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Key COVID relief programs set to expire at end of the year without deal on new bill

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Several programs intended to aid Americans struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic will expire at the end of the year unless Congress reaches a deal on a new relief bill.

Many who have lost their jobs have been relying on Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance and on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which aids people who are self-employed or part-time workers. According to recent Labor Department statistics, there are about 13.5 million Americans currently benefiting from pandemic-related unemployment relief, and those payments are currently expected to stop on December 31, when the programs expire.

The nationwide eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires at the end of the year, as does the student loan forbearance that President Trump implemented by executive order. Over 32 million Americans had student loans that were eligible for suspended loan payments, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Although President-elect Joe Biden has said that he would forgive student loans, he does not take office until January 20, and loan repayment will likely have to resume at the beginning of January. 

Funding will also stop flowing to state and local jurisdictions, and tax credits for required paid sick leave and for family sick leave for self-employed individuals will expire.

Over 11 million Americans have contracted the virus, and nearly 250,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. The pandemic only appears to be worsening heading into winter, raising concerns about the potential need to reimplement measures to shutdown local economies. Millions have lost their jobs in recent months, and food insecurity has worsened for many Americans. These issues will be exacerbated if more people suddenly lose their homes or supplemental unemployment aid in January. Congress does not seem any closer to reaching a deal on coronavirus relief than it did before the election.

House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion relief proposal in October, a slimmed-down version of the $3.4 trillion bill passed in May. This proposal includes funding to extend the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, as well as extend suspension of payments for student loans, extend credits for paid sick and family leave and provide additional funding for state and local governments.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ahead of the election to reach a deal on a relief proposal, but the two were unable to reach an agreement even after Mnuchin made a nearly $2 trillion offer. Pelosi said that the main sticking points were over the amount of funding for state and local governments and the inclusion of liability protections, which is a priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Although Mr. Trump has called on Congress to pass coronavirus relief, he has also expressed opposition to including funding for state and local jurisdictions, accusing Democrats of wanting to bail out blue states.

Meanwhile, McConnell and Senate Republicans have proposed a $500 billion targeted bill that would mainly focus on extending unemployment benefits, liability protections and bolstering the Paycheck Protection Program, which aids small businesses. It would also provide some funding for schools. Although this legislation has been blocked by Democrats twice, McConnell has said that he will bring it to the Senate floor again. McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that he is not in direct communication with Pelosi.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi sent a letter to McConnell on Tuesday urging him to come to the negotiating table.

"We were encouraged by your comments shortly after the election that you believe the Congress needs to act on another COVID-19 relief package and that "it's a possibility we will do more for state and local governments." We agree with you," Schumer and Pelosi wrote. "We write to request that you join us at the negotiating table this week so that we can work towards a bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 relief agreement to crush the virus and save American lives."

However, McConnell has consistently expressed his opposition to passing larger legislation and said that his focus is on passing his own legislation.

"I'm open to a targeted bill roughly of the amount that we recommended, which is half a trillion dollars, which is not nothing," McConnell said on Tuesday. "I'm very open to that but seen no evidence yet as several of my colleagues have suggested that they're open to it."

The Senate adjourned on Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday and will not return until November 30.

Prospects for passing coronavirus relief legislation before the end of the year are also complicated by the fact that party control of the Senate is still unclear. Although Democrats maintained their majority in the House and gained the presidency, the fate of the Senate is contingent upon two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5. Until they know who will have the majority in the Senate in January, congressional leaders may be less willing to compromise.

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