News & Politics

House and Senate Pass $900B COVID-19 Stimulus. Here's What It Will Do

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

In the wee hours of Monday night, both chambers of Congress passed a COVID-19 stimulus package with funding for seemingly everyone under the sun — except state and local governments. The bill includes direct cash payments, extra unemployment checks, and another round of small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

PJ Media’s Victoria Taft highlighted the absurd sections in the bill, including a “Climate Security Advisory Council,” “gender programs” in Pakistan, funding to investigate the 1908 Springfield Race Riot, and more. This article explains the basic nuts and bolts of the bill — what it means for you and what it will do specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic.

If President Donald Trump signs the bill, it will send direct stimulus payments of $600 to individual Americans, half the amount provided in the first round of checks under the CARES Act which passed in March. Families would receive an additional $600 per child — more than the $500/child in the CARES Act.

The payments start phasing out for individuals with adjusted gross 2019 incomes of more than $75,000. Those making more than $99,000 would not receive anything. The income thresholds are doubled for couples.

The bill will also extend the extra $300 in unemployment benefits for 11 weeks, from the end of December through March 14. This represents half the earlier federal unemployment bonus, which ran out at the end of July.

The bill will also extend two other COVID-19 unemployment programs created in the CARES Act. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expands unemployment to gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed, and other workers affected by the pandemic. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an extra 13 weeks of payments to those who exhaust their regular state benefits. Both programs would close to new applicants on March 14 but continue through April 5 to existing claimants who have not yet reached the maximum of 50 weeks.

The bill will provide an extra $100 per week to those who have at least $5,000 in annual self-employment income but are disqualified from another program because they are eligible for regular state unemployment benefits.

The bill will reopen the PPP forgivable loan program but limits the program to companies with fewer than 300 employees that have seen drops of at least 25 percent of their revenues during one of the first three quarters of 2020. It would also reduce the amount a borrower can receive from $10 million to $2 million and gives businesses more flexibility on how they spend the money. The new bill also carves out $12 billion for minority-owned businesses in the bill. It expands eligibility to more nonprofits as well as local newspapers, TV stations, and radio broadcasters.

The new COVID-19 stimulus creates a $15-billion grant program for live venues, theaters, and museum operators that have lost at least 25 percent of their revenues. The first grant can total up to $10 million per eligible business, with a second grant of up to $5 million also available. Businesses would be eligible on a rolling basis, with those that have lost 90 percent of revenue gaining access during the first 14 days, those that have lost 70 percent of revenue up for the next two weeks, and everyone else up after that.

The stimulus will provide $82 billion for K-12 schools and colleges and an additional $10 billion to child care providers who have struggled in the pandemic.

Previous COVID-19 bills provided protection from eviction, lasting until the end of 2020. This stimulus bill would extend that protection through January 31 and provide $25 billion in rental assistance for people who lost their income sources during the pandemic.

The bill will also raise food stamp benefits by 15 percent for six months but will not expand eligibility for the program. Families with children under age 6 who receive food stamps would become eligible for extra benefits, and low-income families with school-age children will receive funding to replace the free and reduced-price meals children would have received in school. The bill will also send $400 million to food banks and food pantries and provide $175 million for nutrition services for seniors.

The stimulus bill will also provide $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines along will another $8 billion for vaccine distribution. It will give states $20 billion to assist with testing, and add $3 billion to the $175-billion fund for hospitals and health care providers for reimbursement of healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue from the pandemic.

In August, President Trump allowed employers to defer their workers’ payroll taxes until April 30. The bill would extend that window until the end of 2021.

The bill does not include two controversial measures Republicans and Democrats supported. Democrats wanted the stimulus to include payments to state and local governments, which Republicans said would amount to bailing out poorly-run governments in the name of the pandemic. Republicans wanted to protect businesses from liability during the pandemic.

PJ Media’s Bryan Preston argued that the stimulus bill suggests America’s government is “totally broken.” The bill is chock-full of all sorts of programs that do not belong in a COVID-19 stimulus bill, and even the measures that are related to the pandemic deserve closer scrutiny. Sadly, Republicans and Democrats are so ideologically divided that careful and intelligent compromises on key policy are likely impossible. As a result, Congress passes smorgasbord bills like this one.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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