There's a government shutdown looming, and crucial financial protections for Americans hang in limbo. Absent more coronavirus aid, about 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits on the day after Christmas.
Top officials had been hopeful a deal on the first significant government stimulus package in months could be reached this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that a "bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is very close at hand."
Friday evening, the House passed a two-day government funding bill to avert a shutdown and buy more time to negotiate coronavirus aid. That measure then passed the Senate and went to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it by midnight.
While lawmakers are still negotiating Covid aid, experts expect the bill could include additional loans for small businesses, extended protections for renters facing evictions, more funding for federal unemployment, and another round of cash payments sent directly to Americans.
Here's a closer look at what's reportedly included.
It appears unlikely that Americans will get a second cash influx of $1,200 like the direct impact payments that came after the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in the spring. Instead, a new stimulus deal would provide individual payments of about $600 per adult and child, according to NBC, although it is unclear who would be eligible to receive them.
An earlier version of the proposal did not include stimulus checks at all in order to cut its total cost from about $300 billion to $150 billion. But the payments were added back in after additional rounds of negotiations.
Some congressional leaders, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, still want to see that amount increased: "I'm glad we're at ... $600 per working-class adult and $600 for the kids," Sanders said Wednesday on MSNBC. "For a family of four, that would be $2,400, which I think will be pretty good news during this rather bleak Christmas period. But we have got to do more."
Under the anticipated proposal, out-of-work Americans would receive weekly payments of $300 for 16 weeks, in addition to their normal state benefits, to help them cover expenses.
The March CARES Act had allotted $600 in weekly unemployment benefits but that stipend expired at the end of July and was replaced with $300 in federal funds paid weekly to unemployed adults in most states.
Video by Helen Zhao
While the federal unemployment funds won't rise to $600 again under the new bill, Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told Grow in October it's important to continue that benefit. Roughly 30 million jobs have been lost as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Last week, first-time unemployment claims totaled 853,000, an uptick from the 730,000 total analysts were expecting.
"Allowing [enhanced unemployment] to expire just means millions of people have to drastically cut back on their spending," she says. That could have repercussions on the rest of the economy because "the unemployed workers are spending the $600 on goods and services produced by other workers who then lose their jobs when the $600 goes away."
Retail sales in the United States dropped 1.1% in November, according to data from the Department of Commerce, chalking up a second straight monthly drop. And consumers didn't just dial down their holiday spending: Americans shopped less for cars and clothing, the findings show. Consumers also cut back on eating and drinking out, electronics and appliances, sporting goods, music, and hobbies across the board.
Student loan borrowers could get another extension on repayments under the new bill. Lawmakers reportedly included a provision in the legislation that would extend federal forbearance through April 30, 2021.
The payment pause has been extended multiple times amid the pandemic. Forbearance was originally scheduled to end in December but was recently extended through January 31, 2021, to offer a reprieve.
Video by Jason Armesto
While an April extension would provide much-needed help, some borrowers may still need more time. Nearly 80% of borrowers said they don't feel financially secure enough to resume payments until at least June 2021 or later, according to a national Student Debt Crisis poll of nearly 59,000 U.S. adults conducted between early December and late November.
That finding makes sense, considering graduates owe a combined total of $1.6 trillion, and the average monthly payment is nearly $400. Data shows that the vast majority of borrowers, 90%, have taken advantage of forbearance during the pandemic.
The nationwide moratorium on evictions for renters who couldn't pay their bills on time is set to expire at the end of the year. Experts expect the proposal would extend the ban on evictions through at least January 31, 2021.
A striking 40 million Americans could lose their homes by the end of the year if they don't receive financial assistance, according to data from the Aspen Institute. That's four times the number seen during the Great Recession, and people of color are at the greatest risk.
The new deal would reportedly also provide about $300 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses like restaurants and live venues that were hit hard by coronavirus closures.
That's a benefit Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett thinks the country can't do without. "I think the country owes it to the millions of small-business people … [to] just renew the PPP and get us to the end of the tunnel," he said in an appearance Tuesday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
"When we went into World War II, a lot of industries were shut down; everything went to defense production," he said. "Well, we've shut down a lot of people in this particular ... recession and others are prospering, and I think the country owes it to the millions of small business people."
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