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Policy:

When the partisan bickering resolved, the country was left with a relief package that reflected some of the Democrats’ modifications on an earlier Republican-backed proposal.  The bill, passed on Friday March 27th, includes help for taxpayers, small businesses, industry, student loan payments and a few other contingencies.  Basically, single taxpayers making up to $75K will get a one-time payment of $1200 while married couples will get relief if they earn less than $150K. Parents will receive $500 for children under the age of 16.  People who exceed these levels by a small margin will be eligible for a pro-rated amount.  Details on payments can be found here:  https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-stimulus-package-questions-answers.html. 

Payments should take about three weeks.  College students who are dependents will not receive any benefits.

Unemployment benefits have been boosted in various ways and the one week waiting period has been suspended.  Unemployment benefits are determined by states and maximum payments vary with Alabama providing $275 PER WEEK , CA $450, and NJ $713, indicating state differentials.  Benefits can last 26 weeks.  The federal relief program incoudes additional payments of $600 per week and extends the state and federal payments for 13 extra weeks. As of this bill, the additional $600 is available through July 31st.  Part-time and self-employed people, normally ineligible for unemployment benefits, will now receive aid based on previous income and pro-rated accordingly.  People unemployed due to illness self-quarantine or caring for the ill (rather than job loss) will also become eligible.  Additionally, those who stay home to care for children or the elderly will also be eligible.

Relief for payments on student loans also is included in the bill.  Payments have been waived for two months, including payments, interests, and fees and no penalties will be accrued.  This pertains to federal government loan programs.  People can borrow two times the usual amount from 401(k) and retirement accounts, for 180 days, without penalties if these are necessary for coronavirus related emergencies. Large cash donations to public charitable organizations can be deducted from 2020 taxes at 100%.  There are no protections for utilities and internet service in the federal program though some localities and companies have made emergency provisions.  The bill provides for a national eviction moratorium for 120 days for renters in buildings secured with federal loan programs.

The bill includes $377 billion for payments to cover  worker layoffs and to help businesses stay open.   Small businesses are eligible for eight weeks of cash flow assistance through 100% federal guaranteed loans for wages.  If payroll payments are maintained, then the portion of the loan used for those and for mortgage, rent, and utilities will be forgiven. This is retroactive from February 15, 2020.  Other moneys are available for institutions supporting small businesses. Summary of details:  https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/28e8263e-e7d4-4da7-a67b-077c54ba4220/9F7B494B2E355791B24536DC2162CF16.final-one-pager-keeping-american-workers-paid-and-employed-act-.pdf.

The relief package also includes $500 billion for aid to US industries such as airlines and to cities and states.  Hospitals will receive $100 billion to support their needs.  The oil industry and the cruise industries were not included in the bill.

Additional details regarding what’s it he bill may be found here:  https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/25/whats-in-stimulus-package-coronavirus-149282

Analysis:

In spite of being the largest federal relief program in history, the current program likely will be insufficient to the need.  Three million people filed for unemployment nationwide last week and one million in CA alone in the past few weeks.  Some states experienced multiple crashes of their unemployment websites.  Average unemployment payments will be around $936 and some conservatives have complained that the sum in in excess of some low paid workers actual income.  Pelosi has reportedly suggested that there will be more programs in the future.  The Democrats sacrificed a request for a 15% increase in food supplements, through the SNAP program, to arrive at bipartisan support for the bill.  Pelosi also seeks free testing and medical treatment for everyone affected by the virus.  There will likely be a need to extend family and medical leave and protections for workers’ safety and health.  Many experts suggest that more direct payments will be needed and that the current ones will be too late to help some people already evicted or in default.  Additionally, the most vulnerable are excluded from the program including domestic workers, other cash workers, undocumented workers, and the homeless.

The program, with its aid to workers, small businesses, and unemployment is a step in the right direction but many feel it needs to go further.

References:

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