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Stimulus checks aren't in the bipartisan relief proposal. Here's what Congress is offering instead

Posted December 9, 2020 1:30 p.m. EST

— A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to inch closer to an agreement on a federal coronavirus relief package, but it does not currently include cash payments like the ones sent to more than 160 million Americans earlier in the year.

Rather, the proposed deal focuses on unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses and other targeted assistance rather than direct payments to all Americans -- despite a last-minute push by progressive members of Congress, as well as Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, in support of another round of $1,200 payments.

The group, which started to roll out parts of its bill on Wednesday, is trying to keep the cost of the package below $1 trillion in order to garner Republican support. The stimulus payments could cost at least $300 billion, depending on how many people would be eligible and how much they'd be sent.

A White House proposal put forward late Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin included $600 direct payments, but at the expense of an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits. Lawmakers on both sides view those benefits as essential and have said dropping them in exchange for direct payments is a non-starter.

Congress is racing to get something done before the end of the year when even more aid programs it approved in March are set to expire, including two other key pandemic jobless assistance measures and eviction protections. With increasing signs that the economic recovery is faltering, the pressure has never been higher.

The bipartisan group continues to hammer out details, especially on state funding and liability protection for employers -- and party leaders still need to agree to what is brought for a vote on the floor. Here's what the bipartisan proposal includes as of Wednesday:

Unemployment benefits

The jobless would receive $300 a week for 16 weeks -- from the end of December into April, under the deal. The amount is half of the earlier federal boost, which ran out at the end of July.

Also, the agreement calls for 16-week extensions of two other pandemic unemployment programs that were created in the CARES Act in March. Both are currently set to expire at the end of the year, affecting an estimated 12 million people.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expands jobless benefits to gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed and certain people affected by the coronavirus. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 13 weeks of payments to those who exhaust their regular state benefits.

Small business loans

The bill would provide $300 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program so that some of the hardest-hit small businesses could apply for a second loan. The program stopped taking applications for the first round of loans in August.

Health care, vaccines

Hospitals and health care providers would get an additional $35 billion to help pay for expenses and cover lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers already allocated $175 billion in the spring to the Provider Relief Fund, which also compensates hospitals caring for uninsured coronavirus patients.

The agreement also provides $6 billion for vaccine development and distribution. Some of the money would go to states and localities and some would go to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States would get another $7 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing.

Extend student loan payment pause

The bill would extend a pause on federal student loan payments through April 30. Borrowers have not had to make payments since March, but that protection currently expires on January 31.

Funding for schools

The bill would provide $82 billion in aid for K-12 schools and colleges. Earlier proposals from Republicans and Democrats called for at least $100 billion in aid for schools.

It also carves out $6.25 billion for broadband development and $3 billion to help schools provide hotspots and devices for students who might not have internet at home for virtual learning.

An additional $10 billion is included to support child care providers that have struggled because of the pandemic.

Rental assistance

The bill would extend the eviction protection set to expire at the end of the year until January 31. It also provides $25 billion in rental assistance to states, local governments and Native American tribes.

Nutrition assistance

The agreement would boost individual food stamp benefits by 15% for four months -- a measure that Democrats have advocated for since the pandemic began but never made it into prior relief packages.

It would also expand the Pandemic-EBT program to families with children in child care. It now provides money to low-income families with school-age children in lieu of the free and reduced-price meals they would have received in school.

The deal also would provide more funding for food banks and food pantries through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. And it would offer more nutrition assistance for senior citizens, young adults living in emergency shelters, Puerto Rico and certain other territories and those in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

Aid for airlines

The bill would extend the Payroll Support Program, which provides loans to airlines to support the pay and benefits of workers, through March 31. It would also provide additional funding for airports, bus companies, public transit systems and Amtrak.

State and local aid

The agreement calls for providing $160 billion to state, local and tribal governments as the basis for good faith negotiations.

This piece of the proposal has been among the most contentious, with Democrats calling for far more assistance to states struggling with lower tax revenues due to the pandemic. But Republicans have resisted providing additional aid beyond the $150 billion in its March relief bill, which could only be used for coronavirus-related expenses. GOP lawmakers have said they don't want to bail out states that have mismanaged their finances.

The National Governors Association, which had been pressing for $500 billion in state aid, last week said that it supported the bipartisan framework as an interim measure.

US Postal Service aid

The deal calls for modifying the CARES Act to specify that the Treasury Department will provide the United States Postal Service with $10 billion without requiring repayment. Democrats had wanted to give the postal service additional aid.

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