What’s Really in the Federal COVID-19 Relief Bill?

Here’s what you need to know about the new bill
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It appears that both houses of Congress are likely to vote by the end of today on a $900 billion package of COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus. The final bill–all 5,593 pages of it–includes additional unemployment benefits, assistance for renters, relief targeted for live performance venues and movie theaters, money for education, and those famous $600 checks.

“We have now reached agreement on a bill that will crush the virus and put money in the pockets of working families who are struggling,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats released on Sunday. “This emergency relief bill is an important initial step.”

Here’s what you need to know about some of the major ways the new COVID-19 relief legislation might impact you.

Benefits for Individuals and Families

Adults with incomes below $75,000 will receive a one-time check for $600, similar to the $1,200 checks from earlier in the year, plus one $600 check for each dependent child. Earners in the $75,000 to $99,000 bracket will receive smaller figures; higher-income individuals will not be included in the program. Deposits are anticipated to begin arriving before the end of the year.

In a major change from the CARES Act, this time checks will be sent to Americans in “mixed-status” families, where not all individuals are U.S. citizens. Undocumented individuals, however, will still be excluded from receiving funds themselves. Adult dependents are also excluded.

Individuals who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic will receive an additional $300 per week for 10 weeks along with their unemployment benefits. The package also expands the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs.

Other benefits include $13 billion in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), $10 billion for child care assistance, and new funding for food banks and other assistance programs.

Renter and Eviction Protections

The federal eviction moratorium has been extended by a month, moving the expiration date to January 31, 2021. A $25 billion rental assistance fund will be distributed to state and local governments, which will allocate the money to cover rent and utility payments of high-need individuals impacted by the pandemic.

Assistance for Businesses 

Businesses small and large should see some relief from the bill. An additional $284 billion will be put into PPP loans–with some of that money earmarked to be loaned out by community-based and minority-owned banks rather than large financial institutions–and $20 billion will be used for grants to small businesses located in designated low-income areas.

Transportation and travel industries get $45 billion in targeted help. Of that, $24 billion will go into spending on upgrading highways and transit systems, and airlines will get $15 billion of their own for payroll assistance.

“Save Our Stages Act” 

A group of relief measures aimed at the entertainment industry, collectively referred to as the Save Our Stages Act, made it into the bill. Intended to support independent live performance venues, cultural institutions, and small movie theaters, the act includes $15 billion in Small Project Assistance (SPA) grants that venues can use to cover emergency expenses.

Assistance for Education

Making it safe to reopen schools has been a key concern for many during the pandemic. This relief package allocates $82 billion toward that goal–$54 billion for K-12 schools and $23 billion for higher education–which will help offset costs for expenses like PPE, cleaning, and remote learning resources.

For districts where students and educators have been struggling with with remote learning due to insufficient infrastructure, Congress also set aside $7 billion to increase broadband access nationwide.

Applying for a Pell grant will be a little easier soon, too. The bill simplifies eligibility rules for the program, and returns eligibility to incarcerated individuals, ending a ban put into place in 1994.

Health Care and Fighting COVID-19

This pandemic relief bill also includes funds for fighting the pandemic itself. Among the allocations is an additional $8 billion for distributing vaccines, $20 billion to underwrite making vaccines free to all Americans, and a $20 billion fund that will go to states to spend on testing and contact tracing.

The bill also includes provisions regarding “surprise medical bills,” which patients might encounter if they receive care from an out-of-network provider. Under the new law, it would become illegal to charge those bills directly to patients starting in 2022; instead the providers would be obligated to negotiate with insurers (on-the-ground ambulance services would remain exempt).

Other Provisions

Plenty of non-pandemic-specific provisions made their way into Congress’s omnibus bill. Among the sweeteners added to the final package are a statement about human rights in Tibet, the establishment of two new Smithsonian museums, and a ban on race-day horse doping. There’s also a provision reportedly pushed by Republicans at President Trump’s specific behest, which makes it OK to deduct the costs of meals as a business expense.

Also, the bill funds the federal government through September 30, 2021, and puts off any possible government shutdown.


RELATED: What Will Be Left of L.A.’s Music Scene After the Pandemic?


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