Will there be a second stimulus check and extension of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits? What to know before Congress begins debate

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is set to begin the debate for another coronavirus stimulus package this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Donald Trump, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin all said over the past week they’re optimistic another bill will be passed in July.

“We are committed that, by the end of this month…before the enhanced unemployment insurance expires, that we pass legislation so that we can protect Americans that are unemployed,” Mnuchin said Monday.

The CARES Act, which passed in March, helped Americans stay above water financially through a combination of stimulus checks, $600 weekly bonus unemployment benefits, Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans to small businesses, eviction protection, and foreclosure protection. The consensus among economists is those benefits saved millions of jobs and prevented more severe economic pain.

With much of that aid having already been spent by households and businesses, economists are calling for more stimulus to boost the economy ravaged by the pandemic. And with cases surging in most states, those calls are growing more widespread.

With another stimulus bill looking increasingly likely, now the questions turn to what it might include.

Why do Americans and the economy need more aid now?

The unemployment rate skyrocketed from 4.4% in March to 14.7% by April as states mandated shutdowns. Since, the economy has improved as those orders are rolled back, and the jobless rate came down to 11.1% in June. While promising, that’s far from a much hoped for V-shaped recovery.

And that economic progress could get derailed in infancy by resurgent coronavirus cases. That fear is pressuring Congress to get another stimulus bill passed now.

Will there be a second stimulus check for some Americans?

The first round of stimulus checks were worth as much as $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for each qualifying child. That amount decreased for adjusted gross income above $75,000 per individual or $150,000 per qualified couple. Individuals earning above $99,000 (or $198,000 per couple) weren’t eligible for the first round of checks.

But earlier this month McConnell hinted they might issue another stimulus check only for workers with incomes under $40,000. Such a proposal excludes tens of millions of Americans who received the first check. Democratic leaders oppose such a measure.

Big takeaway: There is support for a second stimulus check on both sides of the aisle. It’s less contentious than other items they’ll debate and likely to pass in some form.

Will the extra $600 weekly unemployment benefit get extended?

House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package in May that included a provision to extend the $600 benefit into January 2021. But that bill died in the Senate.

Republicans raised concerns that the $600 extra weekly benefits—on top of state benefits—mean millions of Americans make more out of work than they did while working. They argue it could deter the jobless from returning to work.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has suggested lowering the weekly payment to $200 or $400 per month. That would still help millions of households financially, Mnuchin says, while still spurring people to look for work.

Another idea is to couple an extension of the benefit with “back to work” bonuses. This would pay jobless Americans a bonus if they return to work and leave unemployment rolls. The idea here would be to prevent the generous extra $600 weekly benefit from deterring jobless Americans from accepting job offers.

“We’re going to make sure that we don’t pay people more money to stay home than go to work,” Mnuchin said Monday.

Verdict: It’s likely something will replace the $600 benefit. Republican opposition to this specific benefit may be hardened at this point. But with 17.3 million on the unemployment rolls, it is unlikely they’ll let it go away entirely without a replacement.

Aid for schools and local governments?

The Heroes Act passed by House Democrats would’ve given more than $1 trillion to state and local governments to help offset their massive revenue losses.

That bill died, but obtaining state and local government aid remains a priority for Democrats in this bill.

Schools might also get pulled into the debate. Some Republicans would like to give aid to schools that reopen. That might get resistance from Democrats who aren’t keen on pressuring schools to fully reopen.

“We’re going to have big incentives, money to states for education, for schools that can open safely and do education,” Mnuchin said Monday.

Will rent and mortgage protections be extended?

The CARES Act prevents lenders and loan services from foreclosing on borrowers with federally backed mortgages from March 18 to Aug. 31. And tenants in federally subsidized or federally backed housing are protected from eviction for nonpayment through the end of August.

If Congress doesn’t extend these provisions millions of Americans could find themselves pushed out of their current residence in the coming weeks.

Party leaders are not making statements of support or opposition in regard to including an extension of these housing provisions. That could be a sign an extension won’t be a priority during the debates.

Will businesses and schools get protection from COVID-19 related lawsuits?

The spread of the deadly virus at workplaces creates health risks and potentially massive legal liabilities for businesses. Already dozens of Republican controlled states passed their own COVID-19 liability protections.

On Monday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his goal of including immunity for businesses and organizations from coronavirus related lawsuits. But Democrats have seemed less open to the idea, arguing it could harm workers.

“We don’t need an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic we’re already struggling with,” McConnell said Monday.

Where do Americans stand on the issue? A Fortune–Civis Analytics survey of 2,045 U.S. adults conducted from May 22 to May 27 found 43% of U.S. adults say the government should pass legislation providing temporary limits on legal liabilities for businesses, to protect them from lawsuits filed by customers or employees alleging exposure to the coronavirus. Meanwhile 24% of U.S. adults disagree with such legal protections, and 33% are unsure. 

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