Fiscal policy moves: long-awaited COVID-19 relief bill faces approval

Business

Elizabeth McLaughlin, Staff

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President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House after the Senate’s passage of the American Rescue Plan on Saturday, March 6.

On Wednesday, March 10, the House plans to finalize the Senate-approved COVID-relief bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, after many months of debate. Among other provisions, the bill includes $1,400 checks; in December, President Trump permitted $600 checks and in March, the amount was $1,200. That means Congress has allocated a total of $2,400 in stimulus to the average American throughout the pandemic. Additionally, the relief bill offers $300-a-week federal jobless benefits. On March 5, Senate Democrats spent more than nine hours debating the amount of jobless benefits the government should offer in the bill. 

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) stated that “we have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with [an] unexpected tax bill next year.” The deal allows the first $10,200 of the jobless benefits to be non-taxable for those with incomes of up to $150,000. Tax rules on excess business loss limitations were extended for one year, through 2026. Senator Manchin stated, “those making less than $150,000 and receiving unemployment will be eligible for a $10,200 tax break.” 

Under the bill, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (PEUC) are extended until Sept. 6. PUA is open to workers who don’t qualify for typical unemployment benefits, such as gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors. The PEUC, on the other hand, provides additional weeks of unemployment insurance once state benefits have been exhausted.

The unemployment benefits were especially crucial because, if Congress does not pass this bill, 11.4 million workers will lose their benefits between March 14 and April 11. Given the fact that more than 80 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began, any sort of assistance that the government can provide is critical to the improvement of the economy.

The relief bill also provides funding for vaccine distribution and testing. Moreover, the bill provides money for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Democrats have argued that the bill will help alleviate child poverty “and help households afford food and rent while the economy recovers from the pandemic,” according to reporting from CNBC.). Republicans have criticized Democrats for focusing on policies seemingly unrelated to the pandemic.

The bill is poised to make its final passage through the House on Wednesday, March 10; if it does, President Biden can sign it by the weekend. There is a deadline on Sunday, March 15, to renew unemployment aid, so President Biden must sign the bill before then. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said he is “110 percent confident that the votes exist to pass.” There is no telling when stimulus checks will be distributed to individual bank accounts, but the IRS has had a relatively quick turnaround with the two previous stimulus checks. Unfortunately, for many Americans, the aid cannot come soon enough.

mclaughline7@lasalle.edu

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