December 14, 2020; Washington Post
On Monday, Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim reported in the Washington Post that “senior congressional officials sounded more hopeful about the odds of approving new relief than they have in weeks.”
The stakes, the Post team reports, are high: “About 12 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas if there is no extension in aid for the jobless. Somewhere between 2.4 million and five million American households are at risk of eviction in January alone if Congress fails to act.” This latter figure is based on research conducted Syracuse University sociologist Gretchen Purser and released Monday.
For the past two weeks, a proposal in Congress to approve a $908 billion bill has languished. Progress, however, appears to have come from jettisoning $160 billion in aid for state and local governments, which are facing huge deficits. Among the impacts of these deficits are major cuts in nonprofit government contract dollars, angering a new executive director Grinch whose heart had grown too big, according to a New York Human Services Council parody video and interview published by NPQ last week.
Technically, a bill for $160 billion in aid for states and localities may be voted upon, but it will be saddled with a corporate liability shield. Republicans oppose the aid to state and local governments, while Democrats oppose the liability shield, leaving that bill with few likely supporters. Yep, the chance of that bill passing is close to zero.
But the remaining $748 billion package has a much higher chance of becoming law. The text of the 525-page bill is available here. That bill includes money to support supplemental unemployment insurance and new money for the Paycheck Protection Program, which supports small businesses and nonprofits. It also includes tens of billions for education, transit agencies, hunger, and vaccine distribution. Among those spearheading the bill are senators Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
Specific provisions include the following:
- A one-month extension of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rent moratorium to January 31, 2021.
- An extension of student loan forbearance to April 1, 2021.
- $180 billion for unemployment insurance, including 16 weeks of supplemental federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week for jobless Americans and 16-week extensions in length of benefits, including for gig workers and independent contractors
- $300 billion in small-business relief, including a second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding (including $12 billion through community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and other small banks with $10 billion or less in assets)
- $82 billion for schools ($54 billion for K-12, $20 billion for higher ed, $7.5 billion for other schools, including private schools and schools serving communities of color)
- $45 billion for transportation funding (airlines $17 billion, airports $4 billion, buses $8 billion, trains $1 billion, public transit $15 billion)
- $35 billion for health-care providers
- $25 billion in rental assistance
- $16 billion for vaccine distribution
- $13 billion in emergency food assistance
- $13 billion for farmers, ranchers, growers, and fisheries
- $10 billion for broadband
- $10 billion for childcare
- $10 billion for the post office
- $5 billion for opioid treatment
- $4 billion for student loans
Now $748 billion sounds like a lot. So why call it meager? One reason is that much of the allocation, $560 billion, according to Senator Romney, involves reallocated dollars from the CARES Act in March. In other words, only $188 billion is new money.
A more fundamental reason why the bill is meager, however, comes when you compare the dollars provided with the need. Take the housing provisions. The proposed bill extends the moratorium for a month and creates a $25 billion fund, meaning that some back-due rent could be paid to landlords in exchange for reducing accumulated debt owed by tenants. But, as Bloomberg reports, the current rent shortfall is $70 billion (and rising). The HEROES bill, passed by the US House of Representatives, would have created a $100 billion rental assistance fund.
The one-month extension of the moratorium is also inadequate, but the hope is that President-elect Joe Biden, once inaugurated, could extend that via executive order.
One item conspicuous in its absence is a second round of stimulus checks. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) have stated their opposition to a relief bill that does not include another round of checks. The provision they have introduced would authorize the same level payments and with the same rules as the CARES bill ($1,200 per adult, $500 per child, with same income limits as before). The text of their proposed amendment is here.
“It astounds me how just a few months ago [in May] the Democratic House passed the HEROES bill—$3.4 trillion,” Sanders told the Post. “What kind of negotiating is that?”—Steve Dubb