(CBS Detroit) — The third stimulus check has attracted plenty of interest. But the $1.9 trillion economic relief package, known as the American Relief Plan, includes so much more than a $1,400 payment. The sweeping bill looks to address the economic pain brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It contains programs designed to support struggling families, communities and small businesses, and to stop the spread of COVID through testing, tracing and vaccinations. Some of these efforts may also put additional money in people’s pockets, and very soon.
Exactly how much money depends on an individual’s financial situation. The programs and the rules surrounding them have changed somewhat from the last two stimulus packages. When is more a function of how the final steps of the legislative process play out. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill on Saturday, and the House is set to revisit the bill on Wednesday. The President will likely sign it very soon after the House passes it again.
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Here’s how the stimulus package looks right now.
Third Round Of Stimulus Checks
After $1,200 last spring and $600 this winter, a third payment seemed imminent if the economy continued to falter. The $1,400 number came about after the former president requested a $2,000 payout rather than the then-pending $600. Democrats quickly backed the larger amount, passing a bill in the House that would more than triple the second stimulus check. Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who were embroiled in close runoff elections in Georgia, also supported the increase.
A larger second stimulus check never came to pass, but the number stuck. And when Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won those two January elections, tilting control of the Senate to their party, the effort gained some momentum. Democrats would soon hold the presidency and both houses of Congress and could push through a third stimulus.
While $1,400 remains the topline number, some people could receive less or more, depending on their income and dependents.
The previous two stimulus checks phased out for individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) over $75,000 per year and married couples with an AGI over $150,000. (AGI is the total of one’s wages, interest, dividends, alimony, retirement distributions and other sources of income minus certain deductions, such as student loan interest, alimony payments and retirement contributions.) For every dollar of income over the threshold, the previous two stimulus payments decreased by five percent. So the $1,200 CARES Act payment shrank to $0 for incomes over $99,000 ($198,000), and the $600 second stimulus shrank to $0 for incomes over $87,000 ($174,000).
In early February, Manchin and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine proposed an amendment aimed at “targeting economic impact payments to Americans who are suffering from the effects of COVID–19, including provisions to ensure upper-income taxpayers are not eligible.”
The income threshold doesn’t change in the Senate version of the bill. But the phase out will happen much more quickly. So while the AGI to receive the full stimulus remains at $75,000 ($150,000), those earning $80,000 ($160,000) or more would receive nothing. The phase out progresses at a constant rate — in this case, 32 percent. That means people will receive $.32 less for every $1 they earned over the limit.
Those with older dependents could see more money. A dependent was defined as anyone under the age of 17 living in your household the last time around. The American Rescue Plan expands the pool of eligible dependents to include those over the age of 16. In that group is college students and older adults with certain kinds of disabilities. This change could make an estimated 13.5 million additional people eligible for stimulus payments, with up to $1,400 more per dependent going to the eligible taxpayer. Dependent stimulus payments will be added to the taxpayer’s total and phase out at the same rate.
Other Assistance To Families
A third relief payment would account for about $400 billion of the $1 trillion or so meant to assist families. But some small portion of the remaining $600 billion or so could find its way into your pocket as well. Assistance to families also includes extended unemployment benefits, a more generous child tax credit, and more.
The current weekly federal unemployment insurance bonus of $300 expires on March 14. The American Rescue Plan extends it through Labor Day. Recipients with household incomes below $150,000 will not have to pay taxes on the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits. Those eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which covers people who have burned through their state benefits, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which covers freelancers and gig workers, will also see their benefits extended through early September. PEUC runs out after 53 weeks. PUA expires after 79 weeks.
Under the revised child tax credit, the IRS would pay out $300 per month for each child up to five years old and $250 per month for each child ages six through 17. That adds up to $3,600 or $3,000 per year, rather than the current $2,000 credit received at tax time. Payments would be issued automatically in a similar fashion to stimulus checks, and would not be dependent on the recipient’s current tax burden. In other words, qualifying families would receive the full amount, regardless of how much they owe in taxes. Additional payments would phase out beyond a $75,000 annual income for individual parents or $150,000 for married couples. The more generous credit would apply only to 2021, though Democrats will probably look to extend it at some point.
