ECONOMY

Here’s What’s in the Senate’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Legislation

Senate Democrats on Thursday released an updated version of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said will pass the chamber by the end of the week.

The plan includes a wave of new spending, an expansion of jobless benefits, more money for state and local governments and an expansion of vaccinations and virus-testing programs, but it’s still subject to modification in a marathon round of votes on amendments before it becomes law.

The legislation has already undergone several changes since President Joe Biden released his initial proposal in January — a $15 federal minimum-wage mandate has been stripped from the bill and the eligibility rules for the $1,400 stimulus payments have been narrowed. The latest version of the bill adds a full subsidy for the health-insurance premiums of laid-off workers through September.

The legislation, which Democrats hope can be signed into law next week, would rival the $2 trillion March 2020 Cares Act in size and scope and follow a $900 billion December relief package. After this bill, lawmakers plan to begin work on a longer-term economic recovery plan in coming weeks, aimed at job creation, infrastructure investment and development goals such as climate change.

Democrats are using a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation, which would permit Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate without Republican votes.

The Senate voted to begin 20 hours of debate on the bill Thursday afternoon. After that, the chamber will hold a marathon vote session on amendments to the bill before a vote on final passage, likely over the weekend. The House will then need to pass the legislation again — or the two chambers will need to negotiate a final package for Biden’s signature.

Here are the key items in the plan:

The legislation would send a third round of stimulus payments — this time at $1,400 per eligible individual. Singles earning up to $75,000 will get the full amount, with the payments phasing out completely by $80,000 in income. Couples making up to $150,000 will get the full $1,400 per person, with the amounts zeroing out by $160,000 in earnings. Children and adult dependents in those households are also eligible for $1,400 payments.

The plan would also allow residents who are married to undocumented residents to receive stimulus payments; they were barred in prior rounds.

The legislation includes $160 billion for vaccine and testing programs to help stop the virus’s spread and ultimately end the pandemic. The plan includes money to create a national vaccine distribution program that would offer free shots to all U.S. residents regardless of immigration status.

The legislation includes funding to create community vaccination centers and deploy mobile units in hard-to-reach areas. Money is also directed toward testing efforts, including purchasing rapid-result tests, expanding lab capacity and helping local jurisdictions implement testing regimens.

Senate Democrats are including $350 billion in aid for state, local and territorial governments. Democrats for months have pushed for more money to help state and local governments that have faced higher costs and lower tax revenue during the pandemic. States and cities warn they’ll be forced to make deep cuts to public health, safety and education programs without more funding, because they can’t borrow money in the way the federal government can.

Many Republicans have chafed at more money for local governments, however, saying it amounts to a bailout for mismanaged budgets. Some Republicans, including Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, are looking at ways to amend the bill to restrict which governments can qualify for the money.

The Senate version of the bill also includes a last-minute addition of $10 billion for critical infrastructure, including broadband, and $8.5 billion for rural hospitals.

The legislation would extend supplemental unemployment benefits that are scheduled to run out later this month. The bill increases a weekly federal benefit to $400 from $300 and extends it through the end of August. But there are multiple proposals for changing that when amendments come up for votes.

The package also extends benefits for self-employed individuals and gig workers, along with those who have exhausted their regular jobless benefits.

Health Coverage, Paid Leave

A late addition to the legislation would cover 100% of the costs of continuing health insurance through September for laid-off workers. The House version of the bill would subsidize 85% of premiums for individuals eligible for so-called COBRA coverage in employer health plans.

The plan would provide paid-leave benefits of as much as $1,400 per week and tax credits for employers with fewer than 500 employees to reimburse them for the cost of the sick time. The bill does not mandate that employers offer paid leave.

The bill would expand tax credits for low- and middle- income families and make them refundable for 2021. It would also expand the child tax credit to $3,000 from $2,000 for each child 17 and younger. Children under age six would be eligible for $3,600. The tax credits would be sent to households monthly starting in July.

Biden is also requesting $25 billion for a stabilization fund to help open child-care centers and $15 billion in grants to support essential workers in meeting childcare costs.

The plan is also calling for $170 billion to help schools to open — something Democrats have argued would allow many parents, especially women, to rejoin the labor force after they dropped out to care for children learning at home.

About $130 billion of that would go to K-12 schools to help them hire additional staff to reduce class size, modify spaces and purchase resources to help meet students’ academic and mental health needs. The plan would also direct $40 billion to colleges and universities.

The legislation would extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium through September. It would also provide $45 billion to help low-income households who have lost jobs pay rent, mortgages and utility bills. The plan would also provide $5 billion to states and localities to offer emergency housing for families facing homelessness.

The bill allocates $14 billion for eligible airlines and $1 billion for contractors to the air carriers. The legislation also includes $8 billion for airports.

The legislation would include $25 billion to help restaurants struggling from pandemic lockdowns and closures and $1.25 billion for venue operators. The bill also includes $15 billion for targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loans and an additional $7.25 billion for forgivable loans in the Paycheck Protection Program.

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