As the debate over the next round of coronavirus relief from Congress continues, additional $1,200 stimulus checks are on the chopping block.
Still, there are other proposals on the table that could provide some financial assistance to Americans struggling amid the pandemic.
On Tuesday, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan $908 billion coronavirus stimulus package, the latest attempt at a deal between Republicans and Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly rejected the proposal and floated one of his own, which would keep the total cost closer to $500 billion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday encouraged McConnell to use the bipartisan plan as a starting point for further talks and highlighted the importance of getting further aid to Americans before the end of the year. The Democrats proposal would cost as much as $2.2 trillion.
To be sure, discussions between the two sides are still ongoing, meaning that the details could change before any plan is solidified. On Thursday, McConnell said he's seen "hopeful signs" that a deal can be reached before the end of the year.
"Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this," he said.
Extended unemployment insurance
Both proposals include extensions for unemployment insurance as millions of Americans are still without jobs due to the pandemic. Two main programs — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — are set to expire at the end of the year unless a deal is reached.
"Twelve million people will lose the unemployment benefits that have kept them afloat the day after Christmas unless Senate Republicans come to the table for the negotiation they've avoided since May," said Lily Roberts, director of economic mobility at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. "Extensions of unemployment insurance and paid leave are the most important support Congress can give to families, so that they can make it through the winter while we wait for a vaccine."
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The bipartisan proposal would extend unemployment insurance into next year, with funding allocated for an additional $300 per week through March, according to a draft framework. That's half of the $600 per week that unemployed Americans were receiving from the CARES Act, until it expired in July without an extension. It is unclear if back pay would be included in the extension.
McConnell's proposal would also extend unemployment insurance, but for a shorter time. Under his plan, PUA, which gave independent contractors and gig workers benefits, would be extended for one month until Jan. 31 and then be phased-out over the next two months. During the phase-out, no new claimants would be allowed into the program.
A similar extension and phase-out would be applied to PEUC, which gives out of work Americans an additional 13 weeks of assistance.
Another round of the Paycheck Protection Program
For owners of small businesses or those who work for one, the next round of funding will likely provide further relief through the Paycheck Protection Program. PPP, initially established by the CARES Act, gave small businesses loans that were forgivable if used mostly for payroll costs.
The bipartisan plan would allocate another $288 billion in funding, establish that those who borrowed in the first round aren't taxed on forgivable loans and simplify the forgiveness application process for loans less than $150,000.
McConnell's plan would allocate about $333 billion to the program, with $257.7 billion going towards second draws of PPP. An additional $20 billion would reduce the revenue loss threshold to 25% from 35%, $40 billion would help front-line businesses such as restaurants and personal services, and another $15 billion would go to a grant program for shuttered live venues and theaters that have sustained significant revenue losses.
In the first round, PPP approved more than 5 million loans, which amounted to more than $525 billion in funding. Still, the program had its shortcomings and uncertainty about some important details, such as businesses' ability to deduct expenses covered by the loan, remain.
Rental and food assistance
The CARES Act also established housing and food assistance programs that have helped Americans hit by the pandemic. The eviction and foreclosure moratoriums will expire at the end of the year if an extension isn't put in place, potentially leading to homelessness for millions of Americans.
Luckily, emergency assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which boosted allotments for many, will continue through the end of the year.
Still, if there isn't more funding sent to SNAP, increased allotments will run out at some point, said Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy center at the Urban Institute. In September, nearly 1 in 5 adults and their households experienced food insecurity, according to research from the Urban Institute.
The boost is important both for families and the economy, she said. "By giving them more, we hope that they are going to spend more or try to retain their spending on food rather than cut into that to pay rent or utilities," said Waxman.
The bipartisan plan would earmark $25 billion for rental housing assistance, and $26 billion for nutrition and agriculture. McConnell's plan doesn't mention any further housing or food assistance thought it does allocate $20 billion to farm assistance and $500 million for fishers.
Childcare, education and more
Both plans also include further support for childcare and education. The bipartisan plan would allocate $82 billion towards education, $4 billion to student loans and $10 billion to childcare. There are few further details about these items presented in a draft framework.
McConnell's plan also includes some support for childcare and education — it would give emergency funds to some scholarship granting organizations, expand tax credits for those organizations, broaden rules for spending money in 529 accounts and provide short-term assistance for childcare providers to stay open.
McConnell's plan would also give some taxpayers a bigger break — it would increase an above-the-line deduction that would allow taxpayers to write off charitable donations to $600 or $1,200 for those filing jointly from $300 established in the CARES Act for those claiming the standard deduction.
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