Congress COVID Relief Bill

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is seen at the U.S. Capitol at night after negotiators reached a deal for COVID relief on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Washington. Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal on an almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Sunday, Dec. 27, President Trump signed the $900 billion Coronavirus stimulus relief bill into law, the second bill of its kind after Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act in March of this year.

Among other line items, the bill includes enhanced unemployment benefits, small business loans, grants for live venues, funding for schools and child care, rental assistance and nutrition assistance, funding for hospitals and vaccines, payroll tax repayment and, of course, stimulus checks of $600.

The stimulus checks are likely the most direct way Avery residents will feel the impact of the second largest stimulus package ever signed by Congress. Individuals with receive $600 payments, as well as $600 per child under the age of 17 for those who filed their 2019 tax returns as “head of household.”

Payments begin phasing out for recipients who receive an income above $75,000 annually, and those who make more than $99,000 will not receive a payment. The income threshold is also adjusted for families, as well as single parents with dependents. Undocumented immigrants without a Social Security number remain ineligible for the stimulus payment. However, immigrants with a Social Security number are now eligible, including the children and spouses of immigrants without one.

The payment amounts are based on 2019 tax returns, and those who filed their returns will receive their payments automatically. Social Security recipients who uploaded their bank account information to the IRS website will receive direct deposits to their bank accounts as well. Taxpayers who receive their returns by mail will likely wait longer to receive a payment. In the Spring, the IRS allowed these recipients to update their direct deposit information on the IRS website, allowing them to receive direct stimulus payments. However, the IRS has since taken down this feature.

According to The Washington Post, Steven Mnuchin, United States Secretary of the Treasury, said that Americans can expect to begin receiving payments as soon as the first full week in January, with paper checks to follow after the direct payments are deposited. Moreover, the stimulus payments are non-taxable.

Unemployment Benefits

Those who have been laid off due to the pandemic are set to receive an additional $300 in federal unemployment aid through March 14. The last wave of federal unemployment payments ran out in July and came in the amount of $600.

Additionally, the bill extends two pandemic unemployment programs that were created in the CARES ACT: The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. The PUA extended benefits to gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors and others, while the PEUC provided additional funds to those who had exhausted their state unemployment benefits. The new bill extends both of these programs by 11 weeks.

Also included for the jobless is a $100 weekly supplement for those who are “mixed earners.” These workers must earn at least $5,000 in self-employed income, as well as traditional wages.

Small Business Loans

Small businesses will be able to apply for a second round of COVID-19 relief funding through the Paycheck Protection Program. The program was created through the CARES Act and took applications for loans until the month of August. The new bill bankrolls the Small Business Association with $284 billion.

The second round of loans will be available for businesses with less than 300 employees that have seen decreases in revenue of at least 25 percent during the first, second or third quarter of 2020. The amount businesses are eligible to receive was reduced from $10 million to $2 million as part of the new bill. The bill also gives businesses more flexibility on how they will be able to spend the money and simplifies the forgiveness process for loans under $150,000.

Additionally, the spending bill provides $12 billion for minority-owned businesses and expands eligibility for more nonprofits and local newspapers, as well as TV and radio broadcasters. Loans are available to first-time qualified borrowers and businesses who previously received a PPP loan. Moreover, the bill provides restaurants and food businesses a larger loan amount of 3.5 times their average monthly payroll costs.

Other Items

Unlike the first round of COVID-19 relief funding, the new spending bill does not provide direct aid to local municipalities. As part of the first round of relief, Avery County received $876,403 in CARES Act funding. That funding was distributed to the county’s local municipalities and was spent on items such as personal protective equipment, informational signs, foggers and salaries for sanitation staff, among other line items.

However, the new bill does provide some assistance to local governments in the form of emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, airports and $22 billion for health-related expenses for state, local, tribal and territorial governments. The bill also extends the deadline to spend the full amount of the initial CARES Act payments allowed to counties and municipal governments by a year.

Other important line items include $82 billion in aid for K-12 schools and colleges, $10 billion to support struggling child care providers, $25 billion in rental assistance, extension of eviction protection to Jan. 31, an increase in food stamp benefits by 15 percent for six months, expansion of the pandemic EBT program, $400 million to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, $175 million for nutrition services for seniors, $20 billion to purchase vaccines and $8 billion for vaccine distribution.

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