Democratic and Republican leaders are closing in on a coronavirus-aid deal, which is expected to include a second round of stimulus checks. Here is the latest on the negotiations, and what else could be in the package.
Congressional leaders were approaching agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus-relief deal that includes another round of direct payments to households, along with aid for schools, vaccine distribution, unemployed workers and more. Congressional aides noted that the negotiations were continuing.
Will the agreement include a second round of stimulus checks?
Leaders are working off a bipartisan group’s proposal that didn’t include funding for another round of direct payments that would reach most households. But congressional leaders were expected to add direct checks, and Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R., S.D.) told reporters Wednesday he expected the checks would be in the $600 to $700 range per person. That is less than the checks of $1,200 per person in the initial round earlier this year.
That earlier round of direct payments was estimated to cost $292 billion through 2021, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
What about state and local aid and liability protections?
They are likely to be left out of this deal, after proving to be a sticking point in talks. Mr. Thune indicated that Democrats pushed to include the direct checks in exchange for dropping aid for state and local governments.
What other kinds of direct aid are lawmakers considering?
The bipartisan proposal that leaders are working from included:
• $300 billion to the Small Business Administration, funding a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program.
• Extending existing unemployment programs that expand eligibility for jobless benefits and increasing the duration of those benefits, and adding a $300 weekly federal supplement to state unemployment payments for 16 weeks.
• $25 billion in rental assistance.
• Extending until April 2021 forbearance on federally held student loans.
• A rule clarifying that expenses related to PPP loans can be deducted on tax returns, overturning a Treasury Department decision.
What about health care and vaccines?
The bipartisan group included money for that as well, and Democratic leaders suggested they would push for more—particularly for vaccine distribution. The bipartisan proposal included:
• $3.42 billion in direct grants to states, localities and territories and $2.58 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccine distribution.
• $7 billion to states and local governments for testing and tracing efforts, as well as $2 billion to nursing homes.
• $35 billion to health-care providers.
• $5 billion for treatment addressing substance abuse and mental health.
Do schools and child care figure in?
Yes. The bipartisan plan includes $82 billion in funding for schools and universities as well as $10 billion for child-care providers.
It also includes other measures, such as $13 billion to assist farmers, $12 billion in emergency investments to help low-income and minority communities and $10 billion to expand broadband access. The plan has $45 billion in aid for hard-hit airlines, airports and public transit.
Will the eligibility rules for stimulus checks change?
That has been up for debate. Under the law Congress passed in March, recipients were required to have a Social Security number. That excluded families where a parent or spouse lacked a Social Security number, whether because they are in the country illegally or for other reasons. Democrats want to expand eligibility to people who lack a Social Security number but have an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, as well as their families. Republicans opposed that, saying they want to ensure that the government isn’t sending checks to illegal immigrants or rewarding illegal behavior, and that a Social Security number is needed to prevent fraud.
How quickly did households get checks in the spring?
In the spring, the IRS was able to distribute 80 million payments for $147 billion within about two weeks after Congress approved them and reached $267 billion within about two months. It is still making payments to the final groups of recipients, including low-income households who just provided the IRS their bank-account information and prisoners who are getting payments after a lawsuit challenged the government’s denial.
How quickly would a potential new round of payments arrive?
If passed into law, a second round of payments could likely happen faster than the first one. That is because the IRS has information it lacked earlier in the year about households that don’t typically file tax returns, including Social Security beneficiaries and people who get veterans benefits. That means the government could send more people electronic payments and have less reliance on the slower check-printing process.
One potential complication: whether a second set of payments would overlap with IRS preparations for the annual tax-filing season, which typically begins in late January and requires significant agency resources before then to program and test computer systems.
What about next year?
has said that any aid Congress passes this year would just be a down payment on additional help he hopes to pass in 2021. But any package would still have to clear the Senate, control of which remains to be determined by two Senate races in early January.
The chamber now has 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats set for the next Congress. If the Democrats win both runoff races, they will wield a majority since Vice President-elect
will break any tie votes. If Republicans hold at least one of the seats,
Sen. Mitch McConnell
(R., Ky.) will keep his job as Senate majority leader.
A bigger aid package is likely going to have a tougher time passing a GOP-controlled Senate, although the public-health conditions and economic recovery will help shape the political climate next year.
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