Trump signs stimulus bill ahead of government shutdown, releasing checks and aid
A $900 billion bipartisan stimulus package is finally on its way after President Donald Trump signed the COVID-19 relief bill Sunday evening, Trump’s press secretary confirmed on Twitter. Trump’s approval comes after days of the president withholding his signature despite the looming expiration of unemployment benefits and a government shutdown.
Trump also spent the week publicly denouncing the size of the second stimulus check his administration helped negotiate.
“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000. Or $4,000 for a couple,” Trump said in a video posted Tuesday. On Saturday and Christmas Day, he also tweeted about the “measly $600,” while continuing to press for a $2,000 per-person maximum in a second stimulus check.
The package allocates a second stimulus check for a maximum of $600 for qualifying adults and their child dependents. As with the CARES Act from March, the second stimulus check has a sliding scale based on your adjusted gross income, and not everyone will qualify for the $600 direct payment. The stimulus package also includes an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment insurance, a tax credit to help businesses pay employees and funding for distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
The IRS is expected to start sending the second stimulus checks, which the agency calls economic impact payments, in about a week, through a mix of physical checks in the mail, direct deposits, and EIP cards, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Dec. 21.
The US House of Representatives passed the bill Monday, with the Senate passing it later that evening. Trump’s signature was the final step needed to pass the bill, which is now considered law.
This second stimulus check that millions of Americans will receive is a fraction of the $1,200 check allocated in March as part of the relief package in the CARES Act. It comes at a time when coronavirus infections are surging in many parts of the country. The package also comes as the US jobs market continues to suffer. Last week, more than 885,000 Americans filed for first time unemployment benefits, according to the US Labor Department.
With the health and economic crisis deepening, Congress was under pressure to pass a relief measure before the end of the year. This deal was the result of months of negotiations among the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, most notably the four top congressional leaders: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York; and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California.
What’s in the bill?
In addition to the individual stimulus checks, the $900 billion package also includes an additional $300 a week in jobless benefits, which will run for 11 weeks starting Dec. 27, 2020, and ending March 14, 2021. The bill also provides critically needed funds for small businesses, schools, broadband subsidies and vaccine distribution throughout the country.
Specifically, the legislation provides $325 billion for small-business loans and grants. There’s $69 billion for COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution and $82 billion for K-12 schools, colleges and universities to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
In addition to these programs, the bill also provides $3.2 billion in broadband subsidies for low-income Americans and those financially impacted by COVID-19, to cover monthly service fees. The legislation also provides $1 billion for tribal land connectivity.
This money lets broadband providers offer a $50 subsidy ($75 on tribal lands) to help those who are already eligible for the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program. This program also makes the $50 subsidy available to families eligible for free school lunches or college Pell Grants, as well as to those who’ve lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recipients can also use up to $100 of the subsidy to pay for a laptop, desktop or tablet. In addition, the legislation provides funding to improve FCC mapping and telehealth services.
Consumer advocacy groups applauded Congress for acknowledging how vital broadband connectivity is, especially at a time when Americans continue working and learning from home.
“These subsidies will directly support those experiencing financial loss during the crisis, as affordability remains the key barrier to connectivity,” said Greg Guice, government affairs director at Public Knowledge. “No American should be forced to go without food, water, electricity or essential communications over broadband.”
But the two most controversial sticking points between Democrats and Republicans in the negotiations are missing from the bill. These are the COVID-19 liability protections for corporations and businesses that Republicans wanted and the direct aid to state and local governments that Democrats pushed for to help those governments struggling to make up for lost tax and fee revenue resulting from this year’s closures.
These issues have been largely set aside and will likely come up again in negotiations for more relief in 2021 after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Biden previously said he sees the current relief package as a “down payment” and that Congress would need to pass another bill in the early part of 2021.
CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt contributed to this report.