In the midst of the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 people in the U.S. and disrupted large swaths of the economy, Congress on Monday night passed the latest in a string of stimulus packages this year.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bipartisan bill, which includes some $900 billion in relief, sometime this week.
After months of gridlock — with the House of Representatives' Democratic majority passing a $3 trillion bill in May (later trimmed to $2.2 trillion) that was ignored by Senate Republicans, who likewise did not engage with the White House's $1.8 trillion proposal — House and Senate leaders reached an agreement on Sunday for both a pandemic relief package and a $1.4 trillion deal to fund the government through next September.
The coronavirus stimulus is meant to ease the financial pain caused by public health efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic, such as shutdowns and restrictions on indoor dining and events.
Politico reports that the new deal includes $166 billion in direct payments that will take the form of $600 checks to people making less than $75,000 (some people making more will get reduced amounts) as well as $120 billion in enhanced unemployment benefits and $325 billion for the businesses most hard-hit by the pandemic, including live venues that have been closed for months on end.
The legislation also extends a moratorium on evictions and earmarks billions for COVID-related funeral expenses as well as COVID testing and vaccines.
The sweeping bill combines the government funding and coronavirus relief and runs to more than 5,000 pages. It includes provisions far afield from the pandemic, such as tax breaks and other measures.
The newest wave of aid also come with plenty of criticism, rolling out eight months after Congress approved a more generous $2.6 trillion in emergency assistance money, known as the CARES Act. (Congress has passed various other coronavirus-related relief measures as well, including further funding in April for small businesses.)
Here is how the newest package all shakes out and, given its scope, how it has been both praised and criticized.
Like the first bill, the latest package includes cash payments that will be sent directly to Americans.
Just how much individuals get depends on their income. According to text of the bill, single taxpayers who made up to $75,000 in 2019 will receive $600. Married couples who earned up to $150,000 will receive $1,200.
Payments are reduced for those with earnings above that threshold, and phased out entirely for those who earned more than $87,000 (or married couples who earned more than $174,000).
Families will receive an additional $600 for each household dependent under the age of 18.
As CBS News reports, couples who include an immigrant without a Green Card will also qualify for the checks.
The payments are not taxable.
In an interview with CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Americans can expect checks or direct deposits from the federal government in a matter of days.
“The good news is this is a very, very fast way of getting money into the economy. Let me emphasize: People are going to see this money at the beginning of next week,” Mnuchin told host Jim Cramer.
He continued: "People go out and spend this money, and that helps small business and that helps getting more people back to work.”
The package also includes enhanced unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week for 11 weeks, which will expire in March.
A $600-per-week unemployment enhancement included in the first stimulus bill ran out in July.
CNN reports that the package also extends two unemployment programs that were created with the CARES Act: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which expands jobless benefits to freelancers workers, independent contractors and the self-employed; and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides 13 weeks of additional payments to those who exhaust their regular federal or state benefits.
Small Business Support
The latest relief package reopened the Paycheck Protection Program so that small businesses can apply for a second loan.
As CNN reports, the bill also includes a provision that specifically allots $15 billion for live music venues and cultural institutions, many of which have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
The moratorium on evictions from the first bill, set to expire at the end of 2020, will be extended through January. At that point, after the Biden-Harris administration begins, it may be extended again.
The legislation also provides $25 billion in emergency rent assistance. As CNBC explained, those funds will be administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which will disperse them to specific states. Tenants will be able to apply for rental aid through state and other relief organizations.
The legislation sets aside $69 billion for public health measures. That includes $22 billion for state tracing and testing efforts; $20 billion for vaccine procurement and distribution; and $9 billion for the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccination efforts.
The package also mandates that healthcare providers negotiate with insurance companies directly when it comes to COVID-related medical bills, rather than passing the full cost on to the patients.
In a move that was hailed by advocates, the bill ended the practice of so-called "surprise medical billing," that typically results when someone is treated by an out-of-network physician at a hospital that otherwise accepts their insurance. (The new ban has some exceptions, however.)
Among the bill's 5,500-plus pages are multiple non-pandemic related measures, such as the establishment of two Smithsonian museums: a Smithsonian American Women's History Museum and a National Museum of the American Latino.
Business Insider notes that the package also contains a number of more unusual provisions, such as $2 billion for the Space Force; $35 million in sexual abstinence programs for kids; and a tax break for those who own racehorses.
Among the more controversial measures is a so-called "three martini lunch" tax deduction for those writing off business lunches. The White House has said the deduction could help revive the struggling restaurant industry, though its critics (like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders) say it's akin to "corporate socialism for the rich."
What Was Lawmaker Reaction?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posed praised the latest relief bill in different ways. McConnell framed it as the opposite party finally ceding to the good sense terms of conservatives, who had sought less money overall, while Pelosi described it as a "first step" of what she hoped would be more aid under President-elect Joe Biden. (Pelosi also noted this week that Democrats had been unable to secure as much funding for local governments but hoped to return to the issue.)
“In a few days of hard work, we’ve assembled another historic, bipartisan, rescue package. Just under $900 billion of relief targeted toward our fellow Americans who need help the most," McConnell said Monday.
Pelosi, meanwhile, told reporters that "what I'm excited about in this bill — and it is really the Democratic difference — is what it does for America's working families."
Nonetheless, the long-overdue bill has dissenters on both sides of the aisle: Six Republicans voted against it in the Senate and 53 lawmakers voted against it in the House, including Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib who called it "woefully inadequate."
Republicans critiqued the size of the stimulus for the reverse reason, arguing that it would worsen the debt crisis. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul targeted conservatives who supported the bill during a speech on the Senate floor.
"When you vote to pass out free money, you lose your soul and you abandon forever any semblance of moral or fiscal integrity," Paul said, as quoted by Fox News.
Even those who voted in favor of its passage have offered criticism of the package, which was largely a compromise from earlier Democratic positions (such as the push for a larger direct payment and increased assistance for renters and small businesses). Sanders, for instance, has told reporters the $600 in direct payments isn't enough and that more aid is still needed.
Biden will likely push for more relief upon taking office. The Washington Post reports that he has said the newest stimulus package is merely a "down payment" that will set the stage for more negotiations come January, when Democrats may have control of the Senate following the Georgia runoff elections.
Lawmakers were also critical of the rollout of the legislative text, the printing and posting of which were delayed due to technical errors.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz backed up the criticism of the rush to vote on the bill when lawmakers hadn't yet had the time to read it.
"It's ABSURD to have a $2.5 trillion spending bill negotiated in secret and then—hours later—demand an up-or-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read," he tweeted.
Source: Read Full Article