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 announced on Sunday that they’ve 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 Sunday.
The legislation is expected to contain much-needed coronavirus relief including a weekly $300 enhancement in unemployment insurance, a second round of stimulus checks, and renewed support for small businesses.
Lawmakers in both chambers will have a chance to review the bill — which is being attached to the annual government spending package — before they take a vote. Since they’re planning a vote on Monday, lawmakers are expected to pass a continuing resolution Sunday night that keeps the government funded beyond the December 20 deadline they previously faced.
Lawmakers have worked through several sticking points to get here: Contentious provisions (including state and local aid, as well as liability protections for businesses) have been stripped from the legislation, 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 final $900 billion bill lands between the $2.2 trillion proposal House Democrats had put forth in their latest version of the HEROES Act and the much narrower $550 billion bill that Senate Republicans have favored. It contains far less aid than many Democrats hoped to see. For instance, it’s expected to include a round of $600 stimulus checks, according to the Washington Post, instead of another wave of the $1,200 ones that were distributed earlier this year.
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.
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, according to the Washington Post. 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 under the first stimulus package. 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 these stimulus checks would 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, though it’s not yet clear how long these payments would last. 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: A sizable amount of the bill 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 with 300 or fewer employees that have seen a 30 percent or higher decrease in revenue in any quarter 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.
The legislation also contains a number of other provisions, including: food aid, funding to help schools reopen, money to facilitate vaccine distribution, and aid for airlines, which would be required to bring furloughed employees back.
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.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the bill will extend paid sick leave protections established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act earlier this year, which guaranteed leave for people who were sick with Covid-19, taking care of family members with the illness, or taking care of children who were navigating school closures. It also doesn’t provide additional aid for state and local governments, a Democratic priority, or the liability protections that shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits Republicans had advocated for.
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; as Stewart has written, 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.