President Donald Trump signed the coronavirus relief bill on Sunday, Dec. 27, which includes a $900 billion relief package and averts the government shutdown that would have started Tuesday. Because pandemic relief programs lapsed on Saturday, some of the more than 12 million Americans who rely on them may experience a blip in aid.
The House and Senate voted last Monday to approve the $900 billion in pandemic relief, combined with $1.4 trillion to fund regular government operations for the rest of the fiscal year.
While the president said he only signed the bill after Senate leaders committed to $2,000 stimulus checks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t acknowledged that commitment. Unless the Senate approves a larger amount (the House said it will approve), the bipartisan stimulus package includes direct payments of up to $600 per adult, enhanced jobless benefits of $300 per week, roughly $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans, $25 billion in rental assistance, an extension of the eviction moratorium and $82 billion for schools and colleges.
It also promises to speed up vaccine distribution.
Here are some highlights of specific provisions:
The bill provides $600 in one-time direct payments to individuals and $600 per child. The payments would be phased out for individuals over a certain income threshold. Payments could begin flowing quickly through the IRS, which already had set up a system to distribute $1,200 payments in the stimulus bill passed in March.
Federal unemployment insurance benefits will be extended for 10 weeks through mid-March, with each week supplemented by a $300 payment, similar to the extra $600 supplement that expired at the end of July.
It includes people receiving state unemployment benefits as well as those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the pandemic program that provided jobless benefits to those not traditionally eligible like gig workers and the self-employed. Without Congressional action, the program was on track to expire at year-end, which would have caused millions of Americans to lose their jobless benefits.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provided up to 13 additional weeks of jobless benefits to those who had exhausted their regular state benefits, was extended as well.
Unlike stimulus payments and forgiven PPP loans, which aren’t subject to federal taxes, unemployment insurance recipients must pay income taxes on their jobless benefits. Many states don’t automatically withhold taxes when they distribute those payments, so recipients will owe those taxes when they file their tax returns next spring.
Help for Companies
The aid package includes $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program that was created in the CARES Act. That program’s loans to firms with fewer than 500 employees can be fully forgiven if companies keep people on their payroll.
The legislation clarifies that business owners can write-off expenses paid for with forgiven PPP loans, giving small companies a tax break that could amount to more than $100 billion. The legislation would override an IRS decision that says business can’t claim deductions on costs, such as rent and wages, paid for with tax-free PPP money.
It also includes includes $15 billion to reinstate payroll reimbursements to airlines, which expired two months ago, as well as $1 billion for airline contractors.
The legislation includes a priority for President Donald Trump: an expansion of the business meals deduction — a tax preference he narrowed just three years ago in his 2017 tax overhaul. Economists have said the change would do little to help struggling restaurants.
It also includes a renewal of the employee retention tax credit for businesses that keep workers on their payrolls. The break gives companies an additional incentive to keep people employed as many firms still face revenue downturns but have run out of PPP money or never qualified for it.
The package makes changes to the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit to make it available to people who lost wages or jobs during the pandemic, as well as an expanded Low Income Housing Tax Credit to boost construction of housing for low-wage families.
The legislation would make permanent an excise tax break for beer brewers, wine makers and distillers. In addition, other expiring tax credits, including some for mortgage interest premiums and tax credits to help businesses in low-income communities.
Housing, Education and Other Provisions
The measure contains $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, and it extends the CARES Act’s eviction moratorium until Jan. 31.
Other key funding provisions include funds for virus testing, tracing and vaccine development and distribution. It also has $82 billion for education funding, as well as $7 billion for broadband, $10 billion to support childcare providers and funds for the U.S. Postal Service. It provides $13 billion for nutrition assistance.
The larger $2.3 trillion package includes $1.4 trillion in regular appropriations to keep the government operating through the end of fiscal 2021 on Sept. 30. A last-minute deal kept $12.5 billion for Veterans Affairs health funding under the total spending budget cap.
Lawmakers settled on nearly $1.4 billion for border wall construction and related spending, short of Trump’s request for nearly $2 billion. His $5 billion request for fiscal 2019 led to the longest shutdown in the country’s history, but he hasn’t had a standoff with lawmakers over wall funding since he circumvented Congress by using military funds to build additional fencing.
The combined bill also includes long-discussed legislation to protect patients with health insurance from “surprise” medical bills in most emergency situations, including air ambulance rides. Patients also wouldn’t have to pay bills received more than 90 days after a visit, and health plans and providers would have to provide patients with more information on their networks and costs.
The spending package also includes the long-standing Hyde amendment, which bars federal funds for most abortions, and the Helms amendment, which bars the use of foreign assistance funds for abortions. Congressional Democrats have said they want to remove the Hyde amendment from spending bills starting in fiscal 2022, when a Democrat will be in the White House. President-elect Joe Biden has said he also opposes the Hyde amendment.
The bill also calls for the U.S. to join other nations in phasing out hydrofluorocarbons used in air conditioning and refrigeration systems. While hydrofluorocarbons aren’t nearly as bad for the ozone layer as chlorofluorocarbons, the chemical they were designed to replace, they still have hundreds to thousands of times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.
The legislation includes a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act that deals with water-related infrastructure.
The package also extends tax credits for renewable energy projects, including wind and solar production.