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The child and dependent care tax credit would also become more generous. The value of the credit would amount to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children. At a household AGI of $125,000, those amounts would start to decline. The credit currently maxes out at $2,100 and covers no more than about one-third of eligible expenses. It starts to phase out at an AGI of $15,000.
The American Relief Plan includes other money-saving programs that could benefit large numbers of Americans. The stimulus package provides another $27 billion in rental assistance and $10 billion in mortgage assistance. Those who lost jobs and have resorted buying health insurance through COBRA would see Uncle Sam pay their premiums from April through the end of September. The cost of health insurance bought through a government exchange would be capped at 8.5 percent of a person’s AGI.
An extension the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) bonus is also part of the American Rescue Plan. Expiration of the additional 15 percent in SNAP benefits provided by the second stimulus package would also be extended from June to September. The 15 percent bonus provides about $27 more in food assistance per person per month, or over $100 for a family of four.
The $15 minimum wage, which was part of the stimulus package proposed by the President and first passed by the House, is not in the Senate version of the bill.
The Rest Of The Stimulus Package
There’s a lot more to the economic relief package than stimulus checks and other aid to families. The American Rescue Plan also includes hundreds of billions of dollars to help communities and small businesses and hundreds of billions more to stop COVID and bolster the vaccination effort.
States and localities have been hit hard by declines in tax revenue, with 26 Democrat and Republican-led states experiencing budget shortfalls. Since most states are required by law to balance their budget, that generally means eliminating public jobs and services. As of mid-February, approximately 1.3 million state and local government jobs have been lost, mostly in education. A budget shortfall could also necessitate a rise in taxes. With the allotted $360 billion, states and local governments could address this key area of need. This part of the plan also features $30.5 billion for transit systems, $15 billion for airlines, and $10 billion for critical infrastructure. Restaurants, one of the most hard-hit industries during the pandemic, would receive $25 billion.
The best way to return the economy to some semblance of normal is to eliminate the threat people would face when resuming their pre-pandemic lives. That requires a bulked-up COVID response. To that end, over $76 billion is set to go toward the vaccine and testing. That includes almost $48 billion to continue national testing and tracing, $15 billion to better distribute and administer vaccines, $6 billion to improve research and development and $1 billion to raise awareness.
Schools would receive $128 billion to help with reopening efforts, with another $39 billion set aside for colleges and universities. The bill also reestablishes the requirement that employers provide paid leave to those who catch COVID and/or must quarantine makes it easier to purchase individual health insurance.
Why Another Stimulus Package Is Still Needed
The economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2020, the largest single-year decline since the end of World War II. Weekly unemployment figures remain historically high, with approximately 745,000 people initially applying for unemployment insurance in the last week of February. (For reference, a typical pre-pandemic week saw about 200,000 new unemployment applications.) An additional 437,000 sought Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Approximately 18 million people were receiving unemployment benefits of one kind or another as of mid-February. That’s about one out of every nine workers. While the official unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, the actual rate is probably closer to 10 percent, given all the people who have dropped out of the labor force. On the bright side, employers added another 379,000 jobs last month.
An economic bounceback depends on the widespread distribution of a COVID vaccine. And efforts to inoculate the public are starting to improve. Shortages and winter weather forced some areas to temporarily close vaccination centers and scale back administering the vaccine in recent weeks. Many who qualify have faced problems in scheduling appointments. Nevertheless, Americans have received over 90 million doses, with 18.1 percent of the population having received at least one dose and 9.4 percent having received two doses. Vaccination numbers continue to increase at a rate of about 2.1 million doses per day.
The Food & Drug Administration just authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine. Four million doses shipped on last week. Biden has recently stated that the country will have enough doses to vaccinate all Americans by the end of May. Actually putting needles in arms will likely take longer. Mask-wearing and a general lack of normalcy could continue into 2022. Currently, domestic COVID cases have surpassed 29 million, while deaths have climbed past 527,000.
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Originally published on Monday, March 1 @ 12:53 p.m. ET.