By Don McIntosh
A new round of aid is headed to jobless workers, struggling businesses and to people who are doing just fine, as part of a long-awaited relief bill that was signed into law Dec. 27.
The bill included a $900 billion package billed as coronavirus stimulus, combined with $1.4 trillion in government funding, a water infrastructure bill, and dozens of other unrelated bits of legislation. It’s the longest bill ever passed by Congress, almost twice as long as the previous record. It was negotiated behind closed doors by the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin representing the White House. Released at 2 p.m. Dec. 21, it passed hours later, with no hearings and no amendments, by lawmakers who couldn’t possibly have read what they were voting on. Officially, it was a 5,593-page Senate amendment to a bill that had passed the House, the U.S.-Mexico Economic Partnership Act, which promotes academic and vocational exchanges. It passed 92-6 in the Senate, with all four Oregon and Washington senators voting for it. In the House it was split into two bills: The stimulus part passed 359-53 with support from all Oregon and Washington representatives; the government funding bill passed 327-85, with Oregon representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio voting against.
It was a chaotic and hurried end to a process that dragged out seven months, ever since the House passed its version of a second-round stimulus bill May 15. The first round, known as the CARES Act, passed in March and included a $600-a-week increase in unemployment benefits and a one-time check of $1,200 per adult taxpayer. The supplemental unemployment benefit expired July 31, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to allow a vote on an extension.
At press time, Congress was considering increasing the new stimulus check from $600 to $2,000.
What’s in the bill
- Stimulus checks A one-time $600 cash payment per adult, plus $600 per child. [Payments phase out for those with incomes over $75,000 ($150,000 per household)]
- Enhanced unemployment benefits An extra $300 a week through March 14.
- Help for small businesses $285 billion for a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses impacted by the pandemic [Businesses and nonprofits with under 300 employees whose revenues dropped at least a quarter can get a forgivable loan of up to 2.5 times average monthly payroll costs, up to $2 million.]
- Help for renters Eviction moratorium extended to Jan. 31; $25 billion in rent assistance
- Help for industries $15 billion to extend the Payroll Support Program for aviation workers to April 1; $1 billion in payroll grants for airline contractor employees; $15 billion for theaters and other live venues; $82 billion for schools and universities; $10 billion for child care; $14 billion for transit systems, Amtrak and airports.
- COVID vaccine $69 billion to speed distribution of the vaccine
- Enhanced food stamps $13 billion to increase food stamp benefits by 15%
- Special interest tax breaks $9 billion for the alcohol industry, $6.3 billion for business lunches; and other tax breaks for fossil fuel and alternative fuel producers, NASCAR racetrack owners, electric motorcycle makers, and thoroughbred horse owners