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10 most important stimulus bill issues and why they could matter for you – CNET

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The government’s next moves are still up in the air. What happens next could affect you.


Sarah Tew/CNET

While stalled economic stimulus negotiations enter a new month with little signs of progress, Americans are looking at a handful of possible economic hardships, including September rent and reduced unemployment benefits with government support they’ve had through the first months of the pandemic.

Gallup poll released Tuesday said 70% of 5,000 bipartisan respondents support a second stimulus check for qualified Americans. It could be worth up to $1,200 per adult. But another direct payment is just one area of funding government leaders have identified as part of the need, including support for mail-in voting, school reopenings, tenants facing evictions, landlords facing foreclosure and small businesses that are without a safety net.

“I do not support $2.2 trillion,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday about the overall size of a stimulus rescue bill. “But what is more important is what is the breakdown of getting money to American workers, American families, kids … there are tremendous areas of agreement and that’s what we should be doing right away.”

Congress could tackle these issues as part of one larger package or begin with a smaller $500 billion “skinny” bill. The administration could also sidestep Congress and issue more executive orders. While we wait to see what happens, here are the most pressing issues on Capitol Hill and how they could affect you. Check back on this story for regular updates.

1. Funding for the US Postal Service and voting by mail

What it is: Ensuring the US Postal Service can handle the surge in mail-in ballots this fall is considered critical, as Americans vote during the pandemic. The Democratic-backed Heroes Act, which passed the House in May, allocated $25 billion (PDF) to replacing “revenue forgone due to coronavirus.” Under the Republican-backed HEALS Act, there’s no additional money for the USPS. So far, President Donald Trump has opposed funding. The House passed a separate USPS funding package on Aug. 22, but it hasn’t been picked up by the Senate, which is on recess until Sept. 8. 

Still, there’s concern about how successful mail-in voting will be. The New York Times reported that in 35 states, voters can request ballots so close to Election Day, that there may not be enough time left to mail them back and have them counted.

How it could help you: The money is intended to “continue meeting delivery standards during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic,” which, in addition to meeting the needs of people in quarantine, could be even more important as efforts to prepare for more widespread mail-in voting grow ahead of the election. 

Why it’s up in the air: At this point, both sides seem to be using funding as a bargaining chip for the larger stimulus package. And now, the question is tied up in the broader controversy of changes to the Postal Service.

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The HEALS Act proposes to give eligible Americans the same size stimulus check as those issued in March.


James Martin/CNET

2. Funding to help schools reopen safely as cases rise

What it is: Funding would help schools finance increased coronavirus testing, sterilization and other measures needed to help slow the spread of disease among students and faculty. As schools have been opening through August, data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association shows there’s been a 21% increase of cases in children, from Aug. 6-20. 

How it could help you: More money for schools could mean more resources for adapting schools and teaching to the pandemic. 

How much money is being discussed: Under the Heroes proposal, there would be $58 billion for grades K-12 and $42 billion for higher education. The HEALS Act called for $70 billion to go to K-12 schools that open for in-person classes, $29 billion for higher education, $1 billion to the Bureau of Indian Education and $5 billion at states’ discretion. 

Why we think it will pass: Both sides agree that funding is necessary to support schools, but whether it gets tied up in details around in-person learning or anything else remains to be seen. 


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3. Expanded unemployment benefits for jobless

What it is: An additional weekly check for people who applied for unemployment for the first time or were already collecting unemployment. The CARES Act provided an extra $600 per week, but that benefit officially expired on July 31. Lawmakers from both sides have said they want to renew this.

How it could help you: An extra weekly payment on top of the ordinary unemployment benefit gives individuals and families a leg up. Cutting it off or reducing it could be devastating for unemployed workers and the economy.

What Trump’s memorandum brings: The president issued an executive action on Aug. 8 seeking to create a program to provide $400 per week, with a (retroactive) start date of Aug. 1, and calls for it to end when the program reaches “$25 billion or for weeks of unemployment ending not later than Dec. 6, 2020, whichever occurs first.” The plan requires states picking up some of the cost, but some governors say the plan doesn’t go far enough. There’s also a question as to how many people it can realistically cover, given the $25 billion limit.

Where negotiations stood before: Republicans support the extension, but at a reduced rate. Democrats support a resumption of the now-expired $600 rate and have balked at the Senate proposal, which would extend benefits based on 70-75% of lost wages, starting at $200 a week and over time increasing to $500 a week with state assistance. The benefits expired without a short-term extension in place.

4. A second stimulus payment to spur spending

What it is: A payment sent to qualifying individuals and families, based on annual income, age, number of dependents and other factors. The first stimulus payment authorized under the CARES Act has been sent to over 160 million Americans — as a check, as a prepaid credit card or via direct deposit. But there have been problems, and after three months some are still waiting for their stimulus payment.

