Senate Republicans are reportedly planning to introduce a scaled-back $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill, aimed at restarting the stalled negotiations over stimulus legislation in Congress.
One important form of aid appears to be missing from the GOP's latest plan: a second stimulus check. It's unclear why Republicans excluded a stimulus check from their plan, because sending Americans direct cash is one thing both parties had seemed to agree on.
Republicans have called for enhanced federal unemployment benefits at a level of $300 per week. Earlier this month, the president used an executive order to mandate what amounts to $300 in enhanced weekly unemployment aid, though experts are unsure whether his order will be upheld.
Under the GOP's new $1 trillion proposal, Republicans would stick with a $300-a-week benefit through December 27.
Republicans and top White House officials say less aid is appropriate, given recent improvements in economic data. "There's no question that the economic numbers are doing better. So, as we reopen the economy, we see things are getting better," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Tuesday.
The most recent Labor Department figures show U.S. unemployment sat at a rate of 10.2% in July, down from its peak of nearly 15% in April. Still, unemployment remains historically high. Before the coronavirus recession, unemployment was hovering around a 50-year low of 3.5%.
The Democrats' $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, which passed the House but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate in May, called for extending the additional $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits until 2021. Republicans argue that that proposal is fiscally irresponsible.
The U.S. Postal Service has lost $2.2 billion in the three months that ended in June amid the coronavirus pandemic. Though the pandemic isn't the cause of the post office's financial woes, it has exacerbated them.
Last year, the Postal Service reported a $9 billion loss stemming from a host of issues, including a years-long decline in mail as online communication has replaced letters. The government agency is funded entirely through services and postage, and during the pandemic advertisers have reduced mail to cut costs.
Allocating cash to the U.S. Postal Service has been a major sticking point in the stalled negotiations over a new stimulus package. Besides needing cash to endure the pandemic, the postal service is seeking financial aid ahead of the fall election. Processing mail-in ballots for voters seeking to avoid crowded polling places to avoid exposure to Covid-19 will only add to the government agency's mounting debt.
The GOP's "skinny" proposal will reportedly allocate $10 billion to the post office. (The HEROES Act included $25 billion for it.)
House Democrats are so concerned about post office funding and operations ahead of November's election that they are reportedly considering proposing a new, scaled-back version of the HEROES Act. Concessions would signal Democrats are willing to compromise in order to get legislation signed, according to NBC News.
The Republicans' new plan will reportedly allocate more money to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was introduced as part of the CARES Act and offers small-business owners forgivable loans to keep their doors open during the pandemic.
Five million loans amounting to $521.7 billion were approved since the program opened on April 3 as of Monday, according to the Small Business Administration, but August 8 was the last day small businesses were able to apply.
The Paycheck Protection program is yet another sticking point for lawmakers. The argument lawmakers are having centers around the issue of tax deductibility. Forgiveness of the loan will be deemed tax-free, but business owners who take PPP loans won't be able to write off expenses that would otherwise be deductible if they use those PPP funds to cover the cost and then obtain forgiveness, according to the IRS.
Deductibility matters because a business owner's taxable income might seem higher on paper if he or she is unable to deduct the costs covered by the loan.
The specifics of the GOP's PPP proposal under their new skinny plan aren't clear. But the Republicans' original aid proposal, known as the HEALS Act, outlined a plan in which small businesses with 300 or fewer employees could receive a second forgivable PPP loan if revenue has declined 50% or more due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Democrats have called for extending the former PPP program until the end of the year and allowing a second round for firms with 100 employees.
Republicans are hoping to pass legislation that will protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. In July, Joshua Gotbaum, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution who has worked in five administrations under presidents of both parties, predicted this would be a snag in stimulus negotiations.
"Let me give you an example," Gotbaum told Grow in July. "You're a business that opens up and you're afraid that either your workers or customers will sue you and claim they got Covid from being in your store or being in your establishment."
Republicans have said: "We want to give a blanket immunity: We want businesses to know that nobody can sue them, their employees can't sue them, their customers can't sue them about Covid," he explained.
Democrats don't approve of that provision, though, according to Gotbaum: "Democrats do not like the idea of denying employees some redress if the employer operates an unsafe workplace."
A second round of stimulus checks are expected to make it into the next coronavirus relief bill, as both parties' proposals include the aid. On Friday, President Trump reiterated his support for the additional payments on Twitter, saying he wants them sent to "all Americans" and blaming Democrats for obstructing.
The GOP's original proposal did not put a cap on the age of dependents, meaning that children 17 and over, including college students, and adults who are disabled or otherwise claimed as dependents on someone else's tax return, would be eligible to receive up to an additional $500 for dependent family members.
Use this calculator to figure out how much you could get under the Republican's proposed HEALS Act.
The HEROES Act also calls for a second $1,200 stimulus check. Like the Republican proposal, the HEROES Act calls for including all dependents, but it features a bigger payment of $1,200, instead of $500, for a maximum of three dependents per household.
Before the government starts distributing a second round of stimulus checks, lawmakers will have to find common ground on the terms of the final coronavirus relief bill, which has already taken months to iron out. Only after getting the OK from the House and the Senate will the legislation be signed into law by the president.
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