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Congress has finally reached a deal on coronavirus stimulus

The stimulus deal includes $600 checks, a boost to unemployment insurance, and more small business aid.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

At long last, Congress has reached a deal on a new coronavirus stimulus bill.

After eight months of back and forth, Democratic and Republican leaders arrived at an agreement on a roughly $900 billion plan. The House of Representatives will vote on the bill Monday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

“We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a long time: More help is on the way,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed.

The legislation contains much-needed coronavirus relief including a weekly $300 enhancement in unemployment insurance, a new round of $600 stimulus checks, and renewed support for small businesses. The House released its bill text, which you can read here.

It’s a long read; the bill weighs in at 5,593 pages because the Covid-19 bill is being combined with an annual federal appropriations bill. Some lawmakers in both parties, including progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said they’re frustrated at the lack of time were given to review such a massive piece of legislation before voting.

The final bill sidesteps some sticking points: Contentious provisions (including state and local aid, as well as liability protections for businesses) have been stripped out, and a last-minute disagreement over the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authorities — one that seemed as if it might completely derail negotiations — has also been resolved.

The $900 billion legislation ultimately offers far less aid than a prior $2.2 trillion proposal House Democrats had put forth, and significantly more than the narrow $550 billion bill that Senate Republicans have favored. Democrats signaled that this wasn’t the last of the relief they planned to send out.

For now, however, this deal is the only option for additional coronavirus relief as millions of Americans grapple with unemployment, looming evictions, and soaring coronavirus case counts. “This is a good start, but a lot more needs to be done,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

What the stimulus deal contains

While there’s a lot that the stimulus agreement omits, it is expected to offer much-needed aid on a few different fronts. Lawmakers have yet to release the final bill text, so here’s what we know so far:

Stimulus checks: There is a second round of stimulus checks, though they represent less money than the first wave did earlier this year. These direct payments include $600 for individuals who make $75,000 a year or less in adjusted gross income, rather than the $1,200 provided in the CARES Act, the Washington Post reports. Couples who make $150,000 or less in total would be eligible for $1,200 in direct payments. Individuals and couples with children who qualify for the stimulus checks would also receive an additional $600 per child. Payments will be incrementally reduced for people who make more in annual income, much like they were earlier this year.

Unemployment insurance (UI): The plan includes an additional $300 in weekly federal UI payments through March 14, 2021. This supplemental payment is set to bolster the weekly payment that recipients would get from their state unemployment programs, much like a prior provision did in the CARES Act. The bill would also extend the pandemic unemployment insurance programs that are expiring at the end of December. These pandemic-specific programs currently provide roughly 12 million Americans with UI benefits.

Small-business support: $325 billion is dedicated to small-business aid including repurposed funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable loan program that business owners can apply for to cover payroll and operational costs. These loans are aimed at businesses that have seen revenue declines this year. For many, however, this aid comes too late — according to a Fortune report, almost 100,000 small businesses have already closed permanently during the pandemic.

Rental assistance and eviction moratorium: $25 billion in rental assistance is included as well as the establishment of a federal eviction moratorium. As Vox’s Jerusalem Demsas previously reported, advocates have argued that at least $100 billion in rental aid is needed to cover current shortfalls. Additional action would be required to ensure that millions of Americans would not be evicted at the end of January.

Food aid: $13 billion for food aid to help fund a monthly 15 percent increase in individual SNAP benefits, aid for children who received food support at school, and money for other programs including Meals on Wheels and WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). Demand for such aid has spiked dramatically during the pandemic, with food banks across the country facing overwhelming need in recent months.

Paid sick leave: There is an extension of paid leave tax credits for businesses, which continues a policy established in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It’s not clear, however, whether the new legislation would guarantee leave for workers who have coronavirus or those caring for children dealing with school closures.

The legislation contains a number of other provisions as well, including $82 billion to help schools reopen; $15 billion in aid for airlines, which would be required to bring furloughed employees back, according to Reuters; and language that bans surprise medical bills for emergency care.

It also has new guidelines for the Federal Reserve after Republicans — led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) — demanded emergency lending programs at the Fed be canceled in any final version of the bill.

As Vox’s Emily Stewart has explained, the Fed will be forced to eliminate several emergency lending programs created with CARES Act funding in the spring, and will be barred from restarting them without congressional approval. It will also return the unused portion of the $454 billion Congress allotted it under the CARES Act to the Treasury Department, something the Fed had agreed to do in November.

The bill doesn’t provide direct aid for state and local governments, a Democratic priority, or the liability protections to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits Republicans had advocated for. Additional deferment of federal student loan payments is also not included in the agreement, Politico’s Michael Stratford reports.

How long it will take people to receive help

Based on the timing of aid from the CARES Act, it could be a few weeks before people see direct relief from the legislation.

Earlier this year, the first round of direct payments was deposited in people’s bank accounts around mid-April: “Within two weeks of the CARES Act going into effect in March, more than 81 million payments were disbursed, totaling more than $147 billion, all through electronic transfers to recipients’ bank accounts, according to the Government Accountability Office,” CNBC reports.

People who do not have bank accounts or whose information is not on file with the IRS will likely see a more delayed distribution of the payments.

The timing of the implementation of enhanced unemployment insurance payments will also depend on the state. States began distributing $600 in supplemental UI roughly two weeks after the CARES Act was approved this past spring, which means the weekly $300 addition could begin in early January.

And when it comes to the Paycheck Protection Program, banks and other financial institutions began taking applications about a week after the funds were approved by Congress in March. That could set up applications for a new round of loans to kick off at the end of December or early January.

This lag time could be costly for those waiting on assistance; by the time much of this money gets to those who need it, the programs they are meant to extend will have been expired for weeks.

Nevertheless, such aid comes at a crucial time: According to the latest Labor Department report, 19 million people are currently receiving unemployment insurance. In November, job growth slowed significantly compared to the prior month, suggesting that the unemployed are facing limited opportunities for new work. And this winter, coronavirus cases are projected to soar, forcing thousands of businesses to shutter or slow their operations in order to prevent the spread of the illness.

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