How it could help you: The payment isn’t taxable and you can use it however you want — to pay for food, housing, clothing and so on. The idea is that spending the checks will help the economy recover faster.

Why we think a second payment will pass: The CARES Act authorized payments of up to $1,200 per eligible adult and so does the $1 trillion HEALS Act. The House of Representatives’ $3 trillion Heroes Act also called for $1,200 stimulus payments, but for more people. The White House supports another round of checks, which makes it likely that sending out payments will be part of the final bill.

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A tax credit could encourage employers to retain employees.


Angela Lang/CNET

5. Liability protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits

What it is: Under the HEALS Act, employers, schools and health care providers would be protected by a limit on lawsuits dealing with the exposure to the coronavirus, with the exception of gross negligence, for example. 

How it could help you: If you’re in that category of employers, health care providers or schools, this could help keep you out of court. 

Why it’s in the air: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the protections are a must-have. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to think so.

6. Payroll Protection Program designed to help small businesses retain employees

What it is: Intended to help you retain your job, the Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans to small businesses as an incentive to keep employees on the payroll. 

How it could help you: The PPP is intended to encourage businesses to keep employing workers who would otherwise have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The program got off to a rocky start, and it’s not clear the PPP met the goals Congress set for it. 

Why we think it could get extended: The Republican proposal will target the hardest-hit small businesses, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said during the rollout of the bill. That includes those with revenue losses of 50% or more over last year. 

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Incentives to retain jobs is one potential element of a new stimulus bill.


Angela Lang/CNET

7. Employee retention tax credit could help companies cover worker pay

What it is: Under the program, an employer can receive refundable tax credits for wages paid to an employee during the pandemic. The employer can then use the credits to subtract from — and even receive a refund for — taxes they owe.

How it could help you: Again, it’s not a direct payment to workers, but the program encourages businesses to keep workers on the payroll.

Why we think it could happen: The HEALS Act includes further tax relief for businesses that hire and rehire workers, and the Democratic-backed Heroes Act also builds on the tax credits that were part of the initial CARES Act. And there’s additional bipartisan support besides.

8. Return-to-work payment of up to $450 a week

What it is: A temporary weekly bonus for unemployed workers who secure a new job or are rehired, on top of their wages. As proposed by Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, the bonus would be $450 a week.

How it could help you: Under Portman’s plan, the weekly bonus would go to laid-off workers who return to work.

Why we think it may not happen: The White House in May expressed interest in the bonus and Portman continues to support the idea, but it’s not part of the proposal McConnell and other Republican senators presented.

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Every eviction protection has lapsed on a federal level.


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9. The eviction moratorium, and where it stands now

What it is: There have been two proposed parts, at one point or another. The first is to stop landlords from evicting tenants, which was part of the now-expired CARES Act. The other is a plan to help renters pay rent and assist landlords with their mortgage and other expenses in light of reduced rent money coming in. The US faces a potential eviction and housing crisis that could cause up to 40 million people to lose their homes. That’s about 12% of the US population.

How it could help you: A rental assistance program would temporarily help you pay rent if you qualify, put a hold on evictions for a year and help cover the costs rental property owners face because of rental payment shortfalls. The earlier protections have lapsed.

Where it stands now: Trump’s executive order regarding evictions doesn’t actually keep evictions from happening. There are currently no federal eviction protections, though some states may have some.

“The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development shall take action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to promote the ability of renters and homeowners to avoid eviction or foreclosure resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” the executive order reads.

Eviction protection wasn’t part of the Senate proposal, but has been a topic Trump has pushed for inclusion. As with unemployment insurance, Congress had initially looked to extend this separately while it worked on the final bill.

10. What’s happening with Trump’s payroll tax cut?

What it is: The president has for months pushed the idea of including temporary payroll tax cuts in the next stimulus package. Another directive he signed earlier this month includes deferring certain taxes retroactively from Aug. 1, through December for people earning less than $100,000.

How it could help you: If you have a job, a payroll tax cut would let you keep more of your earnings from each paycheck for now. The plan would not help those who are unemployed and don’t receive a paycheck. Workers and employers would still need to pay those taxes the following year.

Will it stick? Trump signed a memorandum Aug. 8 to enact the payroll tax cut, but it isn’t clear if he has the legal right to do so. Typically, financial decisions like tax cuts are authorized by congressional vote, not a presidential order. We’ll have to wait and see if legal action is brought against the order. Neither the proposed Heroes Act nor the Senate plan includes a payroll tax cut. US Industry trade groups say the tax cuts may be “unworkable.”

Until we know for sure what the final stimulus bill will bring, there are some resources to help you through the financial crisis. We look at coronavirus hardship loans and unemployment insurancewhat you can do if you’ve lost your jobwhat to know about evictions and late car payments; how to take control of your budget; and if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS.

Julie Snyder contributed to this story.

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