Congress passes $900 billion stimulus package

03.20.COVID-19 coronavirus update-min

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate both passed a $2.3 trillion legislation package late Monday, moving the nation one step closer to a much-needed stimulus package to combat the economic impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill now moves on to President Trump, who was expected to sign it but signaled late Tuesday he may not.

The nearly 5,600-page bill addresses a multitude of topics but nearly half of the money appropriated within it, $900 billion, will provide the framework for more COVID-19 relief.

Among the major wins for the American people is the extension of supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 per week for another 11 weeks (and the extension of other unemployment programs), another round of $600 direct payments to eligible adults and children and nearly $285 billion to renew the Paycheck Protection Program developed as part of the first stimulus package this spring.

While both parties butted heads during negotiations, leaders on both sides were pleased to finally reach an agreement Monday and believe the new stimulus package is a positive step forward for the nation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in announcing the bill that “it is packed with targeted policies that help struggling Americans who have already waited too long.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added in a joint statement, “We are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people.”

As for the actual text, reports indicate the extension of unemployment benefits from the end of the December through March 14 is half of what was initially provided in the spring but will still be essential benefits for millions of Americans. CNN reports the new bill also extends two other pandemic-centric unemployment programs that were set to expire at the end of the month and would have impacted nearly 12 million Americans.

Similar to the spring stimulus, eligibility for stimulus checks will be determined based on 2019 incomes. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he expects the stimulus rollout to begin “by the beginning of next week … so much needed relief just in time for the holidays.”

The biggest win for small businesses is the reinstitution of the Paycheck Protection Program, which has already provided more than $660 billion in relief since the outset of the pandemic. Under the terms laid out in the new bill, small businesses with fewer than 300 employees that can prove they have experienced a revenue drop of at least 25 percent in the first, second or third quarters of the year are eligible to apply for this second round of PPP loans.

The bill does limit the total amount businesses are able to borrow (from $10 million down to $2 million) but it less restrictive on how businesses choose to use loan funds once they are approved. The bill also streamlines the loan forgiveness process for small loans of less than $150,000.

Finally, the bill specifies that business expenses that were paid with forgiven PPP loans are tax deductible. This had not been clarified in IRS guidance earlier this year.

“I am heartened to see members of Congress heed that message, reach across the aisle, and work together,” said President-elect Joe Biden in a statement about the new legislation. “This action in the lame-duck session is just the beginning. Our work is far from over.”

Other important appropriations within the bill include $15 billion for air carriers, $25 billion in rental assistance — including the extension of the federal eviction moratorium through Jan. 31, 2021 — $13 billion to food aid, $82 billion into education and $45 billion into transportation, CNBC reports.

Regarding COVID-19, specifically, the bill includes $8 billion for vaccine distribution, $20 billion for testing and contact tracing and another $20 billion to ensure Americans receive the shot for free.

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