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Congress passes $900B relief package with stimulus checks

Crusader Staff Report

Stimulus relief checks in the amount of $600 are expected to go out next week to working Americans after Congress finalized a $900 billion relief package to help those left unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic. It will be the second round of government assistance after many Americans received $1,200 last summer as part of the CARES Act.

The latest deal will also provide weekly $300 extended unemployment benefits and $600 for every child of working parents. That means a family of four will receive $2,400 in stimulus money apart from the $1,200 in monthly federal unemployment assistance if they remain unemployed.

The size of the benefit reportedly would be reduced for those earning more than $75,000 in 2019, similar to the last round of stimulus checks.

The measure increased funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing and provides $13 billion in increased benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

At Crusader press time, the bill had passed the House and Senate on Monday, December 21 and was on President Trump’s desk for his signature. President Trump in a video tweet that night indicated he might not sign the relief bill unless individuals receive $2,000 relief checks instead. With time running out, lawmakers Sunday struck the deal after months of tough negotiations. The talks came down to the wire as 12 million people were set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. However, experts are concerned that some jobless Americans could see their unemployment benefits lapse since it may take weeks for aid to reach them due to outdated state systems.

The government will begin to send out direct payments to millions of Americans next week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

“People are going to see this money the beginning of next week,” Mnuchin said in a CNBC interview.

The bill would extend all pandemic unemployment programs set to expire at the end of December.

Those benefits would likely be extended for 11 weeks of unemployment.

Two unemployment programs were in jeopardy of expiring on December 26. They include the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to self-employed, temporary workers and gig workers; and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the typical 26 weeks that states provide to jobless workers.

The new package will provide a federal unemployment benefit of $300 a week for up to 11 weeks through mid-March, less than the $600 provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March.

The package will also give an additional federal benefit of $100 weekly to Americans who earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income. However, they are not eligible for the more generous Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefit because they are eligible for state jobless aid.

The agreement provides a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave, based on the framework of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enacted in March, according to Pelosi and Schumer’s statement.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act required many employers to provide workers with two weeks of sick leave related to COVID-19 at full pay, and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave to care for family members at two-thirds pay.

Questions remain as to whether the package will still require companies to offer paid sick leave to workers who have COVID-19, or those caring for children following school closures.

As many as 87 million workers could lose access to emergency paid leave at the end of the month. If those benefits aren’t extended, it would limit workers’ ability to stay home to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure, or to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed.

The new package will offer $25 billion in emergency rental assistance and provide an extension of eviction moratoriums.

The latest legislation reportedly extended the moratorium through January 31.

According to the Aspen Institute, a think tank, the loss in jobless aid and other stimulus relief would have put 30 to 40 million people at risk of eviction as moratoriums were set to expire in January.

The package includes an extension of the small business Paycheck Protection Program, which expanded eligibility to local newspapers, broadcasters and nonprofit organizations. It will direct another $20 billion to small business grants and $15 billion to live event venues.

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