Congress Passes Emergency COVID Relief Bill
In December 2020, the House passed a bicameral, bipartisan coronavirus relief and omnibus bill, which has now been signed and which:
• Accelerates Vaccine Distribution & Crushes the Coronavirus – The agreement finally recognizes that we cannot get our economy working unless we can get the coronavirus under control. Democrats secured billions in urgently needed funds to accelerate the free and equitable distribution of safe vaccines to as many Americans as possible as soon as possible, to implement a strong national testing and tracing strategy with billions reserved specifically for combating the disparities facing communities of color and to support our heroic health care workers and providers.
• Rent, Food, Unemployment & Direct Payment Money in the Pockets of the American People – Democrats secured another round of direct payments worth up to $600 per adult or child, averted the sudden expiration of Unemployment Insurance benefits for millions and added a $300 per week UI enhancement for Americans out of work, lengthened the number of weeks an unemployed worker can receive benefits by 11 weeks, won critically needed emergency rental assistance and an eviction moratorium, supported CDFIs and MDIs, won a 15 percent increase to SNAP and boosted child nutrition benefits to help relieve the historic hunger crisis that has left up to 17 million children food insecure.
• Delivers Key Tax Benefits for Struggling Families – Democrats won improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit that help ensure that families who faced unemployment or reduced wages during the pandemic are able to receive a strong tax credit based on their 2019 income, preserving these vital income supports for vulnerable families. To support workers, the agreement extends and improves the Employee Retention Tax Credit to help keep workers in their jobs during coronavirus closures or reduced revenue and also provides a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave, based on the Families First framework.
• Strong Support for Small Businesses – Democrats secured critical funding and policy changes to help small businesses, including minority, women and veteran owned small businesses. The agreement includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans, dedicates set-asides for very small businesses and lending through community-based lenders like CDFIs and MDIs, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants, $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions and $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.
• Funds Education, Child Care & Students – The agreement provides $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools, including support for HVAC repair and replacement to mitigate virus transmission and reopen classrooms, and $10 billion for child care assistance to help get parents back to work and keep 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.
• Delivers More Affordable Broadband Access – The agreement invests $7 billion to increase 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.
• Secures Key Funding Streams for State/Local/Tribal/Territorial Governments – While state and local governments need much more funding to prevent the senseless layoffs of heroic essential workers and critical service cuts, Democrats won new targeted funds for state and local government functions that will help alleviate their overall budget burdens. These targeted funds include the emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports, $22 billion for the health-related expenses of state, local, tribal and territorial government and an additional year of eligibility for expenses under the CARES Coronavirus Relief Fund.
• Creates Good-Paying Jobs in Clean Energy & Infrastructure to Fight the Climate Crisis – The agreement includes sweeping clean energy reforms, R&D enhancements, efficiency incentives, extends clean energy tax credits and includes the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2020, creating more good-paying jobs strengthening and improving the vital water infrastructure that Americans rely on. The package also phases out superpollutant HFCs, positioning the U.S. to lead the world in avoiding up to 0.5 degree Celsius of global warming.
• Ends Surprise Billing – Patients deserve the peace of mind to know that, whether in an emergency or a planned in-network procedure, they will not be hit with crushing, surprise medical bills for out-of-network treatment beyond their control. The agreement includes bipartisan legislation that will end surprise bills for emergency and scheduled care, so patients are only responsible for their usual cost-sharing amounts and deductibles. With patients protected, the legislation establishes a fair process for health care providers and health plans to sort out the out-of-network costs between themselves, without the patient stuck in the middle.
• Supports the Global Fight Against COVID – Democrats secured an additional $3.36 billion for a total of $4 billion for GAVI, the international vaccine alliance, recognizing that we are not truly safe until the whole world is safe from the coronavirus.
This emergency relief agreement is an important initial step, which must be built on under the Biden-Harris Administration. We must move forward in a science-based way to meet the needs of the American people during this time of great suffering. When Joe Biden enters the White House, more help will be on the way.