Congress Close To Reaching Deal On COVID Aid

( After months of negotiations and a few short-term funding extensions, Congress has finally reached agreement on another pandemic relief bill Sunday night.

The bill, which still has to officially pass through both chambers and then be signed by President Donald Trump, totals roughly $900 billion. The negotiations were fraught with contentious negotiations and a lot of back-and-forth that continued right up to various deadlines.

Congress wanted to tie in the stimulus package with a larger trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government for a while. Congress had to pass a few short-term funding extensions in the last few weeks as negotiations continued. A last-minute proposal by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey to limit the powers of the Federal Reserve was the final hurdle that had to be overcome.

While the official full text of the bill hasn’t been released yet, leadership from both Democrats and Republicans revealed some of the details of the plan. It will include a second round of direct payments to individuals. While the amount isn’t clear yet, it seems like it will be half the amount of the first payments.

Individuals earning under a certain income threshold will likely receive $600, plus another $600 for each independent child. This means a family of four that qualifies for the payments would receive $2,400. That same family received $3,400 in the first round of direct payments under the CARES Act.

Unemployment benefits are set to be enhanced by $300 per week for another 11 weeks. That will carry from the end of December and last through mid-March. This also is half of the original $600 per-week federal boost.

The stimulus package will also extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program as well as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. The first makes unemployment available to gig workers, self-employed persons and others who wouldn’t normally qualify for unemployment. The second extends unemployment benefits for an extra 13 weeks.

The Paycheck Protection Program will be getting more funding, too, including roughly $12 billion for very small businesses and for minority-owned businesses. More non-profit organizations will be eligible under this version of the PPP, as will some media organizations.

The stimulus package will give $82 billion in funding to colleges and K-12 schools, as well as $10 billion for child care providers who have struggled during the pandemic.

The bill also includes $20 billion to purchase COVID-19 vaccines so people who need it can get them for no charge. Another $8 billion in the bill will go toward helping with vaccine distribution, and $20 billion will go to states to help with coronavirus testing.

What’s not included in the bill is any direct funding to local and state governments — something that Democrats initially insisted upon. Also not included is liability protection for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits — something Republicans initially insisted upon.

The House and Senate are both hoping to vote on the proposal this week so that it can be signed into law before the end of the year.