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CORONAVIRUS FEDERAL UPDATES

Congress has passed five major packages of legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  All five packages passed with bipartisan support:

H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, provided $8.3 billion in entirely new funding to combat the coronavirus epidemic and included critical transparency and accountability provisions to ensure that all funds would be used as intended to keep Americans safe. 

H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, ensured access to COVID-19 testing, provided two weeks of paid sick leave for workers and twelve weeks of paid family leave for those impacted by the virus, authorized tax credits for impacted employers, and expanded access to unemployment insurance for those who are laid off.  It also expanded access to food assistance programs and increased federal Medicaid funding.

H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a bipartisan $2 trillion spending package, included provisions to support families and workers, small businesses, state and local organizations and health care workers and hospitals.  The bill also provided direct cash payments to Americans and increased unemployment compensation for those who lost their jobs because of COVID-19. 

H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, a $484 billion bipartisan package included provisions to help small businesses, hospitals and health care workers, as well as increase testing across the country.  This included an additional $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program with $60 billion set aside for smaller lenders; $50 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and $10 billion for more EIDL grants; $75 billion for  hospitals and for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers; and $25 billion for increasing testing and research, including requiring a national plan for testing.

H.R. 133, a $900 billion package that Congress passed on December 22, 2020.  This critical bill provides additional funding for another round of stimulus checks, expands the Paycheck Protection Program, boosts spending for vaccine distribution and research, and contains a number of other critical provisions necessary for our families, businesses, and communities to beat COVID-19.  This represents another much-needed short-term relief package, while Congress works to craft another bipartisan agreement in the weeks and months ahead in 2021.

H.R. 133 builds upon the previously passed bills and strengthens the federal response to the COVID 19 public health and economic crisis.  This is an important step to getting people, businesses and communities the help they need, but more work remains. 

Continue reading to learn more about what was included in H.R. 133:

Direct Payments

H.R. 133 includes another round of Economic Impact Payments for millions of Americans.  This new round will total $600 per taxpayer ($1,200 for married filing jointly), plus $600 per qualifying child under 17.  

The payment begins decreasing starting at $75,000 of modified adjusted gross income ($112,500 for heads of household and $150,000 for married filing jointly) at a rate of $5 per $100 of additional income and will be phased out completely for individuals who earn more than $87,000 and couples who earn more than $174,000.  This is the same graduated scale as the first round of Economic Impact Payments earlier this year.

Eligibility is largely the same as the first round of Economic Impact Payments from earlier this year.  However, if married taxpayers file jointly where one spouse has a Social Security Number and one does not, that couple would be eligible for a payment of $600, in addition to $600 per child with a Social Security Number.  The Treasury Department has indicated it may start sending these payments out via direct deposit as early as the end of December 2020, but it may take longer for those who receive their payment through another method.

If you are eligible for the first round of Economic Impact Payments and did not receive it, you may be able to claim what is called a “recovery rebate credit” when you file your 2020 tax return.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a page that explains the details here.

Unemployment Assistance

It is crucial that we assist our neighbors and friends experiencing unemployment as our economy struggles in the pandemic. H.R. 133 continues much of the critical programs on unemployment insurance (UI) from the CARES Act, passed earlier this year.  Many of these programs had expired or were slated to in the coming weeks.

Through the CARES Act, Congress created additional funding for those on unemployment and H.R. 133 continues this important progress, restoring the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) to supplement all state and federal unemployment benefits at $300/week, starting after December 26 and ending March 14, 2021.

Additionally, H.R. 133 extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) which increased unemployment benefits to many workers previously ineligible (self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers) to March 14, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021 to continue through April 5, 2021 (provided the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks).  H.R. 133 also increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual could claim from 39 to 50.

Through H.R. 133 Congress also increased the number of total weeks those on unemployment could receive unemployment benefits through Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), passed as part of the CARES Act.  This allowed individuals who have exhausted state or other federal unemployment benefits to continue receiving much-needed assistance.  Originally set to expire at the end of 2020, PEUC is now extended to March 14, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 14 to continue through April 5, as long as they have not reached the maximum number of weeks.  Additionally, the new legislation increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual could claim through the PEUC program from 13 to 24 weeks.

