Congress’ deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief plan includes more small business aid, another round of direct payments to Americans, an additional unemployment supplement and funding to streamline Covid vaccine distribution.
Lawmakers aim to pass the package by Monday night, attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding proposal in one colossal bill. The badly needed aid comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the potential loss of unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the coming days.
Many economists and lawmakers say the measure will help, but will not go nearly far enough to curb the damage households and small businesses have suffered during the pandemic. Democrats have already stressed they will push for another aid package after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
The more than 5,000-page bill, which lawmakers released Monday afternoon only hours before expected votes, would address many facets of the health and economic crisis.
- It would add a $300 per week federal unemployment insurance supplement through mid-March. The plan would also extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs, which expanded jobless benefits eligibility and allowed people to continue to receive payments after their state assistance ran out, through mid-March.
- The bill would put $284 billion into Paycheck Protection Program loans, which can be forgiven, and allow hard-hit small businesses to draw a second round of funding. It would include $20 billion in grants for companies in low-income areas and money set aside for loans from community-based and minority-owned lenders.
- The package would send direct payments of $600 to most Americans — down from the $1,200 passed in March as part of the CARES Act. Families will also get $600 per child. Individuals who earned up to $75,000 per year and couples filing jointly who made up to $150,000 in 2019 will receive the full sum. The payments will phase out until they stop for individuals and couples who made $99,000 and $198,000, respectively. Mixed-status households, in which a member of the family does not have a Social Security number, will also receive payments, retroactive to the CARES Act.
- The bill would extend the federal eviction moratorium through Jan. 31. It would put $25 billion into a rental assistance fund, which state and local governments would allocate to people to use for past due and future rent or utilities payments.
- The plan would put more than $8 billion into distribution of the two FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccines. It would also set aside $20 billion to make sure Americans get the shot for free. It would direct at least $20 billion to states for testing and contact tracing efforts.
- During the worst hunger crisis the U.S. has seen in years, the measure would put $13 billion into boosting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15% and funding food banks, among other programs.
- The bill would put $45 billion into transportation, including at least $15 billion for airline payroll assistance, $14 billion for transit systems and $10 billion for state highways.
- The legislation would direct $82 billion into education, including more than $54 billion for public K-12 schools and nearly $23 billion for higher education. Schools require additional resources such as personal protective equipment to stay open safely.
- It puts $10 billion into child care assistance.
- The proposal would send $15 billion in aid to live event venues, movie theaters and cultural museums.
- The measure sets aside $7 billion to increase broadband access.
- It would phase out emergency Federal Reserve lending powers established by the CARES Act at the end of the year, and repurpose $429 billion in unused funds. A proposal backed by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey to prevent the Fed from setting up “similar” programs in the future temporarily tripped up the final push to craft a rescue package. The parties eventually settled on language that would not allow the Fed to set up identical lending provisions.
The deal followed months of dispute over how best to buoy a health-care system and economy ravaged by the pandemic. After Democrats pushed for trillions more in assistance during the spring and early summer while Republicans called for a delay in spending, the parties then clashed over how much money to put into the federal response.
Leading up to the agreement, Congress had to pass several temporary funding bills in order to buy time to strike a final deal. The dysfunction dragged into Monday, when issues with printing and uploading the massive legislation delayed the process of voting on it.
Lawmakers appeared poised to work late into Monday night to approve the legislation, which would not only send another round of relief but also keep the government running through Sept. 30.
“We are going to stay until we finish tonight,” McConnell told NBC News.
The Senate would need the unanimous support of all senators to push the legislation through Monday. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has criticized the $900 billion plan and other large spending packages, told reporters he would not hold up the legislation.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., previously threatened to hold up legislation as they pushed for $1,200 direct payments, instead of $600 checks. It is unclear if they have any plans to delay the bill.
In a tweeted statement Monday, Sanders said the legislation “will help many, but goes nowhere near far enough.” He called the Biden administration to, on its first day, “bring forth a major economic relief bill that addresses the severe economic pain of working families— including more direct payments.”
Biden in a statement Sunday said Congress should “immediately, starting in the new year” work on more legislation to contain the virus and boost the economic recovery. The willingness to do so on Capitol Hill will partly depend on whether the GOP can win both Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia and keep control of the Senate.
Their push for more direct relief to individuals and families reflects Democrats’ broad desire to quickly approve more aid in the new year.
“The bill today is a good bill. Today is a good day,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday. “But it is certainly not the end of the story, and it cannot be the end of the story.”
— NBC News contributed to this report