As Another Stimulus Package Hangs in the Balance, Some Programs Like Unemployment Benefits Are Set to Expire by the End of March
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The House passed its $1.9 trillion stimulus bill over the weekend. The proposal now heads to the Senate in a race to approve the massive coronavirus relief bill before certain programs' scheduled expiration this month.
The package includes $1,400 stimulus checks, $400 a week in federal unemployment benefits, and funds for coronavirus testing and vaccines. The bill passed largely along party lines in the House in a 219-212 vote — with two Democrats joining all House Republicans in opposition of the bill.
The proposal requires only a simple majority in the Senate to land on President Joe Biden's desk, but lawmakers can offer amendments to the bill and are likely to craft a different version of the proposal. Doing so would send it back to the House for approval, or both chambers would have to negotiate line items in a joint conference committee.
"Now, the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action," Biden said during a press briefing over the weekend. "We have no time to waste."
"If we act now — decisively, quickly, and boldly — we can finally get ahead of this virus," the president added. "We can finally get our economy moving again."
Here's what at stake if the bill hasn't passed before the end of March:
Unemployment benefits are set to expire March 14
Temporary federal unemployment programs are set to lapse this month, leaving more than 11 million out-of-work Americans without federal financial assistance. Weekly unemployment payments were included in the first coronavirus relief package passed by Congress last March, and the payments were extended another 11 weeks in the package passed in December.
According to data from the The Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, about 4 million workers would face a "hard cliff" and see their unemployment benefits end abruptly on March 14 — the 11-week benchmark of the December extension — and about 7 million unemployed Americans would face a "soft cliff," in which their benefits would end sometime between mid-March and mid-April.
Even if Biden signs the new package by mid-March, some unemployed Americans will experience a hiccup in payments, just a month after the disruption in payments from the delay in finalizing the December relief bill. Funds were eventually sent out retroactively to those who qualified for the program.
The Paycheck Protection Program and federal eviction moratorium are not included in the current draft of the bill
PPP loans, a crucial federal financial-assistance program intended to help small businesses, are set to expire this month. The current bill won't extend the program past March 31.
But if the proposal is passed before March 31, an additional $7 billion will be allocated to the program to help more small businesses, as well as "provide $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan Program, which provides long-term, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration," CNN reported.
The proposal also includes $25 billion for "a new grant program specifically for bars and restaurants," according to the CNN report.
Like the small-business-loan program, the federal eviction moratorium is scheduled to end by the end of the month as well. To extend the program past March, it would need to be issued by executive order.
The proposal currently allocates $19.1 billion to state and local governments in rent and utility assistance to low-income households, as well as $5 billion to states and cities to help communities and localities at risk of homelessness. Another $10 billion would go toward homeowners struggling to pay mortgages, utilities, and property taxes.
A tax incentive for employers that offers expanded paid sick and family leave will end March 31
A federal tax-incentive program for employers to offer expanded paid sick and family leave will end March 31 if the bill is still in negotiations at the end of the month. In the CARES Act, passed last March, the federal government guaranteed an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to families with kids who were at home with schools closed.
The benefit expired in December, but "employers can still receive a tax credit if they voluntarily provided the expanded paid leave through March," CNN reported.
Food-stamp benefits could be extended as part of the relief package
Americans who receive food stamps got an additional 15% in benefits as part of the relief package passed last December. The benefits are set to last through June, but the massive proposal currently at the Senate could extend the benefits through September.