After months of talk, Congress passed a second stimulus package on Monday that includes $600 direct payments to many Americans and $300 in enhanced unemployment benefits. Valued at $900 billion, the aid is less than half the $2.2 trillion in relief offered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. It is also only a third of the $3 trillion proposed in legislation that was passed by the House earlier this year but never taken up in the Senate.
“Clearly, the (current agreement) is what was politically possible,” says Rob Fischer, an associate professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. While the compromise doesn’t provide direct aid to state and local governments, when it comes to families, Fischer says, “It is absolutely helpful.”
The new stimulus deal includes the following provisions to help workers and families:
- $600 direct payments to eligible people.
- $300 per week in supplemental unemployment payments.
- Extended unemployment coverage and benefits for freelance workers.
- $284 billion for Paycheck Protection Program loans.
- $13 billion in nutrition assistance.
- Extended eviction moratorium and emergency rental assistance.
- $10 billion for child care assistance.
“It’s a relief knowing the package helps put food on the table, pay rent and avoid eviction for millions of families,” says Angelo McClain, chief executive officer for the National Association of Social Workers. However, he adds that it is only a first step. “Hopefully, all members of Congress understand that this relief package is insufficient and should be viewed as a down payment.”
Here’s a closer look at the major provisions affecting U.S. families.
$600 Direct Payments
The inclusion of direct payments to U.S. families was a sticking point in negotiations, with some legislative leaders pushing to include only targeted assistance rather than checks to all residents. In the end, stimulus payments made it into the final agreement, although the amount is only half the $1,200 granted by the CARES Act.
According to the details released, all individuals earning less than $75,000 a year will receive a $600 direct payment. Reduced payments will be made to those who earned $75,000 to $87,000 in 2019. Dependent children will also be eligible for this payment, but adult dependents are excluded. This means a married couple with two minor children should receive a $2,400 stimulus payment, assuming they earn less than $150,000 annually. Social Security beneficiaries, including retirees, are eligible to receive a direct payment if their total income does not exceed the limit.
The timeline for when these payments should hit bank accounts hasn’t been announced. However, in the spring, stimulus payments began being distributed within two weeks of when the CARES Act was signed.
While that means people could have money around the start of the year, the government missed an opportunity to have a greater impact, says Paul Miller, managing partner with New York City-based accounting firm Miller & Company LLP. “It should have happened last week so people could feel good going into the holidays,” he says. Passing the stimulus agreement earlier could have increased consumer confidence prior to Christmas and led to more sales for restaurants and businesses.
$300 Per Week Supplemental Unemployment Payments
The CARES Act provided an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits to eligible workers. That assistance ended in July, but the stimulus agreement includes a new round of extra payments. All unemployed workers will get $300 per week in additional federal benefits through March 14, 2021.
This money might be more beneficial than the direct payments, according to Fischer. “You can only do so much with $600,” he says. However, the enhanced unemployment benefits provide weeks of stable assistance.
The new agreement also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. These provide enhanced benefits for workers even after they’ve exhausted their state benefits and will cover up to 50 weeks. By extending these programs, 14 million workers who were slated to lose benefits this week should continue to receive unemployment checks.
Extended Unemployment Coverage and Benefits for Freelancers
Those who are self-employed, gig workers or who have other nontraditional employment are also eligible for unemployment benefits through the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Some workers who have both wage income and self-employment income may be eligible for an extra $100 per week in unemployment benefits.
$284 Billion for Paycheck Protection Program Loans
A $284 billion infusion into the Paycheck Protection Program could assist families by keeping people on the job. The program provides forgivable loans to eligible employers to cover their payroll. The new stimulus agreement also expands eligibility for the program to nonprofits, tourism marketing groups and local media outlets.
“There is no doubt the Paycheck Protection Program helped save workers from losing their jobs, at least for some part of the year,” says Brock Blake, founder and CEO of Lendio, a small business loan marketplace. “While there could be more done for small business owners who have been disproportionately impacted in specific industries and communities, any amount of relief is good.”
$13 Billion in Nutrition Assistance
Families who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could see their benefits increase by 15% as a result of $13 billion included in the agreement for nutrition assistance. Known as SNAP, the program is what was formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
With more people out of work this year, many families may be relying on SNAP for the first time. “The demand has been massive,” Fischer says. The additional funds may help families stretch their benefits further.
Extended Eviction Moratorium and Emergency Rental Assistance
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a temporary halt on evictions for those who met income limits and couldn’t make their full rent payments because of a substantial loss of income. That protection was slated to end on Dec. 31, 2020, but the stimulus agreement extends the moratorium through Jan. 31, 2021.
The agreement also includes $25 billion for a federal rental assistance program. This money will be distributed by state and local governments to help renters affected by COVID-19. Cash may be used for past and future rent payments as well as utility bills.
$10 Billion for Child Care Assistance
The House and Senate agreement includes $10 billion in child care assistance. This will be distributed to states for use in programs that provide stability for caregivers and families. States will have flexibility in how they spend the money, and they may use it for assistance to families or to help minimize costs for child care providers.
While the stimulus agreement provides much-needed relief for American families, some say it is only a start. “I hope that this bill is not the end,” Blake says. “We need business leaders and government officials to sit down and really think about what comes next.”