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Congress Reaches Deal on COVID-19 Relief Package — Here’s What’s in It

The COVID-19 relief standoff in Congress appears to have come to an end.

Following months of back-and-forth negotiations, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have reached a deal on a nearly $900 billion stimulus bill that would help provide financial relief to the ailing United States economy. Yesterday on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “It will be another major rescue package for the American people.”

The agreement includes another round of direct payments to individuals as well as additional weekly unemployment benefits. It also provides loans to small businesses, assistance for renters and funding for coronavirus vaccine distribution, plus other provisions.

Today, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are expected to vote on the package, which would head to President Donald Trump’s desk if passed. Here, some provisions included in the measure:

Stimulus checks

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed the inclusion of up to $600 in direct payments to most Americans — half of the $1,200 sent out as part of the CARES Act enacted in late March. Like the first round of checks, the size of the benefit would be reduced for people who earn more than $75,000 last year. Families will also receive $600 per child, compared with $500 in the first round.

There is no target date for the release of the checks; however, experts suggest that the timeline will follow that of the first round of direct payments. Within three weeks of the CARES Act’s passage, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service delivered checks totaling almost $160 billion to nearly 90 million Americans — more than half of the $290 billion that was set aside for direct disbursements. Most eligible people had received the money within two months.

Unemployment benefits

An extension has been given to the unemployment programs set to expire at the end of December. The first is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to the self-employed, as well as temporary workers and gig workers. Second, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program offers an extra 13 weeks of benefits beyond the typical 26 weeks that states provide to the jobless.

According to officials, the new bill would renew the additional $300 a week for the unemployed — less than the $600 provided under the CARES Act. The enhanced payments will be disbursed through March 14. What’s more, the measure provides tax credits for employers that offer paid sick leave related to COVID-19.

Small business loans

The agreement includes $248 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses. Of that funding, $12 billion is allocated to minority-owned businesses and $15 billion will be directed to live event venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions. It has also expanded eligibility for PPP funding to nonprofit organizations as well as local newspapers, television networks and radio broadcasters.

If passed, the financial aid would be appropriated at a crucial time for the country, which is facing a surge in new coronavirus infections. As of this morning, more than 17.85 million people in the U.S. have been sickened by COVID-19, and at least 317,600 have died.

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