The Covid Economy

New coronavirus relief bill includes $600 stimulus checks, $300 in enhanced unemployment benefits

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that Republicans and Democrats finally came to an agreement on the coronavirus relief bill.
Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Congress is set to pass one of the largest stimulus packages in the nation's history, which will send much-needed aid to struggling families and small businesses across the country as the nation continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nearly $1 trillion Covid-19 relief bill will include a second stimulus check of up to $600 for many Americans, an extra $300 in enhanced unemployment insurance for 11 weeks, the continuation of key jobless programs and funding for food and rental assistance, among other provisions, lawmakers announced Sunday night.

The deal comes after months of tense negotiations between Congressional Republicans and Democrats and just days before an estimated 12 million people were set to be cut off from jobless aid altogether. Many lawmakers acknowledged that the bill is not be enough to help all of the Americans who have suffered this year.

"Our economy is in a deep, deep, deep hole," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor Sunday night. "A lot more needs to be done."

The aid, including the unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, could take weeks to reach the people who desperately need it. It's also too little, too late for many who have foregone typical holiday celebrations that they cannot afford this year.

Congress is expected to vote on the bill on Monday. Lawmakers are also still debating a second stimulus bill that includes liability protections for businesses and funding for states and local governments.

Here are some of the biggest provisions included in the new relief bill:

Unemployment insurance

One of the largest provisions in the bill is funds for enhanced unemployment insurance (UI). Those accessing jobless benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and the long-term unemployed accessing Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits now qualify for 11 additional weeks of payments through March 14, 2021, for a total of 50 weeks.

It also provides enhanced federal jobless benefits of $300 per week for 11 weeks, through March 14, 2021. This is half of the extra $600 per week unemployed workers received at the start of the pandemic under the CARES Act and ended in late July.

The bill provides an extra $100 per week for workers who "have both wage and self-employment income but whose base UI benefit calculation doesn't take their self-employment into account," according to a summary of the UI provisions.

It will take weeks for people to see the enhanced payments in their checks. In the meantime, millions of out-of-work Americans will likely experience a lapse in unemployment benefits for at least a few weeks. And remember: UI benefits are taxable.

Small business loans

The bill also includes $284 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, $12 billion of which is earmarked for minority-owned businesses and $15 billion of which will go to live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

It also expands PPP eligibility to include nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.

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Stimulus checks

Though another round of direct payments was not part of the original bipartisan draft, pressure from lawmakers including Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (MO) reportedly tipped the scales for their inclusion.

The bill includes $600 checks for individual tax payers earning under $75,000 per year and their child dependents, half of the $1,200 payments distributed via the CARES Act. There will not be a cap on the amount that a single household can receive.

Hawley said on the Senate floor Sunday night that he was happy the payments are included, but called them "only a step" in the right direction, noting that $600 is just "a fraction of what was offered to working people in the CARES legislation just a few months ago."

Though continued unemployment insurance is more helpful in the long term, economists say that checks will get much-needed money into the hands of the financially-strapped more quickly.

Rental relief

The bill provides $25 billion in rental relief, which can be used for future rent and utility payments as well as for any back rent owed or utility bills that have not been paid since the beginning of the pandemic. It also extends the nationwide eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021.

"It's not enough, but it's urgently and desperately needed," says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), noting that low-income renters currently owe an estimated $30 to $70 billion in back rent.

Yentel hopes President-elect Joe Biden will make more emergency rental assistance a priority when he takes office in January. The aid in the bill is "postponing, not preventing evictions," says Yentel. "Rent is still due, and renters are still accruing more debt than they can possibly pay off in their lifetimes."

Food assistance

The bill also addresses America's worsening hunger crisis, providing $13 billion in increased SNAP funding.

What's not included in the bill

The newest version of the bill does not include aid for state and local governments, desired by Democrats, nor liability protections for businesses, which Republicans demanded in earlier rounds of negotiations. The bipartisan team drafted a separate bill for those two provisions.

The bill also does not include checks for adult dependents or hazard pay for essential workers.

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