A look at the Additional $900 Billion in Coronavirus Relief Passed in December

January 29, 2021

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, Democrats and Republicans came together and passed three large relief packages totaling trillions of dollars in support for households, businesses, schools, and public health institutions. After the third package was passed in April, Democrats immediately turned their attention to a fourth package, arguing that, among other measures, hundreds of billions of dollars was needed to bolster state and local government budgets. Republicans, on the other hand, insisted that a fourth package include “liability reform” to shield businesses from lawsuits over coronavirus exposure.

These dueling priorities held up negotiations for months, and both parties waited until after the November election to make real compromises, hoping the results would deliver them increased leverage. As the new year neared, still without a deal, negotiators were forced to drop their demands, and a $900 billion package was passed that included neither liability reform nor state and local funding. While Congress is considering another multi-trillion dollar package in 2021, this piece will look back at December 2020 to see what was included in the $900 billion and how to make sense of it.

Aid for Individuals and Households:
Following the popular $1,200 “stimulus checks” that were included in the spring 2020 relief, December’s package includes $600 payments to individuals earning less than $75,000 per year and $1,200 to families making less than $150,000 per year. Families with dependent children will also get $600 per child. If you have not yet received your payment, which may be delivered via direct deposit or by a check in the mail, check here for more information from the IRS.

The legislation also extended unemployment benefits that were due to expire at the end of the year. Through March 14, the those on unemployment benefits will receive an additional $300 per week on top of benefits provided by state governments. This is reduced from the $600 per week that was originally supplied. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to freelance and gig workers, will also provide a $100 per week supplement through March 14th.
On top of $25 billion in rental assistance, the legislation extended a ban on evictions that is now due to expire on January 31st.

Aid for Businesses and Schools:
The Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses, has been extended with an additional $285 billion. This iteration of the program restricts which businesses can receive the aid. Only businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have seen at least a 25% drop in revenue in at least one quarter of 2020 will be eligible. Publicly traded companies are also no longer eligible for the aid.

As schools continue to face budget crunches, $54 billion will go to K-12 schools and $23 billion to higher education. Schools have had to spend more on technology as they adapt to virtual learning. Colleges and universities are under intense pressure as revenues fall and costs to keep students on campus skyrocket.

Coronavirus Response and Healthcare Policies:
While President Biden is pushing for further funding for vaccine distribution, the December legislation provided $20 billion for vaccine purchasing, $8 billion for distribution, and $20 billion for testing and contact tracing. Nursing homes will also now be eligible for emergency loans from the federal government as they continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Long a priority for bipartisan compromise, Congress passed in this legislation a policy to ban “surprise” medical billing. Hospitals will no longer be allowed to bill patients for certain out-of-network costs or transport in air ambulances, which can often lead to patients receiving exorbitant bills months after their treatment has concluded.

As Congress debates the first relief package of the Biden Administration, check back with the O’Neill and Associates blog to get updates on what funding is in the bill and which industries will benefit.

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