What's in the New COVID Relief Bill?

At long last, Congress is set to pass a second COVID relief bill totaling over $900 billion in funding—and it will include the surprise addition of $600 direct payments to qualifying individuals. The bill also extends unemployment benefits and an eviction moratorium that would have expired before the end of the year. Here are all the details on what to expect.

What’s in the relief package?
The relief bill has been a long time coming. Negotiations were held up for weeks as lawmakers debated COVID-related liability protection for businesses, which Democrats oppose, and additional state and local funding, which Republicans oppose.

These contentious measures were split into a separate bill that legislators have kicked down the road into January, when President-elect Joe Biden is expected to propose additional relief legislation (in a statement, Biden referred to the $900 billion plan as “just the beginning”). With those items out of the way, the relief package looks like it will pass in the next few days. The text of the bill is not yet available, but the package is expected to include:

Stimulus checks
The package will include direct stimulus payments of $600 to individuals, plus $600 for each dependent (the earlier stimulus package, the CARES Act, provided $1,200 and $500 payments, respectively). The former payments will be based on individual gross income from 2019, and the payout out will be reduced if an individual’s income exceeds $75,000, and eliminated once it surpasses $87,000 (so individuals making $87,000 or more will not receive any funds), per the Wall Street Journal.

For married couples filing jointly, the payments will be reduced starting at $150,000 of annual income, and eliminated for those who make more than $174,000.

Enhanced unemployment insurance  
Unemployed workers will be eligible for a $300-per-week federal unemployment subsidy. The money is available through March 14.

The plan also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program through mid-March, allowing individuals to receive a total of 50 weeks of unemployment assistance. These programs expand qualifications for jobless benefits (extending them to gig workers and freelancers, for example), and apply to workers who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits.

Per CNBC, some self-employed, gig, and freelance workers who have both regular wages and self-employment income will be eligible for an additional $100 a week to make up for deficiencies in how states calculate unemployment compensation.

Rental assistance and an eviction moratorium extension
The bill extends the existing eviction moratorium until January 31, and it’s expected that Joe Biden will push for a further extension once he takes office. The package also allocates $25 billion in rental assistance for those who have lost jobs during the pandemic.

Small business loans
Over $284 billion is included for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, eligibility for which has been expanded to nonprofits and local newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasters. There’s also $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and other cultural institutions. The legislation will also simplify the forgiveness application process for businesses that take PPP loans under $150,000.

Nutrition assistance  
Over $13 billion will go toward food aid. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will increase benefits by 15% for six months, and eligibility will be expanded to include college students. Unemployment benefits will also be excluded from being counted as income when determining if an individual qualifies for SNAP, per CNBC.

The bill also expands food access for children, as any child under the age of six will qualify for child care and eligible for benefits under the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program. CNBC also reports that food banks also will receive $400 million in funding through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Food programs like Meals on Wheels and WIC will receive $175 million.

Healthcare funding
The bill includes $9 billion for healthcare providers and $4.5 billion for mental health, along with more than $1 billion earmarked for COVID-19 research, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Relatedly, the bill also ends the practice of surprise medical billing.

School funding
States are getting some indirect relief for education costs, as the bill provides $82 billion for public and private K-12 schools, as well as colleges. The bulk of that money will go into a $54.3 billion public schools fund, while $22.7 billion will be earmarked for public and private higher education.

Vaccine distribution funding
States and federal agencies will receive about $20 billion in funding for vaccine distribution. Per the Wall Street Journal, nearly $9 billion would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and individual states to aid in the distribution of the vaccine, while $3 billion is designated to create a national stockpile of vaccines.

This story was originally published on December 7, 2020 and was updated on December 21, 2020 with additional information. It was updated again after publication on Dec. 21 to correct the income limits for direct payments under the new bill.


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