Deliberations on Next Relief Bill: This Week, Maybe

When it comes to getting cash in people’s pockets, Congress has options. Which one is best? TPC’s Howard Gleckman outlines the choices. A federal bump in jobless benefits won’t provide timely help for those still waiting for their applications to be approved. Expanding refundable tax credits is a solid idea, but may be difficult for the GOP to swallow, since expansion might become permanent. Stimulus payments require the most work by government but can be distributed quickly. What will Congress do?

Stimulus payment seem in. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the Senate GOP will release its COVID-19 relief plan today and predicts it will include another round of $1,200 payments. But who will get them, and when?  GOP Senators Marco Rubio and Thom Tillis want the payments go to nearly 2 million US citizens married to foreign nationals. The White House  excluded that group of Americans from receiving payments in the CARES Act.

The Senate GOP may include unemployment benefits too, but how big? Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with Senate GOP leadership staff over the weekend to hammer out an agreement. Mnuchin calls extending the weekly $600 payments in the CARES Act “ridiculous” and has pushed for 70 percent wage replacement instead. Worried about the ability of hard-pressed state unemployment offices to manage such a plan, other Republicans prefer a flat amount of, say, $200. With the added federal benefits effectively expired in many states, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to begin negotiations this week with House Democrats, who approved their own $3 trillion plan months ago. 

Extending the moratorium on evictions. It’s a late addition to the Senate bill. Republicans resisted this idea but may bowing to growing pressure to extend temporary federal protections against evictions.   

How about an a la carte stimulus? In weekend talks shows, Meadows and Mnuchin suggested Congress pass a narrow bill that extends federal unemployment insurance, expands employer tax credits for retaining or hiring new workers, and protects business from COVID-19 related lawsuits. Other issues, they said, could be addressed in later bills. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t interested. “This is a package,” Pelosi said. “We cannot piecemeal this.”

Remember the 2021 budget? On Friday, the House passed a four-bill “minibus” spending bill that would fund the departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs. It expects to approve a package of seven other funding bills this week. The Senate has not yet begun work on its version of 2021 spending bills. 

ISO a compass. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow tells CNN “the economy is going north, not south.” Kudlow says that “hotspots” in California, Florida, and Texas will “moderate” growth but insists the overall economy is strong. 

CARES Act payments were delivered in record time, but some were left out. TPC’s Janet Holtzblatt asks why four in ten adults with income at or below the federal poverty level did not report getting  payments by mid-to-late May. That group includes non-filers, many without internet access or bank accounts. Janet concludes, “policymakers should start developing new coordinated systems for delivering assistance quickly before the next recession or disaster strikes.”

As for states… Mnuchin told CNBC that “States have their own ability to tax… It’s unfair for states like Florida to be bailing out states like New York.” He favors “compromise” legislation offered by Senator John Kennedy, which provides no additional funding for states but gives states and local governments more flexibility to spend remaining CARES Act money.

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