Nine different committees in the United States House have spent the first part of the 117th Congress working on the first COVID-19 relief package of the Biden presidency. Their work is done, and the bill is ready to be assembled and advanced by the House Budget Committee this week for a vote by the full chamber.
What’s in the bill will undoubtedly change by the time it arrives in the Senate, where the votes of all 50 Democratic senators are needed to allow Vice President Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote. But the current proposal is fairly close to the package Biden proposed as a candidate with one dramatic exception: no federal mandate for paid family medical or sick leave.
Still, there’s a lot to like about the current proposal, which is likely going to be very close to the package Biden eventually signs into law—ideally before additional federal unemployment benefits expire next month. Here’s what’s in it — and when to expect to see money in your bank account.
The $2,000 checks candidate Biden (and candidates Warnock and Ossoff, whose victories secured the Senate for the Democrats) promised are famously not in the bill. That being said, the $1,400 checks Biden said we would get after the election are in this bill for individuals making less than $75,000 a year, the same income thresholds that stimulus check receivers got under the Trump administration. A faster phase-out to the payments is also there, with payments decreasing by $56 for every $1,000 in income over the threshold, which means payments will zero out at $100,000 of income for individuals.
The income and payment amounts are doubled for joint filers, and Americans will receive an additional $1,400 for children and adult dependents. That means that a family of four with less than $150,000 in income in either 2019 or 2020 would receive a $5,600 payment.
When You’ll Get Your Stimulus
Expect to see checks hitting your bank account by mid-to-late March or early April.
The long-overdue increase to the federal minimum wage made it to this package, a phased increase to $15 an hour by 2025. The debate around this provision is fierce, but the minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009 and if a minimum wage is to be closer to a living wage then this is a step in the right direction.
Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit
The new child tax credit we first heard about a few weeks ago made it into this proposal. Parents would now receive $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for those aged 7 to 17, an increase from the current $2,000 per child under the age of 17. And instead of the $1,400 maximum refund under current law, the next child tax credit would be fully refundable, which means more families at the bottom of the economic ladder would receive the payment and more money from it.
And speaking of receiving it, the proposal also includes the option to receive monthly payments instead of an all-in-one benefit at tax time, which means it will be easier for parents to use the credit throughout the year, like a basic income for moms and dads.
The bill also nearly triples the EITC, a tax credit for low- and moderate-income Americans, and makes more people eligible by allowing anyone 19 and older to claim it instead of the 25-65 age range that is currently in effect.
When You’ll See That Monthly Child Tax Credit
It’s likely that it will take several months for the IRS to set up a system to start disbursing monthly checks to families, so expect to see some monthly payments around July.
The proposal extends a pair of pandemic unemployment benefits programs that benefit both traditional and nontraditional (i.e. freelancers, gig workers, independent contracts) workers. These are the benefits that start expiring in mid-March. The plan would extend them to August 29 and increase the weekly federal boost to state benefits from $300 to $400.
Housing and Nutrition Assistance
The bill includes $19.1 billion for state and local governments to be used to cover rent and utility costs for low-income households with unemployed members. There’s also $11 billion for services like housing counseling and homeless services and $10 billion for mortgage payment assistance for homeowners affected by the pandemic.
Congress previously increased the amount of food stamp benefits by 15 percent. This bill would extend that increase until September instead of letting it expire at the end of June. It also earmarks $880 million for WIC and continues the Pandemic-EBT program through the summer. It gives parents whose kids’ schools are closed funding to replace the free- and reduced-price meals they would have received if they were open.
Education and Childcare
Much of what the bill does for schools and childcare centers are simply giving them money, which is frankly what experts and advocates have asked for all along. There is $130 billion for K-12 schools to get ready to reopen, address the learning loss of the past year, and forestall layoffs as well as pandemic-proof the buildings; $40 billion for colleges and universities, half of which must be used to provide emergency financial aid to students; and $39 billion for childcare providers for salaries, rent, supplies, and aid to families struggling to afford childcare.
Healthcare and Medical Costs
Medicare for All it’s not, but the House bill does make some marginal improvements to the American healthcare system. Those who purchase insurance on an Affordable Care Act marketplace will now have the cost capped at 8.5 percent of their income, down from the nearly 10 percent it is now. It would also make subsidies available to people who make more than the current cap of 400 percent of the federal poverty level and eliminate premiums completely for some people with lower incomes who are receiving unemployment benefits. There’s also COBRA aid for laid-off workers that would cover 85 percent of premiums through September and a five percent boost in matching funds for states that expand Medicaid, making health care costs a bit cheaper at a time when wallets are certainly tight.
The bill also contains funding for medical aspects of COVID-19. Namely, $46 billion for testing, contact tracing, and mitigation efforts; $7.6 billion to hire 100,000 public health workers; and $14 billion for vaccines.
Among the issues that have most divided Democratic and Republican responses to the COVID-19 pandemic is federal aid to states whose budgets have been wrecked by the pandemic. This bill contains $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments that follows $150 billion in aid approved last March and Democrats’ failure in December to get $160 billion in state and local aid into the bill that passed just before the new year.
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