Reaction: Congress Passes $900 Billion COVID Relief Package, Sent To President

On Monday night, Congress passed a $900 Billion pandemic relief package and sent it to President Trump.  The measure, if signed by the President, would provide long-awaited financial relief for families and businesses, with resources to provide COVID vaccinations to Americans, as the virus continues to surge and take the lives of thousands of people.

Reaction to the announcement was swift, with Governor Phil Murphy stating, “Certainly we are happy to see the House and the Senate come to an agreement, one that will offer some relief for working families and [for] small businesses extend the deadline for the investment of CARES Act funds into our communities, and provide some funding for our vaccination efforts and our schools. But at $900 billion, we are under shooting.  No one should fall into a false sense that the job is done. It is not. This is no time for half-measures, and we cannot keep finding ourselves back at the beginning once each round of support dries up before the pandemic is tamed. We need to keep working. Our families and businesses need more our communities and our fellow states need direct support,” he continued. “So yes, count me as grateful for this agreement but do not count me as satisfied with it.”

The Governor said $3 to $4 trillion would fall more in line to what’s actually needed.

The agreement, lust like the first, would include checks of up to $600 for people earning up to $75,000 per year and $600 for their children. An additional 11 weeks would also be added in unemployment benefits, as well as aid for educational institutions ($82 billion), renters ($25 billion), transportation ($47 billion) and more.

Rep. Albio Sires (D – District 8) stated, “As the coronavirus pandemic continues to flare up across the nation, and we are faced with both the health and economic consequences of the virus, it is passed time that the hard-working American people get more relief.  As we move into the winter it is essential that we provide appropriate support to help the millions of people struggling because of this virus. While everyone would have preferred to reach a deal sooner, I am confident that the measures in this legislation, and the billions in authorized funding that House Democrats fought for, will go a long way in providing concrete relief to the public.”

More specifically, the Congressional agreement includes the following:

COVID-19

This legislation authorizes billions in new funding to help get the coronavirus pandemic under control in the United States. Provisions are included to accelerate the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine while strengthening our ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, two essential aspects of keeping the spread of the virus low. 

Direct Payment and Tax Benefits

Also included is up to $600 in direct payments for adults and children in a second round of direct payments. Unlike the first round of direct payments, my colleagues and I fought to ensure that individuals without a social security number can receive a stimulus payment if their spouse has a social security number. Additionally, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit will be improved to ensure that families who faced unemployment or reduced wages during the pandemic are able to receive a strong tax credit based on their 2019 income. The agreement also extends and improves the Employee Retention Tax Credit to help workers during COVID-19 related closures or reduced wages and provides a tax break for employers offering paid-sick leave. 

Unemployment Benefits

The agreement also includes an extension of federal unemployment benefits and creates a new $300 payment for unemployed individuals. The length of time an unemployed individual can claim unemployment benefits has been increased by 11 weeks. There is also the creation of the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, which provides a federally funded $100 per week additional benefit to individuals who have at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income but are disqualified from receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance because they are eligible for regular state unemployment benefits.

Housing Assistance

Included is a new moratorium on evictions and authorizes $ 25 billion in funding to authorize critically needed rental assistance to ensure as many Americans as possible can remain in their homes. Additionally, this legislation includes millions in targeted housing vouchers to reduce homelessness, and enhances the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit to help increase affordable housing now and in the future.

Small Business Support

This legislation includes new funding and policy changes to help small businesses, including minority, veteran, and women owned businesses. $284 billion is included for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, with dedicated funds set aside for much smaller businesses. $15 billion in relief funds is included for live venues, independent theaters, and cultural institutions; and $20 billion in funds was authorized for targeted EIDL grants, which are crucial to many smaller businesses. 

Other Provisions

This relief bill includes a 15% increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and also includes boosts to child nutrition benefits to help those dealing with hunger. $10 billion is included in the legislation for child careassistance to assist parents that are transitioning back to the workplace. Billions of funds are also included for State and local governments to assist their response to COVID-19. The legislation also authorizes over $7 billion in funds to help fight COVID-19 across the globe, and includes a bipartisan agreement to end surprise medical billing. A Full section by section review of the relief legislation can be found here.

