Second economic stimulus bill halves, extends direct payments and unemployment checks

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After a months-long standoff, U.S. congressional leaders have agreed on a second coronavirus stimulus package aimed at helping struggling American workers and business owners pull through economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

In its current form, the $900 billion emergency stimulus bill would provide $300 supplemental weekly unemployment payments to workers who qualify, as well as one-time $600 direct payments to American adults and an additional $600 for each child in a household. The CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year, provided $1,200 direct payments to adults, plus $500 for each child and $600 extra per week in jobless benefits. As with the CARES Act, eligibility for the direct payments will begin phasing out for those whose adjusted gross incomes were more than $75,000 in 2019. Individuals who made more than $99,000 that year will not receive a check. The income levels would be doubled for couples.

Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told CNN that the checks would likely start going out in January.

Individuals whose bank information is already on file with the IRS are expected to be paid first through direct deposits, while others will get paper checks or prepaid debit cards in the mail, according to CNN.

The new bill will also extend two federally-funded pandemic unemployment programs that are set to expire just after Christmas. The first gives self-employed individuals like independent contractors, gig workers and freelancers access to the jobless benefit. The second, called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, gives Americans whose state unemployment checks run out an extra 13 weeks of federal benefits. Both of these programs would be extended through March if the latest stimulus bill is signed, according to CNN.

“The agreement will most likely provide for rental and food assistance, as well as billions of dollars for schools and small businesses, reviving the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan program that lapsed this year,” according to the New York Times.

In order to reach a compromise, Republicans agreed to remove COVID-19 liability provisions which would have shielded businesses from lawsuits if customers or workers contracted the virus on their watch. Democrats, for their part, agreed to drop demands for direct financial aid to state and local governments, the New York Times reported.

Despite the fact it was one of the biggest federal relief packages in U.S. history, the Times said that most economists believe more is needed to revive the economy, leaving President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to push for more economic relief measures when he takes office in January.

The House and Senate are expected to vote early this week on the final spending package.


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