WASHINGTON – If you were hoping for another stimulus check from the federal government, you might be in luck.
Well, some of you might be in luck.
Congressional leaders are hoping to have another coronavirus aid package ready by the end of the month, another tranche of funds to pile on to the stunning $3 trillion already passed to counter the pandemic and its sweeping impacts on the country.
But while both sides of the aisle agree more funds will be necessary to help families, workers, businesses and the country’s economy recover, Republicans, Democrats and the administration still have significantly different ideas of what should be included in the next package, including the possibility of another stimulus check for some Americans.
Congress and the administration will have to work through their issues as coronavirus continues to spike in states across the U.S. and as crucial enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, which have helped millions of Americans stay afloat, are set to dry up in about two weeks.
Here’s the latest on what the next coronavirus package could look like and the issues both parties have made a priority.
Another stimulus check?
Democrats and Republicans may have different ideas about what should be included in the next coronavirus aid package, but on this much they seem to agree: Many Americans need another stimulus check to help them bounce back from the economic hardships caused by the pandemic.
The sticking point: Who should get those checks and how big they should be.
President Donald Trump already has signaled his support for additional cash payments as part of the next recovery package. The House already has passed a Democratic bill calling for a second round of direct payments of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for joint filers. Senate Republicans also appear to be on board with an additional round of stimulus payments, although they want to limit who could qualify.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has suggested distributing the money to people who earn $40,000 or less per year, arguing they would benefit the most from another round of stimulus payments. Forty percent of Americans earning less than $40,000 a year lost their jobs in March, which means the economic burden of the coronavirus has fallen most on those who are least able to bear it, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers in May.
But House Democrats are unlikely to go along with a cap that low. Their bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, calls for the next round of $1,200 stimulus payments to go to Americans earning less than $75,000 a year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not dismiss McConnell’s plan outright but questioned the cap being at $40,000.
“I think there are many families depending on size of family and so many different things, that the $40,000 would have to be explained, justified and the rest,” she said last week at a news conference. “But I think families making over $40,000 probably need assistance. Again, just depending on their family situation.”
The first round of stimulus payments, sent out earlier this year, went to individuals with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers). More than 159 million checks totaling $267 billion were distributed, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The number of checks to be distributed in the next round will be far lower if the $40,000 income threshold is applied.
Sparring on future of unemployment
For months, millions of Americans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic have been able to collect an additional $600 weekly in unemployment insurance. But at the end of the month, that boost will expire.
Republicans have long argued that the $600 boost was too high and a disincentive for Americans to go back to work as states work to cautiously reopen. Democrats have said the program should be renewed and pointed to the still high unemployment rate – currently 11.1% – and the spike in cases seen across the nation.
“We must renew unemployment insurance,” Pelosi said last week at her weekly news conference, noting the continued high numbers of Americans on unemployment. “We have to put the money in the pockets of people.”
Republicans have floated a variety of options that include reforming the enhanced benefits or even replacing them with a back-to-work bonus, but are not keen to continue the $600 program.
“We’d like to see some unemployment reforms,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told Fox News on Monday. “We’d like a return-to-work-type bonus of a modest nature. We don’t want to give people disincentives.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has led coronavirus relief negotiations for the administration on the hill, echoed an openness to reforms and told CNBC that the program will not be done “in the same way.”
Timing and red lines for GOP, Dems
Dozens of other provisions also could make their way into the stimulus package. Republicans, Democrats and the administration have made differing proposals a priority that could pose additional hurdles as sides work to negotiate.
House Democrats already passed a $3 trillion measure in May that outlines their priorities in the next phase of emergency funding. McConnell has said the bill is a non-starter and that Senate Republicans are drafting their own proposal to act as a starting point for negotiations, a measure that is likely to cost much less.
Both the House and the Senate are on recess this week, but McConnell said he would start discussing the draft with his members and Democrats when they return next week.
“I think you can anticipate this coming to a head sometime within the next three weeks,” he said Monday in Kentucky.
House Democrats have similarly stressed an urgency to get a bill to the president’s desk. Pelosi said on CNN Tuesday that she would delay the House’s August recess to ensure enough time to work through negotiations.
“We absolutely have to. We also have to come to an agreement,” she said. “The timetable is the timetable of the American people needing their Unemployment Insurance, their direct payments, their assistance for rent and mortgage foreclosure forbearance.”
Other issues on the negotiating table include:
- Payroll tax cut: Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of a payroll tax cut, saying it would help put people back to work. The size of the cut and other details haven’t been released and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including many Republicans, have resisted the idea.
- State, local and tribal funding: Democrats have made additional funds for state, local and tribal governments as their No. 1 priority in the next package. Under the HEROES Act, nearly $1 trillion would go to state, local and tribal governments that need funds to pay first responders, health workers and teachers who are in danger of losing their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Trump has said he has no interest in bailing out states that he thinks have been poorly managed. And McConnell has called the bill a non-starter.
- Liability protections for businesses: Republicans are demanding that any new bill include protections for business from what conservatives have called frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits as states and companies begin to reopen, a proposition that Democrats say they oppose.
- Education and funds for schooling: Republicans have made getting children back to school a focus and have signaled they want to make additional funds for schools a central piece of the next package in hopes of making schools safer as COVID-19 continues to spike. Democrats, while on board with more funding, have been cautious in their mandates for children to go back to school due to the pandemic.
- Funds for hospitals, testing and hazard pay for workers: Democrats and Republicans have highlighted the needs for more testing, and liberals are pushing for billions more to rapidly expand testing as the country attempts to reopen. Bipartisan proposals have also been floated for increased funding for rural hospitals and hazard pay for front-line workers, something the president has embraced. The House Democrats’ plan establishes a $200 billion fund to provide hazard pay for essential workers.
- More funds for small businesses: Congressional lawmakers in both parties have expressed an openness to possibly extending the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program, which expires Aug. 8. The program came under scrutiny earlier this month after the Treasury Department revealed businesses owned by lawmakers were among those who took loans.
- Infrastructure spending: Republicans and Democrats have repeatedly cited the need to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure and members of both parties have suggested a massive infrastructure could help in a recovery effort, while also creating new jobs for Americans.