Senator Bob Menendez (D – New Jersey), who voted for the relief bill, stated, “Finally, Congress has passed desperately-needed emergency relief for millions of Americans struggling amid an increasingly protracted pandemic. Far too many are on the brink of disaster as federal benefits and protections are set to expire. It never – never – should have taken this many months for Mitch McConnell to come to the negotiating table.”

Menendez continued, “While this package is far from perfect, Democrats secured critical provisions to help families weather this storm, including extending the moratorium on evictions, providing direct financial relief to individuals, giving rent relief to struggling families, and reinstating the expanded unemployment benefits for the millions of workers who have lost their jobs or have experienced a loss of wages over the last nine months.”

“I am deeply disappointed Republicans would not include essential aid for state and local governments, putting the jobs of first responders, teachers, and others at risk. The deal also does not include enough relief for the hard-hit restaurant industry and fails to provide any help for student loan borrowers. My commitment to these issues does not end here.”

“Nonetheless, this bill is a much-needed infusion for our economy and we have given the incoming Administration a strong foundation to help families and businesses in New Jersey and across the country. I look forward to working with the new Administration starting next year to help hard working families, small businesses and frontline workers recover from this unprecedented crisis.”

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D – District 10) also voted in favor of the relief package, saying, “I was proud to vote for this bill to help struggling residents of New Jersey as well as Americans nationwide deal with the effects of this coronavirus.  We needed to pass something before the end of the year because people are suffering this winter and thousands were at risk of losing their housing.  It is a relief to see both parties come together to support our country at a time when we have a vaccine and we are closer to defeating the coronavirus.”

“It is unconscionable it took this long,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D – District 9). “While this bill does not provide aid to state and local governments that are being bled into bankruptcy, nor sufficient direct payments, it provides nearly a trillion dollars of relief into our fragile economy. It will help struggling Americans and it would be irresponsible to oppose helping people in trouble.”

Congressman Pascrell added, “There is a lot of back-patting today by the very people who blocked relief for seven months. No one should ever forget that during Republicans’ deliberate obstruction countless Americans have been killed and our nation has been damaged. The bill we passed today offers a fraction of the relief our nation needs and that the House passed 219 days ago. Today’s package is not enough by a long shot. There should be more, but Republicans who sat on the pause button simply won’t agree to anything more. Tens of millions of Americans are crying out every day for help because of this administration’s failed pandemic response that has led to over 318,000 Americans dead, nearly 1 in 18 Americans infected, and growing permanent job loss. I hear these pleas and know this bill will not end the crises many are facing. But it will help ease the pain for some. While vaccine distribution is just getting underway, the crises created by this pandemic are deepening. It will be up to us in Congress to pass more direct relief to Americans and in the House, we will.”

Finally, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker issued the following statement after voting for the coronavirus relief bill,  “After over seven months of delay and inaction from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, tonight we are bringing long-overdue, much-needed relief to millions of people across New Jersey and our country who are hurting.

“This bill extends critically needed pandemic unemployment assistance, offers protections for renters and homeowners, and provides support for small businesses, including dedicated funding to go towards small and minority-owned small businesses. It also allocates urgently needed resources for vaccine distribution, testing and tracing, and health care providers.

“But there remains much more work to be done. We must secure additional state and local funding needed to support our first responders, educators, essential workers, and critical programs. We also must do more to support those out of work with additional unemployment insurance benefits and help families struggling during this economic crisis with more robust direct cash payments.

“We have a mandate to act boldly and comprehensively to help New Jerseyans and people across the country get through this severe economic and public health crisis. This bill is a step in the right direction, but I will continue fighting alongside my Democratic colleagues to ensure this is not Congress’ last pandemic relief package.”

President Trump is expected to sign the legislation.