Congressional Leaders Reach Agreement On COVID Economic Relief Package

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Congressional leaders on Sunday reached a deal on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that includes $600 direct payments to Americans and $300 in enhanced unemployment for the next 10 weeks.

The $600 checks will go out to individuals making less than $75,000 a year or couples making less than $150,000. Similar to the CARES Act, the size of the payment will decrease for individuals who make between $75,000 and $100,000 and individuals who make $100,000 or more will not receive checks.

Dependents will be receiving $600 this time, rather than $500. 

The House and Senate on Sunday night both passed a continuing resolution to extend the funding of the federal government for an extra day, since the deadline to avoid a shutdown was 11:59 p.m. The extension provides time to draft the COVID relief package and add it to a $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September. President Trump signed the extension into law late Sunday night.

The COVID relief deal also includes $25 billion in direct rental assistance and extends the eviction moratorium until January 31, the same day the moratorium on student loan payments ends. Democrats say once President-elect Biden is in office, he will be able to extend the eviction moratorium unilaterally if he wants to.

Funding for other programs included $82 billion for education funding, $45 billion for public transit systems and $13 billion for increased food stamps and child nutrition benefits. There were also benefits for small business owners, including $12 billion for minority-owned or very small business, plus $15 billion for theater operators and small venue owners through Save our Stages Act.

In addition to economic relief, the deal also earmarks more than $30 billion to support the procurement and distribution of the coronavirus vaccine and $27 billion for testing and state health care programs.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed that Democrats were successful in removing a clause that protected employers from litigation. 

Senator John Thune of South Dakota said the bill will allow businesses to deduct Paycheck Protection Program loans, a provision that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had previously objected to. 

At a Sunday press conference, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both emphasized that, because of the incoming Biden administration, they are hopeful more legislative relief will come in the future even if Democrats fall short of a Senate majority.

President-elect Joe Biden “will be able to focus the American people’s attention on a Senate, the Republican members of the Senate, who are obstructing, getting in the way of, what they need,” Schumer said.

The House and Senate convened Sunday afternoon and could vote on a relief and funding package by the end of the day. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told members to expect votes later in the day, and possibly “late into the evening.”

Congress passed a two-day extension of government funding that the president signed into law to avoid a government shutdown Friday night. That extension expired at midnight Sunday, meaning lawmakers needed to extend the deadline further if votes on the relief bill stretch into Monday. Lawmakers are combining the relief bill with the larger year-long $1.4 trillion spending package.

An aide to Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and a senior Democratic aide confirmed late Saturday that the two sides had reached an agreement on the language in Toomey’s proposal. Toomey said on a conference call on Sunday that he had agreed to narrow the language to apply only to the three lending facilities established by the CARES Act.

“I can tell you that, yes, we did narrow it,” Toomey said. “Because the Democrats made a fair point. That was too broad. And that might have captured facilities that we didn’t intend to capture, and so it was, yes, it was narrowed.”

Toomey also said he would support the final package: “Despite the significant reservations I have about some particular features, I think the good outweighs the bad and it is my intention, at this point, to vote for it.”

Schumer, the upper chamber’s top Democrat, said in a speech on the Senate floor on Sunday that “barring a major mishap,” Congress will vote “as early as tonight.”

“We have surmounted the final largest hurdle and an ending is in sight,” he said. “Let’s get the job done together for the sake of the American people.”

Lawmakers were working through the weekend to reach a deal on government funding measure and the relief bill before the Christmas holiday, with several key programs set to expire by the end of the year.

Nancy Cordes and Alan He contributed reporting.

First published on December 20, 2020 / 10:04 AM

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