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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Here are 10 problems a new stimulus bill could help fix — if US leaders can agree

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The government’s next moves could have a major impact on the economy — and on you.

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Angela Lang

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

On Thursday, the Senate voted no on a “skinny” coronavirus relief package that would have allocated funding to unemployment, schools and the US Postal Service. While the bill did not include money for a second round of stimulus checks for eligible Americans, negotiations between Republican and Democratic lawmakers to potentially pass a larger stimulus relief bill are ongoing. 

Meanwhile, financial protections from the March CARES Act have been gone for over a month and only some stop-gap measures are in place as a safety net. Both political parties agree that a new stimulus relief bill should include a second check for up to $1,200 per qualifying adult and more for dependents (you can use ‘s stimulus calculator for an estimated total of a second direct payment). 

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But another check for individuals and families could be just the beginning: there’s also eviction protection, support for small businesses and enhanced unemployment at stake for the 24.2 million people who reported not working or working less than usual in August as a result of the pandemic.

Congress has yet to agree on the terms of a larger package, and while there’s been a suggestion of new executive orders that would sidestep a bill, there’s been no movement yet. These are the 10 major issues Washington’s been circling for weeks and how they could affect you. This story updates often.

1. A new stimulus payment to boost spending

What it is: A payment sent to qualifying individuals and families, based on annual income, age, number of dependents and other factors. The first stimulus payment authorized under the CARES Act has been sent to over 160 million Americans — as a check, as a prepaid credit card or via direct deposit. But there have been problems, and months later some are still waiting for their stimulus payment. We have a stimulus check calculator you can use to get an idea of how much you might receive.

How it could help you: The payment isn’t taxable and you can use it however you want — to pay for food, housing, clothing and so on. The idea is that people spending money will help the economy recover faster.

Why we think a second payment will pass: The CARES Act authorized payments of up to $1,200 per eligible adult and so does the Senate’s $1 trillion HEALS Act. The House of Representatives’ $3 trillion Heroes Act also called for $1,200 stimulus payments, but for more people. The White House supports another round of checks, which makes it likely that sending out payments will be part of the final bill.

$100 bills

The HEALS Act proposes to give eligible Americans the same size stimulus payment as was issued in March.


James Martin

2. Enhanced unemployment benefits for out of work Americans

What it is: An additional weekly check for people who applied for unemployment for the first time or were already collecting unemployment. The CARES Act provided an extra $600 per week, but that benefit officially expired on July 31. Lawmakers from both sides have said they want to renew this.

How it could help you: An extra weekly payment on top of the ordinary unemployment benefit gives individuals and families a leg up. Cutting it off or reducing it could be devastating for unemployed workers and the economy.

The situation now: The president issued an executive action on Aug. 8 for the federal government to provide $300 per week, with a (retroactive) start date of Aug. 1, and calling for it to end when the program reaches “$25 billion or for weeks of unemployment ending not later than Dec. 6, 2020, whichever occurs first.” The plan gives states the option to add an extra $100 per week from their coffers. Meanwhile, on Sept. 10, the Senate voted “no” on a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill that would have allocated $300 a week in enhanced unemployment — similar to last month’s executive action. 

Where negotiations stood before: Republicans support the extension, but at a reduced rate. Democrats support a resumption of the now-expired $600 rate and have balked at the Senate proposal, which would extend benefits based on 70-75% of lost wages, starting at $200 a week and over time increasing to $500 a week with state assistance. The benefits expired without a short-term extension in place.

3. A new eviction moratorium from… the CDC?

What it is: On Sept. 1, the Trump administration, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a nationwide order temporarily halting evictions of millions of US renters, in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The order will cover all 43 million US residential renters so long as they meet certain requirements, and will last through Dec. 31. 

How it could help you: To be eligible for the CDC’s eviction moratorium, you must expect to earn less than $99,000 this year (or $198,000 for joint filers). You’re also eligible if you did not report income in 2019, or if you received a stimulus check earlier this year. You must demonstrate that you’ve sought government assistance to pay rent, declare that you are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships and affirm that you are likely to become homeless if you are evicted. 

It’s important to note, however, that the order does not set aside any new federal funding for renters — even if renters can’t be evicted, they will eventually owe that rent, along with any late fees, penalties or interest. And in the meantime, landlords might struggle without that income from renters. Renters can also still be evicted for reasons other than not paying their rent. 

Where it stands now: While some states previously had eviction protection, the CDC moratorium is now in effect nationally, and lasts through Dec. 31. A future stimulus bill could still include financial assistance for renters and for landlords facing foreclosure.

4. Funding for the US Postal Service as well as mail-in voting

What it is: Ensuring the US Postal Service can handle the surge of mail-in ballots this fall due to the pandemic is considered critical. The Democratic-backed Heroes Act, which passed the House in May, allocated $25 billion to replacing “revenue forgone due to coronavirus.” Under the Republican-backed HEALS Act, there’s no additional money for the USPS. So far, President Donald Trump has opposed funding. The House passed a separate USPS funding package on Aug. 22, but it hasn’t been picked up by the Senate, which is now back from recess. 

