From Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): The agreement includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants, and includes $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. The agreement also includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.
Employee Retention Tax Credit. The agreement extends and improves the Employee Retention Tax Credit.
Earned Income Tax Credit & Child Tax Credit Tweaks. The agreement allows families to receive EITC and CTC based on their 2019 income. That significantly impacts those families whose incomes were reduced because of COVID.
Transportation Funding. The bill is expected to extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP), which provides loans to the struggling airline industry. The proposal would also provide additional funding for airports, motorcoach and bus companies, public transit systems, and Amtrak.
Health Care, Including Vaccine Development & Distribution. The bill would send more more to hospitals and health care providers, and provide more money for testing. The proposal would also provide millions in grants and funding for vaccine development, infrastructure, and distribution.
Education Funding. The proposal would send billions in additional funding to schools, including private schools.
Student Loan Extensions. The bill would extend federal student loan forbearance provisions (those are current set to expire on January 31, 2021).
Rental Assistance. The package would allow for an extension of the eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021. There are also funds for rental relief, to be used for future rent and utility payments and back rent owed or utility bills.
Food Assistance. The agreement is expected to increase food stamp benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) . It would also expand the Pandemic-EBT program to cover families with children in child care, and provide support for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to allow participants to purchase additional fruit and vegetables. Seniors are also included, with funding for senior nutrition services, including Meals on Wheels, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to provide food boxes to more senior citizens.
Post Office. The proposal makes clear that the $10 billion of aid initially earmarked for the USPS in the CARES Act would not require repayment.
Excess Funds. The bill was held up due to a controversy over what to do with excess funds from the CARES Act with Democrats wanting to re-allocate them and many Republicans siding with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin about sending those funds back to the general fund. The final bill is expected to include compromise language.
Stimulus Checks. A last minute push to include stimulus checks was successful. New checks worth $600 per person (yes, for children, too) are included in the new relief package. As before, checks will begin to phase out for those who earn $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples filing jointly). According to reports, adult dependents – those over age 18 – still won’t qualify. However, those individuals who file jointly with a person who uses an ITIN will be allowed to collect a check (though the person with the ITIN will not).
3-Martini Lunches Are Back. The bill reportedly includes a provision to increase the business meals deduction to 100% (it’s currently 50%) for 2021 and 2022.
State and local funding. Originally included in the bill, state and local funding has been removed. However, Congress did extend the deadline for states and cities to use pre-approved money in the CARES Act. States like mine (Pennsylvania) that had not spent all of their fundingwould lose it if not spent by the end of the year; the deal would instead extend the deadline until the end of next year.
Liability Protections. Providing liability protections for corporations as a result of the pandemic has been a serious stumbling block between the Senate and the House. The framework had originally suggested that there was “[a]greement in principle as the basis for good faith negotiations” but it faltered.
CARES Act corrections/clarifications on stimulus checks. Earlier this year, the House hoped to see some language which would replace the term “dependent” with “qualifying dependent” for purposes of the first stimulus check. Other corrections included coding payments to prevent offsets and making clear that representative payees could receive checks. There’s no indication that those corrections/clarifications will be included in this most recent relief package.
The total price tag of the bill is estimated to be $2.3 trillion, but that includes funding of about $1.4 trillion in “catchall” government spending.