By Norm Elrod
(CBS Detroit) -- Congressional leaders are moving closer to a second stimulus package that could provide some economic relief from the COVID crisis. And the deal, as it currently stands, would include stimulus checks. But time is running short before the holiday break, with many major economic stimulus programs set to expire.
In a promising sign, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy twice on Tuesday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had been involved in previous negotiations with Pelosi, called in by phone. The goal was to come to some kind of agreement on the relief package. And all participants agree that progress was made.
As McConnell framed it, "we made major headway into hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities." He also emphasized Congress's commitment to reaching an agreement.
According to Schumer, "we are very close. We're making really good progress. We're feeling pretty good."
The deal under discussion would have a price tag of around $900 billion. It would include direct checks to consumers who earn under a certain income and additional federal unemployment benefits on top of what individual states currently provide. Exact numbers are not yet known, though Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a chief negotiator of the bipartisan bill, believes the direct checks will be $600.
This developing package has grown out of that bipartisan, bicameral deal proposed last week and split into two deals this week. That pair of deals included a $748 billion package that combines unemployment benefits and aid for small businesses, among other programs supported across party lines. Specifically, that meant four more months of an additional $300 per week of unemployment payments, along with four more months of standard unemployment benefits and payments to those who don't qualify for standard unemployment benefits. Small businesses were slated receive $300 billion in aid. Another $25 billion was to be set aside for rental assistance, with the current eviction moratorium extended through January of 2021.
"We need to get help to the people that need it most as quickly as possible," said Utah Senator Mitt Romney on CBS This Morning on Tuesday. "We better have it by the holiday, because the day after Christmas you have millions of people who will lose unemployment benefits, so we need to act."
A separate $160 billion bill lumped together aid for state and local governments and business liability protections, the two initiatives which have been holding up relief efforts. Aid for states and localities is supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. The coronavirus liability shield is supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
While the developing deal includes stimulus checks, it does not include aid for state and local governments or business liability protections. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Josh Hawley have been outspoken in their support of another check. Some progressive House Democrats also made their support known Tuesday in a letter to Congressional leaders.
Congress is also dealing with the larger issue of funding the government. Late last week they passed a continuing resolution that funded it for another week. If broader funding legislation isn't passed and signed by the president by Friday, the government will shut down.
A stimulus package, if an agreement is reached, would be attached to this government spending measure.
The first stimulus package passed back in March, when the federal government came to the economy's rescue with the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. The aid included increased unemployment benefits, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (PEUC) among other programs. The $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits added on top of state benefits ended in July. The PUA payments, to freelance workers who don't qualify for traditional unemployment insurance, run out near the end of the year. So do the PEUC payments, which adds 13 weeks for those who have exhausted their state benefits, which tend to last between 20 and 26 weeks. All three programs have helped recipients pay for basic needs, shelter among them.
Eviction protections put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various states are set to expire at the end of the year as well. The CDC order shields those making under $99,000 per year from eviction through the end of 2020, if the pandemic has caused them to lose income. Some cities and states instituted their own assistance and protection programs, which are also running out.
State unemployment benefits, even those extended by PEUC, have already ended for many who lost jobs early in the economic crisis. That process continues as more people use up their benefits. In November, those unemployed long-term (at least 27 weeks) rose by 385,000 to 3.9 million. The long-term unemployed now account for 36.9 percent of all unemployed.
Updated Wednesday, December 16 @ 3:00 p.m.
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