Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak after a press conference on Capitol Hill on December 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
If you’re the average American who’s unemployed and wondering how you’re going to keep paying all of your bills, there’s not a whole lot for you in the new stimulus deal. If you’re a CEO looking for a free lunch on the public’s dime, on the other hand, you’re in luck.
After several months failing to pass a new round of pandemic relief, Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal on a roughly $900 billion stimulus bill, though it will be substantially smaller than the CARES Act package passed in March, and stalled stimulus bill attempts passed by House Democrats earlier this year.
The bill leaves out some notable demands that have been thrown around over the past few months, like billions in aid for state and local governments—pushed for by Democrats—as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push to shield businesses from COVID-related liability lawsuits.
This bill stands out for its meagerness. Previous legislative attempts by Democrats would have provided as much as $3.4 trillion in pandemic relief, about $2.5 trillion more than what this bill gives.
So what is in the bill? Here’s an overview.
- Direct assistance payments: Individual adults making up to $75,000 will receive $600 in direct assistance payments, half of what was provided in the CARES Act, and reduced payments until their income hits $87,000. Unlike the CARES Act, however, households with dependent children will receive $600 per child, up slightly from $500 in the previous round of relief. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley had pushed for $1,200 stimulus checks, but GOP so-called deficit hawk Sen. Ron Johnson blocked their bill that would have secured that.
- Unemployment: Unemployed people will be eligible for $300 per week in extra unemployment benefits through March 14. The original CARES Act provided for $600 per week in additional benefits, but that expired at the end of July. In August, Trump signed an executive order redirecting money from FEMA for an additional $300 per week in enhanced benefits, but only those receiving at least $100 through their state unemployment were eligible to qualify, and the program expired in September.
- Businesses: The new relief package puts another $284 billion into the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) that Congress set up in the first CARES Act to provide potentially forgivable loans to struggling small businesses, so long as they spend 60 percent of the loan on payroll expenses. The new bill also expands eligibility for those loans to nonprofits and local media companies.
- Evictions: Without action, the federal moratorium on evictions would have ended at the end of the year. But this bill extends the moratorium a grand total of one month, through Jan. 31. Up to 40 million people could lose their homes when the moratorium expires. The bill also provides $25 billion to state and local governments to use for rental assistance.
- Food stamps: There’s $13 billion in the bill for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and child nutrition benefits. The U.S. hunger relief nonprofit Feeding America has said that more than 80 percent of food banks are serving more people now than they did last year, and that up to one in six Americans suffer from food insecurity by the end of this year due to the pandemic.
- Education: The relief package has more than $82 billion for education funding, with the vast majority—more than $54 billion—going to K-12 schools. There is nothing in the bill that would continue the current moratorium on student loan payments, which is set to expire at the end of January, but the Biden administration could continue the use of executive orders to delay mandatory student loan payments. Additionally, $10 billion is going to assistance for child care.
- Vaccines and testing: The relief package includes $8.75 billion to public health agencies for vaccine distribution and tracking, and another $4 billion in funding for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance. Additionally, nearly $20 billion will be given to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for procurement and manufacturing of vaccines and medicines to treat COVID-19.
- Three-martini lunches: While working Americans won’t get the $1,200 stimulus check they got in spring, Republicans—reportedly led by the White House—made sure to include a tax break allowing corporations to deduct the full cost of business meals from their federal tax bills. Democrats conceded this in exchange for an expansion of tax credits for low-income people, the automate your posting reported, but some of them are pissed nonetheless. “Republicans are nickel-and-diming benefits for jobless workers, while at the same time pushing for tax breaks for three-martini power lunches,” Sen. Ron Wyden told the automate your posting. “It’s unconscionable.”