Renters

H.R. 133 helps renters in a number of important ways.  This includes extending the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021.  Additionally, this legislation includes $25 billion in new funding to help many who are experiencing economic challenges and are unable to pay their rent.  The Department of Treasury will distribute this funding to states and localities.  Renters will then apply directly to these state and local agencies, who will then help pay their rent either directly or indirectly.  As this is a new program, additional information will be posted in the weeks to come.

Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance, plus an additional three months if necessary, to ensure housing stability.  Recipients must re-apply every three months.

Expanded Assistance for Small Businesses

H.R. 133 provides more than $284 billion of funding to support additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, creates a second round of funding, expands eligibility, and modifies the existing program to better serve small businesses, nonprofits, and independent restaurants.  Additionally, H.R. 133 clarifies that business owners who received PPP loans that were then forgiven can write-off expenses paid with this funding, ensuring small business owners aren’t unfairly penalized for correctly using this program.

For eligible businesses that currently have a PPP loan or have had one previously who need additional support, the updated program allows for some to obtain another PPP loan, called a “PPP second draw” loan. This is for smaller and harder-hit businesses, with a maximum amount of $2 million.  In order to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan under this section, eligible entities must: Employ not more than 300 employees; Have used or will use the full amount of their first PPP; and demonstrate at least a 25 percent reduction in gross receipts in the first, second, or third quarter of 2020 relative to the same 2019 quarter.  Applications submitted on or after January 1, 2021 are eligible to utilize the gross receipts from the fourth quarter of 2020.  Eligible entities must be businesses, certain non-profit organizations, housing cooperatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and small agricultural co-operatives. More information can be found here.

Additionally, H.R. 133 provides $20 billion in Economic Injury Disaster (EIDL) loans for a new lending program to assist businesses that were hardest hit by the economic impacts of the Coronavirus.

Check with your local lender for additional detail as to how to access this most recent round of funding or additional eligibility criteria.

COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing

We know that to defeat the pandemic we need to wear our masks, wash our hands, and as of now get vaccinated when eligible.  The science is clear: vaccines are safe and help protect you and your loved ones from this virus.  The first round of vaccines is being distributed now to frontline health care workers and the populations most at risk, including senior citizens and people at higher risk.

With the promising news of multiple vaccines to combat COVID-19, it is vital we ensure every American can receive it.  H.R. 133 provides over $19 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the manufacturing and procurement of vaccines and therapeutics.  This legislation also provides much-needed support – over $22 billion – for testing, contact tracing, and other activities necessary to monitor and suppress the virus, and billions more for hospital and healthcare providers.  For those experiencing the unfortunate long-term effects of COVID-19, H.R. 133 provides over $1 billion to the NIH to support research and clinical trials into mitigating these impacts.

Nutrition Assistance

As our families, neighbors, and community members experience these difficult economic times, no one should go hungry.  H.R. 133 increases monthly SNAP benefit levels by 15% (based on the June 2020 Thrifty Food Plan) through June 30, 2021 and boosts other critical resources, such as the Emergency Food Assistance program; which helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost.  The bill also helps cover state administrative costs.

Education Assistance

As we continue to fight COVID-19 we know that we must continue educating our students.  Teachers and schools continue to adjust to these new learning circumstances and environments.  However, it’s clear we need to provide more assistance to ensure our students can keep learning.  That’s why H.R. 133 provides over $50 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which helps schools, teachers, and parents ensure their K-12 students are learning safely.  Funds are provided directly to schools to be used for a variety of needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including to establish blended and remote learning options, to purchase PPE and COVID-19 cleaning supplies, and for student social and emotional learning needs.  H.R. 133 also allows these funds to be used for school infrastructure upgrades and specifically addressing learning loss among students.  Additionally, H.R. 133 provides over $22 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief fund to allow colleges, universities, community colleges, and other institutes of higher education to continue teaching their students. Institutions can use this funding to establish blended and remote learning options, and they are also directed to provide direct grant aid to students facing financial challenges as a result of COVID-19.

Transportation Assistance

H.R. 133 provides for significant funding to support critical transportation needs.  This includes $15 billion for airlines, $2 billion for airports and $1 billion to support airline contractors who are on the frontlines of keeping airlines and air travel functioning.  It also includes $14 billion for transit agencies and $10 billion for state highways, which have both faced steep declines in revenue due to ongoing reduced travel while serving as critical lifelines to support the work of for emergency responders and frontline and essential workers.