$1,400 Checks and Bigger Child Tax Credits: Here's What's in President Biden's Proposed Covid Stimulus Plan
The House Budget panel is set to act on the latest Covid-19 relief plan on Monday.
A vote to pass the bill by the Democratic-led House would put Biden a step closer to the first major legislative victory of his presidency.
But first, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act is headed before the House Budget Committee on Monday for finishing touches. A panel that sets up the rules for debate and amendments will then take it up before sending it for House floor action. A vote by the full House could come by the end of the week.
The Senate would then take it up should it pass in the House — as it almost certainly will.
The legislation faces a more complicated process in the upper chamber where Democrats with their razor-thin majority cannot afford to lose support from any in their caucus given Republican opposition.
The strict and complicated rules that Senate Democrats are using to fast-track the package will limit what they can and cannot ultimately include.
The final bill that reaches Biden's desk will probably look a little different from what he initially proposed. Democrats want it signed into law by March 14, when some of the existing aid lapses.
"Without this relief package, conditions will spiral further out of control and families will suffer needlessly," Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who heads the House Budget Committee said in a Friday news release unveiling the bill text.
It would become the sixth federal aid package created to address the pandemic, adding to the $4 trillion in emergency spending lawmakers and former President Donald Trump already allocated.
Here are the biggest provisions in the package that would affect businesses, schools, and personal finance decisions.
$1,400 in direct payments
He argued that the total would add up to $2,000 a person after people got $600 checks as part of the $900 billion stimulus Trump signed into law in December. Anyone making $75,000 a year or less would qualify, and people with higher incomes would get smaller checks.
The checks are popular with the public and were first started as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act Trump signed into law in March. In that package, most people received $1,200 in direct payments.
$400 a week in extra unemployment payments
Democrats want to pass the latest rescue package by March 14 because that's when enhanced payments for unemployment benefits are set to run out in many states. The stimulus would increase the payments to $400 a week from the current $300 weekly payments. Under the new package, the program would run through August 29.
Still, the unemployment boost would be lower than the $600 a week from the CARES Act. That provision expired in July 2020 and then another $900 billion stimulus from December reauthorized the program at $300 a week.
$3,600 annual child tax credits
A new child-tax-credit program would provide families with $300 in cash payments every month per child under age 6 and $250 a month for children between the ages of 6 and 17. The payments would go out over the course of a year starting July 1.
The child tax credits would start to phase out for people earning more than $75,000 a year or couples earning $150,000 a year, though those details could still change.
Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat, is demanding that lawmakers fix the bill's language so that the income threshold for both single and married parents is $150,000. Otherwise, she says, the bill would unjustly penalize single parents.
The program is intended to help with the cost of childcare and with lost income as a result of the pandemic. But Democrats also say it's part of an effort to reduce the number of children living in poverty, and they want to extend the program after this year.
Under current law, families can claim a $2,000 tax credit for children 17 and under, an amount that was doubled under Trump's 2017 tax law.
Families get the money as a lump sum after they file their taxes, but if their tax bill is lower than $2,000 — which is true for many low-income people — then they only get $1,400. The stimulus would change that, allowing low-income people to receive the full tax credit every month.
The bill would provide $3 billion to extend a 15% increase in the food aid program called SNAP through September. Those SNAP benefit increases are set to lapse at the end of June. The plan would also provide $880 million for the WIC program, which provides food aid to low-income pregnant women and mothers, and children up to age 5.
Raising the hourly minimum wage to $15
Biden's proposal to more than double the hourly minimum wage gradually from $7.25 to $15 by 2025 is one of the most controversial parts of the coronavirus rescue package. Even Biden has conceded that provision may not make it into the final bill that eventually lands on his desk for a signature.
It lacks inadequate support in the Senate — even among Democrats — and the chamber's arcane rules would further complicate its chances. For now, it remains in the House version.
The Democrat-controlled House previously passed a similar bill in 2019, though the party had a larger majority at the time. The GOP-controlled Senate did not take up the measure.
Housing and rental aid
The bill would provide $19.1 billion to help people struggling to pay their rent. States would receive about $10 billion over four years to help people struggling to pay their mortgages or for other housing costs such as utilities or homeowner's insurance.
The bill would also set aside $5 billion in aid to states to assist people experiencing homelessness.
Small business help
The stimulus would add $7.25 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, a fund initially created under the CARES Act that lets small businesses borrow forgivable loans as long as they continue to pay their workers. Certain nonprofits would newly qualify for the program as would digital-only media companies.
The addition would increase the PPP to $813.7 billion including the spending under previous stimulus measures.
The latest package also would set aside a $25 billion fund specifically for restaurants, which have been particularly hard hit after state shut down orders, clearing and capacity restrictions, and customers' avoiding dining out.
$130 billion for elementary schools
The money could be used to pay for protective equipment, plastic barriers, ventilation, additional construction, or internet access, though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showed much of the money wouldn't be spent until after this year.
The schools would be required to put 20% of the funding toward making up any lost learning for students who missed school.
Another $39.6 billion would go toward colleges.
Bigger government subsidies for health insurance
The latest relief package would make some of the most consequential changes to the Affordable Care Act in a decade. It would inject billions of dollars into the health insurance marketplaces so that customers would pay less in premiums when they sign up for health plans.
People who are on unemployment insurance would benefit significantly because the government would pay the full cost of their health insurance premiums.
The changes would apply to people who buy insurance on their own, and not the majority of people who get health insurance through a government program like Medicare or through their jobs.
The bill includes numerous other provisions for medical coverage.
Funding for COVID vaccines, testing, and contact-tracing
The bill would allocate $14 billion toward coronavirus vaccine distribution and another $46 billion for testing and contact tracing. The government would also pay $7.6 billion to hire another 100,000 public health workers to help end the pandemic.
The last COVID stimulus passed in December provided $22 billion to help states test and track down people with the coronavirus and $9 billion to help them distribute the vaccine to their residents.
$350 billion for states and local governments
States and cities would get $350 billion under the stimulus package the House is working on, with 60% of the bill going to states and the rest going to localities. Many states had revenue declines and spent more than in previous years to help control the virus. State and local officials have warned that they'll have to lay off workers if they don't get help from the federal government.
The final stimulus figure for states may end up being scaled back because some states have done far better financially than they expected. California, for example, is planning to use excess funding to create its own state stimulus program that would supplement the Biden plan.
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