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Congress Passes $900 Billion in New Stimulus Relief

A second stimulus check, enhanced jobless benefits and aid for renters are in the package

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Congress is facing down a midnight deadline to pass a pandemic relief measure as part of a massive government spending bill or rush through another stopgap to keep the government funded through at least the weekend while talks continue. Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

| Ending a stalemate that stretched for more than seven months, Congress passed a $900 billion bipartisan economic stimulus bill on Dec. 21. The legislation will provide desperately needed financial assistance to families hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 27.

In March, federal lawmakers enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, providing Americans with stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, small business aid and other assistance to handle the onset of the worst public health crisis in a century. With most of that law's remaining benefits scheduled to end on Dec. 31 or sooner, lawmakers scrambled to negotiate new legislation that would provide families with additional economic relief.

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The legislation now awaits the president’s signature, which is expected to come soon. Here’s some of what’s in the new stimulus agreement:

Stimulus checks. The new legislation will provide a second round of stimulus payments to millions of Americans who have struggled financially since the first round of direct federal aid was issued in the spring. The new stimulus payments will be a maximum of $600 for individuals with income of less than $75,000 in 2019. Families also will receive $600 per eligible child dependent. You can find out more about the new round of stimulus checks here.

Enhanced unemployment benefits. The new stimulus package will provide unemployment recipients with $300 per week on top of what they already are eligible for from their state program. Recipients will receive these enhanced benefits through March 14.

The new law also will continue two newly created federal jobless benefit programs that were set to expire at the end of this year. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) offered jobless benefits to gig workers and others who were not eligible under state criteria along with those who had exhausted their eligibility for collecting benefits. The extension of these programs would mean that people will be eligible to collect unemployment benefits for 50 weeks rather than the current cutoff after 39 weeks.

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According to research from the Century Foundation, more than 12 million people were poised to lose their access to jobless benefits on Dec. 26 if PUA and PEUC ended.

Vaccine distribution and development. On Dec. 20, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Moderna, making it the second vaccine available to Americans. The new federal stimulus law provides $69 billion to help state, tribal and local governments cover the costs of administering the vaccines to the public.

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Aid to fight food insecurity. Long lines outside of food banks have become common this year, as sudden job losses have made it hard for many families to keep food on the table. The new law provides $26 billion to help combat food insecurity. The law also will temporarily increase individual monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — also known as food stamps — by 15 percent for four months.

Rental assistance. The law extends the federal eviction moratorium provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) until Jan. 31, 2021. It also will provide $25 billion in funding for rental assistance for tenants who are struggling to pay their bills.

Small business aid. The legislation will provide $325 billion in additional funding to help small businesses, including resuscitating the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Through that program, small businesses can borrow money to cover payroll, benefits and some other expenses. If the money is spent on the eligible criteria, the PPP loan can be converted to a grant. While demand for aid overwhelmed the PPP when it launched last spring, the program was considered a lifeline for some small businesses.

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