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The Fight Is On to Define the Pandemic Aid Bill


“We’re on our way out of this,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, declared on Wednesday. “We are about to have a boom. And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.”

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

Other Republicans say they are convinced that once they finish airing out elements of the bill they intend to paint in the worst possible light — prepare to hear plenty about benefits for those in prison and undocumented immigrants — the public will turn against both the package and the party that delivered it.

“There is a race for branding,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Budget Committee. “There are some policy choices in that bill unrelated to Covid that I think are going to be problematic for our Democratic colleagues in the states that matter.”

He and other Republicans freely concede that certain parts of the measure, including the $1,400 in payments to millions of Americans to help with their costs from the pandemic, will be warmly received, providing a kind of “sugar high,” in the colorful words of Mr. Graham.

“I mean it’s certainly good politics to say, ‘Hey, we are going to hand you a check for $1,400,’” said Representative Tom Rice, Republican of South Carolina, who led the floor debate for his party as the House gave the measure final approval on Wednesday and offered the sweeping description of the bill that Democrats happily embrace. “What they don’t talk about is what this bill costs.”

With Donald J. Trump gone from the White House and Democrats now in charge of the House and the Senate, Republicans have resurrected their warnings about soaring federal deficits and the debt being piled on future generations while also sounding the alarm about inflation.

“You are going to see gas prices going up, interest rates going up, mortgage rates going up, car loans going up, prices at the grocery store going up,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chamber’s No. 3 Republican. “People are going to be bothered.”

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