There’s concern about how successful mail-in voting will be. The New York Times reported that in 35 states, voters can request ballots so close to Election Day that there may not be enough time left to mail them back and have them counted.

How it could help you: The money is intended to help the Postal Service “continue meeting delivery standards during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic,” which, in addition to meeting the needs of people in quarantine, could be even more important with increased mail-in voting. 

Why it’s up in the air: At this point, both sides seem to be using funding as a bargaining chip for the larger stimulus package. And now, the question is tied up in the broader controversy of changes to the Postal Service.

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A tax credit could encourage employers to retain employees.


Angela Lang

5. Money to aid schools in reopening safely as cases rise

What it is: Funding would help schools pay for increased coronavirus testing, enhanced cleaning and other measures needed to help slow the spread of disease among students and faculty. As schools have been opening through August, data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association shows a 21% increase of cases in children, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20. 

How it could help you: More money for schools could mean more resources for adapting education to the pandemic. 

How much money is being discussed: Under the Heroes proposal, there would be $58 billion for grades K-12 and $42 billion for higher education. The HEALS Act called for $70 billion to go to K-12 schools that open for in-person classes, $29 billion for higher education, $1 billion to the Bureau of Indian Education and $5 billion at states’ discretion. 

Why we think it will pass: Both sides agree that funding is necessary to support schools, but whether it gets tied up in details about in-person learning or anything else remains to be seen. 

6. Liability protection from lawsuits related to COVID-19

What it is: Under the HEALS Act, employers, schools and health care providers would be protected by a limit on lawsuits dealing with the exposure to the coronavirus, with the exception of gross negligence, for example. 

How it could help you: If you’re in that category of employers, health care providers or schools, this could help keep you out of court. 

Why it’s in the air: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the protections are a must-have. Pelosi, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to think so.

7. Payroll Protection Program to help small businesses retain employees

What it is: Intended to help you retain your job, the Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans to small businesses as an incentive to keep employees on the payroll. 

How it could help you: The PPP is intended to encourage businesses to keep employing workers who would otherwise have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The program got off to a rocky start, and it’s not clear the PPP met the goals Congress set for it. 

Why we think it could get extended: The Republican proposal will target the hardest-hit small businesses, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said during the rollout of the bill. That includes those with revenue losses of 50% or more over last year. 

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Incentives to retain jobs could be part of a new stimulus bill.


Angela Lang

8. Employee retention tax credit designed to help cover worker pay

What it is: Under the program, an employer can receive refundable tax credits for wages paid to an employee during the pandemic. The employer can then use the credits to subtract from — and even receive a refund for — taxes they owe.

How it could help you: Again, it’s not a direct payment to workers, but the program encourages businesses to keep workers on the payroll.

Why we think it could happen: The HEALS Act includes further tax relief for businesses that hire and rehire workers, and the Democratic-backed Heroes Act also builds on the tax credits that were part of the initial CARES Act. And there’s additional bipartisan support besides.

9. Return-to-work payment for a $450 maximum per week

What it is: A temporary weekly bonus for unemployed workers who secure a new job or are rehired, on top of their wages. As proposed by Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, the bonus would be $450 a week.

How it could help you: Under Portman’s plan, the weekly bonus would go to laid-off workers who return to work.

Why we think it may not happen: The White House in May expressed interest in the bonus and Portman continues to support the idea, but it’s not part of the proposal McConnell and other Republican senators presented.

evictions moving out

Every eviction protection has lapsed on a federal level.


John Moore/Getty

10. A payroll tax ‘holiday’ through 2020

What it is: Trump’s executive action of Aug. 8 includes deferring certain taxes retroactively from Aug. 1 through December for people earning less than $100,000. All funds would need to be returned starting in January.

How it could help you: If you have a job, a payroll tax cut would temporarily let you keep more of your earnings from each paycheck, though this is under the employer’s discretion. Workers and employers would still need to pay those taxes the following year in addition to that year’s taxes. The plan would not help those who are unemployed and don’t receive a paycheck. 

Will it stick? Typically, financial decisions like tax cuts are authorized by congressional vote, not a presidential order. Democratic senators have begun efforts to overturn the memorandum. Neither the proposed Heroes Act nor the Senate plan includes a payroll tax cut. Industry trade groups say the tax cuts may be “unworkable.” Learn more about Trump’s payroll tax deferral program here.

Until we know for sure what the final stimulus bill will bring, there are some resources to help you through the financial crisis. We look at coronavirus hardship loans and unemployment insurancewhat you can do if you’ve lost your jobwhat to know about evictions and late car payments; how to take control of your budget; and if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS.

Julie Snyder contributed to this story.



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