Congress is set to pass two major spending bills on Monday, a nearly-$1 trillion coronavirus relief bill and a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill in a record-setting vote that will fund hundreds of government programs and, according to lawmakers, assist individual Americans struggling to make ends meet because of COVID-19 related restrictions.
The bill does, in fact, contain some help for those facing economic struggles. In addition to providing a second round of direct stimulus checks to individual taxpayers — this time just $600, half of what was issued in the spring — the bill extends Federal supplemental unemployment benefits. The jobless, as well as gig employees experiencing a slowdown in business, can now get an extra $300 per week through mid-March.
The coronavirus relief package expands the Paycheck Protection Program, opening up $248 billion in funding for loans to struggling businesses, even as evidence emerges that millions from the first round of PPP loans went to connected corporations. This time around, the COVID-19 bill contains special grants for specific industries: “$20 billion for businesses in low-income communities and $15 billion for struggling live venues, movie theaters, and museums,” per Politico.
There are a number of breaks for businesses, some of which haven’t gone over well on social media. The relief bill “includes a two-year tax break for business meals — a priority for President Donald Trump — and rolls over a variety of temporary tax breaks known as “extenders,” some for multiple years,” the same outlet notes. The “business meal” deduction has been labeled the “three-martini lunch” deduction, though very few people aside from key Democratic legislators in major cities are having many dine-in lunches.
The bill also helps renters, with a $25 billion assistance program and a continued eviction moratorium. Under the COVID-19 relief deal, $13 billion will go to food benefits and $15 billion to a program for direct payments to farmers to assist in keeping American food production afloat.
There are big handouts in the bill and its partner omnibus spending package, too. Airlines will get $15 billion. Airports will get $2 billion. And the always money-thirsty Amtrak rail program will get $1 billion. Higher education, which is suffering markedly from forced online learning, will win big in the deal, netting $82 billion.
The United States Postal Service also wins big; Congress used the bill to forgive a $10 billion loan to the USPS — a loan that they gave to the struggling service in an earlier coronavirus relief bill that the USPS has no hope of ever paying back.
States will get $20 billion to help purchase vaccines and distribute them to those in need. They’ll also get $20 billion to help with expanding COVID-19 testing. They won’t get a bailout for any economic damage they’ve incurred during the extended coronavirus lockdowns. Although Democrats pushed for states and cities to receive billions, Republicans stood firm on the issue, pledging not to provide relief to states like New York and Illinois whose economic issues long predate the coronavirus pandemic.
The omnibus spending bill does contain some surprises. It simplifies the application for Federal student aid funds, even as many struggle to pay off their education debts. It also extends the Pell Grant program to provide funds to prisoners seeking degrees.
As Congress released the final text of the bill, further expenditures came to light.
The final draft of the bill contains a number of handouts for Congress including a provision paying for the additional pandemic expenditures incurred by the Congressional daycare center and $5 million to protect members from the coronavirus by expanding testing and increasing the budget of the Congressional physician.
Washington, D.C.’s, government also did well, earning $38 million in reimbursements for its work controlling protests and providing security, and Congress limited the use of D.C. police cars to official business only.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.