COVID-19 relief package: $1,400 stimulus checks, $300 bonus for federal unemployment benefits

The House is set to vote Tuesday on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan after the Senate narrowly approved the package over the weekend.

Following weeks of roadblocks and marathon debates, the bill is poised to become law before March 14, when the current federal boost to unemployment benefits expires for millions of Americans. 

Under the plan, millions of Americans would receive $1,400 stimulus checks. The relief package would extend badly needed jobless aid to Sept. 6 and continue to offer recipients an extra $300. The stimulus would also include funding for state and local governments, tax credits for families and it would boost government spending on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. 

Here’s what is in the stimulus package:

Who qualifies for another stimulus check?

The payments would amount to $1,400 for a single person or $2,800 for a married couple filing jointly. Individuals earning up to $75,000 would get the full payments, as would married couples with incomes up to $150,000. Payments would decline for incomes above those thresholds, phasing out above $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples. 

 (Photo: Getty Images)

When would stimulus checks be sent?

If the bill is signed into law by March 14, the first direct deposits may start hitting bank accounts the week of March 22 and paper checks may be sent out the week of March 29, based on prior relief plans.

If a taxpayer doesn’t file their 2020 tax returns before Congress passes the relief bill, experts say the IRS will likely rely on their 2019 tax return to calculate their payment.

Are unemployment benefits extended?

Yes. The package would extend two temporary federal programs until Sept. 6: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to self-employed, temporary workers and gig workers; and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the typical 26 weeks that states provide to jobless workers.

Under the prior stimulus package passed in December, those programs were extended through March 14. Workers who didn’t exhaust their allotment of benefits by that date could continue collecting benefits up to April 11.

Will enhanced unemployment benefits continue?

Yes, the bill would extend and enhance jobless benefits that would last until Sept. 6 and continue to include a $300-a-week boost to benefits. The first $10,200 of unemployment benefits would be exempt from taxes for the first time to prevent surprise bills for unemployed people at end of the year. The provision applies to households with incomes under $150,000.

Is the child tax credit expanded? 

Yes, the package would include a temporary increase for the child tax credit for 2021.

The credit is currently worth $2,000 per child under 17 that can be claimed as a dependent.

The bill would temporarily boost the credit to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 per child under 6. It would also allow 17-year-old children to qualify for the first time. 

The credit would begin to phase out for those earning more than $75,000 a year, or $150,000 for those married filing jointly. The IRS would look to prior-year tax returns to determine who qualifies for the higher credit. If a return for 2020 hasn’t been filed yet, the agency would look to 2019 returns.

Families who aren’t eligible for the higher child credit may still be able to claim the current $2,000 credit per child.

Will the federal minimum wage be boosted to $15 an hour?

A $15 minimum wage provision won’t be included in the package. Late last month, the Senate Parliamentarian said the provision wasn’t allowed under the guardrails of budget reconciliation, a process that requires each provision in the bill to adhere to strict rules.

Senate Democrats’ attempt to reinsert the provision Friday also failed when eight Democratic caucus members voted with all Senate Republicans against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and Congress hasn’t raised it in more than a decade.

Is there forbearance and foreclosure relief?

In February, the Biden administration extended forbearance and foreclosure relief programs on federally backed mortgages. It extended the ban on foreclosures through June and allowed homeowners to enroll in mortgage payment forbearance programs through then. Mortgages owned by private lenders aren’t included in the relief.

Are eviction moratoriums extended?

There is no extension of the national ban on evictions, which is set to expire on March 31. The bill doesn’t extend the moratorium because it is being passed through a budget reconciliation in the Senate, which sets limits on what measures they can include, experts explained. 

In January, Biden issued an executive order extending eviction protections until the end of the month and called on Congress to keep the moratorium in effect through September. Advocates are calling on the president to extend the protection through another executive order.

Some states have issued their own eviction bans. 

Will student loan forbearance continue?

In January, the Department of Education extended the pause on federal student loan payments and collections through the end of September.

What else is in the bill? 

The relief package would set aside another $20 billion in rental assistance and enhanced food benefits. 

It would provide aid to help low-income households cover back rent and utility bills. Benefits under SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, were increased by 15% for all recipients until June under the stimulus package passed in December. The latest bill is expected to extend the boost through September.

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