Congress Approves New COVID Relief Bill
On December 21, 2020, the House and Senate both approved H.R 133, the Omnibus Appropriations and Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act. This massive bill contained $900 Billion in new COVID-19 relief, along with the funding needed to keep federal government operations running in 2021. Congressman Doyle voted for H.R. 133.
The COVID-19 relief legislation will provide urgently needed help for unemployed Americans and struggling small businesses. In addition, this bill will provide a $600 direct payment (“stimulus check”) to most Americans.
This bill also provides the funding necessary to purchase and distribute the newly approved vaccines for COVID.
In addition, the bill included provisions to prevent most surprise billing from health care providers.
And, last but not least, it also included legislation Congressman Doyle negotiated to help eliminate the “Digital Divide” that’s been highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some of the highlights of this legislation.
Families and Individuals
Unemployment insurance (UI)
- This bill extends the unemployment benefit coverage for the self-employed, gig workers, and others in non-traditional employment (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA). It increases the amount of time than an individual can claim these benefits by 11 weeks, for a total of 50 weeks of eligibility.
- It extends federally-funded unemployment benefits for individuals who have exhausted their regular state benefits (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC) by 11 weeks, for a total of 50 weeks of eligibility. The extension was critical in preventing 12 million Americans from losing this economic lifeline at the end of this year.
- The bill provides an extra benefit of $100 per week for some workers who have both wage and self-employment income, but whose base UI benefit calculation doesn’t take their self-employment into account.
- In addition, the bill provides an additional $300 per week for all workers receiving unemployment benefits, through March 14, 2021.
- This bill will provide Economic Impact Payments (“stimulus checks”) to most American households similar to the ones included in the CARES Act enacted by Congress with my support in March. The difference is, that instead of $1,200 for every adult and $500 for every qualifying dependent child, this time the Economic Impact Payments will total $600 for each adult and their child dependents. As with the previous round of stimulus checks, the payments will phase out starting at annual incomes of $75,000 per adult and $150,000 per couple.
Rental Housing Assistance
- The bill includes an extension of the eviction moratorium through Jan. 31.
- It also includes $25 billion in critically needed rental assistance for families struggling to stay in their homes. The assistance, which would be administered by state or community housing organizations, could be used to help pay rent or utility bills, including those owed since the beginning of the pandemic.
- In addition, The bill strengthens the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to help increase affordable housing construction and provide greater certainty to new and ongoing affordable housing projects in the future.
- The COVID relief bill includes $13 billion to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent to help relieve the historic hunger crisis that has left up to 17 million children food insecure.
Earned Income Tax Credit & Child Tax Credit
- The bill will help millions of families who faced unemployment or reduced wages during the pandemic by increasing the size of their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). It will do it by allowing them to calculate these credits based on their 2019 income, which in many cases will be larger than their income this year during the pandemic.
- The bill includes $10 billion to help child care providers stay in operation despite the higher costs associated with changes necessary to keep operating during the pandemic. This will help many parents get back to work as well as keep a number of child care providers open.
- The package includes the largest expansion of Pell Grant recipients in over a decade, reaching 500,000 new recipients and ensuring more than 1.5 million students will now receive the maximum benefit.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
- The bill includes $284 billion in new funding to help small businesses hurt by the pandemic through the PPP. It will provide new loans for eligible small businesses, including second loans for businesses that applied for and received loans this summer, and it expands eligibility for non-profit organizations and news providers. In addition, the bill dedicates $15 Billion in PPP funding for live concert venue, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. It also dedicates $12 billion in PPP funding to mom and pop businesses and low-income neighborhoods through proven community lenders like Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs). The bill also includes PPP program reforms to help non-profits and small businesses like restaurants – such as simplifying the loan forgiveness process for loans under $150,000.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)
- The agreement also includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.
Employee Retention Tax Credit
- The agreement extends and improves the Employee Retention Tax Credit to encourage employers to keep workers in their jobs during coronavirus closures or reduced revenue.
State and Local Governments
While the bill didn’t include the more comprehensive assistance for state and local governments that I, along with many other Democrats, had worked to include, it did include some assistance targeted to specific government agencies.
- $82 billion in funding for colleges and K-12 schools, including ventilation repair and replacement, to help prevent virus transmission and reopen classrooms
- $14 billion for transit systems like the Port Authority of Allegheny County
- $10 billion for highways
- $2 billion for airports
- As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Congressman Doyle was successful in including legislation in the bill to provide an investment of $7 billion in increasing access to broadband, including a new Emergency Broadband Benefit to help millions of students, families and unemployed workers afford the broadband they need during the pandemic, including:
o $3.2 billion in emergency funds for low-income families to access broadband
o $250 million dollars in additional funding for telehealth services
- The COVID relief legislation provides billions in urgently need funds to carry out the free and equitable distribution of safe vaccines to Americans as rapidly as possible, to implement an effective national testing and tracing strategy which includes billions of dollars that will be dedicated to eliminating the disparities facing communities of color, and to support health care providers on the front lines of the pandemic.
- $20 billion for procurement of vaccines and treatments
- $9 billion for vaccine distribution
- $22 billion for testing, tracing and COVID mitigation programs; of this amount, $2.5 billion will be specifically targeted at underserved areas, including both communities of color and rural communities.
- $9 billion in support for health care providers
- $1 billion for NIH to research COVID-19
- $4.5 billion in mental health funding
- $3 billion to replenish the strategic national stockpile
What’s Not in the Bill
Last, but not least, there are a number of provisions that weren’t in the bill as approved by Congress last night.
The bill approved by Congress doesn’t include several Republican proposals that Democrats considered serious threats to American workers and the recovery of our economy. One was a provision that could have unjustly put workers’ health and safety at risk and taken away their right to legal recourse. The other would have hamstrung the Federal Reserve’s ability to stabilize the economy and save jobs. Democrats were successful in preventing the inclusion of those provisions in the final version of the bill.
In addition, Democrats fought hard to include more COVID relief funding for state and local governments, which have been hit hard this year by the pandemic. State and local governments have been called upon to spend billions of dollars in emergency funding to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic - at the same time as the revenues they depend on dropped dramatically as a result of the shutdowns required to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Congressional Republicans refused to permit the inclusion of broad funding to help state and local governments in the bill. Nevertheless, the bill does contain some targeted assistance for specific local government operations like education and transportation.
Click here for a one-page fact sheet on the Authorization portions of the bill.
Click here for a section-by-section summary of the Coronavirus relief portions of the bill.
Click here for a section-by-section summary of the Appropriations portions of the bill.
Click here for a section-by-section summary of the Authorization portions of the bill.