The $1.9 trillion coronavirus package being considered by the Senate contains a wide range of proposals to help Americans still struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic.
The legislation differs in at least three major ways from the bill that passed the House of Representatives last week. The final Senate package will have to be approved again by the House before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Senators narrowed the eligibility for stimulus checks, trimmed the federal boost to unemployment benefits and removed a provision to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the wage hike violated the strict rules of reconciliation, which is the procedure Democratic leaders are using to approve the bill in the chamber without any Republican support.
The Senate bill contains many of the same measures aimed at assisting Americans in need that were in the legislation approved by the House and the package that Biden unveiled in January. In addition to another round of direct payments, it would provide more assistance for people who are unemployed, hungry or uninsured as well as for those at risk of losing their homes. It also would provide a bigger tax break for parents.
Biden and congressional Democrats argue that another massive bill is necessary to assist both people in need and the nation at large.
Here’s how Americans could benefit from the Senate bill:
If your family makes less than $160,000 a year
The Senate bill would provide direct payments worth up to $1,400 per person to families earning less than $160,000 a year and individuals earning less than $80,000 a year.
The payments will phase out faster than they would have under the House version of the bill, which set the income caps at $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for individuals.
That means that not everyone who was eligible for a check earlier will receive one now — but for those who do qualify, the new payments will top up the $600 checks approved in December, bringing recipients to a total of $2,000 apiece.
Individuals earning less than $75,000 would receive the full $1,400.
Married couples earning less than $150,000 a year would receive $2,800 — and families with children would be eligible for an additional $1,400 per dependent.
The payments will be calculated based on either 2019 or 2020 income. Unlike the previous two rounds, adult dependents — including college students — would be eligible for the payments.
If you are unemployed
The jobless would receive a $300 weekly federal boost to unemployment benefits and would get those payments through September 6 — an arrangement hammered out after hours of negotiation on Friday. Also, two key pandemic jobless benefits programs would be extended for the same period.
The deal also calls for making the first $10,200 of unemployment payments tax-free for households with annual incomes under $150,000.
This is a significant difference from the House bill, which would provide a $400 weekly enhancement through August 29 and continue the two pandemic programs for the same period. The House bill does not contain the tax provision.
Freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors and certain people affected by the pandemic can receive benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, while the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program increases the duration of payments for those in the traditional state unemployment system.
Out-of-work Americans will start running out of benefits in the two programs in mid-March, when provisions in December’s $900 billion relief package begin phasing out.
The $300 enhancement that was part of the December deal also ends in mid-March.
Who is out of luck?
Workers being paid at or just above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will not see a boost in pay.
The Senate parliamentarian ruled in late February that increasing the hourly threshold to $15 does not meet a strict set of guidelines needed to move forward in the reconciliation process, which would allow Senate Democrats to pass the relief bill with a simple majority and no Republican votes.
If you are hungry
Under both the Senate and House bills, food stamp recipients would see a 15% increase in benefits continue through September, instead of having it expire at the end of June.
And families whose children’s schools are closed may be able to receive Pandemic-EBT benefits through the summer if their state opts to continue it. The program provides funds to replace free- and reduced-price meals that kids would have been given in school.
If you’re behind on your rent or mortgage
Both bills would send roughly $20 billion to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent, rent assistance and utility bills.
About $10 billion would be authorized to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages, utilities and property taxes.
They would provide $5 billion to help states and localities assist those at risk of experiencing homelessness and an additional $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers for those who are homeless.
If you have children
Most families with minor children could claim a larger child tax credit for 2021, under a provision contained in both the Senate and House bills. Low-income parents, in particular, would benefit.
Qualifying families could receive a child tax credit of $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for each one under age 18, up from the current credit of up to $2,000 per child under age 17.
The enhanced credit would also become fully refundable so that more low-income parents could take advantage of it. Plus, households could receive payments monthly, rather than a lump sum once a year, which would make it easier for them to cover their expenses.
Families paying for child care services could receive some additional aid. The bills would provide $39 billion to child care providers, some of which must be used to help families struggling to pay the cost.
If you’re sick
If you’re sick, quarantining or caring for an ill loved one or a child whose school is closed, the bills may provide your employer an incentive to offer paid sick and family leave.
Unlike Biden’s original proposal, the House and Senate bills would not require employers to offer the benefit. But they do continue to provide tax credits to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the benefit through October 1.
Last year, Congress guaranteed many workers two weeks’ pay if they contracted Covid or were quarantining. It also provided an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to those who were staying home with kids whose schools were closed. Those benefits expired in December.
If you need health insurance
More Americans could qualify for heftier federal premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies for two years, under both the Senate and House versions of the plan.
Enrollees would pay no more than 8.5% of their income towards coverage, down from nearly 10% now. Also, those earning more than the current cap of 400% of the federal poverty level — about $51,000 for an individual and $104,800 for a family of four in 2021 — would become eligible for help.
Lower-income enrollees could have their premiums eliminated completely, and those collecting unemployment benefits could sign up for coverage with no premiums in 2021.
But the Senate legislation provides more generous assistance to those who lost their jobs but want to remain on their employer health insurance plans through COBRA. These laid-off workers would not pay any premiums through the end of September under the Senate version.
The House bill would require them to pay 15% of the premium, though that could still prove costly.
If you own a small business
The bills would provide $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program, which provides long-term, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. Severely impacted small businesses with fewer than 10 workers will be given priority for some of the money.
They also provide $25 billion for a new grant program specifically for bars and restaurants. Eligible businesses may receive up to $10 million and can use the money for a variety of expenses, including payroll, mortgage and rent, utilities and food and beverages.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which is currently taking applications for second-round loans, would get an additional $7 billion and the bills would make more non-profit organizations eligible.
Another $175 million would be used for outreach and promotion, creating a Community Navigator Program to help target eligible businesses.
This story has been updated to reflect changes in the Senate legislation.