Stimulus checks, unemployment and more: Here's the aid that's coming from Washington -- and what might be coming soon
Posted January 25, 2021 3:15 p.m. EST
CNN — There's lots of talk of all the federal assistance going to Americans and small businesses in need. But while some is already approved, not all of it is out the door yet -- and some of it is still just at the proposal stage.
What's already in many people's bank accounts or on the way is money from the $900 billion relief deal Congress passed in December. It included a new round of stimulus checks, beefed-up unemployment benefits, additional housing and nutrition assistance and money to fight the coronavirus.
President Joe Biden signed executive orders last week that will further augment food benefits, ensure more eligible Americans get their stimulus payments, provide protections for federal workers, and extend housing and student loan payment relief.
But Biden is pushing Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion package with even more funding for those measures -- including $1,400 in additional stimulus cash -- as well as other provisions to help needy Americans. Some Democrats want his package to be even more generous, while Republicans are balking at the increased spending. It's not clear when a deal might get done or what a final version will look like.
Here's what you can expect to see, and when.
Lawmakers agreed last month to send $600 stimulus checks to individuals earning less than $75,000 a year and double that to married couples making less than $150,000 annually. They are also getting $600 per child under the age of 17. The payments phase out for people making more money.
More than 100 millions Americans have already received the payments via direct deposit, as of January 8, according to the Internal Revenue Service's most recent data. The payments started going out on December 29 and were scheduled to continue being sent through January 15. Those eligible who don't automatically receive the money will have to claim it on their 2020 tax returns, according to the agency.
The President also wants to help those who never got the original $1,200 checks that Congress approved last spring. He signed an executive order Friday that directs the Treasury Department to consider taking a series of actions to reach the estimated 8 million people who may miss out on their stimulus payments because they don't normally file taxes.
Meanwhile, Biden wants to send Americans an additional $1,400, for a total of $2,000, as part of his massive relief package. The new payments would also go to adult dependents who were left out of the earlier rounds, like some children over the age of 17.
However, it will be a while before anyone sees those funds -- if they ever do. The plan must first make its way through Congress, where opposition is already forming.
Laid-off workers will receive $300 weekly boosts to their jobless payments through mid-March, thanks to Congress' December package.
The deal also extended two key pandemic jobless programs -- providing 11 more weeks of payments to freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed and certain people affected by the pandemic, as well as to those who exhausted their regular state benefits.
Many states have already implemented these provisions, though some are continuing to program the changes into their systems. Those who exhausted their benefits before the end of December typically have to wait the longest to restart receiving payments.
As part of his relief proposal, Biden wants to increase the federal enhancement to $400 a week and extend it and the pandemic programs through September.
Congress extended eviction protection until the end of this month and provided $25 billion in rental assistance for individuals who lost their sources of income during the pandemic.
The President took action on his first day in office to help struggling homeowners and renters. He signed an executive order that called on several federal departments and agencies to extend their bans on evictions and foreclosures for those affected by the coronavirus until at least the end of March.
Biden's relief proposal calls for giving an additional $25 billion in rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households. Another $5 billion would be set aside to help struggling renters pay their utility bills. Biden is also calling for $5 billion to help states and localities assist those at risk of experiencing homelessness.
The plan would extend the federal eviction moratorium to September 30, as well as allow people with federally guaranteed mortgages to apply for forbearance until that date.
The December deal raised SNAP benefits by 15% for six months but did not expand eligibility for food stamps.
It also expanded the Pandemic-EBT program to families with children under age 6 who receive food stamps, deeming them "enrolled" in child care and eligible for benefits. The program provides money to low-income families in lieu of the free and reduced-price meals that children would have received in school.
The package sent $400 million to food banks and food pantries through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. And it provided $175 million for nutrition services for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels, and $13 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which serves more than 700,000 older Americans monthly.
As part of his $1.9 trillion plan, Biden would extend the 15% increase in food stamp benefits through September, instead of having it expire in June. He would invest another $3 billion to help women, infants and children secure food, and would give US territories $1 billion in nutrition assistance. And he would partner with restaurants to provide food to needy Americans and jobs to laid-off restaurant workers.
Biden took action to bolster nutrition assistance in his first week in office. He signed an executive order Friday calling for the Department of Agriculture to consider enhancing Pandemic-EBT benefits by 15%, which would give a family with three children more than $100 in additional support every two months.
Also, the order directs the department to consider allowing states to boost food stamp benefits for about 12 million Americans who did not benefit from an earlier increase in emergency allotments included in the congressional relief packages. The order would bump up benefits for a family of four by 15% to 20% per month.
Paid emergency leave
Congress' package did not extend the paid sick and family leave benefits that lawmakers had approved in March.
Biden's relief proposal would reinstate that provision, which expired at the end of last year, until September 30. Also, it would broaden the benefits to workers excluded from the original program, including those employed at businesses with more than 500 employees and fewer than 50, as well as federal workers who didn't qualify.
Also, he is calling for people who are sick or quarantining, or caring for children whose schools are closed, to receive 14 weeks of paid leave. The government would reimburse employers with fewer than 500 workers for the full cost of providing the leave.
Enhanced tax credits
As part of his $1.9 trillion plan, Biden would boost the child tax credit to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those between ages 6 and 17 for a year. The credit could be paid monthly and would be made fully refundable.
Democratic lawmakers have already started drafting legislation on this measure.
The President also proposes raising the maximum earned income tax credit for a year to nearly $1,500 for childless adults, increasing the income limit for the credit to about $21,000 and broadening the age range of eligibility to cover older workers.
And he is calling for expanding the child care tax credit for one year so that families will get back as much as half of their spending on child care for children under age 13.
One of the executive orders Biden signed on his first day directed the Department of Education to extend the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest. Borrowers will not have to make payments until October 1 at the earliest, extending the already unprecedented pause on payments by eight months.
Small business funding
In December, Congress reopened the Paycheck Protection Program so that some of the hardest-hit small businesses can apply for second loans.
The government restarted approving loans on January 11 and made 60,000 during the first week, when it provided exclusive access to small lenders in underserved communities that had trouble accessing the program last year.
The second loans are limited to those with fewer than 300 employees that have seen drops of at least 25% of their revenue during the first, second or third quarter of 2020. The amount a borrower can receive is reduced from $10 million to $2 million, but businesses have more flexibility on how they can spend the money. Lawmakers also simplified the forgiveness process for loans under $150,000.
Congress carved out $12 billion for minority-owned businesses and expanded eligibility to more nonprofits, as well as local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.
Biden's package would provide $15 billion to create a new grant program for small business owners, separate from the Paycheck Protection Program.
He also proposes investing $35 billion in some state, local, tribal and nonprofit financing programs that make low-interest loans and provide venture capital to entrepreneurs.
$15 hourly minimum wage
Among the most controversial measures in Biden's $1.9 trillion plan is his call to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to end the tipped minimum wage and the sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.
He's already started laying the groundwork for this in the federal government. His executive order on Friday sets the stage for requiring contractors to pay a $15 hourly minimum wage and to provide emergency paid leave by the end of his first 100 days. It also directs agencies to determine which federal workers are earning less than that minimum and develop recommendations to promote bringing them up to $15 an hour.
Currently, the national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.