Saturday, March 6, 2021

Stimulus update - some changes, but overall it works for me

Here's a rundown that I found from CNN on the stimulus bill that passed the Senate, which seems up to date as of this morning.

The largest change is the removal of a $15 minimum wage from the bill, which was first shot down by the Senate parliamentarian as somehow not having a budgetary effect (and therefore not able to be reconciled to the budget), and then lost 58-42 after Sen. Bernie Sanders put it up as an amendment. As I've mentioned before, this is unfortunate, but it also can be brought back in other forms, and is not worth tanking the entire bill over.

Otherwise, many aspects of the House bill remain, but one of that is changed regards who will get stimulus checks.
The checks will phase out faster than previous rounds, completely cutting off individuals who earn more than $80,000 a year and married couples earning more than $160,000 -- regardless of how many children they have.

The bill passed by the House set the income caps at $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for individuals. The Senate change leaves out about 7 million families, according to an estimate from the Penn Wharton Budget Model.
Basically, it's the difference between the black and yellow lines on this chart.
Apparently the reason Joe Manchin and other "moderate" Senate Dems wanted this changed was....concerns about the deficit? I don't see where this does much to change that, given that the change in who gets stimulus checks knocked off less than 1% of the entire bill. As a standalone, I'd shoot it down. But again, trying to take out this change isn't worth tanking a huge bill that will help a lot of people.

The other major change that is getting notice is a modification of the add-on for unemployment benefits, and an attempt to help those that were out of work in 2020 not get socked with tax bills as they file this Spring.
Unlike the House bill, the Senate version calls for providing a $300 federal boost to weekly jobless payments and extending two key pandemic unemployment benefits programs through September 6, an arrangement hammered out after hours of negotiation on Friday.

The agreement would also make the first $10,200 worth of benefits payments tax-free for households with annual incomes less than $150,000.

This is a significant change from the House bill, which would provide a $400 weekly enhancement through August 29 and continue two pandemic programs for the same period. The House bill does not contain the tax provision.
While the $300 add-on is down from the Biden/House plan of $400, it does not change what is in place today. The tax item is certainly different, and will benefit those filing in the coming weeks. And the extension of the gig-related PUA and long-term PEUC programs to September 6 avoids a cliff that was looming at the end of next week, and avoids the mess that has arisen in many states from having those programs lapse at the end of December.

(Fun side note, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development announced on Friday that PEUC payments have finally been re-established, so up to 9 weeks of back pay will likely be coming from DWD in the near future).

There are also some areas where the Senate bill expands what the House and even Biden wanted.
The bills would give states and the District of Columbia $195.3 billion, while counties and cities would split about $130 billion in aid. Tribes would get $20 billion and territories $4.5 billion under both bills.

The Senate version of the bill also contains a $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. It also slightly revises the formula to help states with smaller populations and boost the minimum they will receive.
Oh, but money that goes to smaller states and expanmsion of rural broadband is a "blue state bailout", right GOPs? We contnue.
While the money provided by the House bill would go to both public and private schools, based on the number of low-income students enrolled, the Senate bill specifically carves out about $2.75 billion for private schools....

...the Senate bill provides more assistance than the House version to those who were laid off but want to remain on their employer health insurance plans through COBRA. The Senate calls for picking up the full amount of the premium, while the House would only cover 85%, leaving the former employee to pay 15%....

The Senate bill allocates $8.5 billion to help struggling rural hospitals and health care providers.

The House bill did not provide any additional funding for hospitals or nursing homes, which received assistance in previous relief packages.
None of these should be close to deal-breakers, and I would assume this modified bill gets passed by early next week, with Biden signing it soon after. And there are a lot of areas that are going to be getting help. I'm not exactly thrilled at the arcane and outdated process in a nearly-broken Senate that took 48 hours to get this done (vote-a-ramas? Come on!), and it once again showed that there are serious changes needed in how Congress operates in the 2020s. But assuming all goes fine next week, I do think this has significantly lessened the chances of a double-dip recession for the Spring and Summer, and hopefully enough will be vaccinated by September that we are on solid ground for a longer-term recovery.

Now this isn't the end of economic moves that need to be made, and I would hope we see more for infrastructure and a higher minimum wage in the coming months. But for now, I'll take it, and I would hope you would as well.

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