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Congress approves new $900B stimulus

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Congress approved a new $900 billion stimulus package to aid pandemic-affected families and businesses on Dec. 21. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JACKSON LANIER/WIKIPEDIA

WASHINGTON – After months of waiting and a weekend of negotiations, Congress approved a new $900 billion stimulus bill Monday night that will restart the Paycheck Protection Program, send direct checks to residents, extend state deadlines for CARES Act spending, and support businesses and organizations hurt by the economic fallout spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new stimulus provides $600 in direct payments for individuals making up to $75,000 per year and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000 per year, as well as a $600 payment for each dependent child. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC that those payments could be received by taxpayers as early as next week.

While the state of Delaware and New Castle County had anxiously been spending down the $1.25 billion allocated under the original CARES Act to offset unexpected expenses before the Dec. 31 deadline, the new bill extends the deadline to the end of 2021.

The new funding package also saves the additional unemployment insurance program that was set to expire Dec. 26. Approved unemployed recipients will now receive a $300 per week federal supplement to weekly state benefits through March 14.

The bill also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. Additionally, the bill increases the maximum number of weeks an individual may claim benefits through regular state unemployment plus the PEUC program, or through the PUA program, to 50 weeks.

As the Dec. 31 eviction moratorium threatened a wave of homeless families, the measure was extended until Jan. 31 and provided $25 billion in rental assistance.

Congress also allocated $325 billion to small businesses, including $284 billion for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s PPP loans and $3.5 billion in debt relief to small businesses with SBA loans. Both were proposals advocated for by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who noted that about 900 Delaware businesses received relief from principal, interest, and fees under the latter program.

The new stimulus also provides $12 billion for Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions, of which $3 billion is for grants through the CDFI Fund program and $9 billion is for Treasury Department capital investments. CDFIs are mission-driven financial lenders that deliver responsible, affordable lending to low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged people and communities. Over 300 CDFIs have served as PPP lenders, helping to reach some of the hardest-hit minority-owned small businesses.

The stimulus, approved as part of a large end-of-year catchall package including traditional spending measures, also allocates $82 billion in support to school systems and higher education institutions, $10 billion for childcare assistance, $13 billion to assist people facing hunger, and $13 billion to support farmers who have suffered losses during the pandemic.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the bill will provide direct financial relief for 636,600 Delaware adults and 232,000 children, representing an injection of over $450 million to Delaware families with an average household check of over $1,000.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) addresses reporters Dec. 22 after voting on the new stimulus package. | PHOTO COURTESY OF COONS OFFICE

Coons (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, voted to pass the roughly $900 billion stimulus package, but said it wasn’t nearly enough to meet the needs of America.

“This isn’t a stimulus package. This is just getting us through the next two to three months, and it’s frankly catching up on things we should have done months ago,” he said in a Tuesday morning press conference in Wilmington. “It shouldn’t have taken this long, and we are going to have to probably begin working on the next package, which will need to pass sometime in February.”

The senator credited a bipartisan group of senators for hashing out the details of the aid after the November election.

“It’s not the bill I would have written, but it’s a bill that we were able to get passed,” he told reporters.

Hard negotiations will remain for Congress in 2021, especially if Republicans are able to retain control of the Senate following the Jan. 5 runoff election for two Georgia seats. In order to get the latest package approved, Democrats had to relent on $160 billion in support of state and local governments burdened by COVID-19 costs while Republicans gave up unbridled liability coverage for employers.

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) agreed with her senate colleague Coons and noted in a statement that more aid will be needed.

“This cannot and should not be Congress’ final act when it comes to COVID relief,” she said. “The American people are hurting and while the initial distribution of the vaccine represents hope on the horizon and light at the end of the tunnel we are not out of the woods yet.”

By Jacob